Here’s a cool new interview with Mike Mills, published by The West Australian.
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By Simon Collins
For R.E.M. fans, it could be the end of the world as they know it.
The alternative rock veterans’ latest album, Collapse Into Now, is their final release with major label Warners – R.E.M.’s home since the late 80s – and they have no plans to sign a new deal.
The band, which formed 31 years ago in Athens, Georgia, has also announced that they will not be touring for the album, their 15th studio recording.
“We just don’t feel it,” bassist Mike Mills says during a chat deep in Warners’ Los Angeles bunker. “We don’t tour to support records, we tour because we like to play and for us to go out for the eight months it would take for an R.E.M. tour, you have to be 100 per cent committed to doing it every night and right now, we’re not feeling it.
“We go with the gut and the gut says no.”
In an affable if brusque chat, Mills says that there are no plans for the band’s future and while it could be the end of R.E.M., he feels fine.
“We will come to a collective decision soon about what to do and we will let everybody know,” he adds. “It’s absolutely great. We can do everything or we can do nothing. We have the entire gamut of options from here on.”
R.E.M. won’t entertain thoughts of going post-label a la Radiohead, who offered 2007 album In Rainbows online on a “pay what you want” model before fixing a price for last month’s The King of Limbs.
“We have no interest in doing that at all,” Mills, 52, says. “As I said at the time (they released In Rainbows), I don’t have their faith in humanity and, sadly, my lack of faith was justified by what people did with their record. Most people paid little or nothing.”
Against this backdrop of crumbling majors and new paradigms, Collapse Into Now seems to reference the state of play. Mills sees the connection but counters with his own interpretation of the title, which was lifted from the lyrics of last song, “Blue”, at the suggestion of punk poetess Patti Smith, who sings alongside Michael Stipe on the track.
“For me, what it means is that there is no moment more important than the one you’re in at this minute,” Mills says.
“People worry too much about the past and the future. Concentrate on right now and you’ll do well.”
All right then, let’s concentrate on Collapse Into Now, which is a more freewheeling and satisfying affair than the pared-back, guitar-driven Accelerate of 2008.
“I would say Accelerate was one of the few records where we had a real specific set of guidelines on ourselves when we made the record,” Mills says. “We wanted every song to be as short and fast and loud as possible. We were still cutting parts out of the songs on the last day of mixing.
“So, we made that statement that we wanted to make and after that we said ‘well, we can do whatever we want on this record’, and we did what we normally do, which is to … pick the best songs available.”
Work began on Collapse in March 2009, with Mills and guitarist Peter Buck (plus “unofficial” members, guitarist Scott McCaughey and drummer Bill Rieflin) recording demos in Portland which were then sent to Stipe, who worked on lyrics and vocals. The band then recorded in New Orleans, Berlin and Nashville between November 2009 and September last year with Accelerate producer Garrett “Jacknife” Lee, who acted as a “court of last resort” for the central trio.
“If the three of us really cannot reach a decision then we know that we can turn to him and we’ll accept his answer,” Mills says.
The bulk of Collapse was done in New Orleans in two three-week sessions, with the storied Louisiana city inspiring the paean “Oh My Heart”.
“New Orleans, being the heart and soul of American music, is a city that we’ve always loved, that has seen more than their fair share of misfortune lately,” the bassist says. “It’s a town that could use a little bit of a boost.”
After the New Orleans sessions, R.E.M. recorded in the famed Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, where David Bowie, Iggy Pop and U2 recorded seminal albums, during a European heatwave. Canadian-born but Berlin-based electro-clash queen Peaches joined the band, adding to an impressive roster of guests that also includes Smith and her long-time guitarist Lenny Kaye, Eddie Vedder (who inducted R.E.M. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame four years ago) and the Hidden Cameras’ Joel Gibb.
Collapse Into Now was completed in Nashville, where R.E.M. also laid down their 1987 album Document. “Nashville was one of the first places we started playing outside Georgia,” Mills says. “We’ve had a long, lovely history with that town.”
While Mills prefers to focus on the here and now, he’s more than happy to take a trip down memory lane to January 1995, when R.E.M. kicked off their Monster world tour in Perth. In addition to drawing the world’s music media to WA, the trip was memorable because Buck got married on Cottesloe beach and golf-nut Mills made some new friends at the Vines Resort.
“Peter’s wedding was one of the most memorable things – sunset on the beach, all the groomsmen in short pants and then the party after,” he says.
“I remember playing golf at the Vines and I sliced one into this patch of short stumpy trees. Then as I got closer I realised they weren’t trees at all but I’d hit my ball into a herd of kangaroos. How do I play this?
“I walked in and they all looked at me. They hopped out of the way enough for me to get through. I got to my ball and I hit out from the middle of these kangaroos,” Mills says with a laugh. “Thank you, boys!”