Peter Buck Explains the Casual Way R.E.M. Broke Up

Rem In Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London, Britain - 24 Mar 2008
Womp. Photo: Brian Rasic/Getty Images

A lot of bands don’t end on the best of terms. Some members, like a certain Zayn you might’ve heard of, prefer to ghost, then announce an album with shady song titles. It’s hard, but it doesn’t always have to be harsh. For R.E.M., their 2011 breakup was about as drama-free as it gets and, as guitarist Peter Buck tells Rolling Stone in a rare interview, was something that had been three years in the making. Talks of hanging it up first began in 2008, when the band had had it with touring. By the time they made it to their final show, in Mexico City, Buck says he and Michael Stipe knew it was over. “I went, ‘This is kind of sad.” And Michael goes, ‘Yeah, a little. We’re probably never going to play these songs again,’ ” he recalls. “And I went, ‘You might be right.’ “

Even so, they recorded one last album, 2011’s Collapse into Now, during which Stipe, Buck, and Michael Mills came to the chillest mutual agreement to end a three-decade career that you’ve likely ever heard: “We hadn’t made an announcement or anything. 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, and Mike said, ‘Sounds right to me.’ ” That’s how it was decided.” NBD.

And Buck says he harbors no regrets about the way they retired R.E.M. “I’m really proud of the fact that we ended in 2011 with the ideals we started with in 1980,” he says. “I’m really proud of the body of work. There are a couple of records that aren’t great. But there’s a couple of Bob Dylan records that aren’t great.”

Buck, still keeping things low-key as ever, also casually reveals in the interview that there’s an assortment of unreleased R.E.M. songs even he hasn’t heard yet: “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. We could probably put out an album of stuff that we thought was too mediocre to be on the original records. Why would we do that?” Oh, no reason we can think of.

The Casual Way R.E.M. Broke Up