R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and Mike Mills recalled the thinking behind the change of direction that took place on the band’s 1994 album Monster, saying it was important for them to reject some of the songs they’d written even though they were good.
A 25th-anniversary box set arrives on Nov. 1, including a remix by co-producer Scott Litt that was created in an attempt to offer a simpler production ethic and focus more on the raw songwriting – something R.E.M. didn’t feel the need to do at the time.
“We did not want to become the dancing monkey,” Stipe told the BBC in a new interview. “That was not at all our agenda. We didn’t want fame, we didn’t want money; we wanted to be a vital creative band, and that informed all the choices.” He added that “at the same time I was taking a lot from U2 and Nirvana, to tell you the truth. They were looking at rock music and the idea of rock music. Rather than being in the middle of it, they were taking a step back and looking at it from a different place. We all felt like that was a good place for R.E.M. to go.”
Mills added that “the primary impetus was the tour. We knew we were going to tour for the first time in five years, and we wanted to make a record that would be fun and relatively easy to play live. We just wanted to make a lot of noise.”
He went on to say that the band had developed an unwritten rule “for a couple of records that said if we wrote a song that sounded too much like R.E.M., it was off. Some of those demos sounded too much like R.E.M. songs, and that’s why they didn’t make the record. … You hate to let a good song go. … And I knew they were good songs. On the other hand, using those songs would have thwarted our own purpose, so we dropped them.”
Mills said he felt Litt had a “valid” point about the original LP’s production having “buried” the music’s energy. “I don’t know that it would have been a better record had we not done it that way,” he argued. “It would have been very different. I like most of his remixes, not all of them, but that’s not the point. They weren’t there to make me happy.”
Stipe noted that “we were doing what music and art does best: We were responding to the times. The production of that record is exactly who we were at that moment in time. I’m glad that Scott made the remixes. It’s fascinating to me to hear the songs that raw, but I don’t think it would have served R.E.M. well at the time.”