Posts Tagged ‘Mitch Easter’

REM_Reckoning.jpg

On this day in 1984, R.E.M. released their second album, ‘Reckoning,’ featuring the singles “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” . Produced by Don Dixon and Mitch Easter

Instead of labeling the sides of the record as “side one” and “side two”, the sides were designated as “L” and “R”.
For the cover of Reckoning, Michael Stipe drew a picture of a two-headed snake, which he then gave to artist Howard Finster to fill in as a painting.

Reckoning is the second studio album by the American band R.E.M., released in 1984 by I.R.S. Records.  The album was recorded at Reflection Sound Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina over 16 days in December 1983 and January 1984. Dixon and Easter intended to capture the sound of R.E.M.’s live performances, and used binaural recording on several tracks. Singer Michael Stipe dealt with darker subject matter in his lyrics, and water imagery is a recurring theme on the record. Released to critical acclaim,

Separated by two weeks of canceled studio time that allowed the band to play a show in Greensboro, North Carolina, go out to see a movie, and shoot a video in the studio. While the studio diary listed 16 days for recording, the album sleeve later claimed the album was recorded in 14 days, while in interviews Buck at times commented that the album was recorded in 11 days. The producers both disputed that the sessions were that short; Dixon insisted that they were at the studio for at least 25 days (during which he worked eighteen-hour days), while Easter said “When I read ‘eleven days’ I thought, what the fuck! It was twenty days, which was still short, but it’s not eleven.”

Few singers can stuff as much complexity into a simple, one-word chorus as Michael Stipe. “I’m sorry” is a bit of a rote sentiment for a pop-rock ballad, but Stipe sells it here, yelping like a wounded dog in the space between verses. He famously refused to lip-sync for the song’s music video, which goes to show how seriously he took the lyrics and the elusive story behind them. Impressive as the vocal performance may be, it’s the other members of R.E.M. who make “So. Central Rain” such a crucial entry in the band’s discography. Peter Buck kicks things off with a riff that may as well double as the manifesto for jangle rock, and the rhythm section shines in a thundering post-chorus that borrows from the playbooks of Television and Joy Division while asserting R.E.M. as a forced to be reckoned with in their own right.

During the recordings there was pressure from I.R.S. Records to try to make the album more commercial. The label sent messages to Dixon and Easter, which the producers told the band that they would ignore. While the producers respected I.R.S. president Jay Boberg, they expressed dismay at the comments he made when he visited during the last day of sessions. Dixon called Boberg “record company clueless”, while Easter said “I got along with Jay Boberg OK […] but now and again he would express an opinion that would make me think, ‘holy shit’, because it would strike me as really teenage.” Buck said he was grateful that Dixon and Easter acted as a buffer between the band and its label. He said that “it got to the point where as much as I respected the guys at I.R.S., we basically tried to record the records so they wouldn’t know we were recording them!”, and explained that part of the reason why R.E.M. recorded the album so quickly was that the group wanted to finish before representatives from I.R.S. showed up to listen to it.

Musicotherapia: R.E.M. - Reckoning (1984)

The recording sessions were difficult for singer Michael Stipe, who, among the band, was particularly worn out by the group’s 1983 tour schedule. Getting usable vocal tracks from Stipe was difficult; Dixon recalled that he and Stipe would show up around noon each day before the rest of the band, but that “he was kind of shut down, and it was difficult to get him to open up”. While recording the song “7 Chinese Brothers”, Stipe sang so quietly that Dixon could not hear him on the tape. Frustrated, the producer climbed a ladder to a spot above the recording booth Stipe was in and found a gospel record titled The Joy of Knowing Jesus by the Revelaires, which he then handed to the singer in an attempt to inspire him. Stipe began reciting the liner notes from the album audibly, which enabled Dixon to move on to recording the vocal track to “7 Chinese Brothers” properly  (the initial recitation take was later released in 1987 as “Voice of Harold” on the later compilation Dead Letter Office.

R.E.M.-Chronic-Town

On this day (August. 10th) in 1982: Athens, Georgia alternative rock band R.E.M. released the ‘Chronic Town’ EP, the first result of their signing with IRS Records the previous May; the tracks had been recorded with producer Mitch Easter back in October, 1981 when the group was considering setting up their own label; the disc provided the first extended illustration of R.E.M.’s signature musical style – jangling guitars, chords played in arpeggio, murmured vocals & obscure lyrics – & introduced such early, lo-fi classics as “Gardening At Night” & “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)”.

