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Radiohead interview in The Age

Radiohead were interviewed for Australian newspaper The Age. Some bits and pieces from the interview:

According to bass guitarist Colin Greenwood, who plays the role of Radiohead’s chief diplomat and peacemaker, “having fun” has now become a key factor in the band’s working methods. A novel concept, it seems. “It’s been pretty stable really,” says Greenwood. “I used to think it’s all going to end tomorrow, every day, but I don’t think about that any more because it’s really unhealthy. Am I ready for it to end? Probably not.”

By his own admission, Thom Yorke was once an egomaniac dictator who ran Radiohead as his own personal fiefdom. His power within the band was “absolutely unbalanced,” he admits, and he would “subvert everybody else’s power at all costs. But it’s not as bad as that any more. It’s actually a lot more healthy now, democracy wise, than it used to be. Partly because I was so paranoid and uptight about not getting my own way. Growing a beard and starting to bake your own bread and stuff has made me realise that maybe I’m not right all the time.”

That must have been quite a shock? “It was a f—ing nasty shock, man,” Yorke nods with a guilty grin. “I was terrible, awful. I created a climate of fear, the same way that Stalin did. I was very paranoid that things would get taken away from me.”

But in recent years, the loosening of Radiohead’s power structure seems to have freed up their tortuous creative methods. With born-again fervour, all five band members have immersed themselves in the fringe subcultures of electronica, jazz and underground dance music. All acquired home studios and began to use computers as prime compositional tools.

“It was weird,” Yorke recalls. “It was like starting the band again, in some ways, because a lot of the time you would have something written and go in and just bash through it. But now ideas come from all over the place, which is good, much better.”

Is Yorke comfortable with his status as a corporate employee?

“Not really, I’m pretty touchy about it,” he grumbles. “But if you want to actually have your record in a shop, then you’ve got no way round it because you have to go through major distributors. Personally one of the reasons that I wanted to be in a band was actually to be on the high street. I don’t want to be in a cupboard. I write music to actually communicate things to people.”

Go to The Age or click on the link below to read it in full

Are we having fun yet?

April 11, 2004

Radiohead don’t want to rule the world, they just want to change it. Thom Yorke and co speak to Stephen Dalton about their plans.

Every generation produces a band that fiercely divides critical opinion, and nobody has done that more in the 21st century than Radiohead. Last year, the boundary-pushing avant-rock quintet from Oxford in England’s leafy heartland marked the 10th anniversary of their debut album, Pablo Honey, with the release of their sixth long-player, Hail to the Thief. It proved to be a sprawling, controversial, ambitious epic of a record. And it could also be their last.

The end of a cycle for Thom Yorke’s angsty crew, the new album completes their contract with EMI and may even prove to be their major label swansong. It was accompanied by a never-ending world tour, was rapturously reviewed in Europe and America, and was their biggest seller since OK Computer propelled them towards grudging superstardom in 1997. As they gear up for their first Australian dates since 1998, Radiohead stand at the conclusion of one chapter and on the cusp of another.

There was a time when the best Radiohead shows were ill-tempered affairs, with a boiling-mad Yorke cursing the crowd and railing against the heavens above. But having shed their rock-star skins with the old millennium to remake themselves as an esoteric, quasi-electronic, art-jazz collective, the Middle English quintet seem far happier on the road nowadays. This sense of creative enjoyment was evident during their 2003 European dates, where Yorke was spotted dancing and grinning wildly on most nights.

According to bass guitarist Colin Greenwood, who plays the role of Radiohead’s chief diplomat and peacemaker, “having fun” has now become a key factor in the band’s working methods. A novel concept, it seems. “It’s been pretty stable really,” says Greenwood. “I used to think it’s all going to end tomorrow, every day, but I don’t think about that any more because it’s really unhealthy. Am I ready for it to end? Probably not.”

“If you want something good to come out of something, you have to put in a lot of effort. That involves a lot of hard work, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears sometimes. No different to anything, no different to what we all do.”
Radiohead guitarist Ed O?Brien

By his own admission, Thom Yorke was once an egomaniac dictator who ran Radiohead as his own personal fiefdom. His power within the band was “absolutely unbalanced,” he admits, and he would “subvert everybody else’s power at all costs. But it’s not as bad as that any more. It’s actually a lot more healthy now, democracy wise, than it used to be. Partly because I was so paranoid and uptight about not getting my own way. Growing a beard and starting to bake your own bread and stuff has made me realise that maybe I’m not right all the time.”

That must have been quite a shock? “It was a f—ing nasty shock, man,” Yorke nods with a guilty grin. “I was terrible, awful. I created a climate of fear, the same way that Stalin did. I was very paranoid that things would get taken away from me.”

Seen by many as Radiohead’s last chance to reclaim their rock throne after the experimental indulgences of Kid A and Amnesiac, some early verdicts on Hail to the Thief were harsh. Critics complained there were not enough Big Tunes.

While the band undoubtedly abdicated some kind of generational figurehead status with their diversion into electro-jazz noodling, this was partly a deliberate ducking manoeuvre following the massive global acclaim that greeted OK Computer in 1997. Five years ago, feeling scrambled and exposed, the band was running scared. They discussed splitting up, and Yorke spent long periods consumed by depression.

