'Velvet Goldmine' Brings Michael Stipe Back To Glam Roots

R.E.M. frontman said the colorful rock-genre influenced his band.

MILAN, Italy -- R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe is known for his flashy, style-conscious wardrobe and giddy demeanor onstage, so it comes as little surprise that he would executive-produce "Velvet Goldmine," a film about the over-the-top era of '70s glam-rock.

For him, in fact, it was a natural progression artistically, he said.

"The movie was about glam-rock, which influenced R.E.M. a lot, you know," said Stipe, who was here last week promoting R.E.M.'s just-released LP, Up. "It was a great thing and it took a lot of time, but it was fun."

"Velvet Goldmine," which recently hit movie theaters nationwide, is indie-director Todd Haynes' take on the fashion and culture of the '70s glam-rock era, with actors Ewan McGregor ("Trainspotting") and Jonathan Rhys-Meyer ("The Governess") portraying outrageous rockers loosely based on Iggy Pop and Roxy Music's Brian Ferry, respectively.

The film's soundtrack had been a point of contention for the Wylde Ratttz, an indie-rock supergroup formed specifically for the film, when a track featuring McGregor's vocals was substituted for the Ratttz' version on the final pressing of the CD. But Stipe said he was unaware of any controversy surrounding the recording.

"I haven't heard about that," Stipe said. "There were a lot of songs that got recorded for the soundtrack."

Mudhoney singer Mark Arm's vocals were on the original track, a cover of Iggy Pop and the Stooges' classic "TV Eye," which also featured members of noise-rock pioneers Sonic Youth, the Stooges' Ron Asheton, post-punk icon Mike Watt, New York rocker/producer Don Fleming and producer Jim Dunbar.

Last week, Fleming sent out an e-mail complaining about the track and urging his bandmates in Wylde Ratttz to put pressure on the soundtrack's London Records label to remove the contentious track on later pressings of the LP. The soundtrack's producer, Randy Poster, agreed last week to substitute the band's original take on future pressings.

"If that's what the Wylde Ratttz want to do, we'll do what they want," Poster said Nov. 11.

Stipe was not directly in charge of the soundtrack, he explained, but nonetheless was involved in it.

"The soundtrack was a subsidiary to being executive producer," he said. "It's not the work an executive producer does, but it was easy for me to make phone calls and say, '[Radiohead members] Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, would you like to come in?' Because I know those guys, I'm a musician and they trust me. So it was easier for me to involve all these people in the movie."

The Velvet Goldmine soundtrack includes original songs from the glam-rock era by Lou Reed and Brian Eno, new music from such contemporary artists as Shudder To Think, Pulp and Grant Lee Buffalo, as well as glam-era tunes covered by fictitious-groups Venus in Furs (which includes members of Radiohead, Suede, Roxy Music and Grant Lee Buffalo) and Wylde Ratttz.

Stipe was satisfied with the end result. "It's exactly over the top, dramatic," he said. "It reproduces the feeling [of the glam-rock era] and it was a great soundtrack."

His enthusiasm extends to the film's director, Haynes, who previously helmed the critically acclaimed indie-features "Safe" and "Poison."

"I'm a huge fan of Todd Haynes," Stipe gushed. "I think he's really a genius, and I don't use that word too often. As an American director, I count him among the finest."