R.E.M. is a hard act to follow, which explains why drummer Bill Berry has never been in another full-time band since his 1997 departure — until now. Berry has teamed with Five Eight’s Mike Mantione in The Bad Ends, whose debut album, The Power and the Glory, will be released Jan. 20 on New West Records.
The Bad Ends are rounded out by bassist Dave Domizi, keyboardist Geoff Melkonian and guitarist/mandolinist Christian Lopez. The project was initially a means to work on songs for a potential Mantione solo album, but a run-in with Berry in their shared home base of Athens, Ga., led to a series of jam sessions and a pivot to a group project.
“In very early 2017, a chance pedestrian encounter in downtown Athens found me face to face with one Mike Mantione,” Berry recalls. “At that point it had been over two decades since I’d involved myself with the record-making process and here was a man Peter Buck recently described as ‘the unsung hero of Athens rock and roll’ offering an opportunity to play in the game again. It was energizing to once again play with top-notch musicians. This record is unique for me in that it was the only one with which I was involved, that was written, rehearsed, recorded, produced and mastered in Athens.”
The first single from The Power and the Glory is “All Your Friends Are Dying,” the Lance Bangs-directed video for which was filmed at Berry’s home and features cameos from local heroes such as R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, Pylon’s Vanessa Briscoe Hay. The Glands’ Frank McDonald and producer/Sugar bassist David Barbe.
“The song and the video are a celebration of Athens,” Mantione says. “The song is also a tribute to Big Star and The Glands. I’m really singing it to a friend who missed this special performance of the Big Star Third album and I’m warning my friend not to miss stuff because life doesn’t last very long. The cameos were just the most fun. I got to drive around Athens with so many awesome friends. We were supposed to look glum, but once they got into the van with me, laughter would erupt. Athens had an incredible, beloved local vegetarian restaurant called The Grit which closed a day before we shot the last of the cameos. We do a drive-by of The Grit as sort of a farewell nod.”
The Bad Ends will play their first live show Nov. 27 at Nuci’s Space in Athens. The venue is “located in the shadow of” St. Mary’s Steeple, the last remnant of the 1871-era church where R.E.M. played its first show on April 5, 1980.
“I was so grateful to be able to record this album with my friends,” Mantione says. “I’m a bit of a fanboy of Bill’s and pretty much so is everyone else in the band. One of the crazy things is to be in a room with Bill, watch him work, and hear stories about the albums that defined everything I know and love about music. I will never forget how excited I was on the first day of recording.”