ATN's Music News of the World: Electronic and Exotic R.E.M.
Neil Young Going For Harvest Moon FeelWork in progress said to have folk-rock sound so far.Music News Editor-in-Chief Michael Goldberg reports:In what is being described thus far as a return to the folk-rock style of his Harvest Moon album, rock icon Neil Young is currently in the midst of recording his next solo album at a private studio on his ranch."Young has at least 11 songs in production, and they have a 'Harvest Moon feel,' " according to Reprise Records president Howie Klein, who spent a recent afternoon hanging at Young's studio, Redwood Digital, located on his ranch in Mountain View, south of San Francisco.Saying that he was "completely blown away" by a song with the working title "Horseshoe Man," Klein enthusiastically recounted some of his time spent listening to and watching Young at work that afternoon. "I visited him at the ranch Friday and listened to the tracks he has down so far and got to hear him recording an amazing song called 'Horseshoe Man,' " Klein said. "I was in the studio and fucking Neil Young was singing the song while I sat there! He did one take, and it was absolutely perfect. Everyone thought it was perfect."Klein added that he also was particularly impressed with a wistful folk-rock song titled "Buffalo Springfield" -- taken from the name of his legendary '60s rock group, which included former collaborator Stephen Stills, also of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Klein described the tune, which Young performed at last fall's Bridge School benefit concert, as "totally awesome."Musicians who have spent time recording with Young thus far include star session drummer Jim Keltner, Booker T. and the MG's bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, pedal-steel guitarist/producer Ben Keith (Jewel) and keyboardist Spooner Oldham.And despite the additional session players, the album, which has no release date, is said to be classic Young in sound. "It's a Neil Young album, not a Crazy Horse album," said Young's manager, Elliot Roberts.Both Klein and Roberts emphasized that the album, which would be Young's 29th record -- not including two compilation LPs -- is far from complete. "He's just not that far along on the album," Roberts added. "He's got a lot more writing to do and will be recording more. It's still early in the process."While Klein said he hoped that the album would be ready for a late fall release, Roberts, on the other hand, wouldn't even guess at when it might be finished. "Neil doesn't think about release dates," Roberts said. "It's too early to tell if it will be out this year. When it's done, he'll put it out."Still, Klein couldn't hide his enthusiasm over what he'd heard. "It's a very rich and beautiful record," he said.When asked what the material already recorded sounds like, Roberts, who is not one to talk prematurely about an unfinished Neil Young album, quipped, "It's fabulous. It's unbelievable. Great song after great song after great song. Don't ever call me again."***R.E.M. Experiment With Electronic And Exotic SoundsRock pioneers taking their music in directions that stray from alterna-folk style they made popular.Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports:To hear studio manager Chris Lyon tell it, R.E.M.'s newest music takes the Athens, Ga., supergroup in a surprisingly new direction, one tainted with a more modern edge that includes electronic sounds and exotic instruments."I was surprised, because the songs sound like R.E.M. songs, but they're not presented in the same way as in the past," said Lyon, who manages San Francisco's Toast Studios where the band recently spent a few months recording the new album. "They weren't as acoustic-y, not as folky as before. The songs I heard seemed to have a slightly newer tinge to them because of the instrumentation, because they definitely used some electronic stuff.""We're all really inspired and we had all these songs and we came in and it was like, 'Hey, guess what? We don't have a drummer.' "So, this time around we're doing a lot of stuff with non-traditional percussion," Peter Buck told SonicNet Music News earlier this year, while the group was still recording in San Francisco. "The percussion track on one is I put all the percussion instruments in a duffle bag and dropped it on the floor in time with slamming the piano bench. And that's the percussion for the song, it sounds great. You couldn't pay 10 people to make that sound."While the group had a slightly different method of working, according to Lyon, perhaps the biggest departure was the noticeably more modern bent of the sessions. With 20 tracks already recorded, R.E.M. are about halfway through assembling their highly anticipated new album -- the first without original drummer Billy Berry -- according to manager Bertis Downs."They're taking a break right now, just like they always do after the first bit of recording," Downs said, "so they can have some breathing room for themselves and the songs."The group plan to reconvene soon -- with only one unprecedented break in early June to perform at this year's Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C., to benefit the cause of Tibetan freedom from Chinese oppression -- and finish the album by mid-summer for a late fall release. The band recorded the 20 initial tracks at Toast Studios earlier this year, according to Downs, who added that fill-in percussionist/drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) and guitarist Scott McCaughey (Minus 5) will appear on the album and will be in the group's touring lineup.By all accounts, the band spent a smooth and productive stint at Toast, one in which the veteran band acted more like a hungry young group on the rise than a future Hall of Fame act toiling on its 11th full-length