Q&A: Stipe, R.E.M. take rougher-edged approach

Fri Mar 21, 2008 8:05pm EDT
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By Jessica Letkemann

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Think fast. R.E.M. has banished the quiet, dream-like mood of their last two records and is about to unleash the hard, sharp-eyed "Accelerate," their first album in four years.

As Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills follow the first single's edit-it-yourself video with the album's launch on iLike and a worldwide tour, frontman Stipe spoke to Billboard.com about the set's "really fast, really raw" take on politics, teenage geekdom and the media; and how he and his bandmates "worked really hard to try to upset the things we had gotten bogged down in."

Q: Your decision to premiere "Accelerate" on iLike follows neatly from the decision to pretty much open-source the video for "Supernatural Superserious."

Michael Stipe: Good term there. I think that was my idea but it was based on stuff that (director) Vincent Moon had done that I really admired. I thought, "Well, we can take this and expand on the idea and offer something that's a little bit of fun," which I think is in keeping not only with the footage that he was able to get of the band kind of stumbling around New York, but with the song itself, which has a little bit of a sense of humor.

Q: A sense of humor, and a fun guitar riff. You've said the song was about teenage humiliation and the kinds of things that follow you through your life. I thought that was interesting because I wondered what inspired you to write that now, long after adolescence?

Stipe: We all have our geek moments that we kind of carry with us or that have some impact on us throughout our lives (laughs). I hate to use the term 'geek anthem' but it's a little bit, for me, like that. I have friends -- who are adults -- who move with such grace and poise through life and in fact completely embrace the incredibly stupid aspects of growing up and the humiliating teenage moments. They can totally laugh about and make fun of themselves and allow themselves to be, I think, more of a complete adult because of it. So that was really kind of the inspiration for the song.

Q: I think we have all harbored things like that years and decades later, and then we think, "Why am I thinking about this now?"

Stipe: Yeah, it's like that one horrifying school picture where you either knew or didn't know that that was the day they were taking the school picture. Okay, so now anyone in the world can now pull that up online if they want to look at you when you were in sixth grade and had, whatever, really stupid glasses. But the song inhabits an almost more internal humiliation, something that happens to all of us because we were all kids and we all have insecurities on some level or the other. This one, I kind of particularly wrote it around a seance gone horribly wrong at a summer camp that then manifested itself later in life as kind of a sexual deviance, but a fun one.   Continued...

<p>Michael Stipe (L) performs during the 22nd annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York March 12, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>