04 March 2011

Thank you kangaroos!

Here’s a cool new interview with Mike Mills, published by The West Australian.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By Simon Collins

For R.E.M. fans, it could be the end of the world as they know it.

The alternative rock veterans’ latest album, Collapse Into Now, is their final release with major label Warners – R.E.M.’s home since the late 80s – and they have no plans to sign a new deal.

The band, which formed 31 years ago in Athens, Georgia, has also announced that they will not be touring for the album, their 15th studio recording.

“We just don’t feel it,” bassist Mike Mills says during a chat deep in Warners’ Los Angeles bunker. “We don’t tour to support records, we tour because we like to play and for us to go out for the eight months it would take for an R.E.M. tour, you have to be 100 per cent committed to doing it every night and right now, we’re not feeling it.

“We go with the gut and the gut says no.”

In an affable if brusque chat, Mills says that there are no plans for the band’s future and while it could be the end of R.E.M., he feels fine.

“We will come to a collective decision soon about what to do and we will let everybody know,” he adds. “It’s absolutely great. We can do everything or we can do nothing. We have the entire gamut of options from here on.”

R.E.M. won’t entertain thoughts of going post-label a la Radiohead, who offered 2007 album In Rainbows online on a “pay what you want” model before fixing a price for last month’s The King of Limbs.

“We have no interest in doing that at all,” Mills, 52, says. “As I said at the time (they released In Rainbows), I don’t have their faith in humanity and, sadly, my lack of faith was justified by what people did with their record. Most people paid little or nothing.”

Against this backdrop of crumbling majors and new paradigms, Collapse Into Now seems to reference the state of play. Mills sees the connection but counters with his own interpretation of the title, which was lifted from the lyrics of last song, “Blue”, at the suggestion of punk poetess Patti Smith, who sings alongside Michael Stipe on the track.

“For me, what it means is that there is no moment more important than the one you’re in at this minute,” Mills says.

“People worry too much about the past and the future. Concentrate on right now and you’ll do well.”

All right then, let’s concentrate on Collapse Into Now, which is a more freewheeling and satisfying affair than the pared-back, guitar-driven Accelerate of 2008.

“I would say Accelerate was one of the few records where we had a real specific set of guidelines on ourselves when we made the record,” Mills says. “We wanted every song to be as short and fast and loud as possible. We were still cutting parts out of the songs on the last day of mixing.

“So, we made that statement that we wanted to make and after that we said ‘well, we can do whatever we want on this record’, and we did what we normally do, which is to … pick the best songs available.”

Work began on Collapse in March 2009, with Mills and guitarist Peter Buck (plus “unofficial” members, guitarist Scott McCaughey and drummer Bill Rieflin) recording demos in Portland which were then sent to Stipe, who worked on lyrics and vocals. The band then recorded in New Orleans, Berlin and Nashville between November 2009 and September last year with Accelerate producer Garrett “Jacknife” Lee, who acted as a “court of last resort” for the central trio.

“If the three of us really cannot reach a decision then we know that we can turn to him and we’ll accept his answer,” Mills says.

The bulk of Collapse was done in New Orleans in two three-week sessions, with the storied Louisiana city inspiring the paean “Oh My Heart”.

“New Orleans, being the heart and soul of American music, is a city that we’ve always loved, that has seen more than their fair share of misfortune lately,” the bassist says. “It’s a town that could use a little bit of a boost.”

After the New Orleans sessions, R.E.M. recorded in the famed Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, where David Bowie, Iggy Pop and U2 recorded seminal albums, during a European heatwave. Canadian-born but Berlin-based electro-clash queen Peaches joined the band, adding to an impressive roster of guests that also includes Smith and her long-time guitarist Lenny Kaye, Eddie Vedder (who inducted R.E.M. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame four years ago) and the Hidden Cameras’ Joel Gibb.

Collapse Into Now was completed in Nashville, where R.E.M. also laid down their 1987 album Document. “Nashville was one of the first places we started playing outside Georgia,” Mills says. “We’ve had a long, lovely history with that town.”

While Mills prefers to focus on the here and now, he’s more than happy to take a trip down memory lane to January 1995, when R.E.M. kicked off their Monster world tour in Perth. In addition to drawing the world’s music media to WA, the trip was memorable because Buck got married on Cottesloe beach and golf-nut Mills made some new friends at the Vines Resort.

“Peter’s wedding was one of the most memorable things – sunset on the beach, all the groomsmen in short pants and then the party after,” he says.

“I remember playing golf at the Vines and I sliced one into this patch of short stumpy trees. Then as I got closer I realised they weren’t trees at all but I’d hit my ball into a herd of kangaroos. How do I play this?

“I walked in and they all looked at me. They hopped out of the way enough for me to get through. I got to my ball and I hit out from the middle of these kangaroos,” Mills says with a laugh. “Thank you, boys!”

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10 Responses to “Thank you kangaroos!”

