Interviews: R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills on Collapse Into Now and the band’s future

By Rick McLaughlin

Rock legends R.E.M. will be releasing their 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now, on March 8th. Recently, iheartradio sat down to catch up with bassist Mike Mills and he spoke about the new album and band’s future.

Rick McLaughlin: Tell us a little bit about where you recorded Collapse Into Now.
Mike Mills: The way we do it these days, we like to split the recording up between cities that we want to spend time in. We did the demos in Portland, which is the hippest city in America right now apparently. Then we did two-3 week sessions in New Orleans, which is the musical heart of America. It has been for many years and is also one of our favorite cities. And then we did three weeks in Berlin at Hansa Studios which is a very famous old rock studio. A lot of people have worked there over the years that people know about. We finished up with 3 weeks in Nashville, which is a city that we have a long and storied history with.

McLaughlin: You chose to bring Jacknife Lee back to produce the new album. What was it about his work on your last album Accelerate that made you want to bring Jacknife back for this record?
Mills: The good thing about Jacknife is what we recognized within moments of meeting him — he thinks like we do in a sense of how he wants to work. His description of what he wanted to do was that he wanted to make a thrilling record. And we said well how can we argue with that? We like the way he works. He’s a positive person. He could be having a bad day but you won’t know it. He makes you feel good about the music you’re making. He makes you want to go in there and make better music. He and his crew get great sounds. You can relax knowing that as long as you do your part they’ll do theirs.

McLaughlin: You’ve spoken about wanting to make the new album a more “expansive” record. With many great R.E.M. records there is a sense of expansiveness/diversity in sound. Do you think that’s a key characteristic for any great R.E.M. record?
Mills: I think we’re very lucky in that Peter and I write music in all different sorts of forms and Michael can handle that. He can write lyrics to whatever we give him. I like diversity on a record. With Accelerate we sort of made a record that was – we wanted to focus on that record. We wanted to make short, fast and loud songs primarily. We felt it was necessary at that point in our career to do that. With this record we wanted to just not think about any particular type of song. We wanted to take the best songs that we wrote and give them to Michael and say take the ones that inspire you and do your best. I think that the best R.E.M. records have that quality. We can do slow stuff, we can do fast stuff, we can do mid-tempo stuff and it all has that essence.

McLaughlin: There seems to be a running narrative on this record. One of change and a sense of renewal and purpose. Would you say that those are the key themes on Collapse Into Now?
Mills: I think that a lot of characters on this album are undergoing or have undergone some sort of massive change or trauma of some sort. A lot of the songs are about how they deal with that. As is usual with Michael’s lyrics, because this is how we are as people, you deal with these things that life hands you but you try to hope for a better future. Know that as long as you persevere the outcome will be good. And if you apply yourself, not to sound like a preacher, but if you apply yourself and do the best you can than hopefully good will come of that to you. Good things will happen. You’ll emerge from whatever you’ve gone through, if not a better person at least a whole person.

McLaughlin: How did you come to the decision to not tour with this record?
Mills: For touring with us, we tour because we want to play. We don’t tour to support a record. We don’t tour to get our name out there. We tour because we like to play. To tour when your heart isn’t in it would be a real bad mistake for us. 2008 was a long hard year on the road and we’re just not feeling it right now. We go with our instinct. Our two biggest selling records ever, we didn’t tour on them. So maybe some of that magic will rub off on this one too.

McLaughlin: Your contract with Warner Bros. is coming to an end soon. Have you guys begun to think about the future of R.E.M.?
Mills:We’ve certainly given it some thought. It’s a strange time in the music world. The industry as we know it is gone. The paradigm has shifted. It is the end of our contract with Warner Brothers soon. Our options are limitless. We can do everything or we can do nothing. Right now we are focused on this record and helping it do whatever it can and we’ll see where we go from here. We just really don’t know.

Collapse Into Now will be available March 8th.

Originally published on 26 January 2011 by I Heart Radio


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