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"I took advice from Madonna for that record" – Michael Stipe explains why New Adventures In Hi-Fi and Reveal are his favourite REM albums

REM
(Image credit: Santiago Bueno/Sygma via Getty Images)

REM may have called it a day a decade ago but Michael Stipe and bassist Mike Mills still reemerge for interviews on occasion; this time being the 25th anniversary reissue of their New Adventures In Hi-Fi album. It's an album Stipe is especially fond of, as he explained to Kyle Meredith in the interview you can watch below. 

We were in this hyper adrenalised state being on tour and performing every night or every other night, and you feel that in the music

"Thematically the record is a lot about movement," notes Stipe on the album that was largely written on the Monster tour in terms of instrumentation. "It's got this velocity to it from song to song, but a lot of it had to do with my abandoning New York in the early '90s and following my best friend to Los Angeles, moving to LA and living and discovering the American West for the first time… there was a lot of history and a lot of stories I could tap into. And a new way of looking at, not only America, but the world."

That, coupled with the circumstances of the musical composition helps make it Stipe's joint favourite REM record - a significant honour considering the catalogue the band created in over 30 years.

"We were in this hyper adrenalised state being on tour and performing every night or every other night, and you feel that in the music," Stipe adds later in the interview. "And it creates this bristling landscape for me to [populate] with the narrative arcs and the characters that I invented. And it remains my favourite REM [album], of any record that we made."

But it has to share Stipe's top spot. "It has recently, in the past couple of years, been joined in the number one slot for Reveal. I have a soft spot in my heart for that record. But New Adventures is my favourite record of us, most definitely us as a four-piece."

It's one of the records where I just said, 'I'm gonna make this completely thematic about something, and then within that I can do whatever I want lyrically

New Adventures In Hi-Fi was REM's last to feature drummer Bill Berry, while 2001's Reveal was the second to use musician Joey Waronker.  Reveal isn't one of the band's most commercially successful albums in the US but is clearly revered by Stipe, Mills and guitarist Peter Buck.

"I took advice from Madonna for that record," Stipe admitted to Rolling Stone earlier this year. "She gave me some really great advice and I accepted her advice and I followed it to the T, and I think it really helped create a complete… for me that record is about summer, really. It's one of the records where I just said, 'I'm gonna make this completely thematic about something, and then within that I can do whatever I want lyrically. 

"So at the very beginning of writing words for that I said, 'This is about summer - my favourite season. And I think it really holds together."

In the Kyle Meredith interview, Stipe and Mike Mills also gave their thoughts on some recent high profile REM cover versions; Eddie Vedder's take on Drive for the Flag Day film soundtrack and Jason Isbell covering a pair of songs on his Georgia Blue record with Driver 8 and Nightswimming. 

"I knew Driver 8 was going to be on there but I didn't know he was doing Nightswimming," admits Mills. "That was interesting."

"His melodic take on Driver 8, the way he rephrases certain lines, it makes me actually jealous," praises Stipe.  "I listened to it several times and sang along, it was super great.. I wrote him a note - I've never met Jason but I wrote him a note - to tell him how grateful we were that he had done such a beautiful job with the song."

I'm thrilled with the idea that people now feel comfortable covering REM

With [Flag Day director] Sean Penn and Eddie Vedder, we're great friends with Ed so he reached out to say, 'Look, I don't know if this is insane but I'm gonna do this and are you Ok with it? And can we have it for the movie if it turns out good?' And I said, and we [the band] always check in with each other, but I knew where Mike and Peter and Bill live on this type of subject, and I said, 'You have our blessing, please do whatever you want with it.'

"I'm thrilled with the idea that people now feel comfortable covering REM," adds Stipe.  "Because for the longest time we seemed like the most uncoverable band. And maybe it's the material and maybe it's, I don't know what; the subject matter but people didn't really go there and no they are. And that feels super good." 

There are a lot of people I've never heard of doing really fun unusual covers of REM songs in genres I wasn't even familiar with, and it's very exciting

"There's something odd about the amount of time it takes, or took for us, to go from being however popular we were while we were a recording unit to the time when people felt comfortable recording us," adds Mills. "And I always wondered why it didn't happen more often. I didn't lose any sleep over it but I did wonder why.

"And now it's everywhere. There are people as famous as Jason  and Ed doing things. There are a lot of people I've never heard of doing really fun unusual covers of REM songs in genres I wasn't even familiar with, and it's very exciting. It's really cool to see your stuff reimagined by an entire new generation of musicians." 

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Rob Laing

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.