"I really try to limit [listening to other people's music while working on new songs], but M.I.A.'s first record really seeped in. M.I.A. takes this complete block and chop repeat, chop repeat, chop, not finished [method]. Which really reminds me of that thing of just picking up a guitar and the first three chords you write and being like, yep, that's good. Stop. End. Not sort of sitting there fifteen hours later agonizing over the hi-hat sound. That seems to be what happens with programming and electronica a lot of the time. You can feel the pain going on." — Thom Yorke
The Liars' Drum's Not Dead
"On Drum's Not Dead in particular, their method of putting things together was so fucking out there. It was like something from the Seventies." — Thom Yorke
"I only went to Manchester really because of the music scene and really because of the Smiths. And when I got there, within a month I got seven Smiths shows." — Ed O'Brien
"I think I went [to Smiths shows] about ten or fifteen times. I'd stay with him and we saw a couple of shows." — Thom Yorke
"The Happy Mondays were amazing. I never saw them, I had the records. And when they were on, they were incredible and when they were off, they were incredibly awful." — Ed O'Brien
"In terms of musical appearance, that was the most influential, informed period for all of us." — Thom Yorke
Pixies and Throwing Muses
"Our teenage years we were all about going down to London and seeing all of favorite Boston bands, Throwing Muses and Pixies — that sort of music, really. Boston is so much cooler. I had no idea, I had never been anywhere near America." — Jonny Greenwood
"Well I try to tell everyone, I'm a complete fan of Fleetwood Mac. I put a couple of thing on the webcast and I thought I would hear some mutterings about it. I didn't say what it was, and they'd say, 'Wow, that was great, what was it?' and I would say, 'Fleetwood Mac, you bastards!' Our manager introduced me to Fleetwood Mac years ago because he knows Peter Green-era, sort of psychedelic folk blues. Just the way it was recorded with the drums, the dry drums with the percussion in the background. Just really amazing and it sounds really modern to me as well. I just think it's great." — Colin Greenwood
Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow
"I just started Gravity's Rainbow. I tried reading it once before, but this time around it's much more fun. It's a really early one, isn't it? This one seems easier to get into than V." — Thom York
Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning
"I just finished a Viktor Frankl book, Search for Meaning, which is an amazing story. He was in a concentration camp in the second World War and he was also a psychiatrist, so he was able to be sort of objective about the human spirit and why some people fell by the wayside and why some survived and how they did it." — Ed O'Brien
Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine
"And I just bought The Shock Doctrine. I knew it was out and I haven't read one of those kinds of books for a very long time. I'm ready for it." — Ed O'Brien
Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner
"And now I'm reading The Kite Runner, which I hard was just made into a film, it's about Afghanistan. Which is an amazing story. It's not very good bedtime reading 'cause it's a bit, you know. It?s really interesting, the tensions between the Pushtans and the Hazaras — we just think of them as a bunch of Afghans, but of course they?re a tribal people. And it goes from pre-Soviet invasion to Soviet invasion, to post and the Taliban." — Ed O'Brien
George Monbiot's Heat
"The one that finished me off was George Mombiat's book Heat. The most sort of radical I've read on the climate change, which totally blew my mind. It's just really very frightening. It's very stimulating but very frightening." — Thom Yorke
Pixies Documentary loudQUIETloud
"I'll tell you if anyone wants to understand what it's like to be in a band, is this Pixie's documentary that Jonny brought in that we watched. That's what it's like, a group of people working in a close proximity for fifteen years together and going through a lot of emotion and stuff and essentially being people and coming out from the experience not to get too damaged from it and I thought that was very very very good. Really tender and accurate and I know some universal truths about it and not just about the Pixies." — Colin Greenwood
The Future According to Radiohead
How Radiohead ditched the record business and still topped the charts
Posted Jan 23, 2008 5:45 AM
Sunday afternoons,Thom Yorke enjoys taking his kids to Oxford University's Museum of Natural History, a stately, neo-Gothic building on the outskirts of the city center. They wander around the grand atrium, past the skull of the humpback whale, propped up like a massive bear trap, and the stuffed dodo bird behind glass, and the creepy statues of Great Men of Science. The statues are extremely lifelike except for their eyeballs, which, thanks to some odd sculptorial decision, have been rendered as entirely blank orbs, giving boyish, pensive Newton and bearded, stoic Darwin and an unreasonably furious-looking Aristotle all terrifying dead-eyed stares. And, of course, Yorke's kids love the enormous dinosaur skeletons, which dominate the room, rearing up in fearsome poses.
Approximately 150 years earlier, a sickly, stuttering Oxford mathematician named Charles Dodgson would come to the museum with his college dean's young daughter, Alice Liddell; to entertain her, he would make up fantastic stories about the dodo and various other animals, which he eventually published under his pen name, Lewis Carroll, as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Yorke, who is thirty-nine – he has a three-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son — also occasionally writes about animals, though not in a way meant to delight children. "Myxomatosis," from the 2003 Radiohead album, Hail to the Thief, is named for a horrible disease that kills rabbits and opens with the line "The mongrel cat came home holding half a head. . . . " Then there is "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," a track on the most recent Radiohead album, In Rainbows, in which Yorke imagines himself at the bottom of the ocean being nibbled upon by fish and worms. Pluralizing "fish" as "fishes" is an unusual choice, and whenever Yorke howls the words "weird fishes," the questionable grammar makes him sound like a demented schoolboy.
The rest of the song has a muffled, underwater quality, with the titular arpeggio underlaid by a spare, insistent percussion and the guitar notes occasionally warping to sound like a steel drum might be buried deep in the mix. In another strange turn of phrase, Yorke croons, "Your eyes, they turn me," creating an interesting tension by never adding the expected "on." With all of the references to freedom — "why should I stay here"; "everybody leaves if they get a chance" — the song could almost pass for a morbid parody of early Springsteen, as if the protagonists of "Thunder Road" had busted loose from small-town Jersey by throwing themselves off a bridge.
"Hit the bottom," Yorke sings in the final lines, "and escape."
Excerpt from RS Issue 1045
Four years in the making, In Rainbows is both tortured and triumphant... Here, for the first time, is the unexpurgated inside story of the album that nearly destroyed RADIOHEAD and gave the music industry a heart attack...
THEY WENT DEAF DURING THE SESSIONS. Imagined themselves as the Monty Python team with guitars. Battled rat poison and, more deadly still, their own desperately doubting ways. They thought it was all over (it wasn't). Four studios, two producers, endless tweaks and retakes followed. But now, four years on from 2003's Hail To The Thief, Radiohead are back with a record that even they themselves grudgingly admit has left them feeling "really excited and really proud". That record is, of course, In Rainbows, MOJO's album of 2007.
As well as shaking up the industry itself with its pay-what-you-want model, it's an album that artfully distils the band's very essence while at the same time avoiding the customary curses of cliche or complacency. And then, of course, there's new eight new tracks on the bonus CD Discbox edition available exclusively via the band's own website which paints an even more panoptic picture. A picture that will fully reveal itself during a week-long round of interviews with all five members of Radiohead as they unravel the titanic tale of their creative rebirth.
"I GUESS WE HAD HIGH EXPECTATIONS THIS TIME round," shrugs Thom Yorke, in the quiet of a book-lined private room in The Old Parsonage Hotel ("The Old Parsnip," jests Jonny Greenwood), an establishment with the ambience of a country house on the outskirts of Oxford city centre. In the relative tranquillity of the city Yorke still calls home, he exudes a warm glow, one that's accentuated by the generous stubble of an incipient beard. He's so relaxed, in fact, that he takes MOJO for a short tour of the city centre at the end of our interview. "Now that's where several students were executed by the locals," he says with a glint in his eye, while pointing at a blink-and-you'll-miss-it bricked-out patch of Broad Street. Actually, the youthful-looking Yorke blends in perfectly here; all that's missing is the college scarf.
Back at the Old Parsnip earlier, Yorke unleashes the first of several loud laughs that belie public perceptions of him as an arch, lemon-sucking miserablist. We're talking about the difficult days of Hail To The Thief. "Yeah, we knew that was a lower part of the curve," he says after a characteristic pause for thought, "and, yes, we knew we'd carry on. But it felt very much that the branch had become a twig - and that we could fall off the tree at any point!"
Yorke can laugh now, but on reflection the Hail To The Thief experience almost brought Radiohead to their knees. Indeed, no one could have foreseen the car crash ahead when, in July 2002, the band road-tested the material for two months before decamping to Los Angeles in September where they laid the basis of the album down in one two-week session. "It was very much a reaction to the protracted recording of Kid A," says drummer Phil Selway, referring to the three years it took the band to follow-up 1997's standard-bearer, OK Computer. "It was also a response to the excitement we'd rediscovered by playing the Kid A material live. We wanted to capture that on record."
To some extent, it worked. Guitarist Ed O'Brien talked up the album's "swagger" on its release, Yorke recalled how he wept when he first heard the playback to There There, and the band proved that they could do it without squirrelling themselves away for years and hiring a stately home for inspiration - as they'd done for both OK Computer and Kid A. But despite its intermittent brilliance (and There There does sound like a spellbinding peak of sorts) and initial commercial success, Hail To The Thief was a short-term compromise solution that quickly proved to be no solution at all.
"We should have pruned it down to 10 songs, then it would have been a really good record," says O'Brien. "Working on In Rainbows, I was aware that we were making something that was really engaging, that moved people again. and I don't think Hail To The Thief consistently did that. I think we lost people on a couple of tracks and it broke the spell of the record."
