REM’s Michael Stipe says Trump voters were not ‘voting for racism’ but ‘trying to smash the machine’

Stipe 'not a giant fan of Hillary Clinton' but doesn't see Trump as 'accountable'

Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of REM spoke of their fear of Donald Trump’s presidency during a Q&S session at the London Borderline last week (November 18), but also hoped that his election would “galvanise” disillusioned American voters.

“There are several reasons for what happened, most of them dreadful, and I truly fear for our country for the next four years,” said Mills onstage at the venue where REM played their legendary secret show as Bingo Hand Job in 1991 for a live Facebook stream around the release of the deluxe 3CD edition of their seventh album ‘Out Of Time’. “But maybe it’ll be galvanising event that makes people realise that inaction can be the cause of great evil, so we’ll see if we can get some transformative event to come out of what happened.”

“Clearly it was a protest vote against the establishment,” Michael Stipe continued. “Hillary Clinton represented the establishment very well, so rather than people voting for a racist, xenophobic agenda, an intolerant agenda, I think they were just trying to smash the machine. We’ve all been reeling from the news from America and we’ve seen it happen in other parts of the world, like here, and we’ve seen the ripple effect of that in other parts of the world like Turkey, Australia and France. I don’t think anyone’s terribly happy about where this is going, I think we need to remain vigilant, get over the grief and get on with it. I campaigned hard for Bernie Sanders, I thought he was a good candidate and someone who might have actually elevated the office of President. I was not a giant fan of Hillary Clinton but clearly, between the two, she’s accountable. I don’t think Donald Trump is accountable.”


“Middle America has been completely hollowed out by Democrats and Republicans for the last – pick a number – 34 years, a lot of people had been marginalised and forgotten,” Mike added. “One thing Trump was right about is that Washington is a completely corrupt place, as are most centres of power. If anything good comes out of this, perhaps there will be some lessening of the completely insular behaviour that occurs in Washington. They really don’t think about anything outside of their little bubble, and maybe this will cause people to listen to a formerly ignored group of people. There used to be a very large middle class in America and due to a whole lot of factors it doesn’t exist anymore, so the people that had hope and optimism and reason to think that their children would have a better life than they all of a sudden don’t have a reason to think that. So they voted like this to send this message and hopefully it’ll be heard.”


The pair also discussed the making for ‘Out Of Time’, re-released to coincide with its 25th anniversary, likening their writing process to that of The Smiths. ‘”Unless Michael was in the room and coming up with stuff he could sing for us at that moment, we had no idea [what the melodies would be],” said Mills. “There were a couple of songs where I heard great pop hits and Michael came back with things that were not pop hits but are now some of my favourite songs. I thought ‘World Leader Pretend’ was going to be the most radio-friendly thing ever but it wasn’t, yet it’s a brilliant song. The songs had to be interesting in and of themselves before they ever got to Michael, they had to have interesting chords and something good going on making them worth hearing before they even had a vocal or a singing melody on there.”

“They would give me these completed tracks and I’d go off and try to write something,” Stipe revealed. “I didn’t realise until ‘Accelerate’ that Peter had been recording little riffs into the songs as hints for where he heard the vocval going, but he didn’t tell me that until ‘Accelerate’, I’d hear these things and try to sing around them. These guys were throwing marbles down!”

Though no mention was made of any future REM activity, the pair did recall their show as Bingo Hand Job, revealing that Bradley Cooper is a big fan of the event. “[He] told me a year ago that the bootleg of that night is his favourite moment in REM’s career,” Stipe explained. “We had a washcloth made with Bingo Hand Job printed on it. That felt really cool.”

“Do you remember what else it said on our wash cloth?” Mills asked him. “‘Sanitised for your protection’. It was supposed to be a mess. It was the only thing we did live in England on that whole promo business. Once we heard that the word had gotten out and there were so many people trying to get in and the tickets were going for so much money, the more determined we were to fuck it up. So we drank a lot and there was a lot of silliness going on. Peter [Buck, bassist] was also doing interpretive dance. It was just vogueing really.”

“All the songs we were doing that were cover songs that were easy for our guests to sing, but I don’t know any of the words to any of them,” Stipe joked. “I don’t know why I didn’t bother to listen to them before I went onstage.”