Interview: God Is In The TV celebrate 40 Years of R.E.M. with charity covers compilation – We ask the bands why they got involved

The lovely folk over at God Is In The TV zine recently marked 40 years since R.E.M.’s first recorded output by putting together a huge 40 track compilation of tracks, from the massive hits to some less obvious selections, recorded by bands from across the globe including plenty of Joyzine favourites like Desperate Journalist, Piney Gir, Bugeye, Stephen Evens, I Doris and Taffy. And if that wasn’t enough to immediately get you heading over to Bandcamp to part with six quid, they’re also donating all of the profits to UK charity Help Musicians.

It’s a fantastic collection with the range of musical styles showing just how far R.E.M.’s influence has spread. The band even sent messages of support to the artists involved, with Michael Stipe writing, “I’m listening now, and I’m blown away by the energy and voices that
are coming through this project—what an honor!”

We asked three of the artists featured on the album to share what R.E.M. and their music mean to them.

Piney Gir
Track: Nightswimming

What is it about R.E.M. and their music that got you interested in taking part in this project?
I’m a long time fan of R.E.M. and when I found out that this album was happening with God Is In The TV & for such a good cause such as Help Musicians I was really happy there was space on the album for me to do a track.

How did you first get into R.E.M.?
I remember R.E.M. from when I was a kid and the video for ‘This One Goes Out To The One I Love’ with the flower opening in time-lapse seemed kind of dark and also light and mysterious, the voice of Michael Stipe was intriguing – not typical pop of the time, his voice had so much emotion, power and fragility.  The guitar twang was both retro like Johnny Cash, but also modern as played by Peter Buck, the song was beautiful, it jangled and was confusing to my young ears.  I was not allowed to listen to secular music at the time so songs that connected with me at that age really stick in my memory.  

Why did you choose to cover Nightswimming?
Automatic For The People came out just one short year after Out of Time, they came out so close together it was almost like a double album to me, both tapes played non stop, on my walkman when I was studying, on long car trips – looking out the window.  I had just got my driver’s license and went on a road trip from Kansas City to St Louis (about 5 hours) – I did a lot of random road trips back then, I think I was just kinda bored; being too young to go to gigs in venues that were 21 and up, the rave scene I’d encountered and enjoyed but wasn’t really ‘me’ & there’s only so many hours you can sit in a diner with your friends drinking bottomless cups of weak coffee, so I would just drive… I would drive around the midwest, finding random roadside attractions, going to specific donut shops in small towns, searching for the weirdest crazy golf courses.  It was kinda lonely as I tended to do these road trips solo, I’m actually kind of a shy introvert, so this suited me & R.E.M kept me company in the car.  I remember late at night, my little white jeep & the truckers being the only people on the road, I’d sing along to ‘Nightswimming’ and imagine this time on the highway to be like our version of ‘Nightswimming’, an interstate ballet with the trucks and my little white jeep gliding through the night together the way the song talks about the water and the moon, it just felt like a perfect song for the time/setting/scene.

Which is your favourite R.E.M. album and why?
Because of my strict Christian upbringing, I didn’t really understand why listening to R.E.M. would cause a person to go to hell (I was raised to believe that rock music was a one-way ticket to Hades).  It got me questioning my faith at a young age, no coincidence that ‘Losing My Religion’ was one of my favourite songs when it came out a few years later.  So I gotta say that Out Of Time had a lot of meaning for me.  I then got obsessed with R.E.M. and bought every tape I could get my hands on, saving my babysitting money and going to the mall to get the cheaper, bargain bin albums first (tended to the be older ones, Green & Document, Murmur, Life’s Rich Pageant. which are great!).

If you have any interesting R.E.M. facts or anecdotes, please share them here…
I used to dream that Michael Stipe was my good friend, we’d go to a coffee shop in Kansas City called Javagaia which was an amazing place (sadly not there anymore), there was a waterfall inside and loads of plants it was gorgeous, and in my dream Michael and I would sit by the fountain and drink Mexican hot chocolate with cinnamon sticks… and gosh how wholesome was that dream?  I imagined he had all this wisdom to share with me, and he found my innocence refreshing, in my dream William Burroughs shows up (he lived nearby in Lawrence Kansas back then – his final days) and he and Michael Stipe had lots of important things to do together and Michael politely excused himself.  I watched him and Burroughs walk into the sunset on Southwest Boulevard.  Even in my dreams I end up alone, ha! 

Aside from appearing on this release, what have you got going on/coming up?
I just recently released a new EP – Astral Spectra on the label Reckless Yes, which I’m super proud of. I made a stop frame video for the first single ‘Voice Of The Ages‘ it took actual months to make it, it’s how I spent my 2021 lockdown. I also made a video with director Tristan Davis & Roxys (the backing singer girl group I’m in, we sing with Noel Gallagher & Gaz Coombes) it’s for the song ‘Breathe, Howl, Flower Moon‘ all about witchy things, channeling the energy from our past to celebrate the present and inform our future.