Colin Greenwood knew as much from the start. "I didn't want three or four songs on there, because I thought some of the ideas we were trying out weren't completely finished." Such as? "The Gloaming. We played it live and it was cool. My brother [Jonny] sampled each of the instruments on stage, cut them up then sent them back into the mix. It was so exciting, like a live DJ show, and Thom performed off of all of that. But it wasn't the same in the studio. For me, Hail To The Thief was more of a holding process, really."
SITTING IN THE QUIET OF "PROBABLY OXFORD'S first and last London-style private members' club" above the QI bookshop, guitarist Jonny Greenwood, the most restless Radiohead member - "he has the patience of an insect!" says Yorke - also concedes that Hail To The Thief was a few songs too long. "We were trying to do what people said we were good at," he admits. "But it was good for our heads. It was good for us to be doing a record that came out of playing live."
If the suspicion that the record wasn't quite up to their usual standard didn't break them, then a year on the road touring Hail To The Thief very nearly did. After a short tour of Japan and Australia in April 2004, the band retreated back to their various young families. "It was definitely time to take a break," says Phil Selway. "There was still a desire amongst us to make music, but also a realisation that other aspects of our lives were being neglected. And we'd come to the end of our contract [with EMI], which gives you a natural point to look back over at what you've achieved as a band."
Any suggestion that this 'natural' break was a cover for a more ruinous rift within the group is rebuffed by O'Brien. The most relaxed band member in person, he is also the one least bound by what might be termed Radiohead-speak. "No, I didn't think the band would collapse. I wasn't scared. You know, if it all collapses, it's only a fucking band." But a livelihood, too. "Yeah, it's a living, it's a very nice living. But we've all got nice houses. We're not gonna starve. There are always other things we can do. But I wasn't ever worried about it. The good thing that came out of it was confronting things.
Confrontation they can do, but they don't really do compliments. Mention Nick Kent's claim in this magazine in 2001 that they were "the most important band in the world", and they'll pretend they haven't heard what you've said. It is proof, if more is required, that the group consider themselves the best judges of their work... and, perhaps, of a little moth-eaten modesty. Wanna see Thom Yorke in fits? Float a rhetorical 'top of your game' across the table and watch his reaction. "Wait till you see the file of photos that comes with the record box," he splutters. "Then ask yourself whether we look like we're at the top of our game." MOJO reminds him of a picture posted up on the group's Dead Air Space yellow polka dot bikini that accompanied the October 1, 2007 announcement that the release of In Rainbows was imminent. In it, Thom, Ed and Colin [!] hold mugs of tea and look almost insanely happy. "OK, that was a good moment," Yorke concedes. "They do happen."
Good, often astonishing moments have dogged Radiohead during their 15-year recording career. The 1992 single, Creep, the stand-out on what was otherwise a fairly humdrum indie-rock debut, Pablo Honey, became such an alternative nation anthem that the band dropped it from their set. 1995's The Bends marked a great leap forward, thanks to stronger material, more sophisticated arrangements and growing studio savvy. Next, OK Computer confirmed Radiohead's standing, prompting - with some justification - all those "Pink Floyd for the '90s" comparisons. Excepting Thom Yorke's misguided early recourse to blond hair extensions, they were, after all, largely anonymous figures that appeared to shun the usual temptations of the rock'n'roll lifestyle in favour of a more considered, almost morbidly serious approach to their music. Oh, and let's not forget Radiohead's Oxford to the Floyd's Cambridge.
Although the genre has since been largely rehabilitated, the 'prog' accusation became a stick with which to beat the band, especially among the Britpop pack whose geezerish anthems grafted the sound of The Beatles' Revolver onto the simple gratifications demanded by Loaded Man. Just as they'd raised their game after being accused of being "a pitifully lily-livered excuse for a rock'n'roll group" in their early days, Radiohead again reacted wildly, deflecting the "Is this the best record ever?" hype around OK Computer by a hard-left turn in search of a new direction. It took the best part of three years and resulted in two laptop rock albums, the stunningly taut Kid A (2000) and its troubled twin, Amnesiac (2001).
The spur for this defiant dive into electronica was Thom. It was mooted at the time that not everyone in the band was as fanatical as he was about the fractured beats and alienated textures that he had discovered after buying up the Warp Records catalogue. While Ed O'Brien looked in vain for melodies, Phil Selway wondered whether the laptop beats would put him out of a job. Hence, Hail To The Thief - a let's-work-together bonding exercise, the effect of which, as we have seen, threatened the band's unity more than at any other time in their 20-year tenure. Cue Thom's solo album.
"YOU CAN'T GO ANYWHERE WITH THOM WITHout him having a laptop and headphones on," says Jonny Greenwood. "It's been like that for years, and he's still doing it. We drove to London yesterday and he had his laptop out and his headphones on for the whole journey. That's what he's like. Always filling notebooks, too..."
While Radiohead are definitely A Band in the sense that all five musicians contribute greatly to the overall sound and character, it is Yorke who is very much first among equals. From the beginning, it's mostly been his demos that form the basis for each Radiohead record, not least because he's the proverbial creative - totally unable to switch off. He claims he's been "training" to change all that. "But you'll have to talk to my missus - sorry, it's Rachel, she hates being called that - to see if that's worked," he smiles. "Yes, it's true: I constantly have bits of paper in my pockets, backs of envelopes, notebooks. But, you know, 95 per cent of it doesn't get used."
Released in July 2006, Yorke's solo record, The Eraser, provided an outlet for some of his excess creativity. Despite Thom's twig analogy, there was, Radiohead insist, never a suggestion that he was abandoning the band. Now portrayed as an itch that needed scratching, The Eraser is a slow-burn melance of dislocated dance textures, piano-led moodsong topped with melodies that grow deliciously with every listen. "Great record, amazing singing," enthuses Jonny Greenwood. "He had to get this stuff out, and everyone was happy that it was made. He'd go mad if every time he wrote a song it had to go through the Radiohead concensus. The combination of him, [producer] Nigel Godrich and a few months seemed to get it all unblocked."
Yorke himself clearly appreciated the experience. "Actually, I did learn something from it," he says. "It made me realise that all the stuff I do on laptops gets me excited because I can hear what I'm gonna do vocally. But unless I have a vocal in place, it's a bit unfair to expect anybody else to understand what the fuck's going on." For example? "I was playing bits of Black Swan, six minutes of, er, mostly drivel, and Nigel's like, 'Bloody hell! I'm not interested in any of this.' I said, I've been working on this for ages. It's great. 'No it's not,' he says. But as soon as I put the vocal on, he was like, 'OK, now it makes sense.' It reminded me just how important the voice is."
And that realisation, as much as anything else, was to serve the group well during two long, cold winters and one long touring summer, in which time In Rainbows was painstakingly put together.
According to Jonny Greenwood, his own solo activities - two soundtracks, Bodysong (2003) and There Will Be Blood (2007), as well as being BBC composer in residence since 2004 - haven't had anything like the impact on the band that Yorke's renewed vocal awareness has. "Er, I don't think I've done one [a solo album]," he shrugs. "I did music for a film but that's different to cobbling together 50 minutes of music with your name on it and expecting people to listen to it. That doesn't interest me at all. If I've brought anything new along, then I suppose I'm slightly less scared of asking violin players to do stuff than I was..." And a scary dub habit. "I spent six solid months listening to dub all day every day," he says. "My wife still hasn't forgiven me."
The rest were publicly quieter but hardly immune from new influences. Ed O'Brien feasted on Rip It Up And Start Again, Simon Reynolds' extensive survey of post-punk, and found it remarkably liberating. "That cemented a lot of the insecurities and boredom I was feeling about music. I realised, Hang on a sec, this is where I come from, and that's the stuff that still moves me. It's got melodies, it's got pop, it's trying to do things a bit differently - and you don't have to work so hard at it..."
Colin Greenwood, meanwhile, continued to feed his eclectic musical interests, turning on to DJ Surgeon, encouraging fans to go out and catch Scouse screwballs Clinic, and learning a bunch of Macca and Motown ace James Jamerson basslines. Phil Selway joined Jonny Greenwood in the fictional band The Weird Sisters in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire film. So far, so fragmented.
MID-FEBRUARY 2005: TWO YEARS AFTER FINISHing Hail To The Thief there, Radiohead regroup at their Oxfordshire recording studio. Initially, the prospects appeared favourable in terms of the music they set about making. Speaking the following month, Jonny Greenwood enthused about the "good songs" and the renewed hunger within the band. He also said that early rehearsals had been "fun".
Ed O'Brien: "The moment Thom came in with the songs and the lyrics, it was the first time in a long while that I felt really engaged with the lyrics. I thought, These are great, these are moving me, these are lyrics written by somebody who is engaging with the stuff of life. That was exciting." While no one admits to anything so simple as a gameplan, O'Brien probably expresses the band's collective unconscious when he says, "I think ultimately we were looking for 10 or 11 songs, a really concise body of work, with no fat."
Eight months later, on October 21, Thom Yorke posted an online bulletin on Dead Air Space, a new yellow polka dot bikini page at radiohead.com. It was the first of many, often fraught online updates he'd write over the next two years, that give a good indication of the agonising that went into the making of what became In Rainbows. Within two months, Yorke was back again, after another difficult two-week session. This time, his mood had darkened significantly. "We're splitting up. It's all shit. We're washed up, finished," he write.
