Producer Steve Lillywhite: "For me, a powerchord is laziness", explains why The Edge only used them for one U2 song

(Image credit: Future)

Steve Lillywhite has produced classic albums by Peter Gabriel, XTC, U2, Talking Heads and Dave Matthews Band amongst many others. He knows about what makes great guitar parts in the studio, and he's not a fan of powerchords.

In a new interview with Produce Like A Pro's Warren Huart, Lillywhite praised XTC for both their musical prowess and preparedness going into the studio for the two albums he made with them; 1979's Drums And Wires and 1980's Black Sea.  

"There was never a moment when the two guitarists played the same thing," he reflected. "Very important – there was barely a powerchord in sight. It was lean."

"Because for me a powerchord is laziness," he added. "Now that's sort of controversial in itself, but square powerchords on every bar in the chorus, for me is not art. You can get that power from something else."

The producer especially dislikes the layering of this type of chord without adding anything deeper.

"Especially when two guitarists are doing it. Look, there's many successful bands who do that." But Lillywhite notes that few are part of his discography as a producer and engineer.

"For instance, take The Edge. The Edge has only ever written one song with powerchords because he thinks there's probably only one song left to be written with powerchords and that was Vertigo [from the Lillywhite-produced 2004 U2 album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb]. That's the only song he's ever written with powerchords."

Brian May… he can do everything

Point taken, so why not take a look at our lesson on four easy ways to power-up your guitar powerchords.

For Lillywhite the key to being a great guitarist is mix of the playing and being a "sonic sculpter".

"For me, probably the truly great players have both," he added. "For me, Clapton's great but one-dimensional because he was just a player… Brian May… he can do everything. He's got all that but he was a sonic sculptor."  

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.