Goldberg: You and Michael approach songwriting in different ways.
Buck: My feeling is you can never tell when inspiration is going to hit, so you've got to work all the time. So I write all the time. And I throw away a whole lot of stuff and I don't finish things. Michael I hate to put words in his mouth I'm not sure that he would say, "Well, it's a craft that I do." He can sit down and write if he has to, but he always feels that he does his best work when all of a sudden it just hits him. And it always seems to be weird hours, like 8 in the morning after getting up at 6 a.m., or 2 in the morning, or just come in from dinner, and all of a sudden inspired. And that's great. He works on his own schedule. He gets inspired, and he'll boom out like a week's worth of work in a day, but then the rest of the week he'll be sitting in the garden writing and thinking about stuff. But I tend to feel like I need to work every day, and then pick and choose the stuff that's good and the stuff that isn't.
Goldberg: It's interesting, that contrast....
Buck: So you've got a track that's been rehearsed with a whole lot of improvised elements surrounding the track, and then the vocals are waiting for Michael to just get it. And singing is the same way for him [as writing]. When we were working on "Losing My Religion," we had a vocal that I loved on that. Michael said, "You know, it's just not right." I was going, "Come on, it's great." Then I wasn't really paying attention, I was out in the living room reading the paper, and he walked out and said, "Oh, I've got it now." And I went in and the vocal was a lot better. He pulled it back a little. It was a little less strident. A little less dramatic, and it just made all the difference.
Goldberg: This is a slow, moody record.
Buck: The record that I think most of our fans would vote as our best record is Automatic for the People [the group's most popular album]. There's really only one song, maybe two, that are rockers. That is a record that is pretty overwhelmingly slow. You want to let the record be what it is.
Goldberg: Because the last record wasn't as popular...
Buck: In America.
Goldberg: ...people might have thought you would make a record kind of like the old R.E.M. albums. U2 kind of retrenched. But you guys didn't do that. You went in the opposite direction. It sounds like you just said, "We're going to keep going forward."
Buck: Well, that's the only way we can keep it interesting for ourselves. I don't really care about being famous. I'm as famous as I need to be, and I've got enough money. The only reason I want to make records is to make great records, and the only way you can do that is to keep pushing yourself. This record could have sounded just like Automatic, but that would be like going back to your high-school prom or something.
I don't worry at all about selling. That's not my job. The weird thing is that our last record was hugely popular in Europe. We sold like three million records over there. So go figure. We're more popular in Italy and Germany than we ever have been. Bigger in Japan than we ever have been. Our last single was huge in Australia. Maybe we're just not in tune with what's going on in America right now, and that's not shameful. I'm not putting anyone down. But maybe we're not going to have hits in America for awhile, or maybe we will. Our job is to make great records, and whether we succeed or not is up to the individual listener.
Goldberg: It seems like you are in sync with certain things going on below the surface here. A band like Low...
Buck: They're great.
Goldberg: Talk about making quiet records! Songs: Ohia's work is completely the opposite of what is popular. You seem more in sync with that world, even though you're a popular band.
Buck: Well, you know, the only music I listen to is rock bands that are kinda newish. I buy all the records and listen to all of them. And go see them play. Whether it's Godspeed You Black Emperor! or... have you heard the Russian Futurist record? It's like Tinkertoy Depeche Mode. The Method of Modern Love. Some guy did it in his dorm in Canada and it came out in England. It's like one $99 keyboard with a drum machine, and it's really poppy and catchy. I always pay attention to that stuff.
And then all the new dance stuff. I'm not really a rap guy, 'cause the rapping just bores me, frankly, but the hip-hop culture and the dance music stuff, I listen to a lot of that dance records. And then '60s pop and free jazz. You want to make a classic record like the Love record or the Beach Boys, but using a lot of the technology that the dance people use, without making a dance record that has the techno beats and all that stuff. But virtually every track on this record [Reveal] has some element of modern like the loop element. I think we're trying to adapt real modern stuff to my classic favorite songwriters, whether they're Arthur Lee [Love] or Jimmy Webb or the Beatles.
Goldberg: Which is just what, in their day, the Beatles and the Beach Boys were doing. Using the latest technology...
Buck: They wanted to be Goffin-King on acid.
Goldberg: You've been able to maintain an excitement about music...
Buck: You should see my car. There's two seats for the kids to sit in, a seat for my wife in front, and 400 CDs in the back. 'Cause if I've gotta be driving and running errands, I'm going to have music that I want to listen to. So I'm always the guy stopping for gas and having some really noisy rock record or free-jazz record roaring out the window. And everyone's always looking at me. They've got the beat music going on and I've got this "What the hell is that old man listening to?" I see bands all the time. I read all the rock reviews and I have a list about five pages long of things to buy, things to order. What to pick up.
Goldberg: Do Michael and Mike pay attention?
Buck: Michael listens to not a huge amount of music, but he keeps up. I don't think he listens to a lot of rock anymore. But I'll say "Oh man, have you heard this?" and I'll name something, and he'll go, "Oh yeah."