Michael Stipe Wants to 'Work in Music Again' After David Bowie Tributes

Former R.E.M. singer says performing "Ashes to Ashes" was a creative awakening

Michael Stipe says that he's ready to 'work in music again" after participating in a pair of David Bowie tribute performances earlier this year. Credit: Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty

Michael Stipe announced that while his pop star days are behind him, he would like to work in music again. In an interview with the New York Times, the former R.E.M. singer attributed his musical realization to performing in a pair of David Bowie tribute shows last spring. 

The 56-year-old spoke ahead of R.E.M.'s 25th anniversary reissue of the 1991 hit album Out of Time, out November 18th. The reissue features demos, music videos and a rare live acoustic recording. While emphasizing that he generally doesn't appreciate a vault-clearing reissue approach, Stipe felt these early R.E.M. versions allowed fans to witness important parts of the album's creation. 

"You're seeing me really reaching, in some cases really over- or under-reaching, to try and find a melody, to work out a lyric to see if it's working or not with the music; never to be heard," Stipe said. "And here, 25 years later, we're offering it to the public."

Out of Time, which features the mandolin-laced epic "Losing My Religion," made R.E.M. a career rock band, bringing the alt-rock group to mainstream audiences. "For someone who had no real grand ambitions, to have a 'song of the summer' was possibly the greatest possible gift that I could receive," Stipe said. 

Since R.E.M. disbanded in 2011, Stipe has rarely performed live. In December 2014, he made his official live solo debut as surprise opening act for Patti Smith at New York's Webster Hall, performing a mix of R.E.M. tracks and covers. More recently, Stipe delivered a haunting rendition of "Ashes of Ashes" for New York's Bowie tribute shows. The experience, Stipe said, was transporting. 

"In one week I got to interpret and perform two of my top 20 favorite songs of all time," Stipe wrote on R.E.M.'s website. "For Carnegie in particular, I wanted the room to be the main instrument. Its reverberation and energy is profoundly weighted and airy all at once – it can transform music into something holy – so that informed our arrangement choices for 'Ashes to Ashes.'"