Michael Edward Mills was born on 17 December 1958, in Orange County, California, but moved with his family to Georgia in the early ’60s; they settled in Macon when Mike was in his early teens. Of all R.E.M. members, he’s the only one who actually grew up in Georgia.
The son of a dramatic tenor and a piano teacher, he developed a love of music at an early age. His first instrument was the piano; as a teenager, he played the sousaphone in the school’s marching band, and aged 15 he taught himself to play the guitar and bass guitar. By the time he started playing in various bands with his high school classmate Bill Berry, he was already an accomplished bassist. Mills and Berry had initially disliked each other; but after they started playing together and discovered that they had similar musical tastes and ambitions, the boys formed a strong and lasting friendship.
In 1979 the pair moved to Athens and enrolled into the University of Georgia. Mills wanted to major in English literature and/or journalism. In Athens they were introduced to two other aspiring musicians, the guitarist Peter Buck and singer Michael Stipe. The band’s first gig was at a friend’s birthday party on 5 April 1980. Mills, Berry, Buck and Stipe decided to drop out of University and focus on their band, now named R.E.M. The band quickly developed a following and were signed to I.R.S. Records in 1982.
The band released one EP and five LPs, plus a compilation of B-sides and outtakes, while attached to I.R.S. In 1988 R.E.M. were signed to Warner Brothers Records; they’ve remained faithful to this label ever since. They released another nine records with the Warners, plus several compilations and live albums, and a soundtrack for Milos Forman’s 1999 feature film Man on the Moon (see R.E.M. Discography).
Though known primarily as R.E.M.’s bassist and pianist, Mike Mills’s repertoire includes many other keyboard, string, wind and percussion instruments. He has also colaborated with numerous musicians on various side projects (see Other Work (Non-R.E.M.)).
Although the band members share songwriting credits and refuse to reveal who contributed what, it is known that Mills wrote both music and lyrics, or music only, for the following songs: “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”, “Wendell Gee”, “Near Wild Heaven”, “Texarkana”, “Find the River”, “Nightswimming”, “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, “Let Me In”, “Electrolite”, “Be Mine”, “At My Most Beautiful”, “Why Not Smile”, “Beat A Drum”, and many more. In addition to providing backing vocals to almost all R.E.M. songs, he has also sung lead vocals on “Superman” (from Lifes Rich Pageant), “Texarkana”, “Near Wild Heaven” (both from Out of Time), “Love Is All Around” (from MTV Unplugged in 1991), and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” (from R.E.M. Live), as well as many of the band’s Christmas singles and b-sides (see Mike Mills Lead Vocals).
Over the years, Mike Mills has supported various charities and voiced his opinions on a number of social and political issues. Most recently, he has been involved with the Future of Music Coalition, a nonprofit education, research and advocacy group for musicians (read more here, here and here).
Mills and his R.E.M. bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 12 March 2007, at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Prior to that, they were also inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
In 2010 R.E.M. celebrate their thirtieth anniversary. The band is currently recording its fifteenth studio album, which is probably due for release in late 2010 or early 2011.