Between 1999 and 2011 remrock.com provided the latest news about R.E.M. on the front page of the site. Updates were frequent until 2008 when the band's official website was providing this service, and thus making a fansite news service largely redundant. The entire remrock.com news database is archived here to provide a history of the major band events of thier final decade as a band. Click on the headlines to read the full article.
R.E.M. CDNOW INTERVIEW
Below is an interview conducted by online music retailer CDNOW. It's available in video or you can read the transcript below. By Allison Stewart, CDNOW Senior Editor, Alt-Indie.
With guitarist Peter Buck living in Seattle, bassist Mike Mills still in Georgia, and singer Michael Stipe spending most of his time in Los Angeles, the three remaining members of R.E.M. don't see each other as much as they used to. Last year, when the group traveled to Dublin, Vancouver, and Miami to record Reveal, its 12th album and its second since the departure of drummer Bill Berry, it was the band's first period of prolonged togetherness in years.
Berry, who is now a soybean farmer, left the group on the eve of the recording sessions for 1998's Up, after a disastrous world tour during which, among other things, he suffered a brain aneurysm. The tour, remembers singer Michael Stipe, was marked by "really horrible things like Bill almost dying, but apart from that, it turned out to be a really fun year." Perhaps understandably, R.E.M. has no plans to tour again in the definite or even indefinite future, though the group will turn up at assorted television shows and outdoor festivals to plug the lush, lovely Reveal.
Filled with keyboards, string parts, and baroque ballads, Reveal feels like a late-'90s R.E.M. album as re-imagined by Burt Bacharach. It finds the threesome reteaming with producer Pat McCarthy and Beck drummer Joey Waronker, both of whom lent their services to Up. "He fits in really well," Mills says of Waronker. "I mean, he still has to carry all of our guitars, but he does a good job."
CDNOW: Reveal may be your slowest album yet in terms of the sheer number of ballads.
Michael Stipe: I don't think it's the slowest. In the same way that Automatic for the People and Out of Time were records that we tried to make rock records, and [with] the material, the way that we were all thinking, and the way that we wanted it to come across … they turned out to be more mid-tempo and reflective, and, some say, melancholic records. I think that this is kind of in keeping with those.
What sort of pressure do you feel to make a commercial record, the sort with "Stand"-type, uptempo hits?
Stipe: The only pressure that any of us have ever felt is from each other, from ourselves really. We've always had really good relationships with the record company. There's this whole mythology that record companies beat up their artists and make them do things that they don't want to do, and that was never really an option for us. I'm really proud of that, frankly.
We've managed somehow, in 21 years, to make horrible, horrible mistakes. But they were our mistakes. And, peppered throughout those mistakes were some pretty beautiful songs and beautiful moments -- and they're also ours.
There's a summery, almost early-period Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick vibe to much of Reveal that's more mid-'60s pop-inspired than anything you've done before. Was that intentional?
Mike Mills: I think we were definitely going for melody. I know Michael was, and, it's my favorite part of music anyway. It's the kind of thing where you can always see it in retrospect. In retrospect, it was going to come out right before the summer; it's got a summery feel … I think Michael may have had that in mind when he wrote some of the lyrics. But, I think a lot of that has to do with how we were as people at the time. We were very happy to be making this record; we had gotten through a bunch of crap in the last few years, and we had no ongoing crises at the time. And I think that's what shows up and makes it kind of summery and fun.
Do you see this record as a big stylistic change from Up in general?
Stipe: I think that this record, in a way, makes good on the promise that Up made. Up was a record -- and you have to understand just in terms of the four of us, and now the three of us -- that was made under great duress because we had transformed from a four-piece into a three-piece and didn't really deal with how we would change within that change.
And so the making of Up was a horrible, horrible experience. And each of us suffered greatly. But I'm really proud of the record. I think it's beautiful. And sonically it's very different from [what] people had heard before from us. To lose our drummer, and, with no disparaging thoughts or comments in his direction -- he's a great drummer, a great guy; he's a friend of mine -- but the very act of him leaving the band was for us, musically, somewhat liberating.
What had always been the way that we did things was no longer an option. We couldn't go into the studio and record a three-piece band and build the rest of the track from there. We started with what every demo tape I've got since 1988 [used], which is a drum machine. And added percussion and live drums later. And that was, for us, a really different way to work. Unfortunately, throughout the making of that record, we were at odds with each other. In the same way that, if you take any group of people, and you remove one element, everything else shifts. There's a power shift; there's a communication shift. And we didn't handle that very well.
In retrospect, was it good that he left right before the making of a new album? At least that way you had to preoccupy yourself with work, instead of having six months to sort of sit around and think about it.
Stipe: Typical of Bill, he had very weird timing. No, because we were already into it. We were already recording the demos of that album when he said, "I've had enough; this is it for me." It came as a huge shock to all of us.
