On September 21, the day R.E.M. announced their amicable split after 31 years of existence, Michael Stipe stepped out onto New York City’s Madison Avenue, found refuge in a cafe, took a deep breath, and thought, “What the f*#@ am I gonna do now?” Sitting down in a bright Warner Bros. conference room in midtown Manhattan two weeks ago, he’s still not sure how to answer that question. Even though R.E.M. started talking about ending the band as early as 2008 and planned for this year’s Collapse Into Now to be their swan song, Stipe is obviously still coming to terms with the void in his life. Early on in the interview, he pauses a few times to stare through the wall-to-ceiling windows, his eyes glassy, his voice shaky.

“It would be a lie to paint 31 years of trying to do this incredibly difficult thing with these other people as anything but everything– it was everything,” he says. Now it’s over. And, as Stipe well knows, a million grateful retrospectives won’t change that. Multi-instrumentalist and backup singer Mike Mills is less overtly emotional about the disbanding when I talk with him a few days prior. “In a month, I might go stark raving mad,” he says. “But right now it feels all right. There’s some sadness, but we’re all really comfortable with this decision.”

Read the full interview with Mike and Michael at pitchfork.com.