“It’s not particularly strong, it’s not particularly destructive, it’s not particularly bad,” he says with a hint of tetchy impatience of his experience of the black dog. “I’m very lucky. Lots of people are much, much worse. Lots of people can’t leave the house. They’ve got no idea why, maybe they never will find out why. And all the drugs they get given don’t work, and all the therapy is completely pointless.”

Yorke’s personal therapy involved buying a new house overlooking a windswept beach in a remote corner of south-west England, where he cooled his overheated brain with fresh air. “I got back into drawing,” says the man who left Exeter University with a degree in English and Art. “Lots of drawing, and lots of walking. It was the best help I could get, really, especially the extreme weather and strong winds and things like that. It kind of reflects what’s going on inside.”

A thoroughly English cure. Because, however global their reputation, Radiohead remain deeply, almost comically, English in person. Aticulate, literate and soberly dressed, they could pass for junior theology professors or 19th century polar explorers. Even Thom Yorke, bent double by misery and self-loathing, recalls the mad genius figures of Victorian literature.

“It’s not genius,” counters Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, a Hugh Grant lookalike with an effortlessly smooth manner. “It’s just that if you want something good to come out of something, you have to put in a lot of effort. That involves a lot of hard work, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears sometimes. No different to anything, no different to what we all do.”

But in recent years, the loosening of Radiohead’s power structure seems to have freed up their tortuous creative methods. With born-again fervour, all five band members have immersed themselves in the fringe subcultures of electronica, jazz and underground dance music. All acquired home studios and began to use computers as prime compositional tools.

“It was weird,” Yorke recalls. “It was like starting the band again, in some ways, because a lot of the time you would have something written and go in and just bash through it. But now ideas come from all over the place, which is good, much better.”

Hail to the Thief is the culmination of that process, clawing back credibility with the guitar hardcore while still maintaining Radiohead’s more progressive sound. And nor is the album anywhere near as dense or doomy as initial reports suggested. It sounds daunting at first but repays multiple hearings. In places it is soft, sublime and romantic.

Radiohead may be calmer chameleons nowadays, but they still recognise their public duty to be mouthy generational spokesmen. For Yorke, the transformation of personal angst into political anger coincided with becoming a father in 2001. The undercurrent of social protest that haunted OK Computer crystallised into serious activism when the Radiohead frontman lent his support to campaigns against Third World debt and globalisation.

Yorke had been on protest marches as far back as his 1980s college days, but he has since grown impatient with the old political battle lines. “I got involved with left-wing stuff when I was at university and it was just so boring, like comparing the size of your penis,” he sneers. “‘How much redder am I than you?’ It’s just really dull, really macho. A waste of space, really. This to me has nothing to do with the politics that are being discussed. This is to do with the operations of people like the IMF, who are responsible for the deaths of millions of people every year around the globe. People who we have put into power, we finance, and we don’t know who they are. This is a humanitarian issue.”

Naomi Klein, the author of the anti-globalisation manifesto No Logo, is one of Radiohead’s famous friends and fans. They namecheck each other in interviews, like two highly respected anti-brand brand leaders engaging in cross-marketing synergy.

However, Klein tells me, “my personal influence on Radiohead has been greatly exaggerated. The band had these political ideas long before reading my book.”

Radiohead continue to support anti-globalisation causes, and yet they have spent the past decade being promoted and distributed by a vast global marketing machine. Teasingly, they have dropped hints that they might divorce from EMI, becoming some kind of autonomous online operation. But for now, is Yorke comfortable with his status as a corporate employee?

“Not really, I’m pretty touchy about it,” he grumbles. “But if you want to actually have your record in a shop, then you’ve got no way round it because you have to go through major distributors. Personally one of the reasons that I wanted to be in a band was actually to be on the high street. I don’t want to be in a cupboard. I write music to actually communicate things to people.”

War in Iraq is the latest subject to inflame Yorke’s anger, which helps to explain the most recent album’s Bush-bashing title. He spent much of last year attacking the Bush-Blair alliance in the US and UK media.

“Both of these men are liars,” Yorke said late last year. “They are putting our children’s future in jeopardy. They are not controlling the terrorist threat, they are escalating it.”

When not saving the world, or at least touring it, Radiohead continue to spread their creative wings beyond orthodox musical boundaries. In the past 12 months, they have worked on a dance collaboration with the legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham and the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.

Meanwhile, guitarist Jonny Greenwood composed the soundtrack to the avant-garde British film Bodysong. The band also launched their own webbased channel, Radiohead TV, and approved a collection of orchestral cover versions of their songs by the classical composer Charles O’Riley. Radiohead’s influence has become deeply embedded in the wider cultural fabric.

After 10 years of break-ups and breakdowns, tantrums and triumphs, Radiohead have settled into some kind of workable routine. They live apart from the media glare. They tour in short bursts, usually when they choose. They have their own studio, their own rhythm, and the commercial mandate to do what they please.

But after these Australian dates, their future is far from clear. They have yet to make a public decision about any new record contract, and Yorke recently claimed that the band he fronts will be “unrecognisable” by 2005. But there have been recording sessions in the past few months, so more music is clearly on the cards, whatever the format. And Yorke insists the mood in Radiohead has never been sunnier. “It’s much more like, this is an ongoing, healthy, slightly less destructive, slightly more enjoyable thing that we decided to do.”

All the same, don’t hold your breath for that long-overdue Radiohead party album just yet.

Radiohead play Rod Laver Arena on April 26 and 27.

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