"There was this sense," admits O'Brien, "that we could finish this all tomorrow and so what. But it felt like it would be a shame to, particularly because when you got beyond all the shit and the bollcosk, the core of these songs were really good."
"It was difficult to get back," Yorke says, "and because things didn't move forwards for ages and ages, it grew more and more tense. Things didn't really ease until we started to feel we had something that had the emotional impact that we hoped the songs would have."
Colin Greenwood: "I suppose we were paying the price for not taking the pain on Hail To The Thief. As this project progressed, we realised there are no short cuts to the process being exciting for us."
The initial high of February 2005 soon dispersed. Months of rehearsals, followed by the band's own attempted to get some of the material down in a studio, gave way to debilitating - and characteristic - self-doubt. "There's been such a crisis of self-confidence in making this record," Colin Greenwood blurts out, his face etched with discomfort as he recalls the experience. "It's been... really... terrible, you know." This man is not joking. Like his brother Jonny, Greenwood thrives on the immediacy of a band playing together. His happiest memory of the entire process was "when we reheased at our old apple storage warehouse, a flattering room, which made everything sound big and rocky." It didn't last long. Much of the next two-and-a-half years were spent studio-bound.
In retrospect the problem appears both recurring and simple. Radiohead, a five-piece rock band, desire to make music that refuses to be bound by the limitations of their chosen genre. But movement away from the traditional into the unexpected often results in a frustrating process of distillation. "At the rehearsal room stage, things often sound very standard," agrees Phil Selway. "The trick is to stick with that, because it does ultimately get you to a much better place. You must also be prepared to jettison the lot, too."
So they did. In December 2005 Mark 'Spike' Stent was asked to work with the band in a bid to help them work through the material they'd recorded and stockpiled. "He listened to the stuff we'd been self-producing," says O'Brien. "These weren't demos, they'd been recorded in proper studios [in autumn 2005], and he said, 'The sounds aren't good enough.'"
Stent, known for mixing the likes of Bjork, U2 and Massive Attack, took over the production of sessions from February through to April 2006. Early versions of Nude, Bodysnatchers and Arpeggi were among the songs worked up, but he didn't last long. "It never really took off," says O'Brien. "But he was good for us because he galvanised the whole process," adds Selway. "That had been missing up to that point." Thom Yorke was far from happy, though. "I've been fucking tearing my hair out," he wrote on the band's yellow polka dot bikini in March. "Furiously writing, working out parts, cracking up."
Despite their singer's malaise, this first preparatory phase in the making of In Rainbows came to a head during May and June 2006, when the band toured Europe and the States, returning to the stage in August for two weeks of festival appearances, forcing them to concentrate on the material in hand. "That took us to the next phase," says Selway, "because if you're playing new songs live, you're going to have to commit to some arrangements."
MAY 1, 2006. AS THOM YORKE AND JONNY GREENwood performed an acoustic warm-up show at the Big Ask Live fundraiser for Friends Of The Earth at Koko in Camden Town, produced Nigel Godrich watched from the audience. Having worked with the band since 1004 and co-produced every album since OK Computer, Godrich had been the fall guy in the band's initial attempt to break out of what Colin Greenwood calls "the safe zone". His return to the fold took a further three months. By September 2006, says Selway, "We had prepared ourselves sufficiently for that whole working process to come back together."
"Thing came together when Nigel started working with us again," nods Colin Greenwood, "because he was someone we knew when we had to be accountable to. Before then it was pie in the sky."
All five members clearly hold Godrich in high esteem. "This is someone who, when he was six, built a mixing desk out of yoghurt pots and a black pen," laughs Jonny Greenwood. "And he's still like that." Godrich's patience, diligence and evidently obsessive interest in the music-making process make him an especially ideal partner for Thom Yorke. “I can keeping going with something for a very, very, very, very, very long time,” says Yorke, “until eventually I’ll realise I’ve been listening to the same two bars for hours. Nigel’s even more patient. We share that, and that’s one of the tensions, one of the dynamics within the band.”
In a bid to bridge those tensions, and ease Godrich back into the fold after three years, in October 2006 band and co-producer decamped to a condemned Palladian country mansion, Tottenham House, outside Marlborough in Wiltshire. After all, decamping to a stately home worked for OK Computer and Kid A.
“It was literally an old country pile,” smiles Ed O’Brien, “huge and crumbling at the seams and with a Capability Brown front acreage that was astonishing. But the house had never properly functioned. It was expensive to maintain, and Stanley [Donwood], who does all our artworks, said the ley lines were not very forgiving.”
During their three-week stay, the band occupied a couple of rooms, carefully avoided the rat pison, huddled together at nights in caravans, and recorded the basis of Jigsaw Falling Into Place and a ferocious take of Bodysnatchers, both of which ended up on the album. “You can definitely hear the atmosphere of the place on that,” says Thom Yorke. “We did loads of recording there, and three or four songs survived, but Bodysnatchers is the one live track on the record where we’re all playing together.”
According to Colin Greenwood, the rumoured haunted ambience of Tottenham House imprinted itself into other parts of In Rainbows. “Nigel recorded the smudges and fingerprints of those rooms and put them back into the sound later,” he enthuses, “like the reverb on the House Of Cards vocal. His computer is like a rattle bag. He can pick out any sound, irrespective of where he recorded it, then map it on to a track we recorded somewhere else. Amazing.”
A second pre-Christmas bonding session away from home, at the grand Halswell House outside Taunton in Somerset, proved less fruitful. “It was along way home and we missed out families,” says Colin Greenwood. “We didn’t achieve much there, so in the new year, we started to record in our own studio.”
By then, several sessions has also taken place at Nigel Godrich’s Hospital Studio in London’s Covent Garden. There, in December 2006, Thom Yorke felt the first real glimmer of achievement. “We were looking for something that had a real effect on us, an emotional impact, and that happened when we were doing Videotape and I was semi kicked out of the studio for being a negative influence. Stanley and I came back a bit worse for wear at about 11 in the evening and Jonny and Nigel had done this stuff to it that reduced us both to tears. It completely blew my mind. They’d stripped all the nonsense away that I’d been piling onto it, and what was left was this quite pure sentiment.”
In complete contrast to the incendiary 21st century rock’n’roll of Bodysnatchers, Videotape is spellbinding in its morbid, haunting simplicity, and at its centre is Yorke’s extraordinary voice. It set the tone for much of In Rainbows.
For many, though, Yorke’s vocal on Nude, another key album cut, shines brightest. “Ten years ago, when we first had the song, I didn’t enjoy singing it because it was too feminine, too high.” He says. “It made me feel uncomfortable. Now I enjoy it exactly for that reason – because it is a bit uncomfortable, a bit out of my range, and it’s really difficult to do. And it brings something out in me…”
Yorke’s new found vocal confidence might well be an outward manifestation of a change in his creative habits. The man who once complained that he was consumed by “mental chatter” has been working on himself. “I’m able to switch off now. Whereas five or six years ago, I absolutely couldn't. I never switched off ever." Mental chatter is, he claims, "to the detriment of work. One of the reasons this record has worked for me is that I've been trying to reduce how mcuh I work. The fact that I'm a dad too means I don't spend an entire afternoon in front of a piano. Now I have to be a lot more focused when I work." But, ever the doubter, he's not entirely convinced by his own argument. "Hmm, I'm not sure that's true. Maybe that's all nonsense."
This aspiration to locate a purity of expression is clearly evident in much of In Rainbows - from the spacious, stripped down production on several tracks to what seems to be more impressionistic, but obviously personalised lyrics. Yorke raises an eyebrow. "Really? Well, Reckoner is very much like that. It's what sticks that I'm after and that happened a few times while making this. I try and do that thing where it's sort of automatic, that whatever comes out comes out and try not to censor it too much."
Yorke is certainly striving to find a new creative methodology. "The more you absorb yourself in the present tense, the more likely that what you write will be good," he says. "Especially in this fucking town, where everybody's sitting in front of their fesks for far too long, endlessly sweating over words that don't ever get heard. People are obsessive in this city and work becomes an end in itself." Given the three-year gestation period for In Rainbows, and Radiohead's long-term 'no pain, no gain' attitude towards their work, his words come as a surprise. "There's no point in writing notes and notes and notes and notes," he continues, repeating words as he does habitually. "The polar opposite of that is Michael Stipe, who absorbs himself in other people and the life around him, and that's where he gets his ideas. I'm not like that, but I absolutely understand why he does it. Neil Young claims he writes lyrics and doesn't go back to them. If he does, he says, the worse they become. But my God, that's scary. I mean, Faust Arp is the exact opposite of that, pages and pages and pages and pages and pages and pages until eventually, the good ones stick."
Whatever his method, Yorke's colleagues certainly believe their main man is on a roll. "I'm lucky because I'm working with a songwriter who I consider to be a peer of all those great soulful songwriters," says Colin Greenwood. "And Thom's singing, his phrasing, and his timing are just sublime. Listen to the way he sings around the beat on Nude and 15 Step. I don't hear anyone who can do it like that, so instinctively, and in perfect takes."
Yorke has not been alone in upping his game. Phil Selway and Colin Greenwood are surely the most inventive rhythm section working close to the rock mainstream. Multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood brings a classically inspired serenity to several tracks, including celeste on Weird Fishes and the Discbox cut, Go Slowly, as well as sweeping string arrangements on Faust Arp and Arpeggi.
