Interviews: T In The Park

By John Dingwall

Legendary American rockers R.E.M. plan to close the 15th T in the Park in style, but don’t be surprised if they find themselves Out Of Time as they attempt to perform hits stretching back an impressive 25 years.

Their closing set will be a fitting finale to Scotland’s favourite festival which has played host to an incredible array of the finest rock and pop talent since it began at Strathclyde Park in 1994.

Some 180 artists will take to 11 stages in front of 80,000 music fans over three days and R.E.M. will have their work cut out if they plan to deliver a comprehensive set of old favourites along with their new material.

The trio from Athens, Georgia – frontman Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills – previously headlined at Balado in 2003 and have a back catalogue that takes some beating, including 14 studio albums.

And they say they’ve only fond memories of whenever they’ve played in Scotland.

Mills said: “A tour of Great Britain wouldn’t be right without stopping in Scotland. We did T in the Park before and it was a very well run festival and the crowd were fantastic so we were happy to come back. The Scots are mad. If they love you that’s a beautiful thing.”

Recalling the band’s shows when they first started out in the early 1980s, at a time when Michael Stipe had long flowing blond locks, Ronald Reagan was U.S. president, and the compact cassette was still thought of as an innovation, he added: “I remember thinking Edinburgh was such a darkly beautiful city and then I remember playing Glasgow’s Barrowland around 1985. That’s sort of your litmus test. If you can play Barrowland and win that crowd then you’ve succeeded. If you can’t you’re in the wrong business. Playing gigs like that always reminded me that I have the best job in the world, let’s put it that way.”

R.E.M. were also looking back when they decided their latest album Accelerate should come in under 40 glorious minutes of taut rock’n'roll.

Mills laughed: “That hasn’t been done in a while but it does feel like the career is accelerating and life is accelerating so it does seem appropriate.

“Back in the day you were limited by the size of the grooves. If you put more than 40 minutes on a vinyl LP you would lose sound quality. Then with the advent of the CD you could put as much music as you wanted on there. People forgot sometimes how to edit themselves.

“We consciously wanted to write shorter songs and we left a couple of songs off this album because we wanted to keep it short. Everything about this record was going to be shorter, the amount of time spent making it, the songs themselves and the length of the album itself. It was designed to cut away the layers of fat and make it just the essential album.”

There was also the fact that guitarist Peter Buck threatened to quit the group if they went through another lengthy album session like 2004′s Around The Sun.

Following drummer Bill Berry’s decision to quit the group in 1997, two years after he collapsed on stage during an R.E.M. show from a brain aneurysm, the band had become more subdued and introspective on record if not as a live band, leading Peter to insist they go back to basics in the studio.

Peter explained: “It was a record that no one really liked and was almost impossible to play. I just said to the guys I had no interest in spending eight months fiddling with an album. If that was the way it was gonna work, they were gonna have do it without me. Fortunately, everyone kind of agreed they needed me in the band.”

Mills added: “The real problem was the last record. We tried to do too much. We recorded most of it then we tried to do a Greatest Hits album and then we did a tour. Then we tried to come back and finish the record. The lesson we learned is: that’s too much. That’s why this one was meant to be very concentrated with no distractions.

“The 2005 tour really felt good to us and really focused all of us on the playing. That’s what we brought to this record. We recorded the songs as a live band.”

R.E.M. took advice from U2′s The Edge and enlisted Jackknife Lee, who’s worked on recent records by Bloc Party, Snow Patrol and Green Day, along with U2′s How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, as producer to help get them back on track.

Mills said; “His name was thrown in among others and we love all of his previous work. Just to double check we asked The Edge what he thought. And he gave a glowing recommendation and that was enough to seal the deal.”

This year’s T in the Park is completely sold out with music fans anticipating arguably the strongest line-up yet, kicking off with the likes of KT Tunstall, The Verve and Chemical Brothers tonight. 1994′s headliners Rage Against The Machine return to top the main stage on Saturday, while the NME stage plays host to Kaiser Chiefs and Jack White’s Raconteurs while Ian Brown headlines the King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut Tent. On Sunday, Kings Of Leon, Amy Winehouse, Aphex Twin, Hot Chip and The Prodigy are just some of the acts vying for attention.

Prior to R.E.M’s set, there’s every chance Michael Stipe will catch The National in the Pet Sounds Arena. He revealed: “I had seen The National and met the guys really briefly at the Oxegen Festival. Peter knows the band and I took Mike to see a show they played in London. Mike was completely blown away by them live.”

Don’t be surprised if the enigmatic singer takes bronze at the festival for his efforts as he indulges in his new passion – sculpture. A collection of bronze works by the band’s frontman, who studied art at the University of Georgia, is currently on display in New York.

The pieces, which are not for sale, take the form of Polaroid cameras, a cassette tape and even a clock radio. Explaining the concept, Michael said: “The radio alarm clock changed forever the fragile state between sleeping and waking, allowing you to wake to your favourite radio station. The Polaroid brought about a revolution in photography, while tapes altered forever the influence of radio as the individual became their own disc jockey.”

But heavy metal will take second place to classic rock when R.E.M. perform tracks from the new album and is likely to be supplemented with hits such as “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?”, “Everybody Hurts” and “Shiny Happy People”.

Mike Mills explained: “We’ll be concentrating on the new stuff because we are so happy with it and there will be plenty of other songs in the set. It changes every night but it is guaranteed to be fun. The line-up sounds fantastic and I am looking forward to several of those bands. Ian Brown, The Verve and Kings Of Leon are all bands I want to see.

“Amy Winehouse is a great talent, too. I hope she pulls herself together.”

Meanwhile, Mike insists that, coming from Georgia in the American South, he’s not in the least concerned with the dreaded midgies that tend to come before sunset.

“We come from the South of the United States and we have more little bugs than just about anywhere in the world so that won’t be a problem,” he said. “I remember them from before and I think we can handle them. We call them no-see-ums where I live. You end up eating a few of them anyway.”

Originally published on 11 July 2008 by Daily Record
Source: HighBeam

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