Mitch Easter

Today is the 44th birthday of Mitch Easter, who, as producer, guided R.E.M. toward

making one of the most influential albums of the '80s, their debut, Murmur.

R.E.M.-friend Peter Holsapple suggested fellow-North Carolinan Mitch Easter to the

band to produce its debut LP. Easter had set up a recording studio, dubbed "Mitch's

Drive-In Studio," in his parents' garage in Winston-Salem and was ready to help a new

band.

Easter, who began playing music when he was 12, was a veteran of such bands as the

Sneakers and the H-Bombs. After R.E.M. drove to North Carolina, Easter engineered the

seminal cuts "Radio Free

Europe" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Sitting Still."

Easter was unfazed by vocalist Michael Stipe's penchant for mumbling his lyrics. "I didn't

care at all," Easter said about Stipe's indecipherable singing. "Some songs that I really

love and I hum in my head I've never known the words to. I like them just on the sound

level ... I guess I had a really cavalier attitude about recording and no concern at all for

commercial stumbling blocks."

In addition to the "Radio Free Europe" single, Easter produced the R.E.M. EP Chronic

Town (1982) and the band's full-length debut, Murmur (1983). Both the EP

and the album were immediately successful with critics and college-age music fans. The

New York Times said Murmur "will sound as fresh ten years from now as it

does today."

Easter formed his own band, Let's Active, and was signed to R.E.M.'s record label, IRS,

in 1983. The power-pop band, which in the beginning also included bassist Faye Hunter

and drummer Sara Romweber, issued a 1983 EP, Afoot, and the experimental

Cypress (which included the single "Waters Part") the following year. Easter also

produced R.E.M.'s 1984 LP, Reckoning.

With a different lineup save for Easter, Let's Active released Big Plans for

Everybody (1986). Although never very successful commercially, they were

college-rock favorites and critics' darlings. After 1988's Every Dog Has His Day

and a brief tour, Let's Active drifted apart.

In the '90s, Easter has played with bands such as Velvet Crush and Vinyl Devotion.

Easter also continues to produce; he helmed the Loud Family's 1994 album, The

Tape of Only Linda, titled slyly after the much-publicized tape surreptitiously made of

Linda McCartney's live backing vocals with the rest of husband Paul's touring band

erased to highlight her out-of-tune singing.

Other birthdays: Petula Clark, 66; Anni-Frid "Frida" Synni-Lyngstad-Fredriksson-

Andersson (Abba), 53; Steve Fossen (Heart), 49; Tony Thompson (Chic/Power Station),

44; Joe Leeway (Thompson Twins), 41; and Clyde McPhatter (Drifters), 1931-1972.