Typically, perhaps, Ed O'Brien is the only one who'll actually admit that the project's success was crucial to Radiohead's survival. "One of my mantras throughout the recording was, This is the last time I'm doing this. I'll never summon up the energy to do this again. So I'm going to put everything I can into it. I think everyone felt the same. This might be the last time. I really, really believed that."
O'Brien also harboured a secret desire to confirm the band's place in history. "I never felt we were one of the great bands, up there with The Smiths or R.E.M., you know. In my view, we've made three really great records, The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A. What we needed was another great record just to seal it."
JANUARY 2007. AFTER SEEMINGLY CHASING THEIR OWN shadows for two years Radiohead repaired once again to their own Oxfordshire bolt hole. "Once we got back into our studio, we re-recorded a lot of the songs," says Colin Greenwood. "But that was the period when it really came into its own."
Despite struggling with certain rhythm tracks, one song that particularly benefited from an early 2007 refit was the In Rainbows opener, 15 Step. "The original version came out of bits assembled in the computer," says Yorke, "and we were happy with that. Then we worked out how to play it live and the song ended up being something else again. We needed to push it as far as we possibly could. We're always looked for ways to get out of our safe zone."
As anyone who's mouthed along to No Surprises or Karma Police knows, no one does 'epic' quite like Radiohead. Or, more accurately, like Radiohead used to. "That was a big issue on this record," admits O'Brien. "Arpeggi, for example, is a song that's obviously epic in scope. But every time we tried to do it, and fought against it being big, it didn't work. The problem is that you've got to convince people that big doesn't mean stadium. I think we do big music well; it's kinda natural to us. But the problem with big music is the connotations that come with it, all that candles and stadium stuff. But epic is also about beauty, like a majestic view, and what we did on this record was to allow the songs to be epic when they have to be."
In truth, Radiohead could have been the biggest stadium band of their generation. Yorke disagrees. "Actually, I can't do it, and that's why we're not," he says. "I'd have blown my brains out." Yorke's guarded approach to stardom is something which the rest of the band have used to their own benefit, allowing them to work in a mannger that involves a pronounced sense of self-regulation.
"Yeah, Thom is very wary of that and rightly so," nods Ed. "It's served us well. But equally you can stifle things if you don't allow things to just let be. If you just let things evolve, there'll always be a twist. What I like about this record are the times when we just let the song evolve and develop its own character."
Eventually, as far as the troubled genesis of the album went, the evolution could go no further. A deadline was imposed for the start of July 2007. Colin Greenwood: "When we'd finished all the songs, we played them to our managers, and Chris [Hufford] said, It sounds like you'd just made this overwordy book. He was right."
At a band meeting at Yorke's house, in late summer, the production of one mastered 10-track CD was greeted with a huge sigh of relief. It took its In Rainbows title from a lyric on Reckoner - a song that had mutated entirely during the sessions. Each track on the album had to earn the approval of all five members. "I was just relieved that we didn't muff up the arrangements, which is what you often feel when you finish a record," says Jonny Greenwood. "And as it's the first record where, a month later, I'm still listening to my six favourite songs, I think that's a good sign."
"The first time we all sat down and felt that it had worked was when we finalised the tracklisting and had the finished CD," adds Phil Selway. "It was only at that point that we completely believed that we'd made the record that we wanted to."
Indeed, the handful of tracks that didn't make the final cut were not rejected for reasons of quality. "All those songs were in the running for the main album," says Ed O'Brien, "but for one reason or another, they didn't fit. In fact, each of us made strong cases for a few of those songs going on In Rainbows." Jonny Greenwood was disappointed not to win the argument for Go Slowly, while the spine-rattling Last Flowers, Yorke's trump card, was turned down as it had been taped for The Eraser and felt slightly alien in the In Rainbows context.
All the hard listening done to get this far had almost destroyed Colin Greenwood's ears. "I used headphones incorrectly a couple of times and lost much of my hearing for two months," he says. "That affected me profoundly. I thought I'd lose a lot of my top end, but it came back over time." He wasn't alone. "Thom had the same experience making this record. He'd use these same 'closed' headphones and they destroyed his top end. It's terrible, it turns you off music."
Compensation came in the form of the finished master. "I was really excited and proud," says Yorke. "But at the same time, I desperately wanted to get the fuck away from it as fast as possible, because once I've played it all the way through and seen that finally it makes sense, that's absolutely it for me. You only have a few days where you do, Yeah, we got something right, thank fuck for that. Then it's time to do something new."
That wasn't long in coming. Right at the beginning of the album sessions, early in 2005, Radiohead knew they were out of contract with EMI, and were in no hurry to renew. The takeover of the company by Terra Firma, a private equity firm, in May 2007 sealed it.
"They just didn't feel like they were in a very healthy position," says Jonny Greenwood. "Every couple of years you'd hear, Oh, there's a new person in charge. He used to work for a toothpaste company, or he used to run pensions. You'd think, What's that got to do with music? It’s not like that at XL." XL Recordings, part of the Beggars [Banquet] Group, secured the European rights to In Rainbows in the autumn, largely in the basis of Thom Yorke’s favourable experiences with the label when it handled The Eraser.
The idea of making In Rainbows available first via download had been germinating for some time, certainly as far back as a time when EMI were still hoping to re-sign the band. According to Phil Selway, the management company first suggested it. It obviously appealed to the band’s desire to make their material available more quickly, rather than groan through yet another three-month record company ‘lead time’. And it tickled Thom Yorke’s iconoclaustic tendencies. “It’s the art school thing. I have a fundamental distrust of, er, everything” he says laughing loudly. “I’d much prefer to kick the dust up.”
And that, in a few words, is exactly what happened on October 10, 2007, now forever known as Radiohead Day. There was little warning. At midnight on September 30/October 1, Jonny Greenwood bashed out a short, simple message onto Dead Air Space from his kitchen at home.
“Hello everyone. Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days. We’ve called it In Rainbows.
Love from us all.
A link led to the In Rainbows site, where forager soon discovered that they were being invited to name their own price for the download. Although Courtyard Management have yet to release firm statistics of their own, it has strongly refuted the results of one survey which suggested that 62 per cent of those who downloaded the album chose to pay nothing at all for it. Although they profess little knowledge-or even interest even-in the financial implications of the download approach, the band are fascinated by the art/commerce debate it’s stirred up. “We weren’t giving the record away,” says Colin Greenwood. “We were saying, What is it worth? Music is one of the only commodified art forms where when you walk into a store and records by Dylan, Roxette, Klaxons or The Hives are the same price. Does that mean they’re all as good as each other? Is there a way to say, by how much you pay, how good or bad something is? It’s good that the whole experience has got people asking those kind of questions.”
"There was a big risk that if nobody gave any money at all, technically speaking we'd lose a fortune," Yorke insists, "and I don't just mean the recording costs but the cost of paying for the physical process of sending the downloads out. At 4p to 6p a time, that's a lot of money when you add it up. Besides, we had no idea whether we'd get a load of shit for it."
Instead, the reaction, which made front pages across the world, and prompted much debate on the business pages, was almost overwhelmingly positive - and hailed as a revolution in the way major bands sell their music. "It's really not that radical," Yorke reckons. "The only thing that was radical about it was that we were prepared to give something away that one might not normally consider in our position. But we never saw it as giving away. It has a worth regardless of whetehr you make people pay for it or not. As Chris [Hufford] said all along, this would have meant fuck all if the songs were rubbish."
FOR YORKE, THE BIGGEST THRILL WAS MAKING A cultural impact "while sitting at home doing eff all. That's cool, I'm down with that! But it's not gonna happen very often. If we had our nuclear warhead, then I'm afraid that was it."
As Jonny Greenwood's simple announcement grew, virus-like, into an international story, it became obvious that In Rainbows was a taste of things to come. Record labels shuddered at the thought of other out-of-contract artists going the same route; fans found themselves thrilled at the prospect of downloading a new record knowing that hundreds of thousands of others were doing so at the same time. Radiohead Day was a remarkable event, but the band express no desire to go it alone and run their own record company. "The experiment was good, but we don't wanna be spending the rest of our career in meetings discussing Portuguese shop displays," says Jonny Greenwood. "It's rehearsing and writing and being back in the studio where we're happiest, really," he says.
Neither do the band carry any guilt at cutting out the middleman to pocket the lion's share of the money earned from the download. Of course, they're acutely aware that the big money comes from touring and merchandising, and Yorke accepts that the Radiohead brand has been "elevated" by the entire episode. Ed O'Brien plays down the idea that Radiohead Day was ever intended as an "industry bashing event" and is more candid. "We've been putting money into our merchandise arm, W.A.S.T.E, for 10 years now and they've built it up into a really good little company. So we thought, Let's make use of it."
Hence Discbox, a lavish 12-inch square box-set of CD and vinyl editions of In Rainbows, an exclusive second disc containing eight new songs (see panel), photographs, artwork and lyrics - all in a book-stule package. Manufactured in a strictly limited run, Discbox sells for £40 (estimated sales to date: 80,000). But it's not the only Radiohead box set on offer this winter - EMI have just released Radiohead, a similarly-priced package with all seven of the band's Parlophone albums, complete with MP3s of the same material and a limited edition USB stick to carry then around on.
