R.E.M.'s Mike Mills Q&A: 'I Feel Oddly Liberated'

Buck, Stipe, Mills. R.E.M. 1980-2011

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What are the songs you'll miss performing the most?

I don't know about a particular song so much as I will miss playing with Michael and Peter because the thing that makes a band a band rather than a group of musicians is the chemistry that happens when those people get on stage. And that certainly happened with R.E.M.

Do you have a specific favorite live memory... or three?

One live memory? Gosh no. After 31 years and I don't know how many thousand shows there are far too many to pick one. But you know, playing Madison Square Garden for the first time was pretty cool. Meeting Nelson Mandela and playing in South Africa and Trafalgar Square in London was pretty cool. Getting to go to places like Cape Town and Singapore, that's pretty amazing stuff.

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Now that all is said and done, do you feel like you'll miss it?

Who knows? The feeling right now is not sadness. The feeling right now is gratitude at having this opportunity, satisfaction at being able to close it out on our own terms, and excitement at the future. I feel oddly liberated, not that R.E.M. was a straight-jacket or anything like that. But now there are just millions of musical opportunities that I can pursue should I choose to. So there may be times in the future where I think back and get a little sad, but I doubt it because the future is exciting.

Do you have something specific on tap? Another band?

The only thing for sure next year is my friend Chris Stamey, who was in the dBs back in the day, he has put together a core group of musicians -- myself, Jody Stephens the drummer from Big Star, and [R.E.M. producer] Mitch Easter -- who play Big Star's third album in public, in concert. We've got the original string charts, we get a bunch of string players and depending on the city we're playing in we get whoever's local that loves Big Star and wants to come out and play. We do this really really cool evening of Big Star with a few extra things thrown in. So we've got a couple of those coming up next year in Europe and I'm really excited about that.

What about a doing a solo project?

Probably. There are a lot of musicians I'm looking forward to writing with. That's one thing I'm excited about is collaborating with people and seeing what comes out of that.

Care to name anybody?

I don't want to jinx it, that's the thing. I've got some ideas, and we've discussed it, but I don't want to say it for fear of making it not happen. And as far as solo stuff, that could easily happen. There could be a Mike Mills record somewhere down the line but I haven't started one or anything like that.

What about the R.E.M. vaults. Is there any other studio recordings of songs people never heard hiding in there might be worthy of release in the future?

I imagine there are some chestnuts lying around in there. And I would guess that some years down the road, we'll get crawling through the vault to see what's available to put out for a little fun set of unknown or lesser known things. But we're not thinking about that right now. Everybody's excited about what they can do in the next year with their own lives. Michael will probably do lots of sculpture and photography. And Peter's out on the road right now with John Wesley Harding, he'll probably keep doing stuff like that. And I've got people I want to write with. So there could be any number of things.

It was probably a collaboration and a compromise to decide what was on "Part Lies, Part Garbage, Part Truth" Which songs that were left out would you have lobbied for?

I am actually really happy with the song selection. I wouldn't change it, but I will say that "Find The River" is a sad omission, but it's available in plenty of other formats and there are already four songs off "Automatic for the People," so it would be hard to take any one of those off. And we wanted to put all three of the new songs on there. We could have left one of them off, but it's much more fun to have some new stuff just to show where the band is when we decided to call it off. It's nice to go out on a high note.