I.R.S. released Chronic Town in August 1982 as its first American release. Reaction to the EP varied; one I.R.S. radio promoter said that many of his contacts at universities radio didn’t know what to make of the record, but added, “The Georgia stations and some of the more together college stations across the country jumped on it.” The band filmed its first video for “Wolves, Lower” to promote the record. The EP sold 20,000 copies in its first year.

“Chronic Town” is five songs that spring to life full of immediacy and action and healthy impatience. Songs that won’t be denied.” NME praised the songs’ auras of mystery, and concluded, “R.E.M. ring true, and it’s great to hear something as unforced and cunning as this.

The debut 5 track EP from R.E.M. titled ‘Chronic Town’ was the beginning of a long love affair for many of us with the boys from Athens, GA. The original vinyl EP R.E.M. labeled the A side (tracks 1–3) as the “Chronic Town” side and the B side (tracks 4 and 5) as the “Poster Torn” side.

 

All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe.

Side one – “Chronic Town”
  1. “Wolves, Lower” – 4:10
  2. Gardening at Night – 3:29
  3. “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” – 3:54
Side two – “Poster Torn”
  1. “1,000,000” – 3:06
  2. “Stumble” – 5:40

Unfortunately it took the breakup of the band to start seeing some of these ultra-rare deals come to light. R.E.M. Demos on a basically-unheard artifact: the Cassette Set from Spring 1981.
In April 1981 the band began their relationship with Mitch Easter by visiting his Drive-In Studio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to record a few songs for a demo. They had done a few demo sessions previously, but were not satisfied with the results (mainly at Joe Perry’s Bombay Studio) and eventually hooked up with Easter.

On April 15th, 1981 Mitch Easter and the band recorded (at least) three tracks: “Sitting Still”, “Radio Free Europe” and “White Tornado”. On the next day they mixed the tracks, and eventually had a demo cassette run (approx. 400 copies, according to Peter Buck) to send to journalists, clubs and labels ahead of their initial visit to New York City.

On May 24, 1981 the band returned to the Drive-In Studio and laid down some overdubs onto “Radio Free Europe” and then Hib-Tone label owner Johnny Hibbert mixed both “Radio Free Europe” and “Sitting Still” on the 25th. Easter felt the Hibbert mixes were seriously lacking, so he, on his own time, mixed his own versions for consideration. The band, Easter and Hibbert then had a mixing bakeoff of both “Radio Free Europe” and “Sitting Still”, and as famously (well, relatively speaking) known, despite everyone but Hibbert liking the Easter mixes better Hibbert pulled rank and used his mixes on the band’s debut 7″ on Hib-Tone. Something went awry in the process, the record was mastered terribly, and Peter Buck famously smashed his copy and put it on his wall (following the “Radio Free Europe” lyric).

Mitch Easter’s proposed mix for the 7″ is the only one the band has seen fit to issue since then, on 1988’s Eponymous compilation, and then on 2006’s compilation of the I.R.S. years And I Feel Fine…The Best Of The I.R.S. Years 1982-1987.

Stepping back a bit: before issuing the 7″, the band chose the original, pre-overdubbed, recordings of “Sitting Still” / “Radio Free Europe”, with “White Tornado” added in, to make up their demo cassette. Jokingly, “Sitting Still” was prefaced by a few seconds of a *fast* run through of the song done in Polka-style, and “White Tornado” was followed by an aborted “White Tornado” take where Buck lays down a huge stinker of a mistake, the song grinds to a halt, and Buck is heard apologizing before Easter’s voice appears. On the final 100 copies the band added a hilarious “Radio Dub” mix of “Radio Free Europe”, done by Easter on April 23rd, 1981 on a lark with instruments/voices/effects dropping in and out of the mix, dub-style.

I don’t think the “Sitting Still” or “White Tornado” snippets have ever been collected on bootleg, and if they have, I’ve never heard them. “Radio Dub” is a bit more known, but still fantastically rare. And of course this Cassette Set is the only place to get the very original Easter mixes of “Sitting Still” and “Radio Free Europe”, both of which are far better than any subsequent issue of these tracks.

The Cassette Set was self-assembled by the band, using photocopied cardstock for the J-card inlays, and handwritten cassette labels by Stipe. Some copies featured color photograph inserts all cut up,
Its a special part of the band’s history.