Blender, June/July 2001 - Thom Yorke Q & A
Radiohead are one mysterious band, and when Kid A came out last year, the group retreated even further into the mist. Despite all the hype surrounding the album - and it's near-abandonment of the keening guitar rock that had critics tipping them as successors to everyone from U2 to Nirvana - Thom Yorke and company went to the mattresses when the record was finally released.|
They hid behind cryptic iconography, made minute-long "blips" instead of videos, dealt with pesky journalists only via e-mail and made just a few appearances in North America, including a storming performance on Saturday Night Live. Strangely enough, it worked: Kid A debuted on the Billboard album chart at number 1 and went on to get nominated for a Best Album Grammy. Radiohead's degree of difficulty served only to endear them further to an audience apparently repulsed by commerical pop's overeager lap dance.
On their new CD, Amnesiac, due in June, Radiohead's learning curve gets steeper. Recorded at the same sessions as Kid A, the album is a lovely, enigmatic and tune-challenged collision between futuristic electronics, old-fashioned orchestrations and the band's tender songwriting. This time around the promotional trail, however, Radiohead vow to be nothing short of Grand Funk Railroad: They're coming to your town, and they may, if you ask nicely and help clean up, help you party it down.
"We are definitely having singles, videos, glossy-magazine celebrity photo shoots, children's television appearances, film-premiere appearances, dance routines and many interesting interviews about my tortured existence," quips an upbeat Yorke.
Radiohead are a prominent presence on the Internet - from smartly designed fan sites to the "iBlip logos" that promoted Kid A all over the Net. So naturally, we turned to our browsers for help with out inaugural run of Dear Superstar. We asked the habitues of fan site greenplastic.com, plus folks on the street and sullen kids in record stores what they wanted to ask Radiohead, then forwarded the best questions to Thom Yorke. He sent us back some surprisingly funny, frank responses - not to mention the candid self-portraits above and right - about bears, car crashes and what Britons mean when they say "knock boots." It's worse than you imagine.
Congratulations on Noah, your new baby boy! What silly daddy noises do you make?
I can't tell you that; you'll shout them back at me somewhere! I keep thinking that being a baby must be like being abducted by aliens in a crap sci-fi film. There are creatures endlessly peering at you, amking incomprehensible noises, playing with your arse a lot while you protest loudly. You can't tell anybody what's wrong or explain yourself. You have no points of reference as to where you are, no language in which to form thoughts, and when you go back to sleep you return to the milky heaven whence you came.... He spends a lot of time talking to the fairies, I think.
There's a song on Amnesiac called "Hunting Bears," and Radiohead also have their "blinkybear" band logo. Why the obsession with bears?
Er, if I remember rightly, it stemmed initially from a deep paranoia of genetic engineering. And then from a children's book. You know: creating monsters, only to awaken one morning to the terrible truth that there is nothing at all you can do to stop them. We're over it now.
My boyfriend and I like to put on Kid A when we get busy. What music do you know your boots to?
"Knock boots"? Is that what you do to prevent foot-and-mouth disease? Boots sperad infection from farm to farm. When I go to the shops I have to walk over disinfectant mats, but there is no music playing. When we come to the U.S., we will all have to be disinfected. All us British people are infected, you know. Frothing at the mouth. Highly contagious. Do not under any circumstances approach us. Do not drink the water.
Would you ever license your music for use in a television advertisement for something like soap or mid-size Korean automobiles?
No. The way ad agencies work is to suck the blood of any vaguely original or unique thing in order to breathe life into their dead creations. We expend too much effort creating this stuff to have someone appropriate it for whatever junk they're trying to flog.
Which posters did you have on your bedroom wall when you were younger?
I had a poster demonstrating the impact crumple zones on a Volvo 244 DL. And a Francis Bacon picture. There were some poems. And drawings of guitars as well.
What did computers ever do to you, anyway?
They butcher my work. They reproduce themselves without asking. They're never warm or friendly. The keys are in the wrong place. They don't go fast enough. They're heavy. They go out of date too fast. They're not loud enough. They're made by cheap labor. They keep changing the date to 1942 and then labeling all files accordingly. They never actually find the virus. They talk to each other but you can't hear. They are not logical.
