U2’s Songs of Experience was leaked over Thanksgiving weekend one full week before its scheduled release, sending fans across the globe into a collectively frantic state as news spread like wildfire on social media. By Sunday morning, downloadable files were being quietly (or not so quietly) shared among fans in the know – but to examine the event from start to finish, we go back to its grassroots on Black Friday evening. It all started in the Philadelphia home of a fan who has been fortuitously acquiring U2 albums before their official release dates for the past 20 years.
The U2 fan community has many folk heroes: the globetrotting women invited onstage for Mysterious Ways, the Mirrorball Man costume-wearing U2 Brothr Mark Baker, and my friend Joe Hier, the U2 tribute frontman who sang The Sweetest Thing alongside Bono in 2015 are just a few. There are easily a dozen more names on the list, and today I’m adding one more: Rob Giannotti.
Rob started the fun last Friday night with a Facebook Live post that afforded any fan who friended him the opportunity to listen to Songs of Experience early. Was that the leak? Not exactly – but it certainly was the phenomenon that led to it, and a majority of the U2 fan community has responded with gratitude and glee (yours truly included).
Rob graciously agreed to an interview with U2 Zoo Station Radio. Enjoy!
U2-ZSR: Thanks again for agreeing to do this! First, I want to say on behalf of what I’m sure are thousands of U2 fans: thank you! Do you know how many views you ended up with Friday night?
RG: Well let me just say first and foremost I absolutely love your website and thank you so much for the shout out. I’ve been coming on here for years and it always amazes me how you guys manage to get the recordings and share them for free for the greater good. I love your shirts as well!
There was a lot to process (Friday) night between the glasses of wine and the music. Everything seemed like it was happening so fast. I’d say I had gotten about 5,000 views that I know of.
U2-ZSR: How many times did you end up playing the album?
RG: I’m actually listening to the album right now writing this. This is my eighth time (I think).
U2-ZSR: In order to get fans in front of your Facebook Live stream, you had to friend lots of people you didn’t know. Were you concerned that it would be difficult to get people to accept your friend request? How many new friends did you end up with when all was said and done?
RG: That was the easy part. I had done a quick stream from my car seconds after I got the album. Then I made an announcement (in a fan group) that I would be streaming at 8 PM sharp. In a matter of moments, the friend requests started pouring in. I think my friends list jumped from 125 to about 500.
U2-ZSR: You made some comments here and there while broadcasting, but we got to see your face at the end of the night after the third or fourth round of playing. You gave a talk to the audience and many of us were quite moved by what you had to say, especially in regards to love for U2’s music being the one thing we can all agree on. One of the things you said was, “I’ve been getting U2 albums early since 1997.” Can you elaborate?
RG: Yes, there was a point last night when it was really starting to hit me on a very deep level. I have this amazing 15-year-old daughter who lives with her mother. I see her roughly every other weekend; she’s such an amazing kid and this has been the situation for the past 12 years. I feel like being her dad, I’ve missed so many moments of her life growing up and it can feel very heartbreaking – yet she’s the reason why I try press on to do the right thing. I had taken her to her very first concert last June, on Father’s Day, to see the Joshua Tree Tour in Philadelphia. Being roughly 15 feet away from Bono, you could see the overwhelming sense of joy on her face. Watching her sing the lyrics to Bad had paid off for me. It was the best Father’s Day gift I could have ever asked for. Getting back to your question: Knowing this album Songs of Experience was about Bono’s letters to his kids, and really immersing myself in the lyrics of the songs, it was very moving to me.
I have been luckily getting U2 albums early since Pop. It’s that thrill of the hunt. I had obtained the promotional CD copy of Pop roughly two weeks before its release at a local record store. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was purchased from a street vendor outside the MTV building a few hours before I had met Bono after the TRL performance. Atomic Bomb and NLOTH were internet leaks.
U2-ZSR: And as far as how you acquired Songs of Experience, you mentioned purchasing it from an eBay seller. Are you at liberty to explain who he is, how he obtained it, etc.?
RG: Not to give too much away, I had met with a guy who was a distributor to local record stores. It was only a 45-minute drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge.
U2-ZSR: You also mentioned something about not doing this kind of thing to make friends. I’m going to get what you said wrong, I’m sure, but maybe you can recap? It was very touching!
