ATN's Music News of the World: The End of REM

Tupac Collaborator Offers Insight To Posthumous LPSays prolific gangsta rapper was spontaneous in his creation of much of early '90s material.Addicted To Noise Senior Writer Gil Kaufman Reports : Perhaps more than anyone, engineer Bob Morse holds unique and invaluable insight into the music of early-'90s Tupac Shakur.After all, he spent more time than most producers or musicians with slain rapper during that fertile period in Shakur's musical life, a period featured on the slain gangsta rapper's upcoming posthumous releases R U Still Down? (Remember Me) (Nov. 25)."'Pac didn't work like a lot of the other rappers who come in here," said Morse, citing Ice Cube, Gang Starr and Snoop Doggy Dogg as his other frequent clients. "[Ice] Cube will come in with everything written out, planned and executed. 'Pac would be the opposite. He would write lyrics in the studio about whatever was happening at that moment. He would listen to a beat and start writing lyrics."From behind his board at L.A.'s Echo Sounds studios, the 42-year-old engineer worked with Shakur on three of his solo albums, his 1992 debut, 2Pacalypse Now and the follow-up albums, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and Thug Life. Morse said he'd heard that Jive Records was planning on releasing a double album of posthumous Shakur material, containing 24 primarily unreleased songs recorded by the rapper between 1991-94.And though he is uncertain which tracks will make it on the release, it's quite likely several will be those he worked on. "I'm not sure what they're going to pick," said Morse, who estimated he'd worked on at least 40-50 tracks with the rapper during this period. "But if it's from those years, something I did is probably on it."The album's executive producer is Shakur's mother, Afeni Shakur, who just signed a deal with New York-based Jive to released some of her son's 150-or-so unreleased recordings,. She recently won the rights to those songs from his old labels, Interscope and Death Row. Jive will also become the exclusive distributor of Shakur's four Interscope Records albums (2Pacalypse, Thug Life, Strictly and Me Against the World) under the deal. The label, Amaru Records, is named after Shakur's middle name.The first single from R U Still Down will be "I Wonder If Heaven Got A Ghetto," features the vocals of Maxee of Brownstone and a sample of "Do it Roger" by Roger. The single was produced by long-time Shakur collaborators Soulshock and Karlin, with some of the sessions taking place at Echo Sounds. The full track listing for the album has not yet been released.But apparently Shakur's mother has a lot to choose from.In an interview last week in the Los Angeles Times, Afeni Shakur said she's gained the tapes to nearly 10 albums' worth of her son's unreleased recordings. She described her son, who was fatally wounded in a still-unsolved Sept. 7, 1996 drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, as "unbelievably prolific, adding that she felt "giddy about starting this label. Tupac always wanted to have his own company. To be honest, this is the first time since his death that I have been able to smile about something."Morse couldn't agree more with Afeni Shakur's assessment of her son's work ethic, he said. "Some guys take all day, but 'Pac would get ideas fluently and what went on tape was the finished product," said Morse, who described the sessions he worked with Shakur as "pretty hectic, with lots of smoking going on and gunplay and stuff.""Pac was just more raw than a lot of the other rappers I've worked with," he said, citing Coolio and the South Central Cartel as examples of more controlled artists. "I can't explain it in words. Just off the top of his head, his emotions weren't controlled or cool."***R.E.M. Talk About Loss Of Drummer Bill BerryPART 1: Everybody HurtsAddicted To Noise Senior Writer Gil Kaufman reports : R.E.M.'s drummer Bill Berry has decided to call it quits. Yet even at one of the most difficult periods in their 17-year career, R.E.M. somehow manage to present a unified front. Gathered in the Athens, Ga. R.E.M. offices on Friday afternoon (Oct. 31), singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and Berry answered questions about Thursday's unexpected announcement. In the process, the quartet that changed the face of rock 'n' roll over more than a decade, spoke about the future of the band and the difficulty of soldiering on without the man who was both the keeper of the beat and whom they still consider to be a vital part of their extended family.ATN: It seems clear you didn't come to this decision overnight. How long have you been mulling over in your mind quitting the band?Bill Berry: I would say it first impacted me when we started work on this (upcoming) record in Hawaii earlier this year. I just didn't have that same drive to go in and work like I used to. It's hard to describe, but I realized that there was something just very ghastly wrong. I wasn't enthused about it. I thought maybe this was a phase, maybe I don't want to bring this up right now, but months later I felt the same way. I still do to this moment.ATN: Had you ever felt that way before about recording a new album?Berry: No. I've always been really excited about it. Just like these guys are real excited