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Stipe Launches Katrina Benefit EP

Six versions of Joseph Arthur's "In the Sun" -- available via iTunes -- feature Coldplay, Timberlake, and more

Michael Stipe is proving his activist persona is still alive, well, and kicking out the jams, with the release of a six-song EP to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The R.E.M. frontman has recorded six versions of Joseph Arthur’s ballad, “In the Sun” (from his 2000 album Come to Where I’m From) for an EP available exclusively through iTunes. All proceeds will go to Mercy Corps, an organization that is working to help rebuild the Gulf Region.

But it’s far from a hastily-produced one-off. Stipe brought in Coldplay’s Chris Martin to record a duet, retained Justin Timberlake and Black Eyed Pea Will.I.Am to remix that track (as JAW Breakers), borrowed Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne for keys, and tapped former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha for production.

“I was really thrilled that every single person I approached was thrilled to be able to do it,” Stipe said during a conference call this week. “Everybody wants to do something and nobody’s quite sure what they can do. I want to use this project to tell people this is an ongoing thing. There is no easy solution.”

Aside from being a Southerner by birth (Stipe hails from Decatur, Georgia), the disaster hit close to home for Stipe because he and his fellow band members were almost victims of the hurricane themselves. Flying back into the States after a tour, the band’s plane had to be diverted because of rough weather, which they later learned to be Hurricane Katrina.

“That song always resonated with me, particularly when we were flying back into the U.S. from Europe when Katrina was hitting the Gulf region,” he recalled. “There’s a lyric about how seeing something changes you forever, how something that has happened to someone else has clearly changed them. The lyric changed for me after Katrina and became about people who were desperate and in need in a disaster like this. It’s about our ability to respond to them and our desire to respond.”

The ordinarily political Stipe is staying mum on his feelings about the government’s response to Katrina: “At this point it is more important to remind Americans that we are great as a united people, and as a divided people we fall,” he said.

For Stipe, who visited New Orleans and describes the destruction as “Old Testament,” the most important part of this project is getting people to realize that, despite the break in 24-hour news coverage of Katrina, everything is not back to normal on the Gulf Coast.

“We as a country have exhibited signs of a short attention span when we’re being inundated with that much information and the news cycle has moved on and people think everything is okay,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen…. It’s an ongoing disaster for those affected by it and it’s going to continue for years.

“As a citizen, I wanted to do something more than just write a check,” Stipe added. “Something that might be able to possibly influence other people and keep alive the idea this in an ongoing tragedy and there are people very much in need.”

In the Sun EP tracklisting:

“In the Sun,” Michael Stipe feat. Chris Martin
“In the Sun,” Michael Stipe feat. Chris Martin (JAW Breakers Remix)
“In the Sun,” Michael Stipe feat. Joseph Arthur
“In the Sun,” Michael Stipe
“In the Sun,” Michael Stipe & Coldplay (Live at Austin City Limits)
“In the Sun,” Michael Stipe & Joseph Arthur (Acoustic rehearsal version)

In the Sun Foundation official site
R.E.M. official site

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