In about 1987, I borrowed a couple of tapes

[cassettes, you remember, right? Right?]

from a friend at uni, one of which was Life’s Rich Pageant, by a band that was bubbling under in the UK – thanks to John Peel and others – but had yet to break through to the mainstream

[which, in my recollection, they really wouldn’t do until Green, or maybe even Out of Time]

REM. Well, I went ape-shit over this record – but not in a fan-boy sense.

At this stage, I would have been 19, and had been playing guitar for a decade, been in bands on and off for most of that time and, of course, writing songs for a good chunk of that time. But here, on this record, I heard something. It was a clear epiphany:

This is what my songs sound like, in my head.

Begin the Begin, These Days, Fall On Me – if you’re going to start a record strong, that’s some trio, right there. But what was it that my novice musical self heard? I knew I didn’t sing like Michael Stipe, so it wasn’t a case of “I want to be…” My lyrics weren’t as oblique. And it wasn’t that I wanted to sound like REM

[truth be told, to this day, I know how to play about 4 REM songs, none of them faithfully]

It was something about the aural shape of the band, the combination of guitar, bass, drums, voices – all coming together in the service of song. Of course, there was a fair share of classic British pop in their song-writing, a heritage which I shared. None of it made me want to be REM, or learn to do what REM do.

But the funniest thing has been happening this past year or so at practices and gigs. Every so often, I’ll be playing something, a chord, a riff, a supporting solo, and I’ll hear what’s coming out of the amp and:

That sounds a lot like Peter Buck!

It’s a sense of timing in my fingers, the tone from my guitar/pedals/amp, an emphasis on certain timing.

Somehow, just by listening to a LOT of REM over the years, and writing and playing even more of my own songs, somehow an influence has turned up in my fingers. It’s the weirdest feeling.

Last night, we played at a multi-band event and, for the first time, I gigged my Parker Nitefly Mojo. Now, this is a guitar that I’ve had for a number of years, played on and off at practice and in the studio, but it had never hooked me – until a recent top-to-tail set-up, including electronics, brought it to a very, very comfortable spot. It’s now a really nice guitar to play, so I decided to gig it.

The Parker was going through my most focused mini-board to my much, much beloved 1998

[vintage!]

Budda Verbmaster 18W. Excluding my body, fingers and pick, here’s the signal path:

Parker Nitefly Mojo (electric only, no piezo) >>
Boss TU-2 tuner >>
Fulltone Plimsoul (saturated distortion) >>
T-REX Compnova (compressor) >>
Fulltone OCD (cleanish overdrive) >>
T-REX Replica (Delay – Brown setting) >>
Budda VerbMaster 18W (Normal Channel, about 1pm, just breaking up, Bass 12.30pm, Treble about 9.30pm, Reverb Sand setting about 8pm)

The reason I share this signal path

[aside from being a little geeky when it comes to this stuff]

is that it’s NOT what Peter Buck plays through.

The tone was joyous – and I had a blast playing – but there, right in the middle of the set, halfway through a song that sounds nothing like REM, there he was again, the sound of a Rickie 360 through a Vox AC30 was coming out of my rig, a picking pattern all too familiar both from years of playing it AND years of hearing it. And later in the set, in a more distorted rocker, there was PB’s Les Paul from the Monster record. What a strange, marvelous feeling!

I guess this is a different take on what it means to have influences. An intuitive sense of adopting and shaping, less replication and more absorption. Or, maybe it’s just what I meant when I had my epiphany that this was how my songs sounded in my head.

Whatever, after more than 30 years playing the guitar, it continues to bring enlightenment and joy – long may it continue!