I did my first gig at The Lexington a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing to feel that sense of connection with people again, it was quite emotional!  I’m looking forward to the gigs I have coming up!
10th Sept – Salad w/support from Piney Gir @ Colchester Arts Centre – Tickets
18th Sept – Loud Women All Dayer – Piney’s on in the afternoon, come for the whole day/night – Tickets
24th Oct – Salad w/support from Piney Gir @ The Lexington London – Tickets
28th Oct – special Halloween Themed headline show @The Sanctuary – Tickets

I’m also a presenter on The Other Woman Show as part of the Other Woman Collective for Soho Radio, I do the 3rd Thursday of every month from 3-4 on the Culture Channel.

Find out more about Piney Gir on her official website.

Stephen Evens
Track: Perfect Circle

What is it about R.E.M. and their music that got you interested in taking part in this project?
They have that magic ability to be able to make gigantic songs out of the most simple ingredients. One or two chords, simple effective melodies which the conjure into these amazing tunes. Something you might only appreciate once you’ve worked out one for yourself. The only other band I can think of that do it so well are The Pixies.

How did you first get into R.E.M.?
I first heard their cover of Wire’s ‘Something Strange’, in fact I first learned it playing in the first band I was in which was called, er, Something Strange.

Why did you choose to cover ‘Perfect Circle’?
I actually wanted to do ‘Day Sleeper’, which is my favourite R.E.M. song. But somebody else chose it before I had a chance. 
I wanted to find a song that I could make sound like it could be a Stephen Evens song. I don’t see any point in doing a straight cover. When ‘Perfect Circle’ was suggested I knew immediately how we should do it. Nick (Howiantz, who co-produced and played bass on it) said it sounded like They Might Be Giants. That’ll do me.

Turns out the band that bagged Day Sleeper ended up not doing it. Rude.

Which is your favourite R.E.M. album and why?
It’s a toss up between Document and Up (I know, controversial, eh?). Probably Document: When the band stop in ‘It’s The End Of The World’ so Michael can shout “Leonard Bernstein” that’s one of the greatest moments in pop. Therefore I think Document pips it. There we go, Document….definitely Document. Can’t wait to hear iDoris’s version.

If you have any interesting R.E.M. facts or anecdotes, please share them here…
I believe that R.E.M. named themselves so because they were massive fans of XTC and wanted to to get Andy Partridges attention by only having 3 letters in their name. This fact could, of course, be utter horse shit.

Aside from appearing on this release, what have you got going on/coming up?
Have just released a vinyl only mini-album we recorded last year with Steve Albini and recently supported Ultrasound at Bush Hall.  Going on tour with The Scaramanga Six at the end of the year and hopefully releasing the next album Here Come The Lights before the end of next year.

Follow Stephen Evens on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

You The Living
Track: Living Well Is The Best Revenge

What is it about R.E.M. and their music that got you interested in taking part in this project?
It’s a symbiotic thing. On one hand, their influence on us is rather subtle, with Peter Buck’s pedal tone arpeggiated guitar technique showing up in quite a few of our songs, most notably ‘XXXI’, and Michael Stipe’s lyrical cutting and pasting of different evocative phrases had a large impact on my songwriting. We wanted to showcase that.
On the other, Bill Rieflin (who tragically passed away last year), their drummer in their later years was also part of many industrial and post-punk acts, such as Ministry, Revolting Cocks, and Swans. We thought it would be fun to approach an R.E.M song as though it was written by one of Rieflin’s other bands.

How did you first get into R.E.M.?
Aidan: ‘Bad Day’ was in regular rotation on MTV2 in the time when I was really starting to absorb music. I loved Michael’s lyrics, voice, and delivery.

Why did you choose to cover ‘Living Well Is The Best Revenge’?
We had quite a long shortlist (which sort of defeats the point of a SHORTlist…). I remember ‘I Took Your Name’, ‘Bad Day’, and a miserable, sardonic version of ‘Shiny Happy People’ being on there. In the end, we went for something from one of the Bill Rieflin albums that could be an uptempo moment in our live set if we didn’t end up writing something like that for the album we’re working on right now. (Spoiler: we did.)

Which is your favourite R.E.M. album and why?
Monster. I like my R.E.M dirty, gritty, and mean. I’m a fan of Accelerate in that respect, too. I know those records are pretty divisive, but I tend to like the Marmite stuff. Marmite included.

If you have any interesting R.E.M. facts or anecdotes, please share them here…
Probably Bill Rieflin’s wide-ranging industrial career, as mentioned earlier. He was a versatile guy. Also, if you haven’t heard the duet Michael did with Placebo – ‘Broken Promise’ – definitely give it a listen. It’s one of my favourite performances of his. It’s so heavy with guilt and grief; it couldn’t have been sung by anyone else.

Aside from appearing on this release, what have you got going on/coming up?
We’ve been away for quite some time, but we’re neck-deep in the writing and recording process of our second album. The first single from it should be coming up on the horizon.
It’s quite a departure for us. We were severely limited by our gear and my health on that first album, especially most of the second half, which I believe I recorded in my hospital bed. The reins are off on this one, so this is the You The Living I envisioned from the start – our purest, truest statement.
We’re building a Battlebot, too. We were supposed to be filming in Las Vegas right now, but we were dropped during the re-application process because they had to lose some competitors. Hopefully we’ll be taking Boltergeist to Vegas next year. How many bands do you know who have a killer robot?

Follow You The Living on Facebook

A Carnival of Sorts: An R.E.M. Cover Compilation is available now as a digital download via Bandcamp.

Article by Paul Maps

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