THOM YORKE- ONE OF THE 25
The voice of the weirdest number-one album of the year
fourth album, Kid A, is the strangest
rock & roll success story of the new century, a set of cryptic, digitally
twisted pop songs that snuck through the heavy boy-band and rap-metal traffic to
debut at Number One in Billboard. And
it happened despite the fact that the British band -- singer-lyricist Thom Yorke,
guitarists Ed O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood, bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer
Phil Selway -- made no videos, released no single and played only three North
American shows to promote the record. In his only major American interview of
the year, Yorke sat on a bench in New York's Central Park and, in the brisk
autumn twilight, explained why Kid A
is so bizarre -- and he is not.
does it feel to have the weirdest Number One album of the year?
actually the last person in the band to ask about it. I've shut those particular
cupboards, the ones concerning the industry. Whereas I used to be really into
it. That was the ambitious side of me, wanting to get ours. It's good to know
the devil you're dealing with.
just hope it means a lot of other people get the chance to do things their way.
The industry is very set in its ways, and those ways are no help and totally
uncreative. When we finished the OK
Computer tour, I got obsessed with amazingly talented people being destroyed
by the industry, and I started questioning whether I even wanted to stay
involved, whether it was going to do the same thing to me.
isn't a straight rock beat anywhere on Kid
A. Do you still think of Radiohead as a rock band?
lots of things about rock that are still valid, almost shamanic things: delving
into drugs for creative reasons, not lifestyle reasons; music as a lifetime
commitment. If that's what someone means by rock, great. But I find it difficult
to think of the path we've chosen as "rock music." Kid
A is like getting a massive eraser out and starting again.
O'Brien's original idea for the new album was a back-to-the-roots record --
which you crushed pretty quickly.
[laughs]. There's plenty of other
people doing back-to-your-roots records, so we didn't need to be doing that. To
be honest, yes, we could have done that. And three weeks down the line, it would
have been a f***ing nightmare. We would have hated it.
you cajole the others into going your way? Or did you just say "No, I can't
do that, end of story"?
probably did the latter. I'm not trying to pick a fight with anybody. But if
it's not there, there ain't no point in trying to make me go and find it.
as the band's singer and lyricist, don't you have the ultimate veto anyway?
necessarily. When we put records together, it's not like that. If I have a
direction, fine. If I don't have a direction, it's someone else's thing. When
Jonny did the strings on "How to Disappear Completely," that was
absolutely his thing. Nigel [co-producer Godrich] helped him, and that was it.
The rest of us were not involved in that at all.
mistake is to assume we had that level of a plot. Unfortunately, we had no plot.
We had fifty things on a blackboard, and we just kept throwing them out or
adding more. We kept driving everybody crazy: "Let's start this one
today." "But we got these fifty other f***ing things to work on."
It frees you up in a way. You don't know what's going to happen when you go into
the studio every day.
went through a period of writer's block at the start of making Kid
A. Did you feel you had nothing to say? Or
did you have too much to say and couldn't spit it out?
block is both of those things. The worst thing was thinking, "Is this it?
Is this all I've got?" But there will be times when you won't be able to
deal with things, won't be able to get them out. These things go in cycles.
There's bad times and good times. Things never really die -- they just go
was the first thing you wrote for the album after you broke that block?
In Its Right Place." I bought a piano for my house, a proper nice one -- a
baby grand. And that was the first thing I wrote on it. And I'm such a s***
piano player. I remember this Tom Waits quote from years ago, that what keeps
him going as a songwriter is his complete ignorance of the instruments he's
using. So everything's a novelty. That's one of the reasons I wanted to get into
computers and synths, because I didn't understand how the f*** they worked. I
had no idea what ADSR meant.
does it mean?
decay, sustain, release [smiles proudly]. You should see Jonny's gear, man. He's
got all this patch-chord gear. He gets the most amazing sounds. And he's only
read the first twenty pages of the manual. He's got another 200 to go. He keeps
going, "You know, it can do more than this!"
