Michael Stipe has shared his first new music since R.E.M.’s 2011 breakup, but the singer’s iconic voice is nowhere to be found on the track. The three-minute instrumental, premiering at Salon as bonus footage from frequent collaborator Tom Gilroy’s latest film The Cold Lands, blends cold synthesizers and propulsive drums into an evocative textural drift.
Stipe tells Salon that he felt pressure working on his first post-R.E.M. music, but not singing on the track made the process easier. It also helped that he was working with “one of (his) favorite songwriters,” producer Andy LeMaster, who recorded the track and played bass.
“I know I work well with other people — to have someone to bounce something off of works for me, and I don’t actually write music,” Stipe says. “I wrote melodies and I tend to write along to other people’s music. That’s what I’ve done most of my career as a musician. . . I went to Andy knowing that if I painted myself into a corner, he’d pull me out — and also that he’d be more than a neutral engineer/collaborator to work with. We work really well together. This is, in fact, the first thing that I’ve done musically since R.E.M disbanded. So, of course, I wanted it to be for something that meant a lot to me. That was important.”
Though Stipe says he “can’t play an instrument to save (his) life,” he was able to lay down both keyboards and electronic drums, aiming to “stretch and challenge (himself)” as a musician. Inspiration came from an unlikely source: Television frontman Tom Verlaine.
“My interpretation of Tom Verlaine and how he plays to other people’s work or creates parts is that he doesn’t want to fall into a clichéd blues riff,” he says. “He’s working to avoid that. He doesn’t want to play jazz. Like Peter Buck would say, ‘You only play what’s absolutely necessary.’ And that takes every ounce of your energy as a musician. You’re a musician, you’re a player; you know what you’re doing. You could play along — but sometimes it’s not essential to the thing moving forward.”
This may be Stipe’s first musical adventure since leaving R.E.M., but he’s still stayed in the public eye. Earlier this year, he helped induct Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a moving induction speech. Meanwhile, back in May, his former band issued a massive slew of rarities and studio album sets.