Rock

With Two Albums Out In March, Here's How Peter Buck Balances It All

The No Ones
Courtesy of Yep Roc Records

The No Ones

If anyone thought Peter Buck would slow down when R.E.M. disbanded in 2011, they were mistaken. Since the band that made him a star called it a day, Buck has recorded and toured with more than a half-dozen different bands at an impressive pace.

While his former bandmates have been relatively quiet on the music front, Buck, 63, has two new albums by two different bands coming out in the next few weeks; each will be accompanied by a short string of live dates.

First, Beat Poetry for Survivalists, a collaboration with Luke Haines, former frontman of the British band The Auteurs, is due on March 6 on Omnivore Recordings. Three weeks later, on March 27, The Great Lost No Ones Album will be released by Yep Roc Records. The No Ones includes Buck, his longtime collaborator Scott McCaughey, and Frode Strømstad and Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen from the Norwegian band I Was a King.

We caught up with Buck by phone in January while he was back in Athens, GA, playing a few gigs at one of his old haunts from his R.E.M. days, the 40 Watt Club. One night, he joined Drivin' N' Cryin' frontman Kevn Kinney and Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven's David Lowery onstage. The following night he was back at the 40 Watt playing with Hedwig and the Angry Inch star John Cameron Mitchell and the Eyelids, who were celebrating the release of their recent Buck-produced Turning Time Around EP of Lou Reed covers (Buck also produced the Eyelids' recent album The Accidental Falls and plays bass on one song). The following day, he turned up at a signing with Mitchell and the Eyelids at Wuxtry Records, the store he worked at as a clerk prior to R.E.M. and occasionally returned to when the band wasn't on the road.

All this activity has prompted some fans to wonder how Buck is capable of so much. But we have the feeling Buck isn't all that busy, he just plans his time well. "You're absolutely right," he says. "People always say, 'Gosh, you're so busy,' but I'm not really that busy. I play guitar every day, but that's a pleasurable experience. Sometimes writing is frustrating. You can't get what you're looking for, but it's like fishing. If you want to fish, you have to put the hook in the water.

"Music occupies a large amount of my time, but it's not like with R.E.M. where I had my schedule booked four years in advance," Buck continues. "I write songs. I make records with people I really respect."

One of those people is Haines, best known for his early '90s work fronting British band The Auteurs in addition to being part of Black Box Recorder, recording as Baader Meinhof and under his own name. Buck and Haines had never met, but began exchanging emails after Buck purchased one of Haines' paintings of Lou Reed that was for sale on his website. "He does multiples of them," Buck explains. "The one I got looks more like Luke than Lou. I think he did that on purpose."

After that transaction, the mutual admirers of each other's work began exchanging song ideas. "I'd basically go to Scott McCaughey's house, record drum machine, acoustic and electric guitars and Scott would play bass and keyboards and we'd send it to Luke and he'd put synths and vocals on it and he'd send it back and we added drums [played by frequent Buck-McCaughey bandmate Linda Pitmon] later," Buck says. "We did the whole record without actually having met. It was really modern. We just transferred it back and forth from our basements. It didn't cost a penny to make and at some point, we realized we had an album."

And quite an album it is. Haines' sharp wit and gruff vocals come across somewhere between one-time Buck collaborator Robyn Hitchcock and Psychedelic Furs' frontman Richard Butler. Songs such as "The Last of the Legendary Bigfoot Hunters," "Andy Warhol Was Not Kind" and "Rock 'n' Roll Ambulance" are loaded with often hilarious pop culture references -- from the Ramones and Liberace to Donovan and Maria Callas -- combined with visions of Armageddon.

The face-to-face meeting finally came after the album was mastered. "I was touring with Filthy Friends last May and he came to the show so we got to hang out for like two hours," Buck says. "It was just interesting to work that way, because I have no idea what he was going to come up with."

Buck and Haines – accompanied by McCaughey and Pitmon – will play a series of dates in the U.K. in April to support the album. There are no U.S. dates set, but that's a possibility. "That would make sense, but I kind of manage myself. Bertis [Downs] manages the band [R.E.M.], but I don't really have a personal manager and I don't have a booking agent, so I don't really know how to go about doing that. I assume we can figure something out between Scott and myself."

The No Ones developed out of a meeting at Ice Station Vadsø, a festival in Norway, that Buck and McCaughey attended in 2015 along with their former R.E.M. bandmate Mike Mills, Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn and Led Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones. Also performing were Strømstad and Mathisen from I Was a King. "At one point we decided, 'Let's make an EP.' They asked me if I had any songs and I always have a couple and Scott wrote the lyrics," Buck recalls. "They'd send stuff over and we'd change it and send it back without realizing it we have a record and we were a band."

The EP, Sun Station, came out in 2017, and prompted the quartet to record a full album. "They came to America and we recorded the album in like five days," Buck recalls. However, the project was stalled when McCaughey was felled by a stroke in November 2017. Once he recovered, the band finished overdubs and mixing. "It was made to come out around the time of the festival," Buck says. "It's just a coincidence it's coming out the same month of Luke's record."

The album, which Buck describes as "kind of a weird cross-Atlantic psychedelic thing," features McCaughey on vocals and is a mostly rocking affair. However, it slows down mid-album for "Sun Station Vadsø," a dream-like ode to the site of the Norwegian festival that recalls the Replacements' "Swingin' Party," and "Cinnamon Roll Hair," a short but sweet apparent ode to the late Carrie Fisher.

As for the rest of the year, Buck says Arthur Buck, his collaboration with singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur, has a second album, mixed by Jacknife Lee, in the can, but they're looking for a label to put it out. "We cut it with the band we toured with, so it's more of a rock record [than the duo's 2018 self-titled debut], but we don't know who's going to put it out, so somebody should call me or Joe," he says.

He's also done about "seven or eight songs" for the next Filthy Friends album, though Corin Tucker is busy at the moment with Sleater-Kinney. And there's always the possibility of another album collaboration with Alejandro Escovedo, as there's "10 or 11 songs that were halfway finished" following the release of Burn Something Beautiful, his 2016 album produced, co-written and featuring Buck and McCaughey.

Whatever the case, you can bet Buck will be busy on something. "The way music is, I can do a lot of my work in my pajamas at 2 in the morning," he says. "But if I don't play music, what else am I going to do? I don't really socialize. I don't really drink much anymore. I don't go out to eat much. If I don't play that much I just kind of wander around the neighborhood and make tuna fish sandwiches for dinner. It's dull and kind of depressing. I like the speed and the pace of having to work and do things," he adds. "It gets you moving and the blood circulating."