Arguably, Lillywhite is best known for his work with U2, spanning from their albums Boy, October, War and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, to songs on the infamous Joshua Tree and more.
Lillywhite worked with what he describes as “the bad mullet band” U2 when they were on the verge of blowing up and swiftly rose to success in a time when music made unfathomable amounts of money.
How did Lillywhite manage to work with such a pivotal band at an early point in his career? Though he’s been working in the “vacuum” of the studio since age 17, the producer joked with Los Angeles station KROQ’s Kevin & Bean in an interview Tuesday (May 21) that he has to “thank Ian Curtis [of Joy Division] for dying.” We’ll let Lillywhite dig himself out of this hole.
“[U2] had a producer who produced the very first U2 single called ’11 O’Clock Tick Tock,’ which I think is a great song if anyone remembers that,” Lillywhite explained. “And then, Ian Curtis committed suicide. Martin Hannett, who was the producer, decided not to produce the U2 album.”
For those unaware, Hannett was the producer behind Joy Division’s 1979’s Unknown Pleasures and 1980’s Closer and part of Factory Records in Manchester.
Lillywhite says Hannett’s close ties to Curtis made working on what would become U2’s 1980 debut, Boy, “too much for him” to handle emotionally.
“U2 went back to their list of their producers. I was second on the list. Thank goodness [Ian Curtis] committed suicide,” Lillywhite said, seemingly joking.
Curtis’ tragic death at the age of 23 occurred on May 18, 1980, almost exactly 33 years ago.
–Nadia Noir, KROQ Los Angeles