about making this next record. I just don't share that enthusiasm and I don't want to weigh them down.ATN: When you were sick in 1995 (Berry suffered a brain aneurysm on stage that required surgery), did you entertain any thoughts then that maybe this wasn't the right thing for you to be doing anymore?Berry: Yeah, it first started dawning on me when I was recuperating. I wasn't specifically thinking about quitting the band, but maybe reassessing my priorities and things I want to do with the rest of my life. Maybe not as much travel, for one. Being away from home. I had a lot of time to lay around in a hospital bed and think about things. Maybe I started feeling sorry for myself.ATN: Were you under a doctor's orders at that point to take it easy, to not tour?Berry: Absolutely not. I was encouraged to be as active as I wanted to be. I played a round of golf 10 days after I had surgery.ATN: Are you still under a doctor's care now?Berry: No.ATN: So you're feeling pretty good?Berry: Physically, I'm 100 percent. My brain is back to normal, for whatever good that is.ATN: When you were in Hawaii, was everyone working together on the album? Were you as involved as you usually are in sessions?Berry: Well, we were, except I kind of wasn't. I found myself wandering out to the beach and looking at the waves and stuff while the other guys were inside working away. I put some things on tape, but my heart wasn't in it. (interview excerpt)ATN: Did any of you notice that?Michael Stipe: Yeah, we noticed, I mean, Bill's always been there and he just wasn't as involved in Hawaii. And maybe personally we were trying to gloss over that. Like maybe he was just having a bad week or something.ATN: When did you realize that it was maybe more than just a bad week?Stipe: About three weeks ago.ATN: How did the announcement come down? Did he call all of you individually, or as a group?Stipe: He did it in a really cool way. It was our first day of rehearsal and he said he had some news and he wanted to talk to all of us in person and not by telephone and said that he didn't want to continue. He didn't want to be in the band anymore.ATN: What was your reaction?Stipe: I was shocked. I was speechless and I felt like I could probably change his mind and convince him to stay. But after talking to him for three weeks, I know that he doesn't want to stay and we have to respect that. The first thing he said when he dropped this bomb on us is if it was going to break up the band, he wasn't going to leave.ATN: Bill, what if they would have said, 'then we're going to break up the band?'Berry: Then we'd be in the studio right now working on the record instead of having to deal with this.ATN: Do you think you could have made that decision, if it was going to break up the band you could have put this personal decision aside and just go ahead?Berry: I was prepared to. I said it and I meant it.ATN: Mike, you having known Bill for as long or longer than any of the members, what was your first reaction when you heard this news?Mike Mills: I knew he hadn't been extremely happy with all the things that go along with being in the band for awhile. I just didn't think that it would happen this soon. I was disappointed, I was hoping that he'd change his mind in the next couple of weeks. But it became apparent that wasn't going to happen, so we just have to make the best of it.ATN: What about you, Peter?Peter Buck: I just said 'well, don't make up your mind right now.' I had to come to terms with the idea that he didn't want to continue and then I had to get used to it. I also knew he didn't wake up that morning and feel like 'oh, I don't want to do this anymore.' After talking to him for three weeks and talking to each other, it just became really apparent that he had no interest whatsoever in being in the band anymore.ATN: Were there any problems during the sessions for New Adventures in Hi-Fi? Any sense then that maybe you were running out of steam?Berry: No, it doesn't date back that far.ATN: Has there been any time when any of the other three of you have thought that you didn't want to do this anymore?Stipe: The last record was so ... we went through so many things with the last record that were painful outside of the band. We felt we deserved a year off to reflect. Bill reflected in a different way than the rest of us. The rest of us are really excited about working on the new record and Bill's reflection led him down a different path. We just have to respect that. Bill's middle name in the band, since 1984 when we were in Japan has been "I Go Now." He was always the first to leave. Always the one who gets up from dinner. And always the one who left the session early. He wakes up at six in the morning. He keeps a farmer's hours. Peter, Mike and I stay up until four in the morning and get up at 11 or 12. He's always been the one who was always out the door before everyone else. So, true to form ... (interview excerpt)ATN: I've seen in one of the other interviews that you (Peter Buck) discussed this with Bill pretty extensively. Was there a discussion where the two of you sat down and you tried to change his mind?Buck: I was just so shocked that when it was first presented to me, I made him promise that no decisions would be made for awhile, so that I could process the information and he could think