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Radiohead
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Give Radiohead Your Computer

02/05/1999 3:00 AM, Yahoo! Music
Dave DiMartino


Radiohead
Give Radiohead To Your Computer
Exclusive myLAUNCH Q&A
Bitches' Brew by Miles Davis has this incredibly dense and terrifying sound. That's the sound I was trying to get. The only other place I'd heard it was on an Ennio Morricone record. I'd never heard it in pop music.
British rockers Radiohead, who vaulted to pop stardom with the infectious modern rock hit "Creep," may have named their third album OK Computer, but according to the band's leader Thom Yorke, the title neither reflects Radiohead's love for, nor disdain of, the cyber revolution.

"It was just the noise that was going on in my head," Yorke told LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino during an interview at Hollywood's infamous Chateau Marmont hotel. He described the band's Grammy-nominated, critically-lauded album as an absorbing, but not personal, release. In fact, Yorke revealed that much of the music on OK Computer was inspired by sources as random as Miles Davis's Bitches Brew and the music of film composer Ennio Morricone. Yorke and bandmate Jonny Greenwood spent much of their time with DiMartino discussing their band's post-"Creep" pop status, as well as their feelings about Britpop, aliens and--of course--technology.

LAUNCH:
Working in the computer realm, I have to admit I'm intrigued about the album title OK Computer. Where does this title come from, and what is this album about?

THOM:
It's everything I didn't expect to write pop songs about. And it's not really about computers. It was just the noise that was going on in my head for most of a year-and-a-half of traveling and computers and television and just absorbing it all, really. It's an absorbing record, for good or bad. It's whatever was around and picking up on it. It's not really a personal record.

LAUNCH:
So it's not an album that reflects your love for or phobia of computers, then?

JONNY:
One of my first toys was a computer. It just seems computers nowadays have so much in the way between you and the computer. It's not about phobia, it's just describing what the previous year was like for us. I think this album is too much of a mess to sum up. It's too garbled and disjointed, and the title is only supposed to introduce you to the record; it's not meant to sum anything up, really.

LAUNCH:
Critics really seem to love it.

JONNY:
In England, I think a lot of the reviews have been slightly over-the-top, because the last album was somewhat under-reviewed possibly and under-received.

LAUNCH:
Do you think you've made a "commercial" album this time?

JONNY:
I think there's a general atmosphere, especially in the press, that we were all set up to do "the big third crossover album," with the pop radio song that would cross us over into something enormous. But it sort of feels like we've just made a record for the people who were into the last one really, so...

THOM:
It isn't pumped full of singles, but then The Bends wasn't either, or at least that's what people said. I don't think it's uncommercial, in the sense that if we'd set out to make an uncommercial record, we could have done a much better job. I think it has an atmosphere. We had a sound in our heads that we had to get on to tape, and that's an atmosphere that's perhaps a bit shocking when you first hear it, but only as shocking as the atmosphere on [the Beach Boys'] Pet Sounds. Pet Sounds is an incredibly amazing pop record, but it's also an album. It doesn't quite fit the "format," or whatever, but then the sort of things we were listening to were so removed from all that anyway. We weren't really listening to any bands at all--it was all like Miles Davis and Ennio Morricone and composers like Penderaki, which is sort of atmospheric, atonal weird stuff. We weren't listening to any pop music at all, but not because we hated pop music--because what we were doing was pop music--we just didn't want to be reminded of the fact. Bitches' Brew by Miles Davis was the starting point of how things should sound; it's got this incredibly dense and terrifying sound to it. That's what I was trying to get--that sound--that was the sound in my head. The only other place I'd heard it was on a Morricone record. I'd never heard it in pop music. I didn't hear it there. It wasn't there. It wasn't like we were being snobs or anything, it was just like, "This is saying the same stuff we want to say."

LAUNCH:
So you're not concerned with commercial "pop" success?

JONNY:
I'm not sure we're that overly obsessed with commercial concerns. We've made the wrong third album if we were. But I remember when we finished it, I was very keen to have my friends hear it and make sure they liked it. It was that kind of atmosphere. And that's the kind of atmosphere we take on tour with us. We want people out there to think the same as our friends back in Oxford.

