It must have been the mid-1990s. We were making an experimental record called Passengers, with Brian Eno producing, and Howie was recommended to us as a potential collaborator because we were in a phase of exploring, looking for something different to inspire us. Howie, it is safe to say, inspired us. He came from a dance-music background, from club culture, and we were fascinated by that scene. We loved what he did musically but we also loved the man himself, his attitude. He has this infectious enthusiasm.
As for whether he was daunted by the idea of working with us, I think we are a lot easier than most people might imagine. You have to remember that U2 started out in a garage, so we are the quintessential garage band. We haven't really changed in our work approach ever since, so we're good at disarming people who come to us because there is no preciousness; everyone is part of the team. What we look for in collaborators are people who have a reserve of self-belief and stamina, optimism. Howie had all that in spades, and the most propulsive energy.
He went on to work with us on [1997's] Pop, and he cost us an absolute fortune! He'd encourage us to use all these samples, which we were happy to do, but we're a big band. We can't be using samples without clearing them first, without going to all these publishing houses and saying, "Excuse me, we are using an eight-bar bit of one of your tunes." We had to pay out loads of cash – but we didn't care, it was worth it. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to work in a completely different way.
He came on the PopMart tour with us, which really cemented our friendship. We would introduce him to our favourite night-time activities, and he did the same for us: tiny bars in Tokyo, the pubs of south Dublin.
I remember one date of the tour in particular. It was in Nuremberg. We were getting ready for the show – Howie was DJing before our set – when he came into the dressing-room, white as a sheet. He couldn't speak for a couple of minutes. Eventually he told us specifically where we were: the Albert Speer Stadium, where so many Nazi rallies were put on, and where Hitler made some of his biggest speeches. Howie is Jewish, so it freaked him out. His set afterwards was amazing, though: every song had a subtext, and he finished with the Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again". We were sat backstage listening to it. It was so poignant.
We are in touch all the time, and he often visits us on holiday. We've had a lot of fun in a lot of exotic locations: Japanese hotels at the base of Mount Fuji; ski resorts in the Alps; and Dublin, of course – always Dublin.
It was 1994 or 1995, something like that, when I got a call from Island Records telling me U2 were recording an experimental album, and were looking for new people to work with. I was surprised they were interested in me, as I was from the dance-music scene and about as far from the guitar as possible.
I wouldn't say I was a huge fan: I didn't own their albums, but I knew all their big songs. Who didn't? So in many ways I was like a rock virgin, but the hungriest virgin you could imagine! For me, music is life, and as long as I'm making good music, with good people, it doesn't matter if it's coming from a violin or a guitar. And I knew that U2 were special, at the top of their game. I was excited.
I took the plane to Dublin to meet them straightaway. There must be about three or four days that register as the most important in my career, and that was probably the most important of them all, the defining one. I was about to walk into a studio where Brian Eno and U2 were waiting – for me! Eno was the man who had given me my driving licence, a major inspiration, and U2 were the biggest band in the world. I had to have a pint of Guinness beforehand just to calm down a bit.
But they were great, so down to earth, and there was a spark between us right off. We did all the hellos, then it was down to business. "What can you do for us?" was what they wanted to know, and what I liked about them was their desire to take risks, to listen to new ideas. It's like, they eat strawberries one day, blueberries the next, then blackberries, then bananas. They don't eat the same bloody fruit every day! I loved that approach, and the work we did together was some of the best work I've ever done.
The Edge has the most astonishing musical mind. He'd always have a Dictaphone with him, taping everything we did, eight, 10, 12 hours a day, five days a week. Then we'd be working on something when he'd say, "How about we go back to the riff we recorded three weeks ago, on a Thursday, about four o'clock?" And he'd go off and find it! I've got to tell you, it changed the way I worked as a producer. I thought to myself: I'm going to get myself a notepad! I'm going to keep notes, too!
After Pop, they invited me on tour with them, and we really bonded. They became my closest friends, all of them. I still send The Edge haikus and poems all the time; we're always in contact. I'll go and visit him on holiday with his wife and kids, like I'm part of the family. I was there at his 40th birthday and his 50th, and I'll be there at his 60th.