So, we made it through that album; it was a nightmare; we broke up at the end. I thought it was our last will and testament as a group. And then we came back together to figure out how we were going to settle the mess. And decided that we really wanted to continue. I couldn't think of anyone else that I wanted to make music with. I'm not ready to stop making music … neither are Peter and Mike. So, we decided to go on.
How did it feel, being broken up? Was it scary?
Stipe: How did it feel to no longer be a band? Terrible. Scary. I've been doing this since I was 19 years old. I don't really know anything else.
So was it any fun making this record?
Peter Buck: It was more fun making this record than it has been in a while. A lot less pressure. We'd almost got to the point where we forgot, gee, you have to finish the record before you do everything else. I talked to the U2 guys, and they had the same experience where, we've got to finish the record 'cause we've got to do the promo tour, do a video, and blah, blah.
None of that stuff really matters. You've got to finish the record. That's what's going to be around in 10 years. No one's going to remember the video or the TV show you appeared on. Without those kind of pressures on us we just kind of cruised through it.
It could hardly have been a worse experience than last time.
Buck: Yeah, it was a mess altogether, in every way. It was a learning experience I guess. It's like something Kingsley Amis said: "It's just an experience, but it's a pity there's so much of it." There was just a bit too much experience for me in the last one. This was just a really good experience, of the three of us going in with their friends and making a record, being really focused, on top of it. It was a pleasurable experience.
Do you feel adjusted to being a three-piece now? Or does it still feel like somebody is missing?
Buck: We're just a different band. The old band is gone, and it's never going to be back. We're three people in a band who play with three other people, and there's a lot of inspiration going around between us, and I feel comfortable with where we are.
Stipe: Well, yeah. Having gone through that … I'm not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill here, but, in my universe, it was a very, very big thing. And you have to understand the changes that we went through as a musical group, as friends, as people who work together. And trusted each other, or not. And, how much of a dramatic shift that was for us. It was cataclysmic. So, we made it through that record and on to happier times …
[On] this record, we changed a lot of things about the way we recorded, Most prominently, I think, on scheduling. Typically, we would schedule an amount of time to do the initial recording. A scheduled amount of time to do the overdubs and fine-tune the songs, and a set amount of time to mix, and it's very scheduled. This time we decided, we're going to start the record, and it's going to end when it's finished.
That was sort of me and my needs because I'm the one who drags my feet and has writer's block, and can't always deliver when I'm supposed to and what I'm supposed to -- to my satisfaction. Like I said, I could write pop songs. I could write four a day, you know … but there's nothing to that for me. That's not of interest to me. It's not the most difficult thing in the world to do. It's craft. But I'm not that interested in craft.
Do you think your songs have gotten more revealing as you've gotten older? Automatic for the People, for example, is way more revealing than anything you've done before or since.
Stipe: How much more of myself can I reveal, frankly, through pop songs? I think I've pretty much played myself open from the beginning through the work and let everyone see what's inside. I think there is something that carries over from the last record that may come from a personal point of view. It's certainly not autobiographical in the work, but, more vulnerability and fear -- especially on my part -- which, in this culture -- for men particularly -- is [a result of] the municipal waste dump that the 20th century offers us as a culture, as a race, as a species. Vulnerability is something that is very hard in this day and age to express and to show. Or to allow yourself to show. And maybe that's the one thing that I find in common from the last record and the one before.
That definitely comes out in the tone of your voice, more so than in the lyrics, necessarily.
Stipe: This is going to sound so potentially pretentious and egotistical but … in 1997, right when Bill left the band, someone was talking to me about my voice -- they were hearing some of the early tapes from Up, until everything went horribly wrong. They said, "This doesn't sound like R.E.M. at all … until your voice comes in." I said, "I'm singing really different than I've ever sung," and they said, "Michael, it's your voice." I realized then, after 17 years of doing this, that I had a really distinctive voice. And I didn't know that before. Honestly. Which is a little weird to think of. I just thought that I was another guy out there caterwauling.
Does it feel weird to hear your voice?
Stipe: I like my voice. I love my singing voice. I hate my speaking voice, like everyone does. When you do your outgoing message on your phone you erase it and redo it like, five times until you get it just right. Then you hear it a month later and you think, God, I'm such an embarrassment to myself, my family, and my friends. Nobody likes the sound of their voice, I don't think … maybe Orson Welles did.
You've decided to not tour for this record. Did you just not want to be on a bus together for six months?
Stipe: It'd kind of like going on a three-week vacation with your family and inviting everyone in your office. "Come home with me for the weekend; it'll be fun. All of you." You just don't do that in real life.
Mills: … It's the quintessential experience -- four or five guys piling into a van, driving from city to city, living from hand to mouth … It was great fun, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world, but, at the same time, I'm not dying to do it again.
When you look at the charts these days, do you wonder where you fit in?
By Craig - 21st May 2001
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