R.E.M. is a household name. The band's rapid rise from the American underground is well documented. But what is often forgotten is the fact that, from the beginning, R.E.M.'s music combined sensitivity and intelligence with straight-out rock and roll, giving it both power and tenderness. Accelerate, the act's latest album, is filled with a renewed vitality that captures the immediacy and spontaneity of its live performances.
Westword: For the special CD/DVD of Accelerate, there's a booklet that's stitched with thread. On the cover are the words "This Book Will Fall Apart." Does that tie into anything on the album?
Peter Buck: You know, I never thought of it that way. For me it was just an interesting packaging idea. Come to think of it, living in this dystopian society that we are in, all the artwork of the major crumbling city, that kind of makes sense. I think Michael just likes the idea of the package transforming itself once it's open. Usually you buy a record, and it's in the form it's going to be in. I think he kind of liked the idea that if you buy this record, it will be in a different shape within a few days if you play with it.
The songs "Accelerate" and "Song for the Submarine" are especially interesting because you can hear elements of harmonic droning and melodic atonality. Have you been exploring sounds that most people don't expect to hear in an R.E.M. song lately?
I like to put in notes that aren't necessarily in the key. I've always felt that writing a song in a particular key is a weird thought. I like changing keys, and even if one part of a song is in one key, having at least one note that isn't that key really catches people's attention. In "Submarine" I'm playing a C against a D minor, which isn't unheard of, but it adds a whole lot of tension, which isn't something that most bands would do. If they were going to do a different note, they would do a D or an A or whatever. To me, it's kind of a hook — doing something that's a little discordantly in a song, kind of wakes the listener up a little bit.
Are there any things in particular that inspire you to make music year after year? Is there anything you do to challenge yourself as a musician and songwriter?
I always try to throw myself into situations that I'm nervous about, because I think it always helps to try to play stuff that you don't know how to play. I'm tentatively booked to play with Glenn Branca doing "Music for 100 Guitars" in a couple of weeks. I'm not sure I'll be able to read the score. Jump into the deep end. The very worst thing that can happen is that you'd feel a little bit embarrassed. That just doesn't bother me.
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