"Isn't it nice?" says Thom Yorke, affecting his best Peter Cook voice. "No, I'm not really annoyed, and anyway there's nothing we can do about it. If the choice is to dwell on that, or make a sign of the cross and walk away into the light, I'm gonna choose the latter."
"It could have been far worse," admits Jonny Greenwood, "like a cheesy greatest hits with the worst photo of Thom with big hair on the cover." Well, that's probably next Christmas, Jonny...
Not that Radiohead are opposed to the idea of seeing their work in the high street. "We're really excited about the shop release of In Rainbows," says Jonny Greenwood. "When I'm in Sainsbury's and I see all the CDs stacked up, in a way I still want to be part of all that." But will shops want a Radiohead album that's been in free circulation for two months now? "That's a good question. Once again, nobody knows. It feels like we've been in that situation a lot recently. And I like it that way."
When it comes to hard and fast conclusions about the long-term ramifications of Radiohead Day, Yorke says, "I don't think it changes things a great deal. I mean, everyone says that the structure of the music business is imploding, so that's nothing to do with us. All we did essentially was give out a glorified leak date."
And taken at least some of the control into their own hands. "Well, it would be nice if what we did was free up artists and musicians to think, I don't have to sign my name in blood, maybe I can do this in a different way. But that's about it. All we did was respond to a particular situation, and it was the logical thing to do, captain. We saw it as the best way to get the music we'd worked so hard on heard by the most people."
OUR ALLOTED TIME IN THE OLD PARSNIP HAS LONG been exceeded, and the room needs to be vacated. "Are you rushing off?" Yorke says, before he offers to play Oxford City Guide. As one often chastised for his po-faced intensity, he's more feet-on-the-ground than most song-and-dance men. He expresses concerns about the band's tour later this summer. "That messes with my mind quite a bit from the environmental point of view," he sighs, "but if you do it in bite-sized chunks, that might be all right." If the campaigning Thom Yorke is less obviously present on the latest album - though House Of Cards and 4-Minute Warning on the second disc are informed by apocalyptic thoughts - his activism can be found all over Dead Air Space.
Oh, and one more thing - bearing in mind that one of the most startling images on In Rainbows involves Mephistopheles reaching up to snatch the singer away from the pearly gates at the commencement of Videotape - working in such a commercialised art form, does Thom Yorke really feel as if he's sold some of his soul to the devil? "When I was at college, I was completely anti the idea of the tortured artist in the corner with his solitary canvas that then gets puts on the wall to be revered. I was absolutely into the idea that there's no artefact at all, that there was just the reproduction, the aura of the original. I mean, you go to the Louvre, and there's the Mona Lisa in a bloody shrine. What's the point of that? The true art of the 20th century is art that's reproduced. You don't put it in a church or a gallery. You put it in a book or on a CD or on TV. So, no, I don't think I've sold my soul at all.
"But I think it's perfectly natural to be obsessed by the idea of selling out, or compromise, or losing it. I think that's totally natural. I mean, you could see that happening to Kurt Cobain really fast. That's because the place you write from is not the public cheesy-peezy person, it's the one that's left when all that crumbles. So it's difficult, but I guess because of the nature of the people that we all are, no one's ever really swallowed it whole."
Really? Not ever? "Well, I think it's human nature to want to get lost in it and believe that you're wonderful. But I went the other way too fast and assumed that absolutely all of it - and we're talking about the OK Computer era - was all bullshit, including me. I'd regularly stop midway through a song and think, I don't mean a fucking word of this, I'm off. Which, I guess, is the polar opposite of someone like Marc Bolan. But it's a product of the same thing. You're always trying to deal with the fact that you're a small crumbly piece of stuff when you write these songs, and maybe that's why the songs are good. So you're always taking one poison or another. Perhaps that's what makes carrying on so hard. You make a record, you wake up and start writing something new, and everything crumbles again."
Thom Yorke: Why he's glad to have made such a big noise--independent.co.uk
Radiohead have always preferred to stand outside the mainstream. But when they announced that they would allow fans to decide the price of their new album, the implications for the music industry were profound. The band's singer, Thom Yorke, tells Christoph Dallach and Wolfgang Höbel why he's glad to have made such a big noise
Published: 03 January 2008
Thom Yorke: Why he's glad to have made such a big noise Radiohead's Thom Yorke says the band never thought they would create such a fuss
Q: Music critics have described you as either the saviour or gravedigger of the rock'n'roll industry after you released an album on the internet without the help of a record company. Which description do you think is the right one?
Thom Yorke: I've heard it said that we are saving rock music so often over the past few weeks that I'm going to have it printed on toilet paper soon. We would have never thought that the whole thing would create such a fuss. In Britain, it's all over the prime time news on the BBC, 60-year-old stock exchange tycoons are congratulating us on our fabulous business idea, and cynics imply we plotted an ingenious advertising coup. But that's all rubbish.
Q: It's a fact that hundreds of thousands of fans downloaded the latest Radiohead outing In Rainbows from the band's webpage and could decide themselves if and how much they wanted to pay for it. We also did that, but didn't pay a cent for it. Does that bug you?
Yorke: Why should it? Our idea was that everybody paid as much for the music as they felt it was worth to them. If you think our songs are no good after listening to them, that's a pity indeed. But if you enjoyed listening to the songs, it would be fair to pay something for them afterwards.
Q: Is it the beginning of the end of the much-maligned music industry, when a band like Radiohead, selling albums by the million, decides to sell their music without a record company?
Yorke: It is an inevitable step, somebody had to take it. Everybody knew it would happen. We have some famous colleagues who have had similar ideas for quite a while. But these colleagues are contractually bound. We were lucky that our contract with EMI had expired.
Q: Nevertheless, there is fierce speculation that you might be earning a lot less with your new work than with the help of a large company. Was your experiment worth it, financially?
Yorke: We don't discuss figures. But we are not complaining. Anyway, we have the copyright for our songs. All that we published before belongs to EMI. That is unbelievably unsatisfying. After all, we are talking about art and hard work. I believe in the rock album as an artistic form of expression.
In Rainbows is a conscious return to this form of 45-minute statement. Of course, it was possible to make it shorter. But our aim was to describe in 45 minutes, as coherently and conclusively as possible, what moves us. In Rainbows is, at least in our opinion, our classic album – our Transformer, our Revolver, our Hunky Dory.
Q: Lou Reed, The Beatles and David Bowie were at the height of their creative powers when they recorded those albums. What ambition drives a highly successful band like Radiohead, that's existed for 16 years, to work?
Yorke: In previous years, there were times when we didn't know the answer to that question. We started families, brought up our children and everybody was just living their own lives. But then one day it just got us again. You're stuck in traffic on a Friday, the kids are wailing in the back, the supermarket shopping is boiling in the boot, it's summer, the weekend of the Glastonbury Festival. A radio station airs a listeners' poll, asking which band the people associate with their best Glastonbury memories, and 76 per cent are voting for Radiohead. Suddenly things shoot through your mind: what am I doing here? Wouldn't I prefer to be on stage there? Even my family would be happier if I didn't hang out at home, all grumpy, any more. Yes, that's how it was.
Q: Do you regret that there's nothing left of the alleged, or actual, wild and revolutionary spirit that rock music represented in the 1960s and 1970s?
Yorke: No. Music is always a reflection of its time. We are living in a world of consumerism. That's why, first and foremost, the purpose of music is to accommodate demand. For many people, the decision about a particular type of music is a lifestyle commitment, they are kind of associating their existence with the music they are listening to, without being touched by it too deeply.
In addition, there will always be people who interact passionately with music, people for whom there are songs that indeed change lives; songs that open their eyes about the state of the world.
Q: Do you condemn pop fans who acquire your music merely as a consumer product?
Yorke: No, I pity them. For them there is no real satisfaction, they have to gather more and more and more songs, as if the endless accumulation could ensure them immortality.
Q: Have you ever downloaded a song from the net yourself, for free?
Yorke: No, I always pay. Well, I got our own album from our webpage free of charge. I wanted to play my mum the new songs and downloaded them on to her computer. A journalist found out. And he announced immediately that I wouldn't pay for music from the internet. But why should I pay for my own possessions, and in practice, just shovel my money from one pocket to the other? That's ridiculous.
Q: What was the highest price that a buyer paid online to download In Rainbows?
Yorke: £99.99. That's the limit we had set beforehand.
Q: And how many buyers were willing to pay that much?
Yorke: Until now, 15. And I swear the band members are not among that 15.
Q: Why do you offer a sumptuous CD and LP box-set for £40 as well as the download? Is this because the compressed music from the internet sounds so poor, causing many fans to complain?
Yorke: MP3 files from the net never sound optimal. We had always planned to release a regular CD and get it into the record stores a bit later. We thought about trying to produce and distribute that CD ourselves – but it seemed too difficult in the end. So we looked for a small record company as a partner.
Q: Is there anything that you'd find sad, should the demise of the music industry come to pass?
Yorke: Of course. For example, these companies are now closing all the beautiful old recording studios. A whole craft gets lost, a valuable tradition. All the acoustic basses and old mics and great instruments get flogged.
We try to buy as much as possible of those to use them for our own work, but it's not the same as if really working in one of the old studios.
Q: It sounds as if you're nostalgic. How much do you use the modern medium of the internet. Do you know your way around Second Life and MySpace?
Yorke: Oh yeah, Second Life, isn't it this world in which you buy land and property and sunglasses for yourself and a second ego, where you go into a virtual bar and say hello? I don't want that. For me it just lays bare the isolation of many internet users, who've got too much time on their hands. Sad. I prefer expressing myself in the real world.