about it. I didn't know how long he had been thinking about this. I didn't realize it had been six months. I just thought he was stressed out with things. You can't really talk a friend out of doing something like that. It's his decision and I just have to accept it. But it took awhile to get to that point.ATN: How do you think the band will carry on without Bill? Will it be the same band, or will it be a radical change in the sound?Stipe: Your guess is as good as ours. We've had exactly three weeks to process this and figure out exactly how we want to present it to the world. It's been three days since I knew for sure that Bill was really going to carry through with this thing. Peter, Mike and I have a lot of songs we're really excited about and we don't want to quit making music. As far as we're concerned, as far as Bill is concerned, R.E.M. is still R.E.M. We're just three members now.ATN: It's been written that you have 40 songs worked up in some fashion for this album. Did all four of you work on the new songs together? Are these all R.E.M. songs, written, as usual, by all four members?Stipe: Bill brought in a couple of ideas, but most of the stuff from Hawaii was Peter and Mike's.(Check out part 2 of the R.E.M. interview Monday when the band discusses its new album and how Berry's leaving will impact that.)Addicted To Noise Senior Editor Matt Melucci contributed to this interview.R.E.M. Look To Future Without Drummer Bill Berry***PART 2: New Adventures In Hi-FiAddicted To Noise Senior Writer Gil Kaufmanreports : R.E.M.'s drummer Bill Berry has decided to call it quits. Yet even at one of the most difficult periods in their 17-year career, R.E.M. somehow manage to present a unified front. Gathered in the Athens, Ga. R.E.M. offices on Friday afternoon, singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and Berry answered questions about Thursday's unexpected announcement. In the process, the quartet that changed the face of rock 'n' roll over more than a decade, spoke about the difficulty of soldiering on without the man who was both the keeper of the beat and whom they still consider to be a vital part of their extended family. In part 1 of the interview (Oct. 31) the band discussed their reaction to hearing about Berry's leaving. In part 2 they talk about what has kept R.E.M. together for so long, how they work in the studio and what their plans are for the future.ATN: You've talked in the past about how all four members of this band are integral to its sound, what if it had been Peter who was quitting, or Michael, or Mike? How might that have changed things?Michael Stipe: This band has become, over the years, more than just a music-making group. And we are still the best of friends and we still love each other a great deal and respect each other a great deal and that, as far as I'm concerned is what R.E.M. is. The music is almost a by-product. I know that sounds really stupid, but our friendship is what makes R.E.M. -- R.E.M. We could not make the music that we wanted if we did not really mean it. Three of us still really mean it and Bill wants to see us move on as he has now claimed the title of 'the world's biggest R.E.M. fan.' And I'd like to see the person that would challenge him on that title.ATN: Peter, what if it had been you who had decided to leave the band? Could it have been any one of you that left and still have the band be intact?Buck: I think our friendships are what maintain it. I think that in the eyes of the world, Michael's voice is one the most readily-identifiable things in the band. I couldn't imagine Mike or myself quitting. I can't imagine Michael quitting. And until a few weeks ago I couldn't imagine Bill quitting.ATN: As this is the end of the R.E.M. phase of your life, Bill, is it that you're ready for a break from R.E.M. or rock 'n' roll in general? Do you have other things, musically, that you still want to do?Berry: It's kind of weird. I want to do a lot of things, I just don't know what those things are yet. Until I make this move, this very bold stroke, I'm not going to be able to make that decision. I have to open myself up to what's out there and I can't do that until I let go of this. And I just don't know where that will take me.Stipe: I think what Bill just said really succinctly defines what this is all about. He has to close one door before he opens another one. We have to honor his decision, however we feel about it. It's really, really sad, and we're knocked sideways by this, the three of us. I think Bill is knocked sideways by it in a way. This is not something that he came to one bad night and woke up the next morning and said 'I'm going to do this.' He's been thinking about this for a while, and he took six months to reflect on it. Three weeks ago I wasn't convinced he really didn't know what he was saying. He and I have had conversations that I haven't shared with Peter and Mike or with anyone and that I never will. But I know that this is what Bill wants to do. He's one of my best friends in the world, he's like a family member to me and I have to honor his decision.ATN: For a band known for being very close and together for so long and Bill being so integral to how R.E.M. works, is there any sense that you might still be involved somehow? In songwriting, or on albums?Berry: These guys have said