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Hear R.E.M. Bassist Mike Mills’ Dramatic New Rock-Meets-Classical Piece


Five years have passed since R.E.M. announced their breakup, and bassist Mike Mills has used some of that time to explore different musical textures. Next week, he's releasing Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra – a classical-tinged collaboration with violinist Robert McDuffie. Today, they're premiering the work's third movement, subtitled "Sonny Side Up," a propulsive, upbeat piece full of weeping violin, driving rhythm guitar and an energetic backbeat.

"The idea for this concerto was Bobby's, and I found it both intriguing and extremely challenging, so I said, 'Yes, let's go for it,'" Mills tells Rolling Stone. "The inspiration for 'Sonny Side Up' specifically came from my son's presence in the room with me while I was writing it – hence the title."

Mills and McDuffie, friends since childhood, recorded the concerto with students from the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University, which was conducted by Ward Stare. The record is due out October 14th. Mills played bass and keyboard, while the rest of the rock band consisted of guitarist John Neff (ex–Drive-by Truckers), guitarist William Tonks and drummer Patrick Ferguson (Five Eight).

Mills has said that he wrote the music by coming up with the chords and employing a "hypothetical approach" in which he attempted to envision melodies that fit violin.

The pair premiered the piece last June with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and has since performed it with a number of other ensembles. They will be embarking on a U.S. tour later this month with the Fifth House Ensemble. It will run through early November.

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