LAUNCH:
And those friends in Oxford? What is their reaction?

THOM:
A friend of mine found this essay on a web site that Thomas Pynchon wrote about Luddites, which is hilarious. Luddites were that lot in the last century that went around and smashed up all the weaving looms or whatever it was. And that was a reaction against the dehumanization of production and the fact that people were only becoming their hands or their feet or whatever and not whole people anymore. My friend gave me this thing he found and said, "There you are; that's what I think of this record."

LAUNCH:
You keep referring to the "atmosphere" of OK Computer. How is it different than your past releases?

JONNY:
The main difference in the atmosphere of this record was in the recording--the studio experience. We were all of the same age, mid- to late-twenties, and doing a record in the middle of nowhere. And there were no established professionals there. It wasn't a real recording studio, and we had our friend doing the artwork in the studio at the same time. We were all at the same stage of our life and all working together for something, it was quite a buzz.

LAUNCH:
It's the first album you produced yourselves, right? Why that choice? Why now?

THOM:
Producing ourselves...the reason we wanted to do that was because we had this idealized state of bliss that existed before we signed a record contract. We wanted to get back to that four-track mentality where you go in and knock out an idea and it's done--but you still take responsibility for it. We'd sort of learned enough--or thought we'd learned enough--about how to make a record, and believed that we could do it ourselves, with Nigel Godrich, who'd worked on The Bends and was a good friend of ours. We wanted to start at the same point, whereas he hadn't done that much production stuff and we'd never done it either. We were all at the same point. It was like a workshop, and that was how we wanted to do it. We didn't want to be in the studio with A&R men coming around, nice air conditioning, staring at the same walls and the same microphones. That was madness. We wanted to get to another state of mind--one that we understood and could deal with. The only way to do it was to do it ourselves. That way we wouldn't have to explain it.

LAUNCH:
And what were your first thoughts when you were finished?

THOM:
When we finished it and were putting it together, I was like pretty convinced that we'd sort of blown it, but I was kind of happy about that, because we'd gotten a real kick out of making the record. Now, in terms of people saying it's the album of the year, people say that all the time. In Britain, it's great--in the space of two weeks, our album was the album of the year and so was Prodigy's. Two weeks from now it will be another album. It's just what people say.

JONNY:
And also, it feels like a comic album, parts of it. There's lots of dark humor. The song "Karma Police" is obviously not overly-serious as a title or a subject.

LAUNCH:
One of my favorite songs on the album is "Subterranean Homesick Alien." Can you talk about that song? Do you believe in aliens?

THOM:
That was supposed to be a joke song anyway--as much as my jokes are ever funny--but it was also...I was interested in the fact that there was a lot of misdirected spirituality placed toward the "X-Files Syndrome." Like at the end of the last century, everyone started seeing bleeding statues of Jesus on the cross and so on. Suddenly, everyone sees sightings, though some people claim we always see them. It's the angels-vs.-aliens thing, which is fascinating, but not really the issue.

JONNY:
I feel the song is more about hope than any other subject. I'm an enormous cynic. I side with science, I'm afraid. The best magazine in America is one called Skeptical Enquirer, which basically is all these scientists debunking all this stuff. And there's about 200 other magazines, too. That song is more about how for every generation, it's a different thing. Before UFOs it was the Virgin Mary, and before that it was something else. People flock to the same places with their cameras and hope to see the same things. And it's just about hope and faith, I think, more than aliens.

THOM:
Actually, a lot of the song stems from the idea of when I was at school, the first essay I wrote was: "You are an alien from another planet. You've landed and you're standing in the middle of Oxford. What do you see? If you're an alien from another planet, how would you see these people?" And that's a lot of where it came from, from someone who is not involved. Laughing and recording, taking home movies back to their home planet to show to their friends.

LAUNCH:
In talking to people about this album, many of them point out the fact that it's a "whole" piece of art. It's complete and seems to reach some kind of resolution by the last song. Did you set out to do this by design or was it a happy accident?