Q: Do you read what's been written about you in internet blogs?
Yorke: No. And we never read what critics write about us. Never. Anyone who does that suddenly hears a lot of strange voices in his head. And there are plenty of those buzzing around in my head already.
Radiohead play Malahide Castle, Dublin, on 6 and 7 June. In Rainbows is available on CD and vinyl now. The single 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place' will be released on 11 January. This interview first appeared in Der Spiegel.
The new world order
It's eight years since Napster was dragged to court to face the music for illegal file-sharing. In 2000, the record and music retail industries feared the worst – that the digital age would spell the end of the recording artist as they knew it. In a way, they were right. The revolution that has been unleashed, courtesy of MySpace, iTunes and Napster imitators like Kazaa, LimeWire and BitTorrent, has seen the record companies cast as unfortunate tsarists. Forced first to watch their profits plummet, the moguls must now stand by as they are cut out of the equation altogether. But very few fans or, indeed, artists will shed a tear for them, not least because the new medium has given those very fans and their heroes a more intimate relationship than ever.
Radiohead, now freed from the shackles of their EMI contract, were early-adopters, one of the first major acts to realise the potential of the internet and harness it for their own ends. Their website has always been impeccably maintained. No surprise then, that they were also the first premier league band to take the logical next step and release an album by download only, using the "suggested donation" method – asking fans to pay only what they wanted to pay. Far from bankrupting them, the band claims it has been a more lucrative endeavour than anyone predicted.
While no official figures have been forthcoming, sources at the time suggested the band sold well over one million In Rainbows downloads before the end of the album's first week online. Estimates as to the average price paid have been pitched anywhere between £2.50 and £5; even a conservative estimate of the profits sounds impressive. The balance sheet will encourage other bands to follow in Radiohead's footsteps.
The Charlatans, for instance, have already announced plans to release their upcoming LP free online via their own website and that of the radio station XFM. Ash claim last year's Twilight of the Innocents will be their last album, and that from now on they will release only singles, in a mixture of online and physical formats. Meanwhile In Rainbows was finally released as a CD on Monday (by the independent XL label) – and who would bet against it making the top five by this weekend?
By Tim Walker
Web-only album 'mad', says Yorke--bbc.co.uk
Yorke says the majority of music fans still buy CDs
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke has said releasing latest album In Rainbows solely on the internet would have been "stark raving mad".
Yorke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that 80% of people still buy physical releases and it was important for the band to have "an object".
The album - released via the band's website for whatever price fans wanted to pay - was released in October.
A physical version - on CD and vinyl - hit record stores on Monday.
Early sales figures showed it heading for number one in the album chart, although it was only narrowly outselling Take That's Beautiful World, industry weekly Music Week reported.
Yorke said the band would have been "mad" to ignore a physical release, which is being distributed by XL Recordings.
"We didn't want it to be a big announcement about 'everything's over except the internet, the internet's the future', 'cause that's utter rubbish.
"And it's really important to have an artefact as well, as they call it, an object," the musician added.
Yorke told the programme the band decided to release their seventh studio album independently after 16 years with EMI imprint Parlophone.
The decision to allow fans to pay what they wanted - including downloading it for free - made In Rainbows one of the year's most talked-about records. The experiment has now ended.
"We have a moral justification in what we did in the sense that the majors and the big infrastructure of the music business has not addressed the way artists communicate directly with their fans.
"In fact, they seem to basically get in the way. Not only do they get in the way, but they take all the cash," said Yorke.
Yorke rubbished reports that the album was downloaded 1.2 million times in its first week alone - but refused to confirm any figures.
"It's total nonsense. Thanks very much - we're the only people who know, and it feels wrong to say exactly what happened. But it's been a really nice surprise and we've done really well out of it."
Awarding a new masterpiece--thesun.co.uk
RADIOHEAD’S In Rainbows was comfortably the most talked about album of the year.
Creative rock... Thom Yorke
Not only did the band decide that we, the public, should decide what to pay for it but they matched the hype with dazzling music.
SFTW felt compelled to give it our coveted Album Of The Year title despite stiff opposition from Mercury Prize winners Klaxons.
Here band tell JACQUI SWIFT how pleased they are to be our No1, how their original pricing policy came about and give insights into their latest songs.
1. RADIOHEAD - In Rainbows
“IT’S great to be your album of the year. It’s really exciting. Everyone’s really chuffed.
“It’s the fact that people are into it and care as much as we do when we’re making the songs. That’s what’s so cool.”
These are the words of Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood as he celebrates SFTW’s No1 album of 2007 spot.
The release of In Rainbows defined the year like no other album, a historical music milestone which caused seismic shockwaves and caught the industry off guard.
The surprise came in the speed in which it was delivered, the fact it could be downloaded at ANY price you wished to pay — and just how brilliant it was.
This was the Oxford band’s best album since 1997’s OK Computer.
It was a bold move on October 1 when guitarist Jonny Greenwood announced on the band’s website that the new album was finished and coming out in just ten days.
A special In Rainbows website allowed the public to download this seventh album at any price — £100, £20, £10, £1 or nothing at all, the choice was ours.
The move gained as many column inches in the business and news sections as in the music ones, but their actions divided the industry.
Millionaires such as Radiohead can afford to give their music away but some new bands saw the move as insulting. For the music industry, it questioned whether bands needed record labels at all.
Sitting in a café at the newly opened St Pancras station (he later leaves for Brussels for more promotion with brother Jonny), Colin nods: “I understand both sides of the argument but the thing for us is we own our record now.
“We put it out there so people had the option to pay nothing if they wanted to. But we own it and we had the right to do that.
“A young band might get excited about their first record deal but they will only get 12 per cent of every record they sell. And the record company will own the record, not only for the band’s life but for the lives of the people in the band.
“If a band is really good they’ll do really well whatever. Giving away music may make it harder for new bands but talent always attracts attention. Genius draws a crowd.
“There has never been a more exciting time to be a band. There’s a passion and thirst for new music.”
The idea of “giving away” their album came from long-term manager Chris Hufford.
Colin says: “Chris said that, if we put it out as a CD with the record company, the earliest it would come out would be February 2008. We all just wanted to get it out because we’d been working on it for so long.
“As Thom recently said, it was only through the energy — the elation for want of a better word — of actually finishing it and being proud of it, that this whole thing of ‘Yeah, let’s get it out, let’s do the download’ made sense.
“Everyone knew it was finished, that it was good to go and we just wanted to share it.
“Usually you’d go through all that nonsense, all that bollocks of marketing and whatever. It’s like some kind of weird extended foreplay. It’s wrong. It’s just deeply wrong.
“But even though Chris had suggested not putting it out as a CD at all, we know there are fans who still love CDs.”
So next week the deluxe box set edition of Radiohead’s seventh album is released on XL Recordings, which includes eight additional new tracks plus a lyrics booklet, digital photos and artwork.
The decision to leave EMI after 15 years had been a hard one to make, admits Colin.
“It wasn’t the people, it was for other reasons — business sh*t. I could never survive without needing people and the people we work with are brilliant.
“Everything in the industry was changing. Now it’s about giving people what they want.
“Everyone still cares about music and is passionate about it. But what people don’t want is walls put up saying, ‘No you can’t have it like this, you can’t have it at that quality. You can’t copy or burn it’. It’s like trying to stop running water.”
With four years passing since 2003’s Hail To The Thief, it was the longest time between Radiohead albums.
With Thom Yorke making his solo album The Eraser and Jonny hired by the BBC as composer in residence, there were side projects to distract them, plus new babies born (“We had six kids between us — the record is dedicated to all the children.”) But, says Colin, the main reason for the wait was that In Rainbows was intensely difficult to make.
He explains: “We didn’t have any confidence in what we were doing. We had been on tour in America and England, and had been performing a number of new songs live. Then when we went to record them in this crumbling old country house in Wiltshire, it was beautiful but the tracks sounded all wrong.
“And you always worry that you’re going to make something of no relevance. No relevance to us as people, as a band, and to anyone who listens to it.
“I think because the songs are so emotional it couldn’t cut from live to record. It was like the Charge Of The Light Brigade turning up and galloping across all the music, in all their outfits.
“Because we love all the songs we played over them all, which was fine when they’re played live because then the colours can be more black and white.
“But for our record, we had to retreat and withdraw a bit and think about other things like groove and colour.
“We recorded some tracks loads of times but they didn’t sound right and you can kill something by loving it too much. You can smother stuff. You can get obsessed. And we’ve done that a lot in the past.
“The turning point was when we were in our little studio in Oxford and (producer/engineer) Nigel Godrich returned. I think actually it was because we had a break from it all. It was like someone had given us Zen Buddhism pills. We went into our live room to re-record songs. We did them in two hours.”
Radiohead had worked with Godrich on every one of their albums apart from their first.
But the partnership was only reunited following aborted sessions with Mark “Spike” Stent, whose work has included Madonna, Keane and Oasis.
Colin says: “We did about three versions with him but it wasn’t happening. That’s no disrespect to him because he’s a lovely, lovely man and hugely talented.
“We had to be honest. With Nigel, there’s this mutual dependency. Ever since he was cut loose to make OK Computer we’ve had this emotional relationship.
“A year and a half ago he came to the studio but we weren’t ready and we weren’t right. He was ready but we weren’t.
