R.E.M. are an American rock band hailing from Athens, Georgia. Lead by frontman Michael Stipe, the band rose in popularity thoughout the 80s and 90s, leading them to world-wide success.
It all started back in 1980 when lead singer Michael Stipe met guitarist Peter Buck in a record store in Athens, Georgia and discovered they shared the same taste in punk rock and artists like The Velvet Underground. It wasn't long before the pair met students Mike Mills (bass) and Bill Berry (drummer) and the quartet starting making music, plucking their name at random from a dictionary. Dropping out of school to focus on the group and touring in an old blue van on an allowance of $2 a day, their success in the southern United States was almost immediate. In the summer of 1981, R.E.M recorded 'Radio Free Europe' which was the band's first single and was released on an independent record label. The New York Times declared it one of the ten best singles of the year and the limited number of copies produced sold out instantly.
The early years
The band turned down offers from major label RCA Records and instead signed with I.R.S in 1982, releasing th EP Chronic Town that August which was praised by NME for being “unforced and cunning”. The critically acclaimed Murmur, which Rolling Stone magazine listed as its record of the year, followed in 1983 reaching number 36 in the charts. Reckoning followed the year after and peaked at number 27 in the US album charts, with NME this time declaring the album “confirms R.E.M. as one of the most beautifully exciting groups on the planet”. The band decided to head to England to record Fables of the Reconstruction but almost broke up after finding the sessions tough because of the miserable weather and hating the food! But they got through it and the gloominess worked its way into the album which became the highest selling in America to date – although the feeling in Europe was that it was poorly recorded and dreary. It was 1986 before one of R.E.M.'s singles was picked up by commercial radio.
The album Document was next on the list and is widely seen as the band's breakthrough album, selling a million copies by January 1988. R.E.M. then appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone under the headline “America's Best Rock & Roll Band”. After producing Green and going on their biggest tour yet, Stipe and co decided to take the next year off and got back together in mid-1990 to record their 7th album Out of Time which sold 12 million copies worldwide by 1996. From that came the track 'Losing my Religion' which was a worldwide hit.
Late in 1992, Automatic for the People was released, which critics declared the band's best album. It went on to sell ten million copies but R.E.M decided not to tour in support of it and that, teamed with Stipe's physical appearance, generated rumors that the singer was dying, which were vehemently denied by the band. In 1995 they set off on tour for the first time in 6 years and although it was a huge commercial success, it was hit with a series of health problems. In 1997, Berry decided to quit the band but only if they promised not to break up as a result. They carried on and while their popularity started to wane in the US, the group's commercial base was shifting to the UK.
Life after Barry
R.E.M.'s twelfth album Reveal was recorded in Canada and Ireland. While it sold well globally, its success in the US was disappointing. Over 20 years after forming, they released In Time: The Best of R.E.M 1988-2003 followed by Around the Sun in 2004, receiving a mixed critical reception.
The band hired full time drummer Bill Rieflin and went on tour with Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Pearl Jam on the Vote for Change tour, and then toured on their own which saw them perform in the London event of Live 8.
All four original band members got back together to perform for the ceremony for R.E.M.'s induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which led to a return by Bill Barry to record Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur. In the same year (2006) Stipe, Buck, Berry and Mills were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They released Accelerate in early 2008 which debuted at number two on the Billboard charts and became the band's eighth album to top the British album charts. 30 years after meeting in that record shop, R.E.M. released their 15th studio album Collapse into Now.
Absolute Radio's Dave Gorman spoke to Michael Stipe about Collapse into Now, the recording process and the expectation of their fans, you can watch the interview now.
R.E.M. announced that they had split up on 21 September 2011. A statement released by the band said, "To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening."