interviews

Monday, September 25, 2006

2006 July 4-10 - Les Inrockuptibles

Q - A few days after announcing your solo album, you were playing, in London with Radiohead, a very electrical set. We have never seen you so relaxed on stage, as if you were relieved…

Thom Yorke- Its not a good sign for Radiohead if we seem unhappy on stage… But relieved , yes, I am… After all the traumatism over these last few months, being here, together, on stage, it’s almost a miracle. It took a lot of time, a lot of stress & disproportionate efforts to arrive to where we are. We needed to find a reason to come back together, not to gather up just because we had nothing left to do. And it took some time. This tour, is really quit or double (I couldn’t translate correctly this expression). These concerts could have put us back on the rails or else could have killed us.

Q- So you decided to go on tour together rather than take the risk of exploding in the studio?

TY – We have asked ourselves to many questions when the only one that should be taken into account, for a band, is : “Have we written something that deserves that we continue, that we find exiting?” When we met to prepare for these concerts, I thought of this anecdote on the Velvet (Underground I suppose) : they spent sometimes six months in their studio repeating their songs and they came out with some incredible simple songs. I admire that work… The advantage with the stage, compared to the studio, it limits the choices : no question to start asking questions, we have only one chance, without a safety net. And then, to be frank, rediscovering the stage, it was also a good reason to get out the house. I was becoming crazy turning in circles.

Q – We imagine more of a presence of claustrophobia in the studio…

TY – Being stuck at home with the kids, it’s a choice. But being stuck in the studio for weeks without coming up with anything, it’s a lot more of a challenge. Our misfortune is that we have our own studio : so we can spend as much time as we want and it can become frustrating. During weeks, it has only been procrastination (don’t understand that part). Things got a bit better in the end, when Spike Stent came to give us a hand… But we were then completely washed out. We couldn’t record : we needed to wait until the end of the summer.

Q – The problem was human as much as artistic?

TY – We had a lot of trouble getting used to one another. We all grew up, I don’t want us to continue just to occupy some idleness…It would be the worst reason to keep Radiohead artificially alive. There are, nevertheless, so many things that we dream of trying, & that we haven’t yet tempted… Our biggest obstacle is that we are Radiohead : we cant really get rid of that luggage.

Q – Your album is called “ The Eraser”. Have you erased your knowledge, your habits to rediscover a sort of virginity, a spontaneity ?

TY- I could try a new way of making music. When we announced this album, there was no chance : just bass tunes, guitar loops… I needed to discover at what point music was so simple – it gave me a choc, I couldn’t remember that it could be this way. Its been years that I have been messing around on my computer, my simple personal pleasure, with no goal. And then, once the decision was made to do an album, I found my self with no other choice.
It was a little bit of a bluff on my behalf but then it became a reality : Nigel Godrich was there and was giving me orders : “ It good, we’ll record your voice!” ”OK, here I go”. But sometimes I hadn’t written a single line, nothing prepared. But I told myself in this position, I couldn’t go backwards: I needed to force myself. It’s the same thing with RH & with my life in general: if it only stands on me, I do nothing, I dither. It was already the same case in school: if I didn’t have my professor pushing me to note my projects and questioning me at the end of the year, I wouldn’t have done anything. I need deadlines, to respond to my acts.
It’s the problem with everybody in RH : when we met up this year, after months without playing together, Jonny told us : “I wont move until we don’t have a deadline, I’m not interested in working in the open”. We thought we were capable, but we lost ourselves on the way.
Q – But who could have imposed a deadline?

TY – If Nigel wasn’t constantly on my back, I would have never brought out the eraser. It was pissing me off that he was treating me like a little boy but on the other hand, it was the only way. If it was only up to me, I would waited a month or 2 for stuff to clarify - & it wouldn’t work or it would crap. So his discipline was a big choc for me.

Q – Did you need to purge yourself from these songs, from these electronic sounds, before going back to RH?

TY – It needed to come out, it was impeding me. I also needed to prove that I could work alone , to compose with little means : a bass line for one song, a guitar loop (not sure if it’s the right word) on an other… It was interesting to distance myself from song writing. Because I’m not really a songwriter, I don’t listen to – besides a few old ones like Scott Walker or Stephen Malkmus – songwriters… I mainly listen to beats, sounds, grooves… That’s why I can be very frustrated listening to RH : from my defending body ( couldn’t translate this correctly), we make songs. I wanted to distance myself from this kind of format for the eraser. But Nigel was obsessed with the songs and, on those little bits of ideas that I had made him listen to in beginning, he regularly stopped me and said : “But you have a song, you really needed to sing over it!”

