To celebrate the 25th anniversary of REM‘s seminal ‘Automatic For The People’, we sat down with bassist Mike Mills to talk about the album’s legacy, politics and the chances of the band ever getting back together. Watch our full ‘In Conversation’ interview above.
Last week saw the release of the 25th anniversary edition of the art-rock veterans’ classic 1992 record – featuring the likes of ‘Man On The Moon’, ‘Drive’ ‘Everybody Hurts’, ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight’ and ‘Nightswimming’. Speaking to NME about what made the record stand out and stand the test of time, Mills said that it was created ‘in their own little space’ while ‘not trying to sell a tonne of records’. The band were uncertain as to whether anyone would even listen – let alone like it.
“I think it had a consistency,” Mills told NME. “When we made records, we always saw them as a journey. You’re inviting the listener to go on a 40-45 minute trip with you. If a mood is sustained for that trip, unless you’re trying to jerk from one place to the next which is fine, but if you’re trying to achieve a flow, then this record has that – in a way that I don’t think that any of our records other than maybe ‘Murmur’ or ‘Collapse Into Now’ had.
“As someone who loves the format of an album, who loves going somewhere with an artist or musician for a length of time, then this record succeeds in that way much more so than any of our own records or anyone else’s records. You have to go to Miles Davis or Joni Mitchell – they’re just two out of a million I’m sure, but the fact that this one maintains some kind of continuity for the entire trip of the journey is really important to us.”
Speaking of the political overtones of the record, particularly on ‘Ignoreland’, Mills said that he never foresaw such themes ringing even more true today some 25 years later. However, he said that this sadly appears to be the case in the wake of the election of President Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum.
“When you write a song with that much anger, disappointment and discouragement, which is what that song is, you certainly don’t expect that it’s going to be as relevant if not more so in 25 years. I hoped that the world would be a much better place. Indeed, the world did in many ways become a much better place, but unfortunately humanity is a self-destructive organism. America and the British have both made some particularly self-destructive decisions lately.
“It’s sad to see, but that’s the way it goes. I like the Sisyphus metaphor – you’re pushing the rock up the hill, but sometimes you have to keep pushing. Hopefully it’ll be two steps forward, one back, then another two steps forward, so that you are making progress despite our own capacity for counter-productive behaviour.”
Since the band’s split in 2011, Mills says that he’s never looked back – perfectly satisfied with the reasons and circumstances for the band calling it a day.
“We stopped as a band for a lot of reasons, and one of the best reasons was that we were able to do it on our own terms when it was our decision and for no reason other than we thought it was time to stop,” Mills told NME. “When you’re that comfortable with a decision and when you know you’ve made the right decision, you don’t sit there and second-guess yourself. There’s no point in hypothesising ‘what might we be doing now? How might we sound?’ I don’t even wanna know, I don’t care. The music business as a world is nothing like it was when we stopped playing.
“That REM ended at that moment and I’m perfectly happy with that, so it’s other people’s time to carry on now.”
While the band are currently satisfied with their own separate active musical projects, is there anything that would make them reform?
“No, there is really nothing on this Earth that would make us want to get back together,” replied Mills. “There’s such a luxury in being able to quit on your own terms, when it’s your decision, for all the right reasons. I’m sure there are things that we could do that would make a difference and be a positive thing in the world, but at the same time, somebody’s gotta mean it when they stop. We want to be the band that actually means it.
“I wish The Beatles had reunited! I like it when bands get back together as a rule, but for us I think that it would only diminish everything that we worked for. I see no reason to take that chance.”