Interviews: R.E.M. Reveal Their Favourite Songs
By Scott McDonald
R.E.M. are back with Accelerate, the 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees’ fourteenth studio album, which is due in stores April 1. While the band hopes fans consider some of the new songs their favorite R.E.M. tracks, the guys themselves recently chatted with Buzznet about their own favorite tunes of all time.
Accelerate was produced by Grammy award-winning producer Jacknife Lee (U2, Bloc Party, Snow Patrol) and clocks in at under fifty minutes. In the music world this usually means shorter, more guitar-driven songs. The album is also reportedly more stripped-down and precise when compared to their last few releases.
Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills were nice enough to share fifteen of their favorite songs with us below. The list includes seminal acts such as post-punk legends Gang of Four and experimental bands like Battles. The Athens trio have great taste in music.
YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS
“Let The Good Times Crawl”
Peter Buck-approved garage rock from 80s Seattle veterans fronted by R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey.
Peter Buck: “Young Fresh Fellows are one of America’s greatest bands. This is a song that Scott and I wrote not too long ago. The new record won’t be out until later this year, so it’s kinda neat having an early song out.”
Available on: Young Fresh Fellows’ forthcoming album.
“A New England”
Timeless 1982 debut single from the Bard Of Barking and sometime R.E.M. live collaborator.
Peter Buck: “We’ve been friends with Billy for years. He opened for us in 1984 someplace in Buffalo and kinda hung out. He got onstage and did an early Bragg track (A13) “Trunk Road To The Sea” with us. This is a song that Kirsty MacColl recorded and we’re all big fans of her too.”
Available on: Life’s A Riot with Spy Vs Spy/Between The Wars (Cooking Vinyl, 1983)
GANG OF FOUR
Post-punk collides with sexual politics on jerky debut single from influential late ’70s Leeds quartet.
Michael Stipe: “In the early ’80s there were these bands that hit Athens before they hit anywhere else in the US because of fanzines. Gang Of Four and Joy Division and U2 were bands that everyone in Athens knew about before anyone else in the country. They have a big place in my heart and were a massive influence on R.E.M.”
Available on: Entertainment (EMI, 1979)
“Atlas (Radio Edit)”
Michael Stipe’s favorite New York avant garde outfit mix up futuristic funk and squeaky voices.
Michael Stipe: “I was on Later With Jools Holland, and there was this young band who I’d never heard of before. And I sat there while they performed this song live and I was completely blown away by it. I thought, This is really fantastic, and so I wanted to put one of their songs on this compilation.”
Available on: Mirrored (Warp, 2007)
“Yours For The Taking”
Sometime R.E.M. touring guitarist Ken Stringfellow teams up with Scandinavian rock’n’rollers. Cue two-and-half minutes of wired garage rock.
Mike Mills: “Ken has extremely good taste, so I went and checked them out and it’s pretty cool stuff. He usually finds diamonds in the rough, so I look for good things out of them.”
Available on: The Disciplines’ forthcoming release
Early ’90s gem from ex-frontman with R.E.M.’s ’80s Los Angeles peers The Dream Syndicate. With added Peter Buck.
Peter Buck: “It’s from a record of Steve’s called Dazzling Display that came out in 1992. This is a song that we co-wrote and I played on. It was a pretty cool experience with really great professional session players. It was the first time I’d ever done one of those kind of things.”
Available on: Dazzling Display (Rhino, 1992)
THE MINUS 5
Buck and Scott McCaughey again, this time turning their hand to chiming, psychedelia-tinged Americana.
Peter Buck: “I just got a new tape recorder and recorded the whole song with me playing all the instruments. There was something defective about the recorder and it started dragging, so the tape got really wavery. Scott transferred it over and sang it, and it sounds really psychedelic because the tape is stretched.”
Available on: I Don’t Know Who I Am… Return To Sender (Return To Sender, 2000)
ROBYN HITCHCOCK & THE VENUS 3
Brit psychedelic-folk stalwart enlists old friend Buck for characteristically eccentric slice of whimsy.
Peter Buck: “I’ve been playing with Robyn Hitchcock for 27 years. We have somewhere between one and three records recorded that will be out sometime next year. Propeller Time is probably gonna be on one of those records. At this point, it’s a rough mix that we recorded at his house a year ago. It’s a song that he and I wrote spontaneously on the spot.”
Available on: Robyn Hitchcock (& The Venus 3), forthcoming album.
“9 Mohammed’s Radio”
Late singer Zevon teamed up with Buck and Mills in ’80s cover band Hindu Love Gods. This is from his classic 1976 debut album.
Mike Mills: “Warren Zevon is the quintessential LA songwriter. I’ve learned to find the good things about Los Angeles and Warren tends to remind both of those and the darker, seamier side. Mohammed’s Radio is evocative of that.”
Available on: Warren Zevon (Warner Bros., 1976)
“Same Blue Devils”
Gentle meditation on memory and loss from former singer of ’90s alt-country frontiersmen and onetime REM touring partners Grant Lee Buffalo.
Michael Stipe: “I woke up thinking about Grant this morning. He’s one of those people that, when he writes and sings a song, it’s like the heavens open up. He trances more easily than I do, which is saying a lot. He goes into this state when he performs. Something is just moving through him from another world.”
Available on: Strangelet (Magnetic Field Recordings/CookingVinyl, 2007)
Campfire singalong from upcoming Athens heroes and doyens of the city’s famed 40 Watt Club.
Mike Mills: “Modern Skirts is one of the best bands out of Athens in the last couple of years. I produced a couple of songs for them and I think they’re gonna use this one on the next record. It’s an interesting acoustic-based song, but it gets kinda moving later on.”
Available on: Their forthcoming album.
Buck’s long-running side-project finds him playing out his cowboy movie soundtrack fantasies alongside Scott McCaughey and Jayhawks singer Gary Louris.
Peter Buck: “We got different songwriters – Victoria Williams, Mark Eitzel and, in this case, Gary Louris – to sing and write lyrics to a bunch of songs we wrote. This has this kind of bordertown, last-western-on-earth feel to it. Pretty much everyone who wrote things for the record wrote about either death or blood.”
Available on: East Of The Sun (Fast Horse Recordings)
Stripped-down melancholia from wheelchair-bound Athens singer-songwriter whose early albums were produced by Michael Stipe.
Michael Stipe: “This song is off Vic’s most recent album, produced by the film-maker Jem Cohen. Vic’s an amazing lyricist and one of my top 10 favourite songwriters ever.”
Available on: North Star Deserter (Contsellation, 2007)
“I Am The Cosmos”
Existential musings from cult Big Star guitarist. Originally released as a single in 1978 – the year he died in a car crash.
Mike Mills: “I’ve loved ‘I Am The Cosmos’ ever since the first time I heard it which was a good long time ago. It really has an ethereal, kind of spacial feel to me. I kind of know what he means after I listen to that song.”
Available on: I Am The Cosmos (Rykodisc, 1992)
Radiohead’s dystopian classic gets an orchestral makover courtesy of rock’n’roll-loving classical pianist.
Mike Mills: “Christopher O’Riley is a friend of the band. He’s done these great experiments with The Beatles, R.E.M. and Radiohead where he takes their music and arranges it for classical piano.”
Originally published on 5 March 2008 by Buzznet