that if I ever change my mind the door is open. That's a really comforting thought. I wouldn't say there's a 100 percent chance that I'll never, ever want to do something collaboratively, musically. I can't say that right now. Time will tell. Nothing is written in stone. I just really need to take a break for awhile.ATN: Seventeen years is a long time for any four people to be together, not to mention a rock band. For many that have been together that long, there's often the attendant in-fighting and personnel change. What was it that made R.E.M. hold together for so long, so tightly?Stipe: Our friendship. We give each other space and allow ourselves to be who we are. That's the reason we're doing this like this, making this announcement this way, is because we want the fans to recognize that we're struggling with this, but that absolutely, ultimately, it's a positive thing because it's what Bill wants for himself. For the rest of us, it's what we want. We don't want to change. We're still R.E.M., we're a three-piece now. We certainly don't want to bring in another drummer. That's just not a possibility.Buck: I think Michael speaks for all of us on that.ATN: Will this delay plans for the new album?Buck: We're going right ahead. It's certainly taken the wind out of our sails a little bit. We've got a studio booked for several months from now and most of the music has been written, but not all the lyrics yet. Now we've got three months to work on those lyrics.Stipe: I've already promised Bill that if he appears as a character in any of the songs, he'll get the first call. He won't have to get the new record and guess.ATN: Have you come up with any of those lyrics yet?Stipe: I've written some words and they go pretty well with the music so far, but I don't want Bill to hear a song and think, 'oh my god he wrote that about me' and for that to be the case. He'll know. I don't think that I'm going to, but this is pretty fucking traumatic. I'm the sentimental one and I'm the emotional lightning rod one and as much as I accept and want to embrace the change as an inevitability, it's a really big change for us. We want the fans to accept this the same way we have and to deal with it. We're not talking about record sales here. We're talking about something much bigger than the music that we've all made and that we hope to continue to make. We're talking about what R.E.M. has come to represent.ATN: Has that always been the way it is? Not just about the music you make, but the way the four of you interact, the way you make it?Berry: Yeah. Michael speaks the truth. That's what's made this really hard for me. I mean it's hard for all of us. It's mind-boggling to me that I've reached this decision, but, that's where I am, that's where my heart is and it's weird, but that's just the way it is.ATN: Were you involved with the songwriting of this record? Did you contribute lyrics, or song ideas or drumming that will end up on this record?Berry: No, I had two little snippets that I brought in when we first started in Hawaii, but basically when you're spending the day on the beach your stuff gets lost. That's the way it should be.ATN: So you spent a lot of time on the beach?Berry: Yeah, more than I should have.ATN: In the past, what has the working relationship been when R.E.M. goes in to make a record? Does everybody bring in lyrics and music, or one person lyrics, another music? How does it work?Stipe: I tend to write 95 percent of the lyrics. Peter will throw in a title sometimes, or Peter or Bill would write something on the studio walls as an album title and I would take that and write a song about it , or something would inspire me to write a song. But most of the lyrics are mine and they'd bring in ideas and it would all get fleshed-out with all four of us, or the three of them and I just do what I do on top of it. There's never been a formula to anything we do. Which once again, I guess we're breaking the rules in our own way.ATN: Your songs have always been credited to all four. Do you think there will be a perceptible change in either the lyrical content or the music Peter and Mike come up with?Stipe: I expect that there will be, but it's a little hard at this point to pinpoint how this is going to affect us musically or lyrically. I'll know better by the middle of April.ATN: Have you contacted any drummers that you want to work with?Mills: Barrett (Martin of Tuatara/Screaming Trees) came out to play vibes and marimba, not to play drums, but bass marimba and vibes and all these other great instruments that he has. We're not going to replace Bill and we're not looking for any other drummers. When we get in the studio and we need a drummer, we'll hire somebody for that instrument only.ATN: Bill, can you think about the ultimate high for you in this band? Can you think of a moment in these last 17 years that was the peak experience for you with this band?Berry: That's really hard. ... it's really hard to think of one. I would say finishing the last tour felt like a real milestone event and, in fact, it was. That's a hard question to answer. I would say in the last five years my biggest pride and joy is getting that tour out of the way.Addicted To Noise Senior Editor Matt Melucci contributed to this interview.


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