The recent R.E.M narrative has gone like this: Accelerate, their most recent album — good. Around the Sun, Reveal, and Up, their last three albums — bad. Band bassist Mike Mills thinks this is lazy journalism, and he wasn't exactly thrilled when some reporters took Michael Stipe's comments in a recent Spin interview to mean he'd finally come out of the closet. (He's been out for years. Sheesh.) So, in response, the band announced via YouTube that Mills and guitarist Peter Buck were finally coming out too … as straight. On the eve of R.E.M.'s show at Madison Square Garden this Thursday, Mills spoke with Vulture about these and other catastrophes.
Congratulations on coming out as heterosexual!
I know, it's a long time coming.
Did you help Michael Stipe put the video together?
Actually, a friend of mine suggested it to me after [Stipe] was outed yet again. She said, "When are you and Peter being outed as hetero?" And I thought that was a great idea, so I went to Michael and he thought it was a great idea.
You've talked in other interviews about "revisionist history" about the band's old albums…
There's just this theme that's been adopted by so many lazy writers that the last three records sucked, and now [the band] doesn't suck anymore. That's just very lazy journalism and absolutely incorrect.
After your last album, which many thought didn't sell as well as it should've, Peter Buck was quoted as saying: "Even Michael [Stipe] was going, 'Y'know, if we make another bad record, it's over.' It's like, 'No kidding.'" Did you feel the same way?
Well, I don't think Around the Sun is a bad record. I think our problem was that we weren’t focused, that we weren't all on the same page. We were pulling in different directions. And that's kind of pointless. It makes it very difficult to make a good record.
Why were you pulling in different directions?
It happens. Any long-term relationship has ups and downs, and you just have to maintain communications, and some times that’s easier than others.
What helped make that relationship stronger this go-round?
It's a collective decision. You just have to sit down and go, "If we're going to do this, we have to do it in the right way." And that's what we did. We all realized that we need to be pulling in the same direction, and once we decided that, it was pretty simple.
Do you guys plan to be very active in campaigning for Obama?
I'm sure we will as individuals. We haven't yet decided what, if anything, we'll be doing as a band.
Nothing like the "Vote for Change" tour?
No, nothing like "Vote for Change." You don't want to do that every single election, or it won't have any impact. It will lose its power.
Do you thinks actors and musicians really help politicians, or do you think there's a chance they sometimes hurt them?
I think anybody's endorsement is probably going to be mostly helpful. I think that actors and musicians and entertainers and truck drivers and dentists and housewives and everybody in this world should speak up and endorse people. I think it's everyone's civic opportunity to stand up and say what they think, and to tell people they're not allowed to do that is very anti-democratic.
I'm asking more from a strategic standpoint. George Clooney said something recently like he hasn’t been doing a lot of campaigning, because he thinks it does more harm than good.
Yeah. There comes a point at which it's too much. There's nothing wrong with speaking your mind, but at some point it begins to sound like you're preaching, and people have a limit on how much celebrity endorsement they can take. So you just have to be smart about how much you say, and when and where you say it. —Ben Westhoff