Q – Even your singing sounds new : your voice seems to have found some pleasure.

TY – Its exactly that : the pleasure of just sing. I’m much more comfotable with my voice today, finnaly I have no doubts. That goes for saying, when I sing a song like Atoms for Peace, never has my voice been so exposed, so vulnerable. Nigel was inflexible: “I want a bit more echo. –No. – Ok, then a little reverb. –No. I told you I am not doing that on an album.” A lot of the time, he wanted one or two pieces of voice. I needed to trust in him, even if I sometimes had the impression of being naked. Usually, I always managed to hide the words behind the guitar or behind effects. The worst was on OK Computer : I had the impression that this voice didn’t belong to me anymore, that it had nothing to do with me… All measures taken around this album … I had the impression of being a caricature.

Q– Is The Eraser your first relaxed experience in the studio?

I felt like a kid in a class room when the teacher turned his back to you: that notion of pleasure and the game goes on. Another passionate thing during recording was that there was no tomorrow : there was no career plan, no tomorrow to assume. Just the liberty to do what you wanted to do.

Q – Under what conditions was this album recorded in?

TY – We started in my house next to the sea, a place that I find happy and enjoyable, where I wrote some of my best songs. Last summer, we spent a fortnight over there. I was trying to convince Nigel to go surfing or to drive my old Land Rover across the sand dunes… I ask my partner (the interviewer says “wife”) Rachel if I could go out & she said : “Get out of here, take your stuff & go instead of hanging around here thinking of those songs.” We sterted at 18 o'clock, we worked all night, and sometimes went on the roof to watch the moon with my telescope… That’s how I like working : two hours on a song, then a little dreaming on the roof…

Q – Do you need a bubble to record, an enclosed environment?

TY – That’s something that Nigel and I always argue about. He thinks we always need to completely isolate ourselves, not to have any contact with reality. I end up thinking he is right: during months with RH, we went into the studio as if we were going to work like a normal person, with fixed hours, from 11 to 23h - & nothing came out of it at all. That routine washed us out: we were taking care of children night & morning, & we were killing ourselves over these songs. A failure. I still prefer separating everything, disappearing but coming back happy, relaxed, instead of being in a bad mood… All of RH problematic in 2006 is : how to have 2 different life styles, 2 systems totally incompatible? A lot of musicians at our age need to choose between family and music. It’s a choice between 2 madness.

Q – Are you, in any case able to relax yourself?

TY – If im proud of what I have accomplished, I can relax, it happens sometimes, like after our last concert in London. I granted myself 2 days of just lazing around. But before I do that, I need to prove to myself that I have a reason to exist… It’s a strange ethics of working, a very rigorous thing. I read that Picasso never stopped working: its not a problem to be so immersed in work, as long as it doesn’t destroy you, as long as it doesn’t reduce into slavery.
Q - At home, are you capable of not thinking of music?

TY - Two years ago, before my computer was forbidden by the misses, I went through a critical era : I couldn’t be without it… It was always on my laps, I was speaking with my children, but I really wasn’t listening to them. That was me for more then a year… Jonny does the same thing in his place. I don’t now how he does to get away with it…

Q – The other members of RH always talk of you being the motivating force behind the band. How do you assume that role?
TY – Its sometimes hard to be systematically the driver, that everybody waiting for me to take control of the stirring wheel. What I prefer in RH, its being a witness of what’s going on, being the one who, suddenly, distinguishes the genius in what the other members are playing – guitar ideas or percussions completely unheard-of that I couldn’t have even imagined them in my wildest drams. My work, is to listen & to react, that’s what I donate most of my time to. So if I guide the band, its only because the others provide the fuel : its up to me to push them, to sublimate them. I spend my life saying stuff like : “That’s a super bass rift, keep that small little part there. No don’t go any further, concentrate on those notes…”

Q – So your presence can be inhibiting?

