When R.E.M. began recording Collapse Into Now last year they decided to throw out the guidelines they imposed on their last album, 2008’s Accelerate. “On the last one we tried to make everything focused, short, fast and sharp,” Mike Mills tells Rolling Stone. “We took most of the rules off this time, picking the best songs regardless of whether they were fast, slow or mid-tempo.”
The disc, which is due out early next year, reminds Mills of the band’s 1992 classic Automatic For The People. “The songs go from one type into another really easily and it all seems to fit as a piece,” Mills says. “It makes sense as a whole the same way that Automatic For The People did.”
Produced by Jacknife Lee, the disc was recorded over the past year at studios in Portland, New Orleans, Nashville and at Berlin’s legendary Hansa Tonstudio—where David Bowie and Iggy Pop recorded The Idiot and later where U2 cut Achtung Baby. “There’s so many, not exactly ghosts…but vibrations in there,” says Mills. “It’s as very, very vibey place.”
While in Berlin the band met up with longtime friend Patti Smith, who contributed vocals to the track “Blue.” “Patti totally changed the song and added a whole other dimension to it,” says Mills. “It was a powerful thing to watch.” Another track, “It Happened Today,” featured vocal contributions from Eddie Vedder.
The songs are also less political than the material on Accelerate. “It’s more of a personal record than a political one,” says Mills. “Current events do come into our mind when we write, but the themes here are more universal.”
Other songs include the piano ballad “Walk It Back,” a rocker called “All The Best” that features Mills and Michael Stipe sharing lead vocals and “Everyday Is Yours To Win”—which Mills describes as a “slow, beautiful song built around a guitar riff.”
Mills says the group didn’t always see eye-to-eye while recording the disc. “This one certainly has its share of difficulty—but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing,” he says. “It just means you have creative tension, which is what happens when three strong-willed people manage to find a consensus.”