When talking about REM‘s Automatically to the peoplebassist and keyboardist Mike Mills claimed that the band recorded its 1992 album “in the four corners of the United States” While that statement may contain a slight misunderstanding of geography, it’s true that REM seemed to approach their new record like a progressive dinner. Filming was done in Athens, Ga.; Woodstock, NY; Miami, Atlanta, Seattle and New Orleans.
In March ’92 they spent a little more than a week in Crescent City and camped at Daniel Lanois‘ Kingsway Studio in the French Quarter. REM had already tracked a bunch of demos in their hometown of Athens, so the idea was possibly to create or refine some more while conjuring up the strange sounds that seemed to manifest.
Kingsway “is an old, haunted mansion — supposedly haunted — and filled with kind of nice, old antiques, nice instruments,” guitarist Peter Buck said in 1992 promotional video. “And [we] made demos there, some of which ended up on the record.”
The band recorded a lot ofDrive” – vocals, guitar, bass and drums – by playing live-to-tape in the studio. Impressed with the results, REM decided to push further.
“It was two in the morning. There were a few bottles of wine around,” Buck said Melody maker. “Then Daniel said, ‘Why don’t you just write some songs here?’ I sat down with a bottle of wine and wrote three things.”
One of them turned out to be the effectively titled “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1.” The moody little track featured little more than quivering electric piano, thick-cut bass and an eye-catching fog horn guitar. You could almost hear the smoke billowing in a late night club.
Listen to REM’s ‘New Orleans Instrumental No. 1’
“It’s a groovy little thing. Peter had a volume pedal or some kind of weird guitar that made those sounds,” Mills recalled Stereo gum. “We were just messing around making sounds and decided to throw that song together. It came out of the sound of that guitar – that’s what got that song going.”
Although a longer version exists, the two-minute, 13-second edit of the instrumental composition became the fifth track on Automatic. It’s more than a palette cleanser between “Everyone hurts“and”Sweetness follows“; “New Orleans” seems to reflect the deeply felt emotions strung throughout the album.
Meanwhile, another song from those Kingsway sessions—named “New Orleans Instrumental No. 2,” of course—became the B-side for the single release of “Man on the moon.” That track had a completely different feel, described by Buck as sounding like a “disturbed piña colada commercial.”
In contrast to Too late‘s “Endgame”—the first instrumental to make a proper REM studio disc—”New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” was never performed by the band in concert. One of the lower profile songs to grace an REM album, the tune got its time in the sun (or more appropriately the darkness) when it appeared in Director Edgar Wrights feature film from 2017 Baby driverwhich was filmed, in part, in New Orleans.
“I would never claim to say that we captured any of New Orleans,” Buck admitted. “But I really wanted to try strikingly to get a late-night horn feel, that muffled trumpet thing.”
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