Accelerate is not only the name of R.E.M.'s latest studio CD, it also reflects how quickly the veteran alt-rock band's 14th album was made, and how short the songs are -- 11 tunes clocking in at a mere 34 minutes.
Guitarist Peter Buck says he laid down the law with his bandmates -- singer Michael Stipe and bassist-keyboardist Mike Mills -- after the tortuously slow making of R.E.M.'s previous album, the poorly received 2004 effort Around the Sun.
"I was really unhappy with the way we worked, which was slow," Buck said down the line from his Seattle home.
"You know, Mike and Michael got into this thing where they just couldn't trust their instincts, so instead of making decisions we would wait for eight months and then be forced into a decision ... (Around the Sun) could have been a good record but it's not ... I'm never going to work that way again."
R.E.M. launched their North American tour in Vancouver's Deer Lake Park on Friday. Their only other scheduled Canadian tour stop before heading to Europe in July is a June 8 stop at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto.
Buck elaborated on what he felt was a necessary new way for the Athens, Ga., group to record new music.
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"It wasn't an ultimatum, but I think everyone realized that (the long) way didn't work," Buck said, "and I wanted to make it clear that I was never going to work that way again. So given both those bits of information, everyone kind of went, 'Yeah, you know we should try something different.'
"And if this had been a failure we wouldn't be a band, I don't think. But the fact is, we walked in and made a great record and I think it just made Mike and Michael rethink the way they have worked in the past."
This wasn't a new realization for Buck. He long had espoused both the quick and dirty method of making records, and his exasperation with how slowly Stipe and Mills like to work.
"Everyone I work with, other than R.E.M., have no money ... (They make records) in four days, and you know what? They sound great. They sound just as good as the record you spend a year on.
"Really, it's about the songs. So my goal, and I've been trying to browbeat the guys for the last 10 years -- 'Let's write the songs before we get in there' -- as opposed to Michael finishing it while we sit around waiting. And then perform the songs and be done ...
"And, you know, it worked out just exactly the way I wanted ... We didn't spend eight months. We spent eight weeks. It was very pleasant. We didn't even work long hours. We were done by dinner every night."
The band, along with longtime recording and touring associates Scott McCaughey on guitar and drummer Bill Rieflin, recorded Accelerate in three cities -- Vancouver, Athens, Ga., and Dublin -- with Irish producer Jacknife Lee, who came at the recommendation of U2 guitarist The Edge. Lee's other credits includes albums with the Editors, Bloc Party, Snow Patrol and Kasabian.
"Edge said he thought that (Lee) was really ready to do a full record with someone like us," Buck said. "And we talked to him and we basically had the same goals, which was to make an exciting record, (to) do something that's kind of thrilling and pointed and sharp and aggressive. It really was a great experience."
After recording the first seven or eights songs in Vancouver -- "a place we all like and have worked in a lot," Buck said -- the band moved on to Dublin, where they did live rehearsals of the new songs in front of an audience for the first time, including for the members of U2.
"We've never actually booked a place and said, 'Hey, we're going to rehearse in front of you people.' It was kind of scary," Buck said. "It was really good. It was one of those things where it made it feel real to play in front of the audience and kind of work out the kinks. It also just felt great to know that, 'Yeah, we've got this body of work and we're on the right track.'
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