The hardworking R.E.M. sideman has collaborated with Mark Eitzel, Minus Five, and Tuatara on three separate albums

R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck may be the hardest-working sideman in show business. In the last six weeks, three albums on which he’s collaborated have been released: West, the sophomore effort of Mark Eitzel, formerly of American Music Club; The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy, the second album by Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey’s other band, Minus 5; and Breaking the Ethers, the debut by Tuatara, a sonorous instrumental collective founded by Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and Luna bassist Justin Harwood. Buck acted as cowriter and coproducer on the first two and writes and plays with Tuatara. From appearances, he would seem to be the busiest man on the planet.

”Actually, I just spent the last four months doing nothing,” says Buck, during a rehearsal break at Seattle’s Ironwood Studio. ”I grew a beard, wrote songs, did interviews, but really I didn’t do anything. Now I have several months of really exciting things ahead. It’s pretty ideal.”

Of the three projects, Buck worked most closely with Eitzel, whom he’d met three years ago when Eitzel performed at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe, owned by Buck’s wife, Stephanie Dorgan. A friendship ensued, and last October, the two penned 11 songs, with Eitzel’s bare, vulnerable, sometimes sodden lyrics proving to be a bittersweet complement to Buck’s sturdy melodies. McCaughey, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, and Tuatara members also played on the album, which took less than a week to record.

For Eitzel, Buck was more than a writing partner; he served as ballast and barometer. ”Peter has this conviction and it kind of bled onto me,” says Eitzel. ”I’m not exactly grounded, so when he’d look at me and say, ‘We’re done,’ it was a relief.”

”You’ve got to let things be what they are,” explains Buck. ”People spend too much time trying to polish and fix things but usually wash out something else.”

Given Buck’s star profile, the sales of West may be the biggest Eitzel has seen, though it’s clearly the finished product he most appreciates. ”If [Peter’s involvement] raises our visibility, that’s fine with me,” he enthuses. ”But I’m just really proud of the record.” Buck agrees: ”I don’t expect any of these albums to necessarily sell 4 million copies or anything. That’s not the point. It’s just that they’re all really cool.”

After the completion of the three albums, the next logical step was to take them on the road. The three bands just began a monthlong cross-country trek together, called the Magnificent Seven vs. the United States Tour.

”I thought it would be good to go out and do something on a smaller scale than R.E.M.,” says Buck. ”You know, we’re all friends here and like playing together. Besides, I can’t stay home and do nothing all the time.”