A Conversation With Peter Buck (R.E.M.)

MAGNET recently spoke to Peter Buck about Tuatara and how Barrett Martin and his merry men (Buck, Dean Wareham, Mark Eitzel, John Wesley Harding and others) turned their instrumental project from Ennio Morricone/Nino Rota-style world/lounge/jazz into something still eerily atmospheric but pop-worthy on East Of The Sun (Fast Horse).

You have gone from playing with Robyn Hitchcock to Tuatara to R.E.M. again. Do you compartmentalize things when you play or write?
No. I just write ’em and play ’em. I don’t think I know any other way of doing it. It doesn’t matter with who.

Were you into jazz, film soundtracks or world music before coming into Tuatara?
A lot of it was kinda just there until the (world-music) phenomena in the ’80s, at least where my world was concerned. I just throw in what I know. And soundtrack music is purely from going to the movies. Then again, you get exposed to a lot of stuff. I don’t know nothing about classical music. Look, I came out of playing rock ’n’ roll in bars. But I can write and think on my feet.

Bill Berry rejoined R.E.M. to record a cover of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” (for the Instant Karma: The Campaign To Save Darfur benefit album). Any reason why you picked that song?
Believe it or not, I’m not super knowledgeable about Lennon’s songs. I mean, there are only so many of them. [Laughs] Don’t get me wrong, I always loved that song. But Michael (Stipe) picked it. And it just happened that we were getting ready to do some shows and it was a good cause. Bill’s just a great friend, and it was really nice to do this one thing with him. He’s never going to want to do this full-time again.

Would you ever bother doing a solo record?
I hope not. [Laughs] A lot of the new Tuatara songs are things I’ve written and played for R.E.M. that Michael just went “eh, whatever” about. Sometimes, I don’t get much of a reaction when I present material to those guys. But I do write a lot: reels and reels and CDs’ worth. When R.E.M. works, we work 12 months out of the year. But we don’t work that much. I like to work. Maybe I’m more conscious of mortality and knowing that I’ll be gone. So if I’m writing 40 songs a year, I might as well do something with them.

—A.D. Amorosi