Interviews: Rock’s Enigmatic Megastars Persevere Through Tour Of Pain

By Paul Hampel

The last time I spoke with R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, he was sipping from a glass of champagne and saying the best thing about being in a self-supporting rock ‘n’ roll band was that he could play golf whenever he felt like it.

“That’s what I’m loving the most. I can play in the middle of a weekday,” he noted, flashing a grin.

That was in 1989 at a Christmas partly thrown by the band Love Tractor in the alternative music hotbed of Athens, Ga.

Mills, the friend of a friend, graciously fielded questions from a nosy northern fan about day-to-day life in a cutting-edge cult band.

R.E.M. is not a cult act anymore, but the world’s hottest pop band. And for Mills, golf has become more than a pastime. “I don’t go out much to socialize anymore,” Mills, 36, said, speaking by phone from R.E.M. headquarters in Athens.

“When I do, it’s usually to play golf. Golf is good therapy.”

And therapy is as important as amplifiers to a band whose latest tour mirrors a catastrophic military campaign.

Three-fourths of the quartet has undergone surgery since it went on the road in February to support the triple-platinum Monster. The album has spawned a couple of hits, including “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and “Crush With Eyeliner.”

On March 1, drummer Bill Berry suffered a brain aneurysm as the band performed in Switzerland. More recently, singer Michael Stipe had hernia surgery. Mills was treated for complications that arose from an appendectomy he underwent last year. Guitarist Peter Buck has escaped relatively unscathed, aside from a bout with the flu early in the tour.

“I feel that we’re doing the best work of our lives but it seems that we’re paying for it physically,” Mills said.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re cursed, but we’re definitely challenged by fate. But it looks like we’re in the clear now and well on our way to being 100 percent,” he said.

R.E.M.’s first tour in six years has sold out venues worldwide, including the first of two concerts at Riverport Amphitheatre. But that doesn’t mean R.E.M.’s songs are for sale.

“We don’t sell our music to corporations,” Mills said. “We recently refused a ton of money from Microsoft. Let’s just say it was in the millions.” The software company tried to buy the rights to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” to promote its new system Windows 95. “Why don’t we just accept the money and they give it to a charity?” Mills said. “We have our own charities already. We prefer our donations to be anonymous. And we don’t want to have to constantly explain to fans why we accepted money from big companies. It’s ultimately counterproductive.”

The band also filed suit against Hershey Foods Corp. for trademark infringement following a Kit Kat/R.E.M. concert promotion.

“Same thing there. We don’t mind anyone giving tickets to our concerts away. But Hershey was advertising it on the radio as the ‘Kit Kat/R.E.M. Concert.’ We don’t do corporate sponsorships.”

The band didn’t tour to support its last two albums, 1991’s Out Of Time and 1992’s Automatic For The People. Both went multiplatinum nonetheless.

So why hit the road, if, as Mills claims, “it’s so stressful”?

“Rock ‘n’ roll feels more real to me when I’m playing it live. It’s great fun playing with the band in the studio, but live is a different kind of challenge.”

If memories are all you want from R.E.M. at Riverport this weekend, Mills suggests you just stay home.

“Going to see an R.E.M. show is not a greatest hits package. We do things our way. We play mostly ’90s stuff, songs that we’re not sick to death of. You just can’t give a song proper treatment if you’re not excited. And the idea of playing ‘(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville’ doesn’t excite me at the moment. We respect our audience enough to challenge them with new material, so you can expect a lot of stuff from Monster.”

Originally published on 26 September 1995 by St. Louis Post
Source: R.E.M. Central


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