Buck on Reveal, the creative process, Napster, and R.E.M.'s
Peter Buck comes across as the most normal of guys which
doesn't mean he is. After all, when you've been a key member of
a band that's spent the last two decades getting rave reviews
and an ever-growing following not to mention fame and fortune
how, exactly, could anyone remain "normal?" Which raises
the question of what, exactly, is normal, anyway? So let's just
say that Buck keeps things low-key. Doesn't draw attention to
himself. Doesn't come across as an egomaniac. He seems well adjusted
regarding his talents as a musician and writer. And he says he
drives his kids to school and picks them up and runs errands
just like someone who isn't a rock star.
When I met with him in late March, he was rightly proud of R.E.M.'s
latest album, Reveal. He believes it's superior to the
previous album, Up, which was the first the group made
as a trio, without drummer Bill Berry. "We had to walk out of
there [the recording studio] feeling like [Reveal] was
a really strong record," said Buck, as we sat in a bar downstairs
from Portland's Crystal Ballroom, where he was performing that
night as a member of the Minus 5. "We're at the age where we feel
like we've really got to focus and buckle down. How many more
records are we going to make in our life? Three? Four? The only
reason I want to make records is to make great records, and the
only way you can do that is to keep pushing yourself. This record
could have sounded just like Automatic [Automatic for
the People] but that would be like going back to your high-school
prom or something."
Reveal is a beautiful album, moody and ethereal. It finds
the trio taking off from the electronic-tinged Up, somehow
taking things further along, yet maintaining the distinctive R.E.M.
sound. The album is spacious, and in some ways has the conceptual
feeling of something like Pet Sounds or O.K. Computer,
although it's nothing like either of those albums.
R.E.M. now a trio comprising singer/lyricist Michael Stipe,
writer/musician Mike Mills and Buck actually broke up while
recording Up following drummer Berry's departure, according
to Stipe. "I completely shut down during the making of that record,"
Stipe told Q magazine. "I had the mother of all writer's
blocks, just because the band was falling apart. At one point,
I had to get used to the idea that we had completely split up.
I was working on what I thought would be our last will and testament.
When you see relationships that are that important to you fold
and collapse, and you can't find a solution to it... I'm really
not overstating anything here. It was awful. I still hear that
when I listen to the record, but it's also very beautiful."
But the band "fucking sat down and talked," as Stipe put it, and
worked things out. Recording Reveal was a completely different
and very positive experience, Buck said. "Now I'm
feeling 'Hey, we could do 10 more records maybe.' "
This was the third time I'd interviewed Buck; to check out my
previous interviews with him, as well as with Michael Stipe and
Mike Mills, please head over to the InsiderOne.net
interview archive section. We spoke for nearly 90 minutes,
touching on a range of topics including Napster, Reveal,
a solo album Buck has in the works and the future of R.E.M.