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R.E.M. discusses surprise reunion at Songwriters Hall of Fame, reveals why there won't be another

R.E.M. reunites on stage after 17 years
R.E.M. on reuniting after 17 years with surprise performance 06:07

Legendary alternative rock band R.E.M. marked their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame Thursday night by giving nostalgic fans something they've been dreaming about for roughly 17 years: a reunion.

Fans have waited years to see the band onstage again, and Thursday night they got it – one surprise song, one time only, when R.E.M performed an acoustic version of their Grammy award-winning hit, "Losing My Religion."

The intimate and soulful performance was the first time that frontman Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry played together publicly since 2007 when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

R.E.M.'s surprise reunion

The band was already quietly plotting the reunion in February when "CBS Mornings" visited them at their old rehearsal space in Athens, Georgia, where they formed in 1980. Since then, they've released 15 studio albums and sold millions of records, becoming one of the most popular bands in history, before breaking up in 2011.

"Everybody here is sworn to secrecy," said Mills about the possibility of taking the stage with his former bandmates during the interview.

When asked what it would take to get the original band back together, the bandmates chuckled and jokingly suggested "a comet" or "super glue."

Thursday's reunion surprised and delighted fans, but R.E.M. said don't expect another.

Buck said he wouldn't know what he'd be trying to accomplish if the group officially got back together. Stipe agreed there's not going to be another "one last time."

"It's like all the reasons you don't want to do it are still in place. We are lucky enough to have…don't really love the word 'legacy,' that we can leave in place and not mess up. And you don't get that opportunity but one time. Once you change that, you can't go back," Mills explained.

"We had our day in the sun," Stipe said.

Back to the beginning

A reunion tour may not be in R.E.M.'s future, but the bandmates said they've enjoyed reminiscing about their early days and the great pieces of music they made. Mills said they "had a lot of fun" in their Athens rehearsal space, in particular.

The honor of being included in the Songwriters Hall of Fame prompted the group to reflect on their songs and what inspired them.

Berry said The Beatles changed his life when he was just 7 years old, inspiring him to become a musician.

Mills, Buck and Berry said they typically wrote the music and then gave it to Stipe, who would add in the lyrics. Stipe said their songs weren't always an instant hit.

"We didn't always write music or songs that people connected with on the first listen. Sometimes it took seven or eight or even 10 listens before the melodies sunk in. You wake up singing it the next day and then you know you've got something," said Stipe, joking that it must means the band consists of "very complicated, intelligent people."

R.E.M.'s 1991 song "Losing My Religion" quickly climbed the charts. In 2022, it surpassed over 1 billion views on YouTube, according to Billboard

The song's popularity surprised the band. They never thought it would be a hit.

"I mean, we made a lot of really good records. And then just randomly, we had a hit single off this thing with a lead mandolin. I was, like, go figure," Buck said.

Watch more of R.E.M.'s interview with "CBS Mornings" here.

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