Would you guys ever pull a U2 and trash your image as a superserious band by taking the stage in funny ironic costumes and singing under a giant lemon?
I'm not sure we could ever achieve that level of irony. Or maybe we already have.
Describe the most embarrassing hairstyle you've ever sported.
No need; the evidence is well documented. All irony, of course.
Why are British situation comedies so lame?
What, and American ones are better? OK, I do like that one about the Texas Republican rigging his way into the White House. How we laughed..
Can you share with us a Radiohead in-joke, even if it makes no sense to anyone else?
"What it is, right, is you've got the speakers are on the floor.. right?"
Someone gets hit buy a car in Radiohead's "Karma Police" video, as well as in U.N.K.L.E.'s "Rabbit In Your Headlights" (you sing on that one). And then there's the track "Airbag". Is death by auto a recurring nightmare of yours or something?
Isn't it for everybody? The idea of dying unprepared like that is very frightening. Not having time to say goodbye. It seems just insane. Cars have lost the romance we grew up swallowing. Now they are just personal protection spaces, somewhere to sit in traffic and wait or play with death against complete strangesr. I used to be really, really bad about saying goodbye to people when they got in their cars. I still insist that my friends ring me when they get home to tell me they're safe. But I used to be much worse. I would be frantic if someone was unusually late. The absolute worst thing about touring is insane taxi drivers with no seat belts in busy cities. I also find it very difficult to accept lifts from somebody. Just like Mummy told me.
When was the last time you listened to one of your own records, and what did you think of it?
Kid A, driving through the night. I was really proud of it. I was trying to work out what the problem was.
Should people pronounce the h in Thom?
No. But it is funny when they do.
You've said good things about strange little bands such as Clinic and Godspeed You Black Emperor! in the past. And I liked them! Could you plug another one, please?
I like Low at the moment, the new LP - Things We Lost in the Fire. That is not to say I think they are little. Or Strange.
How much do you weigh soaking wet?
Er, about 10 stone [140 pounds]. Who the hell has scales in their bathroom? Certainly not me.
Do you ever hurt yourself doing that neck-wobble thing when you sing?
On the last tour, my back was out for most of the time and I could hardly bend down; I had to take painkillers a lot. This wasn't really to do with my neck; my neck's quite strong. The reasons were complicated but had to do with the flailing around I was doing.
Who put Kid A on Napster?
Someone who had an advance copy of it. Probably a journalist. We took it as a compliment. The whole protection over that record was daft - having secure listening sessions, etc. It would wound me up if I was a journo.
Do you live in a building with an elevator or stairs?
Stairs. Lots of stairs. Creaking stairs. Slippy stairs. Outside stairs. Attic stairs.
If that sad day comes along when Radiohead split up, what do you plan to do in your retirement?
Age badly. Follow random pathways in the forest. Smoke a pipe. Become a hermit. Never shave ever again. Take Ecstasy on weekends. Develop a Valium habit. Read the Bible. Go to Tibet. Become an MP [member of Parliament]. Change my name. Laugh at economists. Start skanking dancehall style.
Would you trade in your musical genius to be happy?
Both are myths, a load of old shite. A tortured soul is a tortured soul and will eventually cease to function in any useful way unless they get help. Unless they sail to the land of happy every now and again, where everything is the right way up, then they will simply fall off the edge of the world. A good way I've found to navigate is with songs and music. But there is a trade-off somewhere; at least there seems to be for the people I know.
Would you like to come and play a small set at my wedding?
Sorry, no - I don't like weddings. Although the last one I went to, I ended up DJ'ing while the groom cursed and swore blind down the mic at his family because they weren't dancing.
Will humans go the way of the dodo bird?
Yes, in a hundred years, unless you North Americans stop fucking up the environmental talks. Dodo was the nickname my brother gave me, incidentally.
What is more important: a heart or a brain?
A heart is obviously completely useless unless you are in a country and western song. A brain can stay alive even when you're clinically dead and can be used to usefel ends such as operating train signals and reading books. If the power fails, it can be hooked up to a car battery or a transformer. A brain pulsates in dramatic fashion when preserved in a bubbling glass container, and there have been cases of a brain holding complete power over an entire nation.
Which song would you end your last concert with?
Neil Young's "Fuckin' Up!"
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