â€œLetâ€™s give it one more try!â€
Here on the 21st Street, not far from the Union Square junction in Manhattan, is where celebrities go who do not want to be chauffeured around New York, who enjoy losing themselves in the alternative nightlife of the city. The shabby chic interior is dimly lit, no glaring spotlights here to disturb the stars who are exposed to flashbulb frenzy often enough as it is.
The suite of R.E.M.â€™s bassist, the group that conquered the mainstream in the mid-nineties and today is one of the few remaining established brand names in the rock business, is also quite dim. The warm light of the old-fashioned lamps lends the room the air of a magicianâ€™s chamber. Mike Millsâ€™ long, blond-white hair and Harry Potter-like spectacles add to the impression while he carefully pours himself a cup of tea.
â€œAnd then Ian Copeland played us this new music from the UK,â€ continues Mills, now age 52. Ian, the third of the Copeland brothers along with Stewart (drummer with The Police) and Miles (founder of record company IRS) had just returned from the UK in 1977 and brought new, fresh music with him: the furious hymn â€œNew Roseâ€ by The Damned, that kicked off the Punk rock era, and â€œRight to Workâ€ by the band Chelsea from London. â€œPunk reignited my love for music, and this energy flowed into R.E.M.,â€ says Mills. â€œWe lived Punk ethics, even if we didnâ€™t necessarily play Punk rock.â€
We lived Punk ethics, even if we didnâ€™t necessarily play Punk rock.
That was over 30 years ago. Millsâ€™ mentor, Copeland, died five years ago, always remaining a loyal friend to the band that today is considered one of the greatest rock groups in the world since the Beatles. With â€œCollapse Into Nowâ€ they have just released their 15th studio album. The record sounds fantastic and gives a nod to the various milestones in their career. â€œÃœberlinâ€ reminds us of the epic hit â€œLosing My Religion,â€ but next to tracks like â€œIt Happened Todayâ€ or the heartbreaking melancholy of â€œOh My Heart,â€ it is only one of the gems that the band has lifted from the album.
Maybe â€œCollapse Into Nowâ€ will be R.E.M.â€™s last album. The band, consisting of Mills, vocalist Michael Stipe, and guitarist Peter Buck, has fulfilled its contracts to the full. But Mills, with a mischievous grin, is not laying his cards on the table. â€œWeâ€™ve been travelling for a long time, have seen just about everything, and have arrived at a great point. Weâ€™re feeling good about ourselves and believe in what we do. But that doesnâ€™t mean we know what the future holds.â€ The new album is the last of the largest record contract ever signed by a rock band. In 1996, R.E.M. signed a deal for five records with entertainment giant Warner Brothers to the tune of 80 million dollars. An arrangement that proved to be successful for both sides, but that will hardly be repeated in the contemporary, Internet-ruled music business.
Mike stirs his tea and looks out of the window over the snowbound city through which vocalist Stipe, at this very moment, is striding toward Chelsea, the artistâ€™s district of the city. â€œIt would be typical of me to stay longer than Iâ€™m wanted,â€ he sings on their new disc in â€œAll the Best,â€ a sort of farewell song, yet a song in which Stipe also calls on the others: â€œLetâ€™s give it one more time, letâ€™s show the kids how to do it fine.â€ Whether they will be signing another contract is subject to discussion, says Mills, who writes most of the music for the band.
R.E.M. do not have to prove anything to anyone anymore, as the affable quintagenarian in the Grammercy Park Hotel well knows. Though the years, R.E.M. has developed into a brand that people take along with them as they go through life, he says. â€œWeâ€™ve accompanied lots of people through college, love affairs, marriage, divorce, the loss of friends. We were there during the highs and the lows for many years.â€ Nowadays, fans come to the concerts with their small kids. â€œThey usually sleep through the whole set,â€ the bass player chuckles, â€œbut R.E.M. is so important to the parents that they want to give the music along to their offspring.â€
And the multi-intrumentalist does not plan on disappointing them. â€œPeter Buck and I may live on opposite sides of the U.S., but to meet up with him and make music is still very stimulating.â€ The songsmiths send their demos to Stipe and then wait eagerly to see what he does with them. â€œOften, his stuff is really great,â€ says Mills, â€œbut you never know whatâ€™s going to be successful.â€
In the music business, people spend their lives trying to predict the next hit â€“ some do, some donâ€™t.
And, should the band members of 30 years decide to go separate ways at some point in time, Mills, who besides playing bass and keyboards is also responsible for a lot of the background vocals in R.E.M., promises: â€œA solo album is on my to-do list for one of these days.â€ And, at the very least, Stipe and Buck will feature as guests on it. They both have a lot of appreciation for their dependable bass player. Stipe, who The Brander met briefly in the Grammercy lobby just before the interview, congratulated us on getting him as an interview partner. â€œMikeâ€™s much better with words than me,â€ said the singer and text writer of the band.
The pictures depicting R.E.M are by way of exception not exclusive images of The Brander. The copyright belongs to Warner Music, who kindly gave us permission to use them.
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