There is no shortage of tribute bands in San Diego. However, only one, Murmur, a new tribute to R.E.M., was built by an agent around the looks of its front man, in this case North Park resident Greg Vaughan, who resembles Michael Stipe.
Stipe doesn’t play an instrument in concert, while Vaughan, a 1988 Patrick Henry High School graduate, is known for his instrumental prowess. Having studied under Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth, Vaughan won the 2005 San Diego edition of Guitar Center’s Guitarmageddon competition and tours as sitarist with music and belly dance troupe Danyavad and the Shimmy Sisters. He also takes the part of a bat-winged guitar shredder in the Depeche Mode–themed Blasphemous Guitars.
Though Vaughan acknowledges his resemblance to Stipe, the idea originated with Brent Meyer, president of tribute-band agency Music Zirconia, which has offices in Pasadena, San Diego, and San Francisco. “[Meyer] wrote me a proposal outlining how much he needed a top-quality R.E.M. tribute and why he thought I would be perfect for the project,” Vaughan recalled. “The idea first occurred to him while watching me perform with gothic belly dance rock opera The Wizard. He figured anyone crazy enough to sing and dance at a gothic belly dance convention might be willing to impersonate Michael Stipe.”
There are several R.E.M. tribute groups scattered around the globe, but once Meyer laid eyes on Vaughan, he couldn’t resist starting one from scratch. “I’m always looking at musicians with a Machiavellian eye. As soon as I saw him, I thought, Oh, he’d be great,” Meyer remarked.
Vaughn has never seen R.E.M. live. “Obviously, I have to see them now. In the meantime, I have been devouring live DVDs and internet clips.”
Stipe is known for his political commentary during concerts, but Vaughn doesn’t think he’ll extend the accuracy in Murmur’s re-creation that far. “I do find his speech cadence fascinating,” Vaughan said. “I can see how some of my fans see a similarity in our personalities — more than the music.”
While Vaughan has never been mistaken for Stipe, he has been confused with another celeb. “Ironically, as Brent was composing the letter to me about being Michael Stipe, I was performing at the Wanderlust Festival on a bill with Moby,” says Vaughan. “So, that weekend was confusing because about a third of the fans who approached me thought I was Moby.”