“He’s like an Anglepoise lamp which shone at us and made us look at ourselves in the mirror and realise where we were at. We are a gang, a posse.”
In Rainbows carries some of Radiohead’s most beautiful tracks. Soulful and melodic, it’s a u-turn from the harsher electronic sound of earlier albums Kid A and Amnesiac.
The eerily delicate "House Of Cards" and the stunning "Reckoner" are among the highlights.
Colin says: “I also love "Reckoner", because it’s like happy/sad music. It reminds me of "Lucky" on OK Computer or "Yellow" by Coldplay.
“You listen to it because you want to but it still tugs at you.
“When Thom’s singing the main melody, it repeats again and again. We recorded our own breaks and we are all playing little percussion instruments and recorded it on this one piece of tape.
“But my favourite is "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi", which is amazingly beautiful. The song gives you hope and then it goes down again.
“It’s up and down, with self-belief and self-doubt and emotional rushes and surges.”
Old track "Nude" made it on to In Rainbows, even though it had been played live as far back as 1998.
Colin says: “Thom felt it was right now, as he is in a place in his life where the words make sense to him.
“When we wrote it in the early Nineties, it didn’t feel right to him. Thom would say this album was also right for it because I finally came up with a bassline. It’s a soul thing.
“It was like a picture that wasn’t right for years and now it works for him.
“And in the context of the record it’s kind of about love so it works in that setting.”
So how did Radiohead decide which tracks featured on the original download album and as the extra tracks on the box set?
“It wasn’t a case that they weren’t good enough. They just didn’t fit. I like the fast ones on the record and I love the slow ones on the other one.
“The song "4 Minute Warning", I love. It starts with this white noise. Thom was writing it around that period of the July 7 terrorist attacks and that air of panic and fear. It’s really downbeat and downtempo and deals with really heavy stuff.
“Then the song, "Last Flowers" is about dealing with crap on a daily basis. How you deal with a bad day.
Thom said that In Rainbows “was much more about the f**king panic of realising you’re going to die! And that any time soon I could possibly have a heart attack when I next go for a run. You know what I’m saying?”
Do Colin and the rest ever quiz Thom about his lyrics?
“No. Thom doesn’t have to explain his lyrics to us as they are really clear.
“These songs are so beautiful and so personal, about who you could be with and the choices you’ve made in your life.
“They’re love songs or songs with the promise of love. They’re emotional songs that relate to people’s lives directly. Everyone falls in and out of love.
“Thom is such an emotionally honest person. He’s either on or he’s not,
“There’s no pretending to put the light on, which is why he’s such an amazing performer. He doesn’t take a back seat and fake the emotions.”
And so in 2007 Radiohead found gold at the end of their rainbow with an album that not only turned the music world on its head, but boasted some of the most gorgeous songs they’d made.
And the good news is there won’t be as long a wait for their next album.
“We’re never going to do it like this again or take as long,” Colin says.
“From now on we know what we’re doing and we have Nigel back. Things look good again.”
In Rainbows — there really wasn’t another album that came close all year.
Radiohead have made the album of the year. No one is more surprised than them. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood talks to Mark Paytress.
The response to In Rainbows and how it was made available, has been amazing. Surprised?
We are! I felt some would be curious, and that there'd be people in record shops who'd be annoyed. But it was mad. I sat in my kitchen at midnight, wrote a few words saying that the album was coming out in 10 days' time, and it generated all that. The immediacy of it all was very exciting, very different to the old ways of putting records out.
Were you aware it was a remarkable record?
Well... we spent more time on it than we should have done and you go a bit mental after a while. You listen to something like Reckoner and think, Maybe this is just a bad breakbeat. Now I can hear what's good about it. People around us were telling us it was really good, but what do they know? What do we know?
Did you approach it with a different mindset?
No. We just started recording, and after we had three or four songs in the bag, an album was underway. We're not very good at the big picture until an album's finished.
It was your first album in four years and you had no record label. Scared?
I don't think so. It didn't really feel like a non-EMI record. EMI were always very good about leaving us alone until we'd finished, at least ever since Pablo Honey. We just recorded in a different house with worse plumbing and lived in tents for a while. Some of it was recorded at the Radiohead studios. Then we hired a big crumbling house down Somerset way with no running water and rat poison everywhere. It was a bit grim. It had been a school, then a rehab centre, then abandoned for 20 years. Weird place.
Did that impact on the album?
You can definitely hear the atmosphere of the place on "Bodysnatchers". That's the one live track on the record, and that's how it sounded. Some of the record was done Kid A-style, working very slowly, building songs up piecemeal. It was when we recorded Reckoner that we felt we'd first got something special on tape.
Has the songwriting process changed significantly since Kid A/Amnesiac?
No. It's still mostly Thom's songs and us helping out on a few bits and pieces. All the albums seem to have that same balance.
How does Hail To The Thief sound to you now?
That was us doing what people said we were good at - writing songs, playing them in a room, recording an album in two weeks. It was good for our heads, good to make a record that way.
Did you intend to shake up the industry by releasing In Rainbows as a download?
No. I mean, we've got a small office in Reading. It's not gonna happen. It wasn't, This'll show 'em, but more a case of, This'll be mad, let's see what happens. That's as far as the thinking went. It's weird how a simple idea's been interpreted.
How successful was the pricing experiment?
Dunno yet. But that's what was cool about it, people's fingers hovering over that input field' for a few seconds thinking, What is this actually worth? A paperback book? A chocolate bar?
So Radiohead is now a cottage industry...
Well, it's great to have that control, but we don't wanna be spending the rest of our career in meetings discussing Portuguese shop displays. But it's been good. Ever since the release, we seem to have spent all our time in the studio, which is where we're happiest.
What's in the box set?
All the tracks we intended to use when some of us wanted it to be a long record but were wary of releasing something akin to a double album. It's certainly not just a bunch of songs that weren't good enough! It'll also include artwork, lyrics, photos from the big house by me and Colin. The shop version will be a disc and 10 songs.
Is there now a different kind of pressure?
I don't think it's that different, really. Was it successful? Yeah, because everybody heard the music quickly and in large numbers. It's made us feel gratified that the interest is out there. It was by no means certain that there'd be any interest, so that feels really weird and really great.--
Meet Radiohead’s Secret Genius
December 8, 2007
By Julian Marshall
With the release of In Rainbows, Radiohead have changed the music industry. Now its makers tell us how it was made, what it means for them and whether they'll ever make another record
Endless yards of dusty books line the walls, a roaring open fire warms each room and everywhere not-too-tasteful stuffed fish are pinned into glass cabinets. Rumour has it The Old Parsonage Hotel in Oxford is where Oscar Wilde used to stay when he was visiting the town. It's pretty easy to believe - the place is a shameless feast of antique chintz. So fervently traditional and backward-looking, it's perhaps an odd venue for the first interview Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have given since October 10 of this year. That was the day they sent shockwaves through ; the music world by announcing that their seventh studio album, 'In Rainbows', was finished and would be available for fans to download in 10 days' time. Oh, and that each person could decide how much they wanted to pay for it.
Thom is the first to arrive, by foot. He orders a coffee and small-talk immediately shifts to his record collection. He's excited about the new albums from !!!, Modeselektor and Robert Wyatt but, surprisingly, hasn't heard the new PJ Harvey record yet. He's just been listening to a bunch of remixes of tracks from his solo debut The Eraser that he hopes to put online before the end of the year. Greenwood arrives 20 minutes late, looking flustered. Compared to Thom he's shy, but get him on the right subject - the BBC archive, the lost genius of Clive James or computer programming - and he practically glows. Together, they are the heart and brains of a guitar band who, more than any other, has moved at the cutting edge of music in the last decade.
The duo are quick to reveal that the original idea to give In Rainbows away as a free download actually dates back to 2004 and Hail To The Thief. That album leaked online extremely early, as did Yorke's 2006 solo album. The embryonic plan this time was to have an official "leak" date so the group themselves could control how it was put on to the net. When In Rainbows was completed this summer the band were without a record contract, their six album-deal with Parlophone having expired with Hail To The Thief. They knew it would take at least until the new year to negotiate a new deal and get the album released if they went down the traditional route. Egged on by their management, they decided to take complete control and release it themselves.
It was the best-kept secret of the year: In Rainbows would be available to download only a few weeks after it was finished. You could pay what you liked, and if you were dead-set on having a version you could hold in your hands, there was a special collectors' edition discbox with eight extra tracks that, if you ordered it, will be dropping through your letterbox later this week. At first it sounded like bankruptcy-inducing madness, but on closer inspection it made sound financial sense. Under a normal record company deal, the band would make just over a pound per album sold, whereas with an honesty-box style approach to their music, the few people paying a tenner or more would balance out those downloading it for nothing. Radiohead's revolutionary step was widely regarded as an industry-shaking stroke of genius, remoulding the distribution of music as defiantly as they had reimagined music itself. Daring? Inventive? Revolutionary? From these modest maestros we expected no less. But did it feel as though they were messing with the music industry's DNA?
"We didn't really invite that many people into the circle of trust," says Jonny. "I bought NME and there was something on the cover about a new Oasis single out in a few weeks' time. I remember thinking, 'We've got a new album coming in 10 days and nobody knows!'
I stayed up until midnight to announce it and just watched people on messageboards claiming that the website had been hacked. I think they thought it was a joke. That seemed to be the first reaction. It was going to be two weeks originally because we thought it might take two weeks for people to actually find out about it. Our manager had said, 'There's a chance that people are less interested than we're assuming."'