  1. Dol Says:

    “We will come to a collective decision soon about what to do and we will let everybody know,”

    This makes me more scared than a no “collapse into now” tour.

  2. Kirsten Says:

    Dol, you should read the new interviews Mike gave for German newspapers…
    “UH-OH” and “BAAAAD HUNCH” is all I can say for now…


    I found two brand new interviews for you all!!:
    (sorry I have to put spaces in the links, otherwise the spam control won’t let my comment through – just delete the spaces and you’re fine)

    http :// www .badische-zeitung. de/rock-pop/machen-r-e-m-schluss–42024734 .html

    –> Title: “Do R.E.M. call it quits?” WAAAAH!!! nail biting

    http ://www .hna. de/nachrichten/kultur/kultur-lokal/interview-rem-bassist-mills-neuen-album-kultband-1146266 .html

    (This one I posted before in the comments here, but for completion here it is again):
    http ://www .nzz. ch/nachrichten/kultur/pop_und_jazz/ich_versuche_weiterhin_gute_songs_zu_schreiben_1.9675306 .html


    And here’s something about the Lifes Rich Pageant reissue:

    http :// wxrt .radio. com/2011/03/01/ r-e-m-reissue-series-continues-with-expanded-lifes-rich-pageant/


    Aaaand finally pics and a short video interview from Sunset Sessions in San Diego, where Mike held a listening party for CIN on February 18th. I figure this hasn’t been mentioned here before (my brain is like is sieve, so in case it indeed has been on here somewhere, please don’t hit me winking )

    http ://www .nbcsandiego. com/blogs/sounddiego/Screen-Grabs-Mike-Mills-at-Sunset-Sessions–116513688 .html

    http ://www .bing. com/videos/watch/video/r-e-m-s-mike-mills-at-sunset-sessions /1d2xv5dup

    I snagged the pics from the photo stream and also the interview video, so if anyone wants to have them, just drop me a line and I’ll be glad to send them to you winking


    Ivana, do you want to make news out of the new German interviews by mentioning the links (I know pasting the text here would be kind of futile because hardly anyone can read it big grin ) or do you want to wait for me to translate them? happy

  3. Ivana Says:

    All tidied up! I know that the antispam filter is a menace, but without it we’d be stuffed with spam.

    As for German links, let’s keep them here in the comments, and when you get a chance to translate some, we’ll add them to the Press Archive.

    As for R.E.M. quitting (or taking a hiatus, or whatever), to be honest, now that Mike has announced that he’ll do a solo record, I’m not worried at all. I’m sure all of them will continue to make music, one way or another, and if they feel that R.E.M. the band doesn’t have anything new and interesting to say, then it’s fair enough to call it a day and focus on new projects.

    What I’m worried about though is that we’ll have to wait for Mike’s solo album for at least a few years – lol he’s such a perfectionist, and he works very slowly, so we should get ready for a long wait… waiting hurry up

  4. Linda Says:

    Frankly, I can’t see them calling it quits just yet( I don’t know what the comments were re: that in the article), but Michael said there were some great songs that didn’t make the album, the reviews are positive and encouraging for CIN, and IMHO , I just can’t see them drifting off without one more BIG tour as a goodbye. I think(hope)they respect their fans enough to give them one more live concert series.praying

  5. Dol Says:

    Wow Kirsten! Thanks for the sunset links! Argh seems it was a funny night…

  6. Ophelia Says:


  7. Kirsten Says:

    You’re very welcome Dol! happy
    If you want me to send you the pictures, I’d be glad to do so, as they are a little tricky to download winking
    And I think Mike is ALWAYS having fun, isn’t he? big grin

    And here’s finally the last part of the interview from German Rolling Stone (has not been proofread by anyone so far):


    „Mine Smell Like Honey“

    Mills: Who would have thought that a song with this kind of title could be a single in the USA? To be honest, I still have no idea what it’s about. I have my own thoughts on it, like every other fan. Musically I would say: That’s how you make a song with cascading chorus voices, just like that. And when a song then doesn’t sound like work but pure pleasure, then you’re really good at your job.
    Michael’s lyrics always surprise me. That’s one of the greatest funs with this band: Peter and I write the songs, and then we wait what comes back from Michael. That’s always exciting. His lyrics have never had the classical pop themes: boy dog car girl love. We have never served the people the meaning on a silver platter, it’s not like reading material for the first grade. You have to at least make a bit of an effort.

    “Walk It Back”

    Mills: I wrote this one night on a piano in my hotel room in New Orleans as I had just returned from dinner. We are constantly writing songs, even when we already have 15 songs together for an album. Sometimes you have to fight for a song then, though with me this can as well be a song from Peter, and vice versa. If we would make an album on which there’s none of my songs, that would be a problem, but that has never happened. We don’t count our songs, we just choose the best ones.

