R.E.M. co-founder Bill Berry says he wouldn’t have wanted to make his new album earlier in his career.

He’s heard playing drums on The Power and the Glory, the debut LP from the Bad Ends, for which he was recruited by Five Eight singer and guitarist Mike Mantione. Berry and Mantione worked in their hometown of Athens, Ga., with other musicians from the area in what became a local supergroup.

Multi-instrumentalist Berry said he initially thought Mantione had asked him to join the Bad Ends as a guitarist. “It was actually good fortune for me,” he told Uncut. “His invitation was alluring. It had been two decades since I was in any way involved with making a record. Of course, I wanted to hear the stuff before committing. Frankly, I wouldn’t have signed up if I thought the material was beneath my arrogant standards. But I liked the first song he sent so much that I immediately enlisted into this man’s army.”

Mantione was overwhelmed as a “total fanboy,” thinking, “Oh my God – Bill Berry’s in my house!” He said their first jam went well, thanks in part to an Italian meal made by his mom. “Fueled by meatballs, we had our best rehearsal that night. As he was leaving, I remember Bill saying, ‘I think I’m in a band again.’”

Berry said the Bad Ends’ subject matter is unlike topics he’s explored in the past. “Lyrically, the common thread on this record is death and dealing with it,” he said. “Would I have wanted to produce a record like that 40 years ago? Absolutely not. But at my current age, the concept of death occurs to me with greater frequency than when I was in my twenties. Many of my friends have died. Mike just wrote about it so beautifully.”

The R.E.M. alum has also enjoyed the experience of working so close to home. “Until this project, I’d never recorded a full album in Athens,” he said. “It was wonderful to finish at night and be such a short drive to my own bed.”

The Power and the Glory is out now. The video for lead single “All Your Friends Are Dying” can be seen below.

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