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R.E.M. reunites for first interview in 30 years ahead of Hall of Fame induction

Eva Hartman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Thirteen years after R.E.M. disbanded, the original members of the iconic rock group reunited before their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on Thursday night to reflect on the highs and lows of their career.

"You know, we lived or died on the strength of our songs. So this is a huge honor," guitarist Peter Buck said on "CBS Mornings," speaking ahead of the induction ceremony in New York and during the group's first interview together in 30 years.

"It is the hardest thing that we do. And it's the thing that we've worked on the most from the very beginning," bassist Mike Mills told CBS' Anthony Mason.

"Because we had to," drummer Bill Berry said. "I mean really, early on, just to put food on the table, we had to write songs as fast as we could."

The indie rock group formed as college students at the University of Georgia in Athens in the early 1980s before dropping out to pursue music full time. They gained local recognition before releasing their critically acclaimed debut album "Murmur" in 1983, which The Times named the No. 2 album of the year.

The foursome would gather in the studio every day with a list of ideas and trade them back and forth to see whether anyone was inspired. Mills, Buck and Berry would write the music, then hand it over to vocalist Michael Stipe to write the lyrics.

"Michael, of course, is one of the best melodists in the world," Mills said.

That much is clear, given the group's recognition by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which seeks to celebrate the legacies and careers of songwriters from all genres of music. This year's class of inductees also includes Hillary Lindsey, Timbaland, Dean Pitchford and Steely Dan.

Some of R.E.M's biggest songs surprised the rockers, notably their signature hit, the Grammy winning "Losing My Religion."

"I love the song, but we never thought it was gonna be a hit," Stipe said of the 1991 song.

 

"It's like a bumblebee. They shouldn't be able to fly. That song shouldn't have been a hit," Mills added.

It was the end of the world as the band knew it in 2013, when they broke up after more than three decades of what The Times characterized as "uncompromising artistic integrity." Influenced to an extent by Berry's 1995 onstage brain aneurysm and subsequent departure, the rockers decided it was time to take a final bow.

"We feel kind of like pioneers in this — there's no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off," Mills wrote at the time. "We've made this decision together, amicably and with each other's best interests at heart. The time just feels right."

All four have kept busy in the years since. Berry traded international stages for a hay farm in Georgia after his departure but has since rejoined the Athens music scene with the Bad Ends, who released a debut album in 2022. Buck has released three solo albums in addition to music with former R.E.M. touring member Scott McCaughey and collaborated with singer-songwriters Joseph Arthur and Luke Haines. Mills has stayed on the road, playing for bands including his longtime favorite, Big Star. Stipe has largely left the spotlight, appearing occasionally for philanthropic causes or to honor other artists, including the Velvet Underground. He also released four books showcasing his photography.

Buck shed more light on the band's breakup on Thursday.

"There wasn't anything we could agree on really, musically. What kind of music, how to record it. Are we gonna go on tour? You know, it was like — we could barely agree on where to go to dinner," he said. "And now we can just agree on where to go to dinner."

Looking back on the breakup, Stipe lauded how the rockers are "also here to tell the tale."

"We're sitting at the same table together with deep admiration and lifelong friendship. A lot of people that do this can't claim that," he said.


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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