Interviews: Rapid No Movement

By John Dingwall

R.E.M. star Mike Mills reveals that the American supergroup will use their headlining appearance at T in the Park to voice their anger at the U.S. President and his war in Iraq.

American supergroup R.E.M. are planning to launch a political attack on US President George W Bush at T in the Park this weekend.

The multi-million selling band – who campaigned for Al Gore during the close-run Presidential election campaign – will use their headlining slot to unveil a brand new track called “Bad Day,” which criticises Bush.

R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills revealed: “‘Bad Day’ is a new song which deals with our frustration and unhappiness with the current American administration and the American media’s failure to act as watchdog.

“It shows we are still active politically. Bush has everyone bamboozled.

“He is extremely popular, but he has swindled the American people and we hope the truth will come out before long.

“His foreign and domestic policies are very misguided and counter-productive.

“The war on Iraq was a greatly fraudulent and illegal war. Most Americans think… ‘we won the war, so who gives a damn?’ and the media are toeing the line.

“I probably know as much about anything as Bush does. R.E.M. just don’t like diplomacy at the end of a gun.” And Mike isn’t worried that his countrymen will take offence at R.E.M.’s stance.

Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines faced death threats and sales of the U.S. country trio’s records plummeted after she said she was ashamed of Bush at a London concert in March.

She later apologised.

But Mills says R.E.M. fans will stick by the band whatever the fallout over their political stance.

He added: “The Dixie Chicks are in a different world from us. They are in the world of country music, which is generally a little more patriotic and flag-waving than rock’n'roll.

“Our fans know how we feel about things. The song is one of two new songs which we plan to include on a Best Of compilation, out later in the year. The other is called ‘Animal’.”

As well as the new songs, R.E.M. will include hits spanning more than 20 years together when they close the bill at the 10th T in the Park on Saturday.

And the good news is that they can’t wait to return to Scotland, even if they are entering uncharted waters this time.

Mike, relaxing at home in Athens, Georgia, told me: “We are looking forward to coming to T in the Park. I have heard of the festival, but I’ve never been before.

“We get offered all the festivals, but this one is in part of the land that we wanted to be in and it made sense on a logistical level. We’ve heard it’s a well-run festival and everyone says it is a good place to play. We are going to be doing more older stuff and not too many unreleased songs.

“The hits in the set will span the repertoire leaning heavily towards our time with Warners, but we’ll also throw in a few old nuggets from our early deal with the IRS label.”

I warned the band – Mike, singer Michael Stipe and guitarist Peter Buck – about the unpredictable Scottish weather and dreaded midges.

But the band insist rain will not dampen their spirits when they hit Balado in front of more than 55,000 revellers.

Mike laughed: “We did three shows at Stirling Castle in the recent past, so we’ve dealt with the weather before and it shouldn’t be a problem.

“And we’re not scared of the midges. We live in Georgia. We’ve got bugs like you wouldn’t believe here. I’m not saying the midges are nothing, but we’ve seen their like before.

“The thing we love about Scotland is the Scottish crowds who are very enthusiastic. There is no apathy in Scotland.

“They’ll either love you or they’ll hate you and either way, they’ll let you know it.

“I certainly remember playing the Barrowland in Glasgow. I know there’s a few small venues we’ve played in Edinburgh as well. Those shows were a long time ago.”

The band, who formed in 1980, count Prime Minister Tony Blair among their fans.

Early hits include 1984′s “Don’t Go Back To Rockville” and the likes of “Man In The Moon,” “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” 2Shiny Happy People” and “Losing My Religion.”

Albums such as Out Of Time, Automatic For The People, Monster and 2001′s Reveal all topped the charts. Then, five years ago, the band almost split when drummer Bill Berry quit the group to become a farmer – having nearly died on stage with an aneurism.

Mike admits: “We’ve had our moments of crisis in the past. We had one when Bill left the band in 1998.

“We weren’t sure what to do but we had a big meeting and decided there was no reason not to carry on.

“We still keep in touch with Bill most days. His health was fine, but he has always been a bit of a home-body and having an aneurism made him rethink all the travelling he was doing.

“As much as anything, that’s what made him retire.”

Two years ago, guitarist Buck avoided a criminal record when he was cleared of going on a drunken rampage aboard a British Airways flight – which Mike describes as a “misunderstanding”.

And last year, Stipe ended years of speculation about his sexuality when he admitted he was gay, but long running rumours that he was dying of AIDS proved untrue. And Mike says speculation and rumour are all part of the deal. He explains: “Michael is charismatic and he’s a great singer. He’s interesting to watch and has a brilliant voice.

“We would not want the archetypal frontman and that is part of the appeal, but people made up stories.

“Rumours will fly no matter what you do and all we could do was be safe in the knowledge that he was okay and let Michael deal with it on his own terms.”

Of the future, Mike says: “We are looking for a new album to come out some time in 2004, which feels good. It’s hard to indicate a direction because it is only half-finished.

“As a band, we’re friends first and foremost. We respect each other’s feelings and wishes and we split the royalties equally and we feel like we’re still making good music. If we thought our music was sub-par, we’d probably split up.

“There’s no question that we still have the same passion we had when we started out. I’m having as much fun now as I ever have. We are writing great songs and we work well together.”

Originally published on 10 July 2003 by Daily Record

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