RG: It’s always great to make new friends in the U2 community because they “get it,” you know? That’s not why I streamed it last night. However, I think there was a strange level of yearning for acceptance by a bunch of strangers that really weren’t strangers. It was a beautiful “Experience” to be able to listen to this masterpiece unfold. We have been waiting for so long to hear it, and getting to hear it just a little early, there was definitely a “forbidden fruit” vibe going on last night.
U2-ZSR: Any stories on how doing this kind of thing has helped you personally? Where do you see yourself in the U2 fan community?
RG: I’ve been visiting U2 fan forums since U2log, Interference and Squeeze that Lemon from 1997. I’m not really sure where I’d would like to place or label myself in the U2 fan community. I don’t consider myself a “better” fan than the other person. It doesn’t matter to me, at this point at the shows, if I’m on the rail or in the nosebleeds anymore. As long as I’m in the building, that’s all that matters. I can be sometimes that kind of trouble people don’t enjoy. Haha!
Streaming the album and listening to it for the first time with so many great people and close friends…reading the wonderful comments and the hundreds and hundreds of thank you’s from the fans has really made me feel special and very humble. It’s always nice to feel accepted.
I have made some really great friends being a U2 since 1994. It’s been a hell of a journey. But that’s what life is. Seems like every few years when U2 releases an album it becomes another chapter of my life. I will be forever grateful for having the people stick with me that I have driven completely crazy over the years. Most of all, I have an amazing daughter who is now a fan and understands why her father is such an obsessed U2 fan. Actually, let’s just say “passionate.” Hehe.
U2-ZSR: And here’s a serious question, only because I’m sure you got a little bit of blowback as well. What do you have to say to those who would criticize what you did, call it “piracy,” etc.?
Actually, I have gotten zero blowback from anyone. I think last night, everyone – including myself – was living in the moment listening to the album for the first time. As far as piracy is concerned, I don’t see any harm recording a concert on your device and sharing it freely with everyone that has the same passion as you do. There were a few moments though when I was worried I may have stepped over the line streaming the album. It was not my intention, nor did I upload the stream so people can get it for free to avoid buying the commercial release. (U2-ZSR note: Subsequent “audio rips” leading to the wider leak were initiated by other fans).
U2-ZSR: Now, the fun part! What is your first impression of the album? Favorite songs, why? Least favorite songs, why? And what do you think of the “concept album / continuity / cohesiveness” factor (using lyrics from the Songs of Innocence tracks Song for Someone and Iris)?
RG: This is the best album I’ve heard by the band since Achtung Baby. Favorite songs so far are Love is All We Have Left, Lights of Home (the string version), The Showman (Little More Better), Landlady, Love is Bigger than Anything in its Way and 13. You can just tell all four members are really hitting it on all cylinders on those tracks. Just listening to Bono’s voice and the production of those tunes just takes me somewhere else for a brief moment, and makes me think about my life and my daughter. American Soul is probably my least favorite song at this point. I don’t think it’s a bad song. After hearing the rest of the album, it just seems a bit out of place. I think the continuation of Song for Someone into 13 is brilliant. Perfect way to end the album. The “Free Yourself” chorus from Iris implemented into the end of Lights of Home was epic.
U2-ZSR: On that note: Do you see the band doing that again, turning this into a trilogy by adding Songs of Ascent? Or is it not the right time to even ask that yet?
RG: Absolutely! The moment U2 released Songs of Innocence, I was telling my friends it was the first of a trilogy.
U2-ZSR: What can we expect next from Rob Giannotti? What shows are you attending for the E+I tour?
RG: Well, I can be a bit unpredictable in a very predictable way. Ask anyone that knows me. I will leave it at that! But I’ve got tickets for Philly and NY so far.
U2-ZSR: After two weeks of ticket buying disasters, many of us are just so grateful – especially on Thanksgiving weekend – to have this opportunity to forget about any negative feelings that emerged as a result of bad ticketing experiences, and just focus on the music of U2. So again, thank you Rob – any final words?
RG: I think in our lives everything happens for a reason. Last night definitely happened for a reason. I’m just happy I was part of something very joyful and emotional. As I’m typing this, 13 is playing right now….all I can say is: “If there is a light, don’t let it go out.” Peace and respect!