neumu : inqusitive : rem
r.e.m. : frontr.e.m. : intror.e.m. : oner.e.m. : twor.e.m. : threer.e.m. : backdividerr.e.m. : close
neumu : inqusitive : rem

Peter Buck on Reveal, the creative process, Napster, and R.E.M.'s future

Portland, Ore.

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 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.