THOM:
In retrospect, The Bends had a very obvious and comforting resolution, which was by accident, not by design. But this one didn't. For two weeks before mastering the record and deciding which songs would go on it, I got up every morning at 5am; I've got one of those minidisc machines where you can swap the order of the tracks, take tracks off, put them back on. I couldn't find the resolution that I was expecting to hear once you put the songs together, and I just went into a wild panic for two weeks. I couldn't sleep at all, because I just expected the resolution to be there--and it wasn't. There was all the trouble and no resolution. But that wasn't really true, as I discovered later. When we chose to put "Tourist" at the end, and I chilled out about it and stopped getting up at five in the morning and driving myself nuts, we did find that it was the only resolution for us--because a lot of the album was about background noise and everything moving too fast and not being able to keep up. It was really obvious to have "Tourist" as the last song. That song was written to me from me, saying, "Idiot, slow down." Because at that point, I needed to. So that was the only resolution there could be: to slow down. If you slow down to an almost-stop you can see everything moving too fast around you and that's the point.

LAUNCH:
A lot of the songs are very intricate and complex. Does that intimidate you when you think about performing them live?

THOM:
We're having some problems with pulling off "Subterranean Homesick Alien" live, but I'm sure we'll sort that out. I have to play piano and I get pissed off because I look like I'm into 10cc or something. But we can do it; we just have to change some stuff around.

JONNY:
I think we approach live performances in the same way, hopefully, as the audiences. We go into venues fairly wide-eyed and unsure how it's going to be every night, which is what you should be aiming for. One time, we saw this band who had their setlist sealed on the back of their tour pass laminate. That was weird to us, to see their list so set in stone. We're very unprepared, on the other hand.

LAUNCH:
Getting back to the whole "commercial" thing, is it odd for you to realize what a huge hit "Creep" was? When a song becomes that popular does it become a millstone for you? Do you wish you never had to play it again?

JONNY:
It's just a song we play. It was more of an issue two years ago. Now, instead of just having one good song behind us, we've now got one good song and an album of songs. So here we are again. It's two steps removed now. It's all relative.

THOM:
It's not a millstone now. It's a good song. Ultimately, you know, if you have a song that moves people in that way, you can't possibly disclaim it or moan about it, because that's why you're in this business. That's why we're in this business. It's a pop record, and it's not a millstone anymore because it moved people at the time, and what else could you ask for?

LAUNCH:
Tell me about your impression of America.

JONNY:
My impression of America? It's just too exciting to dismiss or overly praise. I find it really distressing when British bands come to America and return home and they're disparaging about Americans--as if you can dismiss the whole country. There are cities I love and would happily live in. There's too much variation to describe it, I think. Overall, it's a buzz. It's the best thing you can do: to tour America, as a band.

THOM:
I went to this party in New York City recently and a friend of mine just kept talking about the Roman Empire and the death of John Lennon. I got a bit bored with the bit about the death of John Lennon being a plot by the CIA, but the Roman Empire thing was intriguing. He was saying he has nightmares about the fall of the Roman Empire and how it's similar to America today. I'm reading this Philip K. Dick book and the main character keeps seeing bits of California superimposed with the Roman Empire. That's my thing at the moment, just because I'm reading this book.

LAUNCH:
I remember reading that you guys had planned to make a video for every song on OK Computer. But that idea has since been abandoned. How come?

THOM:
The original thing was to do 12 videos: one for every song. And that's what we said to everybody. In the last week, we had to give up because we just don't have the money. And also, it takes up a lot of emotional time and space. We don't actually physically have the time to do it. So it's kind of depressing and we're going to have to leave it. We're just going to do videos for the ones we feel like doing or the singles. It's just a bloody mess.

LAUNCH:
When you look back on the development of your career, can you point to any specific period where you felt a turning point had been reached? Where you felt as though you'd "made it?"

JONNY:
I think the turning point for us came about nine or 12 months after The Bends was released and it started appearing in people's polls for the end of the year. That's when it started to feel like we made the right choice about being a band, I think.