TY - Yes certainly. I can be even corrosive. Nigel remembers with horror recording Paranoid Android… During a day or two, I pulled a fit, I was unbearable : “I had no positive energy, I couldn’t bear it anymore…” I dropped the whole thing because if I would have stayed, I would have really lost my marbles, I would have burnt the place down(laughs)… Nigel then reunited everybody, behind my back, and they did three quarters of the song. We were already troubled over ten different versions but there, without me on their backs, they found a solution. I can be a real poison in this machine. When my energy leaves me, I become a burden.

Q – Are you impatient?

TY - Yes, I am very easily frustrated, exasperated… This impatience builds a cleat of terror in studio. Example, one of our new songs RH are in the middle of doing is driving me nuts. Its been months that we have been going around in circles, with no success. And my problem, is that the songs start to bore me: I know that the best ones were written in an emergency, without hesitation. I cant take it any longer to wait 6 months before a song becomes coherent.

Q – You are now 37 years old. How are you dealing with aging?

TY – Im becoming a bit sensible on that subject(laughs)… We finish by thinking stupid thoughts like “rock is for kids, you are pretending, you don’t believe in it anymore”. I hear these voices, they are right. But on the other hand, its been a long time that I don’t want to play rock anymore. If I continue doing music, its because I can still & always hear melodies, voices, beats, sounds that overturn me. Its those things that keep me in a state of mind.
Example, ive just ordered off the internet an album of an american evangelist preacher, solo on the piano… It reminds me of Mahalia Jackson, except shes white & modern: but she sings, & you can tell that it comes from the heart… I also listen to, at the moment, a lot of Aphex Twin discs out on his label Rephlex : The Bug Vs The Rootsman… Something incredibly violent, that tells about the end of the world, that my kids love – it makes Public Enemy & My Bloody Valentine look like sissies. I dont belong to pop’music. The challenge doesn’t come from there, it comes more likely from people like Squarepusher… I have never been interested in what happens in the charts. For me, the number 1 off the charts should be Dancing Box, that song by Modeselektor with TTC.

Q – Your personal divorce with the major labels has been done. Will RH follow alng that path of independence?

TY – Near the end of recording The Eraser, Nigel & I went to a restaurant, & for the first time we asked ourselves on what label will we release the album on. I told him I didn’t want to go back to EMI. I didn’t want them to do a huge deal over the recording conditions, far from the industry. With their Big Boots, they would have destroyed it, would have oversold it, the Gorrilaz way… They would have put stickers on it saying: “The album you need to listen to”… It wasn’t the spirit of the disc, ive had enough of this gigantism that surrounds RH.

Q – In the British press, they reproach more than admire your citizen engagements...

TY – It's like if I didn’t have the right to express myself, to use my statue to try & help good causes, like for Friends of the Earth… I even tell myself in the end, in front of this hostility of controversied English press, if I'm more of a weight then an advantage.

Q – You don’t help with your Land Rover…

TY – It’s only a toy that I use twice a year in the country… But in dept, you’re right: I am myself a hypocrite that participates in this society that’s based on CO2. How can I be credible in this role of defender of the Earth when I am doing world tours in aeroplanes? I even tried to go to the USA by boat, to show the example: the Queen Mary produces more CO2 then a plane! I came to a point where sometimes when I thought of veneering it all, in order to not have to live such duplicity. The Sunday Times, One of the Murdoch journals, did a two page article to dismiss me on that point when I joined Friends of the Earth… M I take it as a compliment being hated by that old prick, but my parents suffered a lot. There, I hit rock bottom – I was only trying to help, fuck… I’m not that strong, I can’t take everything. I’m not built to be a moving target.

Q – Between reactionary press & major labels that commercialise RH, you are caught between two fires…

TY – To reassure myself, I tell myself that my relations between the music industry have always been hard, but it’s true that it doesn’t arrange itself. When I met them, I wasn’t too impressed by the new EMI leaders. There’s no question in the future, to sell ourselves to the major labels: we will make our own disc & will distribute them ourselves. We lost control of the band at on point, there’s no question for that to happen again… Anyways, I don’t really know where RH are going.
What I want is to move on & to get rid of a maximum of luggage. We need to rediscover the pleasure. Or else, there’s no reason to come back – if its not because we stay friends & that, musically or not, we see each other non stop. Friday, after the concert, there were smiles between us that I hadn’t seen in a while.

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