R.E.M. announced today that they have broken up after 31 years together. “As lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band,” the band said in a statement on their official website. “We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished.”
In just over three decades as a band, R.E.M. released 15 albums including landmark works such as Murmur, Reckoning, Document, Out of Time and Automatic For the People. The band’s final album, Collapse Into Now, was released in March of this year. The band have plans to release a career-spanning greatest hits collection later this year, which will include a handful of new songs finished after the band completed Collapse Into Now.
“During our last tour, and while making Collapse Into Now and putting together this greatest hits retrospective, we started asking ourselves, ‘what next’?,” bassist Mike Mills wrote on the R.E.M. site. “Working through our music and memories from over three decades was a hell of a journey. We realized that these songs seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together.”
Mills insists that the band have ended their working relationship on very good terms. “We feel kind of like pioneers in this,” he says. “There’s no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off. We’ve made this decision together, amicably and with each other’s best interests at heart. The time just feels right.”
“I hope our fans realize this wasn’t an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way,” says frontman Michael Stipe.
Ethan Kaplan, owner of the R.E.M. fan community Murmurs and former Senior Vice President of Emerging Technology at Warner Bros. Records, says that the band’s decision was influenced in part by label politics. “I suspected this was coming last fall,” Kaplan tells Rolling Stone. “If you remember, they weathered a lot of storms in this business, and have always operated on their own terms. [Warner Bros.] changed starting last September, and I think the demands on a band now to get a record out were more than they might have wanted to commit. I can understand that after how hard they worked for how long, the thought of going back to ‘paying dues’ with new label staff, in a very weird industry, was too much.”
In a 2007 Rolling Stone interview, Stipe summed it up nicely. “We didn’t set out for this to be a career. We just knew it was something we wanted to do, and we would stop when we didn’t want to do it anymore.”