R.E.M. Guitarist Peter Buck on Why the Band Broke Up: 'We Didn't Want to Keep Doing 20-Year-Old Songs'

R.E.M. photographed in 1990.
Anna Krajec/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

R.E.M. photographed in 1990.

When R.E.M. broke up in 2011, guitarist Peter Buck stayed quiet about the split. It wasn't that the decision he made with with bandmates singer Michael Stipe and bassist Mike Mills was something he had reservations about -- rather, it was the opposite. He was sick and tired of the music industry and didn't want to engage with it any more at all. 

At this time, Buck made a list counting everything he hated about the music business during R.E.M.'s 31 year career, running five pages in all, he told Rolling Stone in a new interview. It contained "everything except writing songs, playing songs and recording them," he said. "It was the money, the politics, having to meet new people 24 hours a day, not being in charge of my own decisions.... I hate the business. And I didn't want to have anything to do with it."

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Buck described the band's discussions around breaking up as incredibly calm moments, saying, I like the fact that we walked away from it, and we're not bad-mouthing each other. We're not suing each other."

There had been a sense moving forward since 2008 that the band was wrapping up, he said, but it was while working on [2011's] Collapse Into Now that the decision was finalized. 

"We hadn't made an announcement or anything," he said, "We got together, and Michael said, 'I think you guys will understand. I need to be away from this for a long time.' And I said, 'How about forever?' Michael looked at Mike, and Mike said, 'Sounds right to me.' That's how it was decided."

It wasn't that the band had felt like it had stopped creating good music, Buck went on, it was more simply they were growing tired of everything that went along with being in R.E.M. 

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"We felt like we made a great last record," he said. "The last two records we made -- I'm really proud of them. Accelerate [2008] is in my top five. But we got to the point where we wanted to go our own ways. We didn't want to keep doing 20-year-old songs. One thing you might notice about the three of us: None of us has done anything to put us in the public eye. We do stuff, but we haven't gone on talk shows, done reality TV or put together a supergroup. Collapse Into Now was our last record with a major label. I never want to be on a major label again."

At 59, Buck is still as active as ever in music. Only now he's working mostly out of the limelight. He releases eccentric vinyl-only solo albums on the small Portland, Oregon, independent label Mississippi Records. He plays in bands including Minus 5 with late-era R.E.M. guitarist Scott McCaughey, as well as a new project with Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker called Filthy Friends and recently co-produced the Jayhawks' new album, Paging Mr. Proust. And in January, he just hosted his fifth annual Todos Santos Music Festival in Baja California, Mexico, where he has a house. 

"I'm really proud of the fact that [R.E.M.] ended in 2011 with the ideals we started with in 1980," he said. "I'm really proud of the body of work. There are a couple of records that aren't great. But there's a couple of Bob Dylan records that aren't great."

Read the full interview here