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Music

The hilarious advice R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe gave to The National

@TylerGolsen

The late 2000s were a strange time to try and make a career out of rock music. While the genre was far from dead, initial garage rock revival acts like The Strokes and Interpol were struggling to find ways to redefine their sound while bands like The White Stripes and The Libertines were all but gone already. The National were technically a part of that first wave of New York bands in the early 2000s, but they took a more slow-burning approach to their career.

Perhaps one reason for that was The National didn’t have a signature song that could catapult them into notoriety. Whereas The Yeah Yeah Yeahs had ‘Maps’ and Arctic Monkeys had ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’, The National never had that one song that non-fans could latch onto. During a 2019 interview with New York radio station Q104.3, the group joked that one of alternative rock’s most respected forefathers helped shape their view on that particular problem.

“Michael Stipe, who was very supportive of us, he told us, ‘Either you need no hits or lots of hits,'” guitarist Aaron Dessner recalls. “So we stayed with the ‘no hits’ (laughs)…”

R.E.M. and The National actually have more in common than just playing rock music: the two bands toured together in 2011, which wound up being R.E.M.’s final tour before their breakup. Lead singer Matt Berninger revealed that The National’s 2019 album I Am Easy to Find contains allusions to R.E.M. and their work, while R.E.M. bassist directed the album’s eponymous promotional short film.

“It is a woman embodied by Alicia Vikander and without any dialogue — or very little dialogue — and really not much of a plot or a screenplay or anything like that or a script, it was a collection of images and phrases that Mike put together,” Berninger said. “I think there’s 160-something little moments, and some of them have little subtitles. And they’re all kind of slammed together. So you’re observing these quick snapshots of a life. And it was a way to tell how abstract it is — an identity, a person, what it is to be here and then not be here, and what happens to you along the way.”

R.E.M. had the unique experience of being a band with both no hits and numerous hits. During their initial run in the early-to-mid 1980s, R.E.M. was still an underground college rock act that built their reputation through solid albums and nonstop touring. It was only when 1987’s ‘The One I Loved’ landed at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 that the hits actually started rolling in, including ‘Everybody Hurts’, ‘Man on the Moon’, and ‘Losing My Religion’, which was a top ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1991.

Listen to The National dispense some wisdom from Michael Stipe down below.