Interviews: Mike Mills In Vienna

By Christian Schleifer

Christian Schleifer: When Green was released, you were campaigning against George Bush, Sr. Your slogan then was “Don’t get bushwhacked!” Now George Bush, Jr. is on the verge of being re-elected. What’s your new slogan?
Mike Mills: You can’t say that, we don’t know whether he’ll be re-elected! Right now we don’t have a slogan, but if I had to invent one, it would be “Think for yourself!” If people would just once take the time to reflect a little bit, they’d stumble on the notion that Bush isn’t the person they think he is.

Schleifer: Springsteen and Co. are doing an anti-Bush tour right now. Will you also participate?
Mills: Yes, of course we’ll be there!

Schleifer: On the new album you also deal with 9/11. What effect did this day have on the United States and also on the band?
Mills: If George Bush is re-elected, 9/11 will be the only reason. He hasn’t accomplished anything that has helped anyone – except for the wealthy and the energy corporations. But in the USA many believe that with the war against Iraq, he’s helped to make the USA more secure. I don’t believe that at all – and many other people don’t believe it either. But lots of people really do believe it! Furthermore they believe that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 and that it occupies the terrorists there. We’re afraid of the Bush administration, and we’re also very sad that many people, including the media, simply go along with this game, without asking very many questions. Because right now is the time to be asking questions.

Schleifer: Do you really think that musicians can change the world?
Mills: I know that we can change something. Of course we can’t do it alone, but we can get things rolling. A while back, in 1998, we were involved in the passage of a law that made it possible for people to register to vote at the same time as they applied for a driver’s license. That was very good for democracy and we had a lot to do with the fact that this law became reality.
Last year I was with Billy Bragg and Tom Morello on the “Tell Us The Truth” tour. With it we protested against the manipulation of the media. They wanted to make it possible for a single person to own all television stations, radio stations, and newspapers, and control all information. We managed to put a stop to this. Of course not just us, but through our engagement we were able to bring it to people’s attention. So I know that we can have an effect, but to do this, a lot of people have to work together.

Schleifer: How does an American feel when George Bush announces at the Republican convention that he has no sympathy with foreigners, and will continue to conduct the war against terror in foreign countries?
Mills: I think that it’s totally naive to assume that all terrorists are involved in fighting against our army in Iraq. Most terrorists don’t even come from Iraq. For that reason not all of them are going to pour into Iraq in order to defend it, because they aren’t even Iraqis! Bush’s attack on Iraq has changed everything for the worse. Now everyone’s angry, and I believe that with his war, Bush has called still more terrorists into action. Unfortunately, however, many Americans believe that we’re safer, because Bush keeps explaining that we’re safe because we’re keeping the terrorists busy elsewhere.

Schleifer: As an American artist who travels a lot, don’t you at some point get tired of always having to defend your own country?
Mills: I don’t defend American policies. I’m here to say that they’re wrong.

Schleifer: Okay, maybe “defend” was the wrong word. How about “explain,” or. . .
Mills: No, no. It doesn’t bother me at all. I would like the world to know that there are lots of people in the USA who don’t think what George Bush is doing is right. There are a lot of people who consider his policies dangerous. When I’m abroad, I’ve often seen that people don’t think that all Americans are bad. But: George Bush has misguided policies, and the people who advise him do, too. But Americans aren’t bad people. I mean, how often have we saved the world already? And hopefully we’ll do it again in the future. But right now we have a President who does everything wrong.

Schleifer: Around The Sun sounds like a typical R.E.M. album – slow, melancholy… did you ever consider recording a few more upbeat songs?
Mills: We wrote some faster songs, but then found that they didn’t fit on the album. It’s almost too simple to write fast songs. Peter and I just found it more interesting to explore the possibilities of a slow or mid-tempo song. There’s more room for textures, intensity, and complexity. A fast song is just that – a fast song and nothing else. Who knows: maybe on the next album there’ll just be fast songs, but with the current album it just felt good to write these songs and give them lots of meaning and depth.

