Radiohead's Thom Yorke on Going Solo

Yorke reflects on resisting reverb, record contracts and plain dumb luck

DAVID FRICKEPosted Jun 01, 2006 3:02 PM

ROLLING STONE Senior Editor David Fricke caught up with Thom Yorke at a hotel bar in the British seaside resort of Blackpool. What follows is a special Web-only expanded interview.

The new Radiohead songs in your live show are surprisingly straightforward. Some of them are almost like garage rock. Are you rediscovering the joys of simplicity?

We're trying not to get too fussy, which is obviously our tendency. We don't really listen to rock music. A lot of what we listen to is techno and dub. But essentially, it's dance music, and that's feeding back into us, in a crude way.

Looking back at Kid A and Amnesiac, it's as if you had too many options in front of you and tried to use them all.

That's always the problem. My favorite tune from that time is "How to Disappear Completely," because we didn't care how it could be seen as pretentious or anything. It just sounds glorious. What Jonny did to it is amazing.

But I like that Liars record that just came out [Drum's Not Dead], because they're using loops and stuff we've been making for ages. It's cool that there's someone besides us saying, "We're a live band, but we also do this . . ."

Describe the beginning of The Eraser.

A lot of the basic ideas were kicking around when I got all of my software on my laptop. They weren't things that would ever get to the band; they just worked in that isolated laptop space. There was no point in going to the others and saying, "Phi, do you want to try a beat on this?" Or, "Colin, do you want to play some bass?" Because the sounds and ideas were not from that sort of vibe.

What kind of vibe was it?

I would split up rhythm patterns and manipulate sounds to get to a brand new place. It was stuff that I do when I'm bored, really -- something I'd do when I'd sit in front of the television or traveling around.

It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I wanted to work on my own. It wasn't casting aspersions on anybody. I just wanted to see what it would be like. Luckily, I happen to be in a band where nobody has a problem with that. In fact, I think there was some sense of relief, that finally I was going to do it. Rather than saying it and chickening out.

The biggest surprise on The Eraser is how clear and clean your voice is.

I kept begging Nigel to put more reverb on it. "No, I'm not doing reverb on this record." Please hide my voice. "No."

But I'm always looking for things that make me want to sing. They're not necessarily chord progressions. It can be a rhythm, with one note on it. In the last song, "Cymbal Rush," the first bit you hear is something I had for three years: one little note. I could hear the melody in there straightaway. But if you played it to anyone else without me singing it, you'd think, "What's he on about?"

There were all these random electronic doodles, but being forced by Nigel to isolate down to the best bits made me realize these were the best bits. All I could see was how clever my programming was. Suddenly I was being forced to forget all that and be the singer again. And I wasn't thinking about Radiohead. I never thought, "I should stop here. I should give this to the band." Once I made the decision to do this record, that's what I was writing for.

Were these songs written in a concentrated period?

Absolutely, except for "Cymbal Rush" -- that riff that had been around for ages -- and "The Eraser," where the piano chords are Jonny's. I recorded them on a dictaphone around his house one day. A year and a half later, I had to own up that I had sampled them, cut them into a different order and made them into a song [laughs]. "Is that alright? Sorry, Jonny."

"Harrowdown Hill" was kicking around during Hail to the Thief, but there was no way that was going to work with the band. "And It Rained All Night" has this enormously shredded-up element of "The Gloaming" [from Hail to the Thief], not that you'd ever I remember doing that in New York. I couldn't sleep one night, and it was one of those New York things, where the rain just chucks down. The rain was so loud.

"Black Swan" has this tiny, shredded segment of something that was one of the library samples we had. It was Ed and Phil doing this thing, and I sliced it into bits. The sample was 2000, but the song was 2005.

Your writing has always been intensely personal and conflicted, but because your voice is so up front on The Eraser, the words and images come through so vividly, as in "Analyse."

[Sings] "Power cuts and blackouts/Sleeping like babies." I used to live in central Oxford, on one of those historical streets, with all these houses built in the 1860s. I came home one night and for some reason, the street had a power cut. The houses were all dark, with candlelight in the windows, which is obviously how it would have been when they were built. It was beautiful.

I also like the lines in "Black Swan": "You cannot kick-start a dead horse/You just cross yourself and walk away."

[Laughs] As always, whatever psychic garbage you've got going on in your head, you end up using it. You should have seen the stuff I didn't put in. That's the shit you don't want to know about.

Your album is the first you've put out since the end of Radiohead's EMI contract. Is the XL deal for one album?

Yeah. We will only ever do that now.


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