2007 November 30 | Columbia Spectator
No Alarms, But Still Surprising--columbiaspectator.com
By Logan Light
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 30, 2007
On Oct. 1, 2007, Radiohead fans who paid a routine visit to the band’s homepage were in for a surprise, in the form of a short message from band member Jonny Greenwood.
Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days;
We’ve called it In Rainbows.
Love from us all.
Thus began the hype cycle for what was, for those 10 days, the most anticipated and blogged-about album of the century thus far. In Rainbows changed the way musicians do business—and not only because the album was released so soon after it was finished. The band made the album available exclusively as a digital release, and, in a now-legendary move, allowed listeners to pay whatever they thought the album was worth. Yes, “nothing” was an option, though Record of the Day later revealed the results of a thousands-strong poll: the average In Rainbows buyer spent £3.88, or about $8.01.
Thank goodness In Rainbows is a great album. It may be the most universally lauded release of the year, garnering praise like, “all of it rocks; none of it sounds like any other band on earth; it delivers an emotional punch that proves all other rock stars owe us an apology,” from Rolling Stone, and “the gentlest, prettiest Radiohead set yet,” from Entertainment Weekly. It currently has a score of 88 on the admittedly subjective Metacritic, putting it at third place on their Best of 2007 list.
The band has been fairly reticent since the album’s release—until now. Through e-mail, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood, and the band’s manager Bryce Edge, answered Spec’s questions about their philosophy of the value of music, family life, and that crazy Kid 17 thing. With the exception of an hour-long BBC 6 radio interview and a smattering of individual Q&As band members did individually, this article marks one of the first print interviews Radiohead has performed since In Rainbows came out nearly two months ago.
SPECTATOR: The way In Rainbows was released had never been done on such a large scale. If the technology didn’t allow each fan to buy the record directly from the band at the price of their choosing, what other options were you looking at for release?
RADIOHEAD (COLLECTIVELY): The main idea behind the release was to get music to the fans as soon as possible after finishing it. We also wanted everyone to get the music at the same time. A digital release is the only way that is possible. The pricing option is secondary to that and is a way of asking people what a bunch of binary codes is worth to them. Without the technology, we would be back to a traditional release.
SPEC: Going into this release process, you knew this was unique. Regardless of what the industry thought, what was your barometer for success?
RADIOHEAD (COLLECTIVELY): Good question. The most important thing was delivering the music to a large number of people, without the technology falling over. (We are not eBay!) Interestingly, the only problems we had were in processing credit cards from around the world. The security codes just clogged everything up when demand was at its highest. Delivering the music was easy.
SPEC: The industry is looking at this release under a microscope. A number of artists said that giving music away for free is easy when you have the touring base Radiohead has, but that it hurts new bands who don’t have that revenue source. How do you respond to that statement? Do you think Radiohead, because of their stature, has an obligation to the next generation of bands or only to their fans?
BRYCE EDGE: “Don’t try this at home” should be tagged to this way of doing things. It is not a solution for anyone else, just a way of releasing music that might work for Radiohead. We’ve always said it’s an experiment in progress. Any band worth their salt will work out what is right for them and give it a go.
SPEC: Radiohead has often cited bands like the Pixies and R.E.M. as their influences. How does Radiohead feel to have the same sort of influence on the current growing generation of musicians?
RADIOHEAD (COLLECTIVELY): It’s humbling.
SPEC: In Rainbows will no doubt be defined as the most important musical release [of 2007] in terms of its content and way in which it was released. 50 years from now, when the entire music industry is undoubtedly completely different, how do you think and want this unique release to be remembered?
COLIN GREENWOOD: I hope we put some excitement back into music; it’s all becoming horribly predictable. We got incredible feedback from a whole range of people who joined the biggest listening party ever on Oct. 10.
SPEC: With such a large young-adult fan base—who will be the future leaders of the world—do you think music will influence these future leaders? And how specifically would you like to see Radiohead’s music influence them?
COLIN GREENWOOD: I don’t think music influences people in a direct-action kind of way, but it does help to shape tastes and perhaps that has a part to play in growing up. If we make people think, then we’ve achieved something.
SPEC: Whenever I hear In Rainbows, it will remind me of the time I first heard it: sitting under the peaceful 2 a.m. sky with a light drizzle above in the center of the Columbia campus. Is there a song or record or live performance for the band that, when you play it or hear it, defines for you what Radiohead means?
ED O’BRIEN: “Bodysnatchers” will always remind us of Tottenham House, a decrepit mansion where we recorded some of the album. This track reflects the weird energy of the house. There isn’t anything that specific in relation to Radiohead as a whole, if that makes sense.
SPEC: Since Radiohead is making many attempts to promote environmental activism, and assuming they are going to make their tour eco-friendly, what exactly are their plans to do so?
EDGE: There is a very long answer to that question but the most important thing is to try and site concerts, which allow the audience to travel in a sensible way. That is the most impactful factor by far.
SPEC: It is quite clear In Rainbows has a much “lighter” sound than Hail to the Thief. [With most of the band] now married and having children, Radiohead must have a different mind-set than they did, say, 10 years ago during the OK Computer era. Family is undoubtedly the most important thing in nearly everyone’s life. So how has family life influenced and changed Radiohead’s music?
RADIOHEAD (COLLECTIVELY): Priorities definitely change. Time becomes precious, and the gang mentality is really hard to maintain. That’s really why it’s taken quite a long time to finish this record, but we are very proud of it. I am sure our children will think of us as old farts and be into whatever their generation throws up.
SPEC: When you get something for free, it has zero value; when you pay for something, you feel a sense of ownership. Do you think the fans who didn’t pay for the music value it the same way those that did do?
EDGE: It’s a complex question. How do we know that those people who paid zero would not buy a CD? I think the really good part of the whole experiment was the debate it engendered around the nature of value. It is a really fascinating part of human behavior and one which can throw up a lot of things that appear to be counter-intuitive.
SPEC: Radiohead fans have noted quite a bit of remarkable coincidences within the band’s work. Whether they be considered odd coincidences or marks of brilliant planning for an album, fans want to know if these were deliberate plans, coincidences, or is it up to these fans to decide for themselves? Here are a few examples:
-A majority of tracks on Kid A create an interesting array of effects when played 17 seconds apart, often known as Kid 17.
-OK Computer’s “Fitter Happier” nearly splits the album on the Golden Ratio
-At the golden ratio of In Rainbows, which occurs 2:49 into “Reckoner,” the background vocals can be heard singing “In Rainbows.”
-The number 10 being tied to In Rainbows, from it being released 10 days after its announcement to being released on the date 10/10.
JONNY GREENWOOD: A few years ago a weird connection between The Matrix and OK Computer was brought to light. If you run the movie with the album apparently there is a striking synergy. Strange how culture throws up coincidences ... or is it?