album, according to Lyon. "They were more focused than most younger bands who come in here who are working on their debut," said Lyon, who spent a good deal of time with the band during their two-and-a-half months' stay between February and March of this year."They were super focused, in here on time, working six days a week," Lyon said. Since its rechristening two years ago, Lyon added that Toast has been the scene of a number of high-profile recordings by young successful rock bands, including Third Eye Blind, Black Lab and Imperial Teen.The trio -- working on its first album without founding member Berry, who quit the group last fall to pursue a life outside music -- would enter the studio around noon and regularly work past midnight, often until 2 or 3 in the morning. Augmented by Martin and McCaughey, Lyon said the musicians packed the studio with an array of exotic instruments, including Tibetan bells, tubular orchestral bells, a bass marimba and a variety of percussion instruments, as well as Indian instruments such as sitars and a tabla. R.E.M. also recorded the sessions on 48 tracks of digital and analog tape.Lyon said that in addition to bassist Mike Mills playing piano and keyboards, McCaughey playing some horns and all of the members pitching in at points on percussion, the sessions included a true rarity: a guitar solo by singer Michael Stipe, which Lyon said he didn't witness but heard about. "They were some of the nicest, most down-to-earth and generous guys we've ever had in here," Lyon said.It's unclear at this point if the band will bring any additional musicians into the studio when it reconvenes at an undisclosed location for the second set of recording sessions, Downs said. He added that most of the songs recorded in San Francisco don't have vocals yet and that, as usual, the album has no working title. "They always save that for the last minute."Looking forward to the band's first tour since the ill-fated 1995 outing in support of Monster, during which ex-drummer Berry suffered a brain aneurysm onstage and several other bandmembers fell ill, Downs said the group will definitely tour this time out. "We're taking things a few steps at a time, but Barrett and Scott will be involved," Downs said. Martin's live debut behind the R.E.M. kit (McCaughey has toured with R.E.M. before), will take place at the Washington, D.C., Tibetan Freedom Concert over the June 13-14 weekend."They're excited and challenged," Downs said. "They're looking forward to it and, since they're taking a break in the middle of recording an album to do it, it will be a challenge to get up to speed and play a show. It's nice because the shows have a real collegial feel. And it's pretty low-key, as low-key as a stadium show can be, I guess." Stipe and Mills performed a handful of songs at last summer's Tibetan Freedom Concert in New York."It will be an interesting moment with Bill [Berry] not being there," Downs said. Faith No More Exists No MoreMembers will concentrate on individual projects such as Imperial Teen and Mr. Bungle.Contributing Editor Colin Devenish reports:Following a steady slew of swirling rumors about their imminent demise, Faith No More have officially called it quits 13 years after the release of their first album, We Care A Lot.The San Francisco hard-rock quintet, which last recorded for the Reprise label, has been long rumored to be on the rocks. The members of the band put an end to speculation regarding their future with a statement issued Monday by their management.Howie Klein, president of Reprise, said he was not completely surprised, but that he was disappointed by the breakup of the band that he said he's followed since the recording of its first album. The band released five albums in total."Long before I was associated with Reprise, I was a disc jockey at KUSF in San Francisco, and the band had recorded We Care A Lot," Klein said. "They brought it into the studio and said, 'Can you play this?' We put it on, and it became a number-one record at the station. I've loved the band ever since."During their career, Faith No More were briefly fronted by Hole singer Courtney Love and then by rapper/singer Chuck Mosley. But the band enjoyed its greatest success after Mike Patton took over as lead vocalist. With the charismatic Patton, Faith No More recorded their best-selling album, The Real Thing, which included the hit single "Epic."Various members of the group are proceeding with their own projects. Drummer Mike Bordin, who has toured with heavy-metal giant Ozzy Osbourne, is in demand as a session player. Keyboardist Roddy Bottum's band, the San Francisco quartet Imperial Teen, will release its second album, What Is Not To Love, in May. Meanwhile, Patton will continue with his longtime side- project Mr. Bungle and a new collective called Phantomas, featuring Buzz Osbourne of Melvins fame on guitar, Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn and ex- Slayer skinsman Dave Lombardo.Greg Werckman, who will manage Phantomas, said the band will play its first gig on June 18 at Slim's in San Francisco and described the group as being the brainchild of Patton."Patton made a tape of himself playing all the instruments, and then he asked his favorite bassist, guitarist and drummer to join him," Werckman said. "Each of the members sent the tape back to him with tapes of what their parts would be, and it's evolved into a tape of what they'd like to be done."Werckman added that the foursome plan to be a full-time band that tours and records and that they are leaning toward a fall release for an album of new material.Asked about the prospect of Reprise picking up Phantomas or any other possible Faith No More offshoots, Klein left the door open."I love those guys," Klein said. "I'm open to anything they do. They're very talented."