Returning to Music

I recently got a focusrite audio interface and a used lap steel guitar. In the month since, I’ve leared some lap steel and set up a small recording… thing. I hesitate to call it a studio when I have to find a place to put down tracks whenever the kids are occupied.

I’ve managed enough ambition to finish two songs this past month. And I really want to keep up with more of this. My band has been on hiatus for most of the lockdown. We put out two livestreams before the cold weather set in. Right before this started, we put down some initiail tracks for an EP. But without being able to work close together, that’s fallen by the wayside. I have enough foundational parts to move that a bit forward - but I’ll need another source of songs to record while I re-learn audio engineering.

So… REM?

Yeah, The 90’s band that stopped making music 10 years ago. Always been my favorite band. I was around eleven years old when Green was released. It was one of the first cds I remember my dad getting along with Eponymous. All of my early mucis tastes were from my parents. Beatles, Paul Simon, Neil Young. But REM was one of the first bands that I really loved and made mine.

I never choose to put on a Beatles album. I’ll still occasionaaly put on Paul Simon or Neil. But I can’t go for more than a week without having to listen to REM. Michael Stipe is my favorite male vocalist. I’d really like to improve as a singer, so I might as well emulate the best.

I get so much of my approach to the bass and background vocals from Mills’ interpretation of McCartney. There is a way you can go back to the REM well so many more times thatn any other artist. I’ve always discovered more from each album and song the more I listen.

In all honesty, aside from Around the Sun.

The Project

That brings me to this project. Its been in the back of my mind to start something like this since I read an REM blog by Barnaby Wilde. In it, he recorded a version of every REM song and wrote a post about each one.

I don’t think I’d get as far as Barnaby did by starting from the beginning. But I could do something similar with the purpose of just recording the REM songs I want to start with. This feels like the right carrot to get me to not think of what I should record next and just do a buncha REM songs.

So instead of chronologically through each album, I went through their discography and picked 0-3 songs from each album that will motivate me to record. I considered just randomly assigning myself a song from the entire catalog each time, but I’d rather start small. I can always go on to something like that after prioving to myself that I can commit to an intiail batch of my favorite REM songs.

Below is the list of 27 songs I intend to cover. I’m hoping to average one a week. I might do a very straight-forward cover - or do something outside the box to challenge myself. If nothing else, I’ll at least strum some chords and sing.

Along with recording a version of the song, I’ll write a post about how I chose to arrage it and my thought s on the song itself. I’ll include chords and lyrics as I go.

The List

I’m pulling from all their major suidio album releases plus Chronic Town. I’m not getting into Dead Letter Office, bonus tracks, b-sides, rarities or live albums. This sets some decent parameters in case I keep going into their entire catalog.

Around the Sun is the only record with no entries. Up, Life’s Rich Pageant and Murmur are the only ones with three or more. Up sits at the only one with four. No surprises there. It’s a vastly underrated record. I would also call it one of the worst sequenced albums ever. No favors there.

To be sure, these aren’t necessarily my favorite REM songs. Just ones I feel that I would enjoy covering the most for an initial run. There are only a couple “Greatest Hits” songs here most people think of. “Frequency” is the only major standout. Next on popularity would be “Radio Free Europe” or “Driver 8”.

To be honest, I’m most excited to get through these and see if I want to keep going. Just to see what random REM goodie will be thrown at me each time. I’m also looking forward to getting into the ATS songs that still haven’t gotten in me. Theres nothing like learning a song as a fast track to loving it more.

I plan on using a random number generator to pick a new song each time. Soon as I pick the song, I’ll start the blog post and figuring out what I want to do in terms of arrangement. I’m in a small apartment, so Drums and percussion will be mostly midi for now. I also have no good keyboard controller, so any piano / organ parts will also be a midi arrangement. I purposly stayed away from piano focused songs at first for that reaon. No “Nightswimming” or “At My Most Beautiful” for a while. Though I may take on “At My Most Beautiful” if I visit home and have access to my old piano.

Song List

Updated 10/7/20

Since acoustic piano worked so well on “At My Most Beautiful”, I added “Perfect Circle” and “Don’t Go Back To Rockville”. This brings “Murmur” up to four songs - tied with “Up” for most represented album here. It also means that I won’t be doing anything from “Collapse” or “Around the Sun”. Just means I’ll have to do another round someday.

Accelerate
Reveal
Up
Hi-Fi
Monster
Automatic for the People
  • Sweetness Follows
Out of Time
Green
  • You Are the Everything
  • Turn You Inside Out
Document
  • Finest Worksong
  • Exhuming McCarthy
Life’s Rich Pageant
Fables of the Reconstruction
Reckoning
Murmur
Chronic Town
  • Carnival of Sorts (Boxcar)