Schleifer: You have the former drummer from Ministry on board. . .
Mills: Yes, and he’s fantastic! And we never have to hold him back in any way. He’s not only the former drummer from Ministry. He was in lots of bands and is very much an all-around musician. He plays guitar and piano, too, and sings. . . he’s not just whacking the drum set.

Schleifer: Several years passed between your last studio album and the new CD. Why?
Mills: Because we put out a Best Of album in the meantime. It was like this: before the Best Of album we had already started recording Around The Sun, and we knew that we would use two songs from these sessions for the Best Of album. That was absolutely the right thing to do. So we recorded all the songs, took two songs for the Best Of album, did the Best Of tour, and in January we finished the new album. Now we’ll tour with it.

Schleifer: On the song “The Outsider” there’s a guest performance with the rapper Q-Tip, which is a bit unusual for an R.E.M. album.
Mills: Yes, but it wasn’t the first time. On “Radio Song” from the Monster album there was already something like that.
[Translator's note: Either Mike or the interviewer is confused, because "Radio Song," with KRS-1, was on Out Of Time.]

Schleifer: How did this collaboration happen?
Mills: Q-Tip has been a friend of Michael’s for a while and Michael has wanted to work with him for a long time. Michael also wrote the rap at the end of “Outsider” and then Q-Tip recorded it.

Schleifer: Will there be more of that in the future?
Mills: Who knows? Collaborations like that happen by chance. I don’t want to plan something like that in advance. I like it when people from outside work with us sometimes. But I wouldn’t want it to be too often.

Schleifer: You mentioned Tom Morello earlier. Were you also involved in the “Axis of Justice” project?
Mills: No, we weren’t. That’s Tom’s project, and it’s something that’s very important to him. The “Tell Us The Truth” tour was sponsored by the “Axis of Justice.” But that was the only connection.

Schleifer: You started as a college band. Now you’re superstars. What’s the difference in making music now?
Mills: You reach more people and have more time to make an album. We could make an album faster, but we like to take more time. Besides that I’m twenty years older. I know more people, it’s more fun to travel around the world. As far as the music’s concerned there’s no big difference. I sit down with my guitar or at my piano, just like before, and write my songs. That never changes.

Schleifer: What will the new tour be like – what can fans expect?
Mills: Not a “greatest hits” tour! We’ll probably play all the songs from the new album, but not all on one night. We’ll probably play half of the new album every night. The rest will come from the last two or three albums, and then of course there’ll be a couple of older highlights. “Losing My Religion” will probably be on the setlist every night, just because it’s a wonderful song. It’s fun for us, and for the fans too. The same is true for “Man On The Moon.” But we’re future-oriented and are totally enthusiastic about the new material. We’re not a jukebox that always plays the same thing, and I think that our fans are also very interested in new things.

Schleifer: How are you spending your time in Vienna?
Mills: There’s not enough time to do much. I like to walk around in the center of town. Last night we had a great dinner in a traditional Viennese restaurant. Then on the way to the hotel we discovered a music store and bought some rather exotic instruments. For sure you’ll be able to hear those on the next album.

Schleifer: You’ve been in Vienna often before. Do you have favorite places? Or favorite foods?
Mills: Ah! I love Wienerschnitzel. Every time I’m in Austria, I have to eat Schnitzel. Yesterday we also had a blood sausage spring roll. [Translator's note: Yep, that's what it says.] That was delicious too. As far as the sights go, unfortunately we don’t usually have much time for them. But there’s an incredibly beautiful church that’s being renovated right now. And you could go all the way to the top of the steeple. But I don’t know any more which church it was. It was simply huge! But normally we don’t have much time, unfortunately, to be tourists.

Schleifer: One name: Arnold Schwarzenegger. . .
Mills: I’m just glad he can’t become President. I don’t know how bad he’ll be as governor. Maybe he’ll be all right. But it’s too soon to judge that. But I wouldn’t want him as the President of the USA in any case, which luckily can’t happen, since he wasn’t born in the United States.

Originally published on 12 September 2004 by Kronen Zeitung
Translated from German by Moni at Murmurs

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