Circus Magazine, 8.1997
by Adrian Gregory Glover
On paper it seems that Radiohead have always been about taking chances. They appeared in 1992 with the year's most powerful ode to mopedom, "Creep". The sudden Chinese-style guitar work provided by Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien set up the vulnerable musings of vