Is there a future for Radiohead – or for the planet? When your fans are counted in the millions, and include leading politicians of every hue, the pressures can tell. In his most personal interview ever, Thom Yorke talks to Craig McLean about how the band nearly split, their carbon imprint, the death of David Kelly – and his first solo album: Observer.
And here’s a video interview with Thom on The Eraser: All Messed Up
Why Thom declined the meeting with Tony Blair:
‘[Blair's advisers] wanted pre-meetings. They wanted to know that I was onside. Also, I was being manoeuvred into a position where if I said the wrong thing post-the meeting, Friends of the Earth would lose their access. Which normally would be called blackmail.’ Yorke flashed a humour-free smile.
Why Thom dedided to do The Eraser:
In 2004 being Radiohead ‘was getting boring and it just got a bit weird and self-perpetuating… It felt like everyone was under obligation to do it rather than because we wanted to do it. And one of the things I had wanted to do for ages was get stuck into a bunch of things that I had been mucking around with that didn’t fit into the Radiohead zone.’
He explained that The Eraser was ‘an accumulation of really sketchy ideas that were going around since I learnt how to use the laptop properly.’ It’s an insidious collection of skittery beats and pattery rhythms and minimal post-rockisms recorded with regular Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich in the band’s studio in Oxfordshire, in Yorke’s second home ‘by the sea’, and in Godrich’s studio in London’s Covent Garden.
‘It didn’t feel right to do it with EMI. It was done with the doors shut. As Nigel said, without anybody watching. And it was done in a different context so it felt like it should be put out in a different context. Which is not saying that we won’t put things out through EMI or whatever. I just don’t personally feel that we owe anybody anything. I think that’s a mistake.
On Radiohead’s seventh album
‘Will we re-sign to EMI?’ he mused. ‘I don’t know. I don’t think we’d sign sign to anybody. Give someone a record when it’s done if we feel that they can do it justice. That’s it.’
Yorke admitted he was frustrated at the length of time Radiohead were taking to record their seventh album. They haven’t even settled on a producer yet. They’d started producing themselves, had done some sessions with Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, and had been speaking to Nigel Godrich and ‘some other people’. They had played 11 new songs on the tour, plus their contribution to the latest War Child album ‘I Want None of It’.
‘It seems crazy to have this all [new material] sitting around… It’s to varying degrees finished, [and] to just have to wait for another six months, eight months, seems nuts.’
Is the song ‘Harrowdown Hill’ really about the suicide of weapons inspector and government scientist Dr David Kelly?
‘It is,’ says Yorke with some reluctance. ‘But I’ve got this thing where I don’t want to make a big deal out of that because I’m very sensitive to the idea of digging up anything that the Kelly family…’
‘I don’t really think it’s appropriate for me to say, “Yes, it’s about that”,’ he continues, ‘because I’m sure they’re still grieving over his death.’
But Harrowdown Hill is the name of the Oxfordshire woods where Kelly’s body was found in July 2003. I remind Yorke of the lyrics: ‘You will be dispensed with when you’ve become inconvenient… up on Harrowdown Hill… that’s where I’m lying down… did I fall or was I pushed…’. That’s quite direct stuff.
‘It’s the most angry song I’ve ever written in my life,’ he nods grimly. ‘I’m not gonna get into the background to it, the way I see it… And it’s not for me or for any of us to dig any of this up. So it’s a bit of an uncomfortable thing.’
Do you have sympathy for Chris Martin: very hand-on-his heart active in the Make Trade Fair campaign but necessarily lives a bit of a Hollywood lifestyle, and drives a big car?
‘I don’t drive a big car, I’ll give you that. Um.’ A pause. ‘No one’s going to come out of this dirt-free; I don’t come out of it dirt-free. It’s basically [about] having to make a decision whether to do nothing or try to engage with it in some way, knowing that it’s flawed. It’s convenient to project that back on to someone personally and say they’re a hypocrite. It’s a lot easier to do that than actually do anything else. And yeah, that stresses me out, because I am a hypocrite. As we all are.’