Unlikely rock star Thom Yorke, Radiohead look to future
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) - Radiohead, already notorious for reinventing its sound with each of its six albums, is preparing for yet another metamorphosis.
Into what, even Radiohead doesn't know. But that's not the point.
Whatever comes next "needs to be more conducive to moving on musically because that's kind of what we've always done," singer and frontman Thom Yorke explained during an interview backstage after a recent concert. "We feel that after 'Hail to the Thief' we want to definitely disappear into a black hole of the unknown rather than carrying on where we left off."
The critically acclaimed "Hail to the Thief," a unique cacophony of rock-pop-electronica, has sold close to one million copies since its June release, including 300,000 the first week.
Radiohead blends guitars, bass and drums with computer technology, drum machines, vocal loops and just plain noise ranging from radio broadcasts to static to sleigh bells. Yorke's warbly tenor adds to the mix, and his geek-who-gets-the-girls looks - short and pale with prominent ears, a lazy eye and an impish smirk - make him the least likely rock star since Buddy Holly.
During the backstage interview with The Associated Press, Yorke wriggled with delight as he explained that the band has just fulfilled its contract with Parlophone, a division of EMI Records.
"It's always been album, album, album," he says, adding that he believes the music business will be forced to change because the way people listen to music is changing.
"Things like iTunes and people splitting up tracks," he says. "I kind of think that's good. I listen to music on random all the time."
With the freedom to do anything, Yorke says he's unsure what the band will try next although it's unlikely to pound out another album. EPs are more likely.
"The whole thing's in their hands. I think it's a band that's always going to test the limits and try new things," says Rob Gordon, vice president of global marketing at EMI, who added he's confident the band's relationship with his label will continue.
Gordon said he was sent to a small club in England to check out Radiohead shortly after they got signed.
"I was floored," he says. "I called the president of the company at the time. I told him they were probably the best band I'd ever seen in my life. … You just couldn't take your eyes off this band. They weren't about style, they were just about playing great music."
Radiohead consists of Yorke plus guitarist Ed O'Brien, drummer Phil Selway and brothers Colin and Jonny Greenwood, bassist and guitarist, respectively. It was "Creep," off their 1993 debut release, Pablo Honey, that first got them noticed.
In 1997, the band's third full-length release, "OK Computer," yielded another hit single, "Karma Police," and earned the band's their first Grammy, for Best Alternative Music Performance. In 2000, the band's fourth release, "Kid A," won Best Alternative Music Album.
But for the most part, Radiohead's music doesn't fit on mainstream pop radio. It's complex and arty, experimental and spooky. And at times, it's downright weird. Even Yorke claims he doesn't understand its appeal.
"I've never been able to understand why so many people get it," he said. "That, to me, is the thing. It surprises me because the thing I'm always paranoid about is whether I'm the only one who understands what I'm trying to do. It's the same to everybody in the band. We need to tell each other that what we're doing is good."
Yorke says artists must resist the urge to repeat themselves, to stick with a successful formula.
He says he likes Picasso's sketches because they have a certain "cheekiness" to them. "It's sort of like, 'I can't believe that people are taking me seriously,' which I really, really like. I have a lot of that."
He tells how he suggested that "Airbag," the opening track on "OK Computer," should begin with sleigh bells. The band thought it was a horrible idea, but Yorke insisted and eventually got his way.
"I can't believe I got away with that," he says. "Even I didn't think it was a good idea."
Yorke's insecurities reached dangerous heights after touring in support of "OK Computer." He filled dozens of notebooks with frenetic writings, unable to stop, slow down or return to normal life. He learned that his condition had a name, hypomania, a condition marked by periods of heightened mood, word fluency, thought acceleration and creative output. These periods are generally followed by depression.
So for "Hail to the Thief," the band changed its approach. Instead of spending their usual year-plus in the studio, Radiohead headed to Los Angeles with producer Nigel Godrich and spent just two weeks cranking it out.
"We tried to work very fast this time because we spent too much time in the studio last time and it drove us 'round the twist," Yorke says. "Working fast meant you just do whatever you've got there and then and that's it."
The band also took a three-week break between segments of their U.S. tour. Yorke says he went home to England (he keeps homes in Oxford and another undisclosed location) and spent time with his longtime partner, Rachel, and their 2-year-old son, Noah.
"I find that music's always been the thing that answers the question for me," Yorke says. "Temporarily. Until there's another question."
By: KIM CURTIS, Associated Press Writer
Published: Oct 23, 2003