Radiohead weren't done with the shock announcements. On October 31, just under three weeks after the In Rainbows had been released digitally, the band declared they had signed a conventional deal with independent XL, and that a normal CD version of the album would be available in shops on December 31, 2007. It's time for NME to get to the bottom of this unconventional revolution...
After the bold way In Rainbows came out, isn't putting out a normal CD a bit regressive?
Thom: "I don t think people should assume that everyone is internet savvy. The internet is not the fucking universe. Lots of people seem to have a problem with the fact that we are putting out a real CD at all. That assumes that all we do is worry about the internet and we don't. I'm not into MySpace, it's not my thing. And Facebook... I don't know, it's just not my thing. I'm too old."
Could you not have done the physical release yourselves? Why sign to XL?
Thom: "It's not a record deal in the sense of a traditional record deal, That's very important - it's just the distribution. There's none of the normal dynamics of a record deal where they have artist development and that sort of thing. I had a good relationship with XL doing The Eraser and it felt like the right thing to do."
Jonny: "The alternative was to sign a five-album deal with Universal or Warner and do a traditional, '90s-style record deal. Having done what we did in October it would have felt a bit weird."
Thom: "XL had actually called up our manager the week before the download happened and said, 'We've got this great idea. How about you just release it for free as a download?' (Laughing) We were like, 'That sounds like a good idea. .:"
What will you do if no-one buys the CD because they've already downloaded it for free?
Thom: "I think we’re doing alright already."
If the release of In Rainbows was a rushed affair, the recording certainly wasn’t; sessions first began in the autumn of 2005 with producer Mark 'Spike' Stent, but after a year in the studio, still feeling like nothing productive had come from them, Radiohead abandoned them to tour the UK and North America. It was on these tours that they were able to roadtest around 20 new songs, experimenting with their structure and sound in front of a real-life audience. Reinvigorated, the band called in long-term 'Head producer Nigel Godrich to Tottenham House in Wiltshire: a Grade-I listed building which dates back to the 1720s, and, in that sense, is a similar environment to the country-house studios some of their favourite moments from OK Computer and Kid A had been made in.
Tottenham House sounds pretty swanky - was it a palace?
Jonny: [Laughing] "They were waiting to go and demolish most of it. It was just a plumbing-free place full of buckets of rat poison. It was a bit grim."
Thom: "There wasn't even a functioning toilet. It was quite alarming - if the wind picked up you couldn't really stand beneath the windows because the top windows kept blowing out. They were all broken."
Jonny: "It had been a prep school up until the early'80s and then it was a rehab place for recovering heroin addicts. The bathrooms were designed for small boys."
How did the surroundings effect the recording sessions?
Thom: "Whenever you go somewhere you observe whatever the atmosphere is. The reason we went there at all is because it had this bizarre round chamber [a large space where the group could set up their equipment to get the best possible sound]. We used it on everything. We were there for about three weeks and I got very sick. I couldn’t swallow and it was all very horrible. I stayed in a caravan for two days thinking that I was going to get better and then it just got worse and worse and worse."
Jonny: "We were staying in caravans. I thought it would be quite glamorous, like winnebagos!"
Thom: "But it wasn’t t like that, and the cold set in and it was damp. It was kind of the wrong time of year, It was October and the weather was kicking in."
What was the mood like during the recording?
Thom: "We could do what we wanted and it was great. You just get into this crazy headspace really fast. In a couple of days you lose track of time and where you are, as you're just in music 24 hours a day."
Jonny: "The house was so dilapidated. But we developed an idea about all the songs. There was a room with just a guitar and drumkit and amp. We were just playing bad blues rock at three in the morning for the sake of it."
All this filth, rats and falling masonry might explain why "Bodysnatchers" is perhaps the most aggressive-sounding Radiohead track to date...
Thom: "I have this thing - just before I get really sick I'll have this 12-hour hyperactive mania, and that song was recorded during one of those. I felt genuinely out of it when we did that. The vocal is one take and we didn't do anything to it afterwards. We tidied up my guitar because I was so out of it, my guitar-playing was rubbish. My best vocals are always the ones that happen there and then."
After three weeks at Tottenham House the band returned to Oxford, craving home comforts. Pretty much all of the songs on In Rainbows (both the download and discbox versions) had been worked on - though none actually finished as the band were ironically hobbled by an overload of ideas: they could think of a million different ways to record each song, some of which had been in their live sets and in demo form, in different guises, for upwards of 10 years. String sections were experimented with, a choir of schoolchildren was recruited for "15 Step", and Jonny Greenwood would disappear for days at a time to write a computer program, which would finish up only making a couple of seconds of the record. The complexity of finishing these songs brought them dangerously close to an unproductive halt, as with Kid A years before.
Thom: "We deliberately did this thing to get a sense of disembodiment when we were assembling tracks. So the vocal may be from one version or the drums may be from another. If there was something that you were particularly fond of you kept it from that take and forced it on to the other version. It was a really interesting experiment. For example, "All I Need" was the outcome of four different versions of it. It was all the best bits put together."
Jonny: "Thom will come and play a song like "Nude" [which was originally written by Yorke in the mid'90s] to you and obviously it's good. You want to record it. But it's been hanging around for 10 years and you find yourself thinking, 'Why haven't we recorded a good enough version of that song?' The relief now is that it's done and we didn't mess it up - it's worth it all."
Thom: "We would have these days where there were big breakthroughs and then suddenly... no. "Videotape", to me, was a big breakthrough, we tried everything with it. One day I came in and decided it was going to be like a fast pulse - like a four to the floor thing and everything was going to be built from that. We threw all this stuff at it. But then a couple of months later I went out and I came back and Jonny and Nigel Godrich had stripped it back. He had this bare bones thing, which was amazing."
After such a painstaking recording process, are you happy with the album now? Are you ever?
Thom: "When it's finished I am, otherwise it doesn't get out. This one was hard because we had to jettison tunes that were as good as what's on there but for some reason didn't bounce off the other tunes right. They were to the detriment of them. That was a real headfuck for me. "Down Is The New Up" for example, is one of the things I am most proud of us ever doing. It's got the best drumming that Phil [Selway] has ever done on it. If you get it right, and we have done in the past, songs bounce off each other and they create something different."
The clock ticking, Jonny Greenwood has made plans for a long weekend so makes his excuses and leaves. But Thom is in the mood to talk some more. Earlier, NME had pressed him on what some of the more obscure lyrics were about. He seemed evasive. Now, one-on-one and a glass of white wine later, he seems more willing to discuss them.
With many of the lyrics on In Rainbows written in the first person, are we to take it this is a more personal record?
Thom: "With Hail To The Thief I was using the language of the impersonal, but the fact I'm using a different language on this doesn't necessarily mean I am personally reflecting it on me."
What about the night out that you described in "Jigsaw Falling Into Place"? Did you experience that first-hand?
"I would never say it was personal because it's always a set of observations. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" says much about the fact I used to live in the centre of Oxford and used to go out occasionally and witness the fucking chaos of a weekend around here. But it's also about a lot of different experiences. Personally, I was really surprised that it's going to be the single. The lyrics are quite caustic - the idea of
'before you’re comatose' or whatever, drinking yourself into oblivion and getting fucked-up to forget. When you're part of a group of people who are all trying to forget en masse it is partly this elation. But there s a much darker side."
There's also a lyric in "Jigsaw..." about exchanging phone numbers, while "House Of Cards" has a line: 'I don't want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover'. Is this Radiohead's, um, sexy album?
"Oh yeah, most songs on the record are seduction songs. My version of it anyway. I guess it's something that is not very often apparent, but it became apparent as time went on."
Songs like "All I Need" are about obsession, aren't they?
"That's why it's called In Rainbows: That obsession thing, thinking beyond where you are at the time. It's a phrase I had for a while, it kept coming up in my notebooks. And I don't know why, because it's kind of naff. But it seemed to work - it's one of those weird things. It stuck and I don’t know why."
Our drinks drained, it's clear that the always self-conscious and reticent Thom feels he has talked enough about himself and his band for one day. But as he makes his move to leave, there is still one question - the same question that precedes every new Radiohead release - left to ask. Like night follows day and headache follows Gallows gig, a Radiohead album always comes trailing internet chatter that it will be their last, and In Rainbows has been no exception.
So, Thom, will there be another one?
"(Long pause) Yeah, but I'm not sure we would go on tour beforehand and do all that bullshit. But we are actually really happy. I think with the download thing... somehow we've been released from things. Not just from EMI, but also creatively. The idea that you can just press return and people can hear it. It's expanding everybody's minds. You can sort of see it happening. Colin [Greenwood, bass] for example is really excited about all the possibilities. So I'm sure there will be, but it will be a manifestation of the freedom of things. There’s no need to now answer to the old history of the band."
Finally, what advice would you give to a "Creep"-era Thom Yorke?
"Don't go on tour for quite as long as you did during the OK Computer period [Thom famously suffered from depression during the tour, as seen on the Meeting People Is Easy DVD]. And don’t assume that in any way this is yours. It's everybody's. Don’t be so fucking selfish."
There he goes then, shuffling smartly out of the Old Parsonages dusty history into whatever bright future he envisions for us all: rock's most downloadable Santa Claus and the least selfish man in showbusiness. Hail to the anti-thief.