Interviews: On the Phone with Mike Mills

By Paul English

The R.E.M. bass player on coming back to Scotland and what fan feedback means to the supergroup.

English: R.E.M. have played memorable gigs in Scotland over the years. Any favourites?
Mills: There is no place like the Barrowlands, and that is a fact. We’ve had some pretty f****** intense nights there. It’s so hot, with a really rowdy crowd. You know you have to be good at the Barrowlands, actually, you know you have to be good for Scottish crowds in general. Bands that don’t feel like they have to prove themselves don’t turn out to be very good bands. But if you have to go out there and win crowds over, that makes you a better band. And that’s what we want to do. There are some nice venues but you don’t want to sanitise it.
Rock’n'roll should be played in pits. But for a whole tour, assuming there are a lot of people who want to see you, there’s no sense in playing small places, you’re shutting people out. But we’ll take the same energy into playing the big venues in Scotland like the SECC and Loch Lomond as we would a place like the Barrowlands.

English: Many people thought R.E.M. were doomed after drummer Bill Berry quit in 1997. Did you worry that might be the case?
Mills: When Bill quit we stumbled right into the next record without any thought to how it would be as a three-piece. It was a labour of love, with the emphasis on labour. Sure, we’d been together a long time by that point, and it did creep into our head that maybe it might be time to stop. But I knew we’d come through it. The first time we did a show with Bill Reiflen I realised we could play with this guy. We’ll always shift and find new ways, but we have a good dynamic.

English: R.E.M. are a global phenomenon – surely you’ve made enough money to head into the sunset?
Mills: Money was never the goal. We were prepared to do this to pay the rent, drink beer and eat pizza. So long as you don’t worship money then it’s a liberating thing – use it as a means to an end and not an end in itself.

English: With songs such as “Everybody Hurts” becoming anthems, do you still appreciate how your songs can touch individuals?
Mills: Sure. I’ve had some great letters over the years, and that song literally did stop people from killing themselves. You don’t know what to do with that kind of information, you don’t want to think about it too much.

English: Where to now for R.E.M.?
Mills: All I’m concerned about is the tour and the next record after that. But beyond that I don’t worry. Because it has no relevance on where we are right now.

Originally published on 19 February 2005 by Daily Record
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