    “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter”

    Mills: This is just a fun song with the wonderful Peaches. She and Michael hung out together in Berlin, and he asked if he should invite her to the studio. Hell yeah! Bring her here, we’ve liked Peaches for a long time. But you always have to watch out who you invite to what. You really have to be quite certain that you like what they do. And also [you have to be certain] that you [want to] keep the song, otherwise the recording is wasted. Lenny Kaye by the way plays the solo in the bridge.
    Even people who know R.E.M. very well often miss our humor. Actually we’re quite funny guys. However on the photos we only rarely smile. We’re also only seldom seen on the cover, except this time. On “Around The Sun” it was only Michael three times – but so much blurred that everyone thought it was us three. We did that intentionally to fool you!

    “That Someone Is You”

    Mills: A little ditty that was initially longer, then it became shorter and shorter, now it’s not even two minutes [long]. But whatever, we have never conformed to the standards of how long a song has to be. If the story is told in less that two minutes, then so be it.

    “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I”

    Mills: This line – “the heroes and all their fatal flaws” – is spot on. Actually I don’t quite like the word “heroes”, because it has been used too often and has often been misused. At the end of the day, they’re all only human. In the USA we like to pretend that we’re all superheroes. But nobody is perfect, and all those icons also have their dirty dark secrets that just don’t have come to light yet. Do we like to get admired ourselves? As long as it happens for the right reasons! I do believe that we are very worth admiring for our music and the way we shaped our professional career. Our private life is nobody’s business, but as far as the business is concerned, there in my opinion we have always acted in an exemplary manner. If I was a musician, then I would think that R.E.M. have found a good way. [I would think that] if you do as they do, you can live pretty well as a musician.
    Stipe: It’s about the mistakes that a person who is regarded as a hero can make. The song is a conversation with Neil Young that I had. It never took place, I made it up. But I wanted to have someone you can imagine to be a wise person, and someone who has mentioned Marlon Brando in his work before. And I hope that I pay tribute to both with the song. However it’s mainly about human mistakes. And [it’s] about people who try to achieve something that is so out of reach. [It’s] about desire and the courage to tackle something unattainable, regardless – that’s so crucial, and maybe there’s indeed something heroic in it.
    If you by all means want to apply this theory on us: We have made lots of mistakes, but I’m very proud that we acutally made these mistakes ourselves. We can only blame ourselves, no one else. That’s part of the game when you’re a public figure: You triumph in public, and you fail in public. If you’re responsible for it yourself, that’s something special. What we have strived for from the beginning with all our strength – that we want to make all decisions ourselves, and not to listen to anyone –, that was virtually unattainable, but fortunately we still achieved it. (laughs)


    Mills: In Berlin we still thought that “Blue” would not make it onto the album at all. It wasn’t a song, just a little noise. Then Michael put on this recitation, and Jacknife Lee tinkered a little with it, and a part of “Discoverer” was incorporated, and Patti Smith sang something to it in Nashville – and suddenly it was a great song. The crazy thing about the track is: We only played it once. I hadn’t even heard it before. Peter said: I got something here, here are the chords, go on. And that was that. That has only happened to us before with “Chorus And The Ring” from “Reveal”. And never before has it occurred with us that the beginning and end [of a song] matched. So you still experience surprises.
    Michael: There has been a kind of infinite loop before on “Fables Of The Reconstruction” (whose name could also be “Reconstruction Of The Fables”) [translator’s note: um, in fact there already has been a version of the album with this name!] – something that goes on and on … Musically we have never tried that. But if you take a closer look at pop music, [you see that] it’s just about this infinite loop. (short pause) I don’t even know what an infinite loop is. Maybe I’m talking of something completely different, but it sounds good. (Another pause) That’s like in “I wanna hear the caged bird sing”, this line that I incorporated into a song and didn’t even know that it’s a Maya Angelou poem. Which song was that again? This song that Thom Yorke loves. (He means “Be Mine”.) Oh yeah. Anyway I didn’t even know the poem, but it just happened that way.
    After all that is what makes pop music: It’s all about repetition. [It’s] about simple things that are repeated over and over again. Then again that’s also the challenge: that you don’t always repeat yourself. We all have our blind spots, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to carry on. On the contrary: just go right the fuck through it, why not? Let’s just jump in, feet first. It always pays to venture something.


    I will also post this on Murmurs so that Ivana doesn’t have to post everything herself, and because I want to thank the people there personally for their acknowledgment.

  8. Kirsten Says:

    ***Mistake watch of my translation*** big grin
    - under “Mine Smell Like Honey”: classical –> classic
    - under “Blue”: Michael –> Stipe (*oops*… big grin )

  9. Auctioneer Says:

    Shame they cut down “That Someone is You”. I realise they wanted a short, Accelerate-type song, but two minutes just seems a little much IMHO. “I’m Not Over You”, on the other hand, seemed to work… but then it was a hidden track. happy

  10. Linda Says:

    Another great translation Kirsten happy I love to read this kind of interview…makes the album even more interesting to me.

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