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Fables of the Reconstruction
Now venerated members of the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, REM are back stronger than ever before.
Dave Fanning, 20 Jul 2007
Through an unbroken string of classic albums, from 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant to 1991’s Automatic For The People, it seemed the Athens, Georgia quartet could do no wrong. However, following the troubled Monster tour in 1995, the relative underperformance of 1996’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi and the departure of drummer Bill Berry, the remaining three members struggled to maintain impetus and relevance throughout the late ‘90s. A triptych of post-Berry albums (Up, Reveal and Around The Sun) garnered respectful reviews, and the band remained a heavyweight touring act, but there was a nagging sense that REM had lost ground.
Their decision to decamp to Dublin for a week of live rehearsal shows at the Olympia Theatre last week telegraphed a desire to exit their comfort zone. It also suggested that, with the help of producer Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee, they might forge their most vibrant album in years. On the eve of the first of those Dublin shows, Dave Fanning spoke to Peter Buck and Mike Mills about the current REM-state.
Dave Fanning: It’s been about 10 years since you’ve road-tested a bunch of songs in the way that you’re road-testing material for the next album in Dublin. Is this a good way to do it?
Peter Buck: I’ve always felt that it’s best to do the stuff live. These were the things we used to have to do when we were younger. We had no money, we were on the road 300 days a year, so you wrote at sound-checks to do the record the second you finished the tour. It seemed like the natural way to go about it. I personally want to make the record a little bit more spontaneous and a bit more like who we are as a band. It was Mike’s idea to do some shows, so here we are.
Mike Mills: To me it’s very much a whittling process. Back in the day when we were touring constantly, after a week or two of playing a song, you’d gotten rid of what you didn’t need, made your bass parts better, made your background vocals tighter. There’s nothing like the immediate feedback, and you can feel it. So I got thinking, since the way the process works now is we’re not about to leave on the road every two days, I just wanted some way to tighten this thing up and get that immediate feedback, and have the energy of that to take into the studio.