R.E.M. & Kate Pierson reflect on 30 years of ‘Out of Time’
R.E.M.'s seventh album, Out of Time. turns 30 on Friday (3/12) and to commemorate the anniversary, members Michael Stipe and Mike Mills stopped by Apple Music Hits to discuss the record and its lasting impact with Matt Wilkinson.
Early in the conversation, the duo spoke about the album's first single, "Losing My Religion," which ended up being their biggest hit to date -- which the band didn't see coming. "Unless you're Max Martin, or you're making a Kylie Minogue record, you don't know, you can't know what it's going to do," said Mike Mills. "You can't know, especially with what happened with 'Losing My Religion.' As we've said, it's a five- minute song with no discernible chorus, and the mandolin is the lead instrument. There is absolutely no way to ever predict that that would be a hit. So, you just throw it out there."
The band really found out how powerful "Losing My Religion" was when they played it live. "You felt it before you saw it," said Stipe. "The energy coming off of an audience, a large audience in an outdoor arena, with the first notes, those first da, da, da, da, da and the place would just explode with energy. We got all that being on stage, being elevated, being the center of attention. It all came right towards us. It was the biggest shot in the arm. The biggest jolt of adrenaline. The most powerful feeling that I think I've ever felt."
"Honestly, I'm getting chill bumps just thinking about it now because there was so much joy," added Mike Mills. "I mean, by starting that song and playing that song, you've made so many people so very happy that it was just a pleasure to do it. To be able to raise everyone's energy level and enjoyment level that much, it's still thrilling to think about."
Later, they spoke about the album's other big hit, the over-the-top poppy "Shiny Happy People," which features Kate Pierson of B-52s. "The band had just presented me with this really kind of dumb piece of music," says Stipe. "And I was like, I'm going to one up you on this.' So, 'you're giving me that to write, too? Check this sh-t [expletive] out.' And then we never looked back."
Stipe also commented on the fact that working with outside collaborators such as Kate and KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions was a first in the group's history, but a decision that ultimately paid off:
This was the first time that we had, other than myself and Mike and Bill Berry, this was the first time that we invited guest vocalists to perform on the records. And with Kate Pierson, we got some pretty great stuff. Kate from the B-52's, who are this incredibly overlooked band in terms of their impact on contemporary music and post-punk music. And then KRS-One, who it was really just about how cool he was. BDP were this incredible blast of fresh air out of New York and the kind of overt and then the more subtle message is that he was putting out as an artist were really influential to me and really fresh. And I just wanted to work with the guy, so we came up with 'Radio Song' and it seemed like a perfect fit. And I didn't know it at the time, but I found out later that we were the first band to ever invite a Black rap artist to perform on one of our records, and I'm so proud of that. And he and I are still friends, Kate and I are still friends. It's really wonderful how these relationships move forward through your life.
Stipe also gave the story behind the song's music video:
We all showed up on time for the video shoot. And then Kate came in and Kate was in full hair, full makeup, full costume... She was in a whole other universe of pizazz star power... And I remember looking at her and going, 'You guys, I'm going to run home. I'll be right back'" And I went home and I tore through my closet and I was thinking, what do I have that can match Kate? I've got to do something. I can't just be in my usual kind of scarecrow clothes, which is how I was dressed. And I had a suit that I had bought in London at one of those cheap and cheerful suit stores. But it was this lime green color. And I had a lime green cap that I wore with it, and I wore it backwards. It was supposed to cover the fact that I was losing my hair, which it didn't do a good job of. But anyway, I came back to the video shoot, 25 minutes later, dressed basically as a human lime. And I was able to then contrast Kate's fabulousness. It brought the video and the song to a whole other level.
You can listen to Michael and Mike's full conversation on Friday, March 12, beginning at 1 PM EST on Apple Music Hits.
Meanwhile, Kate recently talked about "Shiny Happy People" and her relationship with R.E.M. in an interview with Vulture:
I’ll start by saying that I love that song. It makes me so happy when I hear it. The lyrics are so uplifting and beautiful. I don't know for sure, and I should’ve asked Michael, but it seemed to me like they were doing a little homage to the B-52’s, and that’s why they asked me to sing on the song. It’s very much in that direction. And then it became a hit, so they were a little bit miffed that it made it seem like that was their musical direction.
They sent me a demo before I traveled to the studio to see them. I didn’t really have time to plan anything. They didn’t give me any plan or map with what they wanted with the direction. When I got to Paisley Park [Prince’s famous Minnesota studio and home] they played the record — they already laid down Michael’s vocals and had pretty much everything recorded. They said, Do whatever you want. Everything I did was as it is. And it was so refreshing to be able to be used that way. Just do your thing! They loved it. It was great to be able to add my own creativity into it. Just like Cindy [Wilson] and I would hit these vocal harmonies, I was locked into Michael’s vocals. I love his voice and I think ours go really well together; they both have an edge that compliments each other well.
You can watch the videos for "Shiny Happy People," "Losing My Religion" and KRS-One collab "Radio Song," along with a stream of the full album, below.
This isn't the first time in the past year that R.E.M. did an in-depth look back at "Losing My Religion" either; the band dove into the song's history on a great episode of the new Netflix version of Song Exploder.