LAUNCH:
How do you feel about being a part of the "Britpop" movement?

JONNY:
The Britpop movement was wrong for us because it was so awash with this knowing irony. In some ways, it wasn't about being in a band and being serious about being in a band, which we hated and which was an anathema to us.

THOM:
It was a convenient marketing ploy at the time. Marketing ploys come and go and that one's gone now. We did it for a while and then got off.

LAUNCH:
Well, it worked. Has being a "pop" star changed your life?

JONNY:
Has being a pop star changed my life? No, because I don't have the right personality, the right image or the right band to even be a pop star. I don't start the right fights, I don't live in the right city. I have all these things going against me.

THOM:
Hmmm...I went to the supermarket the other day, and it was a really shitty day, and I had been drinking all day, which I don't normally do. And I went shopping and I was walking out with all these bags, growling, and this middle aged lady came up to me, and said, "It's really good. You don't have to worry. It's a really good record. You don't have to worry." And then she wandered off. That was strange.

LAUNCH:
How about the stuff you're listening to these days? Who are some of the bands you really like?

THOM:
There's a band called Laika, which I really like. They did an album called Sounds Of Satellites, which reminds me of my favorite Talking Heads record, Remain In Light. That's my favorite, and they're going to support us in Britain. The new Teenage Fanclub record is really good, as well.

JONNY:
I'm listening to a lot of Teenage Fanclub at the moment. I've also been listening to Penderaki, a very good Polish composer, who's doing very beautiful, old-fashioned things with violins and orchestras and making very frightening sounds but it's very beautiful.

LAUNCH:
Now that you've got some distance from the album, do you have any regrets at all? Any songs you wish were on there? Anything you will do differently next time?

THOM:
I spoke to Jonny about this earlier today. When you finish a record, you come up with all these grand theories of how you're going to do the next one and make it easier. But ultimately you know it'll be just as hard no matter how many bloody times you do it...although it would be good to not spend a year-and-a-half on it. Maybe we'll try to do the next one quicker. There were lots of bits and pieces on this record that we didn't finish.

JONNY:
The only regrets about this album are the songs we left off because we didn't record them well enough or soon enough.

LAUNCH:
What's your perspective on your long-term career? Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?

JONNY:
I always find it very suspicious when bands start to become concerned with things like careers. I sort of more admire bands like the Pixies who always said their whole outlook was to make a few good records and then piss off and leave it alone. Which is great. I admire that more in a way than bands who've made 20 albums, and are still going, and still have integrity, which is fine too. The Pixies had it right, though, I think.

Audio Icon "Paranoid Android"
Audio Icon "Subterranean Homesick Alien"
Audio Icon "Exit Music (For A Film)"
LAUNCH:
And before we close, let's revisit that whole computer thing again. How computer-savvy are you two? Do you ever surf the Net?

JONNY:
I felt very old when I came back to computers for the second time, having started out with computers as a toy. And then suddenly computers have all these things in the way between you and the computer. It's much colder and not as challenging as it used to be. But having said that, I'm a big fan of the Internet--well, not a fan, but a big user. Just yesterday, I went to the Voyager site. It has all the music they sent out on Voyager I, the probe they sent out. It's got "Hello" in 36 different languages recorded on these aluminum discs. I thought that was wild, just amazing. There's a lot of good stuff out there.

THOM:
I don't surf the Net at the moment. The reason for that is I had a bit of a freaky incident where someone traced my email address when I first had one two years ago. And I can't figure out how they found me because I was using a pseudonym. That really threw me and I got really paranoid about it. We have the Net running in the studio, and Jonny surfs the Net quite a bit. I hadn't even written all of the lyrics yet when we began performing some of these songs, and we'd be in the studio with one computer on the Web most of the time. We'd go to the unofficial Radiohead sites, and find that people had gone home with these bootlegs of our shows and typed up the lyrics they thought I was singing to our songs. So there I'd be in the studio trying to write my lyrics, and then I'd look on the web site to see what other people had written down, what they'd transcribed. That was amazing. It was very odd. I liked that bit of it. That was hilarious.





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