The Buck Stops Here

As part of Tuatara, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck heads in new musical directions.

The entire gang is participating in Tuatara's latest tour; only Berlin will miss a handful of dates. The venues on the jaunt are generally smaller than those R.E.M. has seen during the Nineties, but Buck doesn't mind. For him, one stage is as good as the next. "I'm glad that I've gotten a chance to play at places for a huge amount of people; it's a weird and different thing, and I like it a lot. But there's something to be said for playing a club. We played in Chapel Hill on the last tour, and there was a guy who was really drunk in front of me. He was yelling, and in a big place, I probably wouldn't have noticed that he was being an asshole. But there, he was right in front of me, so I went, 'Hey, you, I don't know where you think you are, but I can hear you. Now shut up. Turn your ass around and go to the back of the room if you want to yell.' Well, he left for a while, but then he came back to the front of the stage and he yelled at me, and I yelled at him. But after the show we talked for a while, and I bought him a drink, which was a cool thing I couldn't have done in a twenty-thousand seater."

Buck has a remarkable memory when it comes to shows; when a 1984 date R.E.M. played with Dream Syndicate in Glenwood Springs is mentioned to him, he reels off specific details about the venue, the set and even the watermelon that Stipe ate during the encore. And because he's romanticized this period of his career, his jaunts with Tuatara have felt like going home. "I only have really nice thoughts about the old times," he confesses. "Enough time has gone by that I've forgotten the being hungry and the being cold and the being completely broke and sleeping in the van. All you remember are these guys who were totaly strong about what they were doing and who went out and burned down every stage they could. And the same thing goes for Tuatara. I can tell you that the worst motel I ever stayed at in my life was in Boston during the Tuatara tour. But what kind of person would I be if I only remembered that stuff or dwelled on it? I'd rather think about what a good time I'm having."

This enthusiasm extends to the forthcoming R.E.M. album, which is set for release in late October. The recording sessions, which took place mainly in San Francisco, found Stipe, Mills and Buck working in the studio without departed drummer Berry for the first time. Attempting to fill in for him were several Tuatara principals. According to Buck, "Mike and I play percussion, and we hired Barrett to be a studio drummer, vibes player, bass player and percussionist. Scott McCaughey plays bass, guitar and percussion, Mike plays most of the keyboards, and I play a lot of bass. There's not a lot of guitar on the record, actually. It's kind of out there, but in a good way.

The as-yet-untitled album "isn't really that influenced by Tuatara," Buck continues. "It's more influenced by the fact that a founding member--one of my brothers, for lack of a better word--decided that he couldn't do it anymore. And that's okay; I'm totally fine with that. In one way, it's a drag, because Bill is gone, but it's also completely liberating. Bill didn't want to do it, so now we're going to find a different way to be this band. And the music we made doesn't sound like anything we've ever done--and it doesn't sound that much like stuff that anyone else has ever done. I can hear the hallmark parts of the old R.E.M. stuff, except that there's no guitars on it. So no one's going to notice some of the chord changes and the melodies."

If the R.E.M. disc truly is as radical a departure as Buck implies, Tuatara will have been good training for him. After all, the lesser-known of his groups has already taught him a great deal about how to deal with expectations. "I'd really hate for people to come see us thinking it'll be anything like R.E.M.," he says. "It isn't. But it's still cool."

American Music Festival, with Chris Isaak, the BoDeans, Pete Droge, Tuatara and Chris Stills. 10:30 a.m. Sunday, July 12, Winter Park Ski Resort, $30, 830-

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