It’s been nearly five years since R.E.M. shocked the music world by announcing their breakup. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, guitarist Pete Buck digressed on the band’s decision and why he and his bandmates remain comfortable with it.
As Buck explained, R.E.M. had a three-hour band meeting in 2008 to discuss the possibility of adding more shows to their Accelerate tour. “We were in Bergen, Norway. I really like Bergen. I wanted to see the town. I had four hours off. Instead, we had a three-hour band meeting. I was really pissed off,” Buck said. “We were talking about adding some shows to the tour. It was a lot of money, but I didn’t want to go. I won’t say where it was. I looked at them and said, ‘If this is our last tour, I don’t want to end with two half-full shows in a state you couldn’t pay me to set foot in.’ And they went, ‘OK.'”
Instead, R.E.M. played what would be their final concert in Mexico City on November 18th, 2008. “And I went, ‘This is kind of sad'” Buck recounted. “And Michael [Stipe] goes, ‘Yeah, a little. We’re probably never going to play these songs again.’ And I went, ‘You might be right.'”
However, it wasn’t until R.E.M. entered the studio to record their final album, Collapse Into Now, that they decided to end the band for good. “We got together, and Michael said, ‘I think you guys will understand. I need to be away from this for a long time.’ And I said, ‘How about forever?’ Michael looked at Mike [Mills], and Mike said, ‘Sounds right to me.’ That’s how it was decided.”
In the years since, Stipe, Mills, and Buck have remained close, and even appeared together on stage (or, at least in the same room). However, Buck said the band remains comfortable with their decision to call it quits. “We felt like we made a great last record. The last two records we made — I’m really proud of them. Accelerate is in my top five. But we got to the point where we wanted to go our own ways. We didn’t want to keep doing 20-year-old songs. One thing you might notice about the three of us: None of us has done anything to put us in the public eye. We do stuff, but we haven’t gone on talk shows, done reality TV or put together a supergroup.”
“I like the fact that we walked away from it, and we’re not bad-mouthing each other. We’re not suing each other,” Buck added. “Technically, the band broke up. But we didn’t really. We’re just not making records or touring. We own a publishing company. We own the masters to our Warner Bros. records. We own buildings. We own a warehouse with tapes and stuff that I haven’t even seen. Why go to a warehouse?”
Below, watch footage from R.E.M.’s final concert in Mexico City: