Interviews: R.E.M. Bassist: Touring Behind New Album “Just Doesn’t Feel Right”

By Gary Graff

After making a “statement” with 2008′s rocking Accelerate, R.E.M. had broader designs for its 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now.

“With Accelerate we sort of made a statement record — everything short, fast and loud — and on this one we just wanted any good songs, regardless of the type or the tempo,” bassist Mike Mills tells “What we like to do when possible is have a nice diversity, and this has that. It’s got some serious rockers. It’s got some beautiful slow stuff, and it’s got some of that nice, mid-ballad stuff we do so well. We felt free to make Collapse Into Now into whatever record it needed to be.”

R.E.M. demoed the 12-song set, due out March 8, in March of 2009 in Portland and began recording in November of 2010, working with co-producer Jacknife Lee at studios in Berlin, New Orleans and Nashville. What did carry over from Accelerate, Mills says, was a spirit of economy in the songs and their arrangements, “the idea of only using what the songs really need. We were still stripping away stuff, but we weren’t paring it to the bone like we did with Accelerate. It was, ‘Whatever the songs need and take off anything that’s not vital to them.’ “

Collapse Into Now features a number of guests, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, who sang on “It Happened Today” after his band performed in Berlin; the Hidden Cameras’ Joel Gibb, also on “It Happened Today;” Berlin resident Peaches and Patti Smith Band guitarist Lenny Kaye on “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter;” and Smith herself on the album-closing tone poem “Blue,” which Mills says “was the biggest surprise of the bunch.”

“We were getting near the end of the Berlin sessions,” he recalls, “and Peter [Buck] said, ‘I have this song. Let’s record it’…and we went in and played through it with no rehearsal. I didn’t even know what the chords were. But I didn’t really think it was a candidate for the record unless something special happened. Then we got to Nashville and Michael [Stipe] had this spoken-word thing on it, and we said, ‘That’s cool. That’s starting to sound a little more special.’ Then we got Patti to sing on it, and by that time we said, ‘Wow, we’ve got a pretty nice song here.’ “

After extensive touring behind Accelerate, however, R.E.M. isn’t planning to hit the road for “Collapse Into Now.” “It just doesn’t feel right,” he explains. “We’ve always gone with our gut instinct on everything, and right now it just didn’t feel like touring was the thing we needed to do.” He says that “might or might not” hasten R.E.M.’s next album, especially since there’s a substantial number of songs and ideas still around that did not make it on Collapse Into Now.

“You always think you might resurrect them somewhere, but very often they just sit there,” Mills notes. “They just had their chance, and they never quite came to fruition. Once you’ve shifted your focus from that record onto something else, it’s kind of hard to revisit things.”

Collapse Into Now also marks the end of R.E.M.’s deal with Warner Bros., but Mills says nothing has been determined about the group’s future yet. “We’ll sit down sometime in the next few months and decide what we’re going to do,” he says. “There are a lot of options. We’ll just have to assess how we feel and what we want to do.” He does, however, expect to see a 25th anniversary edition of Lifes Rich Pageant this year, featuring “a lot of demos, some of which I think are actually better than the songs on the record.”

Originally published on 25 February 2011 by Billboard

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