R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, born on this day in 1960, is one of the most gripping frontmen in the alternative rock canon. You could pick out his laid-back, folky baritone from a mile away and his ability to capture the sign of the times with lyrics about complex topics like mortality, politics, religion, mysticism and pop culture, set him apart from his peers. By 1984, the Athens, Ga. band had released two albums—Murmur and Reckoning—both of which were certified Gold. Their jangly college rock had quickly propelled them from cult band in a farm town to one of the most influential groups of their era.
In this 1984 interview, recorded at New Jersey’s Capitol Theatre, drummer Bill Berry and Stipe joke about their first meeting (and Stipe’s initial fascination with Berry’s bushy eyebrows), discuss the Athens music scene, playing acoustic guitars in their bedrooms and how they struggled to describe their sound to people when they were first starting out. Stipe at one point comments, which is wild in retrospect, “I don’t think we’re spearheading some huge new vanguard or anything like that.” Berry also quips, “We’d rather be a critic’s choice than a sell-out, commercial top 10 group,” though they did, in fact, have several top 10 and number one albums later in their career.
Watch the full interview below.