Michael Goldberg: R.E.M. has been a band for 20 years now. Do you feel that you're pushing what it means to be a band?
Peter Buck: It feels like sometimes we're a band and sometimes we're not. When we're working, yeah, I feel like we're a real band and that's the way it works. [But] when we have four or five months off.... You feel like the guys in U2 live for it. Every second of their lives is about the band, and I respect that about them. But with us, we're not doing all the stuff that you feel like a band should do. Like always being on the road like B.B. King.
I think a lot of what we were as a band changed when Bill left. So now we're not a band that can go on Tuesday, "Let's play tonight," because we live in different parts of the country. It's not like we hang out all the time and then are ready to jam. It feels to me, in a good way, that we're not really bound by the band thing anymore. We just choose what we want to do, make records, perform in whatever way we want to do it. It's kind of freeing and liberating.
Goldberg: How did you approach making Reveal?
Buck: The feeling was that we wanted to include the performance aspect a bit more than we had on the last record [Up]. The last record was a lot of individual tracks that we'd layer, a lot of my home demos that we'd overdub. This time around it turned into all six of us in the room performing together. We haven't really been in a studio and done that in a long time. The New Adventures In Hi-Fi record we recorded on the road almost completely. Monster, which was '94, we did mostly on soundstages. We were in studios doing overdubs, but as far as walking in the first day of making a record and performing in the studio from beginning to end, we haven't done that since Automatic for the People, which was '92.
Goldberg: The songs were written before you began recording?
Buck: They always are. I just don't have enough nerve to go into the studio without things being written. I'm pretty concise about doing demos that show where the song is going to be. I don't write lyrics. Michael writes lyrics and comes up with a lot of the melodies. So when Mike and I are writing, we're always trying to present Michael with something that sounds really close to finished, 'cause he gets inspired by things that sound like great records.
Goldberg: A fair amount of attention has been put on Radiohead these past few years as a band that makes albums, as compared to collections of songs. A few years ago the New York Times did a big story about how no one makes albums anymore. You guys have always made albums in the classic sense.
Buck: Oh yeah.
Goldberg: Do you think that because R.E.M. has been around so long you sometimes get taken for granted?
Buck: Yeah, but I'm that way too. You could name a thousand people who have been around. Someone like Bruce Springsteen I've been buying his records since 1973. I went to see him on his last tour. I've consistently really liked his work over the years. But it's not going to excite me the way seeing Godspeed You Black Emperor! [would], or At the Drive-In or Oranger who I haven't seen yet. I like their records. Something new is always going to be more exciting than something that has been around awhile.
I sometimes think that we don't get as much credit for doing what we've done. But I also think that we've gotten a whole lot of really great press. We've gotten everything you can get, really, out of this end of the business. Financial, creative, critical all the kind of attention you can get, we have it. I certainly don't feel people are ignoring us.
As far as consistently being album-makers, I always try to measure us against the classic stuff. And quite often, honestly, I go, "I don't think it's as good as the best." We're at the age where we feel like we really have to focus and buckle down. How many more records are we going to make in our life? Three, four? That would be a lot of records. That would be 15, 16 records. That's a lot of records for a band.
Goldberg: So each time, after you finish an album, do you have to decide if you're going to do another?
Buck: Well, after the last one, this was our trial record. 'Cause the last one was not pleasant for us to make, for a lot of reasons. It was kind of grueling. Nobody was really focused. If we were less stubborn people the one thing that Mike and Michael and I still have in common is we're the three most stubborn people on earth. Most people, if the drummer quit the first day of the sessions, would have said "Hey, let's take six months off and come back." Nope, we did the record.
In retrospect, maybe we should have taken some time off, but then we might not have made this record now. But yeah, after that record, going into [making] this record we were feeling, "This should be a fun process. We need to make a great record for ourselves, not for anyone else. And if both of those things don't happen, there's no point in us doing this." 'Cause I don't need the money. I think that Up was a really good record, but it could have been better if we'd been in a better place. It represents where we were at the time. [This time] we were all feeling, "This record has to be it. We have to all walk out of there feeling it's a really strong record." Now I'm feeling "Hey, we could do 10 more records maybe."