A really about cloning humans?
was entirely my fault [laughs]. Early
on, Stanley Donwood, who does our artwork, and I started doing this thing, Test
Specimen, a cartoon about giving birth to a monster, the Frankenstein thing.
For example, the bear logo -- that is the test specimen, the first mutant. The
idea was loosely based on stuff we were reading about genetically modified food.
We got obsessed with the idea of the mutation entering the DNA of the human
species. One episode was about these teddy bears that mutate and start eating
was this running joke, which wasn't really funny. But in our usual way, it
addressed a lot of our paranoias and anxieties. "Kid A" was just a
name flying around -- it was a name on one of the sequencers.
recorded enough material during the Kid
A sessions for two albums. How would you describe the music that is not
on Kid A?
goes off in two ways. One is like very broken machinery. The other is really fat
and dark. I played one of the songs to Bjork -- he said, name-dropping -- and
she said it sounded like I'd just seen something really frightening, then gone
and written about it. It's sort of bearing witness to things.
all listened to these other songs, getting an idea of what we have. It could be
an EPs thing; maybe it will be a better record than the one we've just done.
It's impossible for us to judge. In the same way, I can't judge what Kid
A is like. I can't listen to it -- I don't want to listen to it. When you're
in the mastering suite and you hear it for the final time, with all the gaps
between the songs, that's it. After that, I went home with the CD and showed it
to [Yorke's girlfriend] Rachel, and said, "This is Kid
A, and I don't want to hear it anymore." I want to do the same thing
with the next one. It's fantastic when you finish something that's hanging
around your neck.
you guys are so comfortable with Napster and bootlegs, why did you go to such
lengths to keep Kid
A under wraps before release? There were
no advance copies, and reviewers had to listen to it in very controlled
retrospect, I think that was really stupid. We finished the record three or four
months before we could play it for anybody. We had to go on tour, so we locked
it away. It would have been wrong if it had ended up on the Net months
seemed like the only way to do things. But I was quite upset that it happened
that way, because it didn't feel right.
ironic thing was that journalists could not get a copy for review, but anyone
could download live versions of the new songs from Napster.
thought that was brilliant. When the [European summer] tour started, the first
show was on the Net the day after. If the major labels had their s*** together
about the Internet...They've been sticking their heads in the sand over the new
technology ever since they discovered they could resell everyone their old LPs
on CD. They reaped some pretty bad karma doing that, and now they're paying the
consequences. Unfortunately, what that means is they're picking on things like
Napster, which is just a bunch of people bootlegging among themselves.
wrote "How to Disappear Completely" about the way you felt after
playing a huge outdoor show in Dublin. Is there anything about being in a
successful rock band -- about being known and loved -- that you do like?
I like a lot of it. I like talking to people about music, about our music. If it
didn't make me happy, I wouldn't do it anymore. I just don't want to suffer many
fools very often. I don't have the f***ing time.
song is about the whole period of time that OK
Computer was happening. We did the Glastonbury Festival and this thing in
Ireland. Something snapped in me. I just said, "That's it. I can't take it
anymore." And more than a year later, we were still on the road. I hadn't
had time to address things. The lyrics came from something Michael Stipe said to
me. I rang him and said, "I cannot cope with this." And he said,
"Pull the shutters down and keep saying, 'I'm not here, this is not
was the best thing that happened to you this year, besides going to Number One?
in the Atlantic Ocean. I have a house by the sea, and I spent three weeks there
this summer. I just went swimming every day. It was the best feeling in the
whole wide world, being turned around by the ocean.
was the oddest thing you bought this year?
bought a book about standing stones in southern England.
the ones at Stonehenge?
There's a lot of these stones around my way. I got quite heavy into it. I've
also been reading this book about Egyptian pyramids and temples and their
relation to the stars -- which is very unlike me, to read about that sort of
thing. But I've been getting heavily into ancient cultures.
is the thing you would most like to see change in the coming year?
think the music corporations should stop f***ing with the way people listen to
music, stop trying to fit everything in a f***ing box, start taking some f***ing
a lot of "f***ing."
You can edit those out if you like. I get into trouble with my mum.