R.E.M. Sleepless in Vancouver

Band has amassed four albums' worth of new material

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R.E.M. is making considerable progress on what will be the follow-up to its 2001 release, Reveal, with "four albums' worth of stuff floating around" at this point, according to guitarist Peter Buck. Buck, singer Michael Stipe, and bassist Mike Mills are again working in Vancouver, B.C., with the production team of Patrick McCarthy and Jaime Candiloro, both of whom collaborated with the veteran group on Reveal.

The group has been committed to working spontaneously and quickly. "I always like to leave a demo sound, so we're trying to pretend we're making demos, and it's working really well," says Buck. "And everyone's just willing to try anything new. It's also me, Mike and Michael, who have played together for twenty-three years, so, there's certain things that we can do without even thinking about it."

Still, the prolific output, which began in October, has left the trio unsure of what they have actually created. "We have so many songs right now," Buck says, "it's a little frustrating for everyone because we can't figure out what exactly the record is."

The sessions have also featured contributions from auxiliary musicians Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5), Ken Stringfellow (Posies), and Bill Rieflin (Ministry). However, noticeably absent is Joey Waronker, the drummer who has essentially served as the replacement for founding member Bill Berry since his departure in 1997. "He kinda wanted to be in L.A. right now," Buck says of Waronker. "He's doing a whole lot of production stuff and sessions." The band has yet to decide who will ultimately play drums on the record.

Despite R.E.M.'s fast pace, fans anxious to hear the new music will have to sit tight, because the album is not expected until 2004. The band will break from recording to tour Europe this summer and then North America beginning in September. More recording sessions are then planned for late in the year.

Also on the agenda is the October release of a best-of compilation spanning the group's years with Warner Bros., which began with the 1988 album, Green. The package will also likely include at least two new songs and other previously unreleased material. Buck also hopes the album will showcase some of R.E.M.'s lesser-known tracks. "It's hard because what is a single isn't necessarily your favorite song," he says. "But we can balance it out. You can fit a fair amount of information on a CD."

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