R.E.M.’s Peter Buck Discusses Writing Songs for Next LP

R.E.M. are a great band, but like contemporaries U2, they get a lot of flack every time they release a new album. Any band with a catalog of classics like R.E.M. have are bound to have their present judged against their past, but for the Athens alterna-rockers, the road has been particularly rough — sales of each new studio album have dropped with each release. And yet the band, who no doubt could retire anytime they wanted, to spend their days counting their money in Bavarian mansions, continue to write new material. Why is that again?

Peter Buck talks about the passion in an interview with Pitchfork. “One thing about our band is that no matter what kind of record we do, onstage it is a very powerful kind of experience,” says the guitarist.

Check out the interview for a behind the scenes look at modern day R.E.M. in the studio, recording the follow up to last year’s Accelerate. Buck divulges more on the band’s songwriting process, which typically involves Buck and bassist Mike Mills working up chord progressions, and seeing if lead singer Michael Stipe will “gravitate” towards them.

Here, he talks about the recording he and Mills have been doing in the studio:

Pitchfork: So this is the equivalent of singing into your answering machine, getting all this stuff down while you still have it fresh in your head?

PB: Well, for me it’s kind of analogous to, say, a cigarette machine. There is a pile of things, and you have to get one out of the way to get the next one. If I have 10 or 12 songs floating around, I have trouble writing more because I’m trying to remember the other ones. And a lot of them I’ll play into a computer, but it’s just an acoustic guitar and me kind of mumbling and humming and stuff. It’s great to have the band play the things and focus. And now that we have these 14 songs that we are starting the process of, you kind of go, “OK, this is what we are doing, now I get the idea. I can write some more stuff.”

Pitchfork: So you don’t know if any of these 14 songs are going to make their way onto the next album?

PB: You know, it’s a process that is always kind of mysterious. To a certain degree, when we are doing this stuff, we are doing this to excite Michael [Stipe] about getting inspired. For him, he really wants to hear something and be inspired to sing something. It’s an amazing thing to have him do, but he doesn’t finish every song and say, “Here, take your pick.” It’s really the things that really move him. So he’ll listen to the stuff in a few months, and ideally there will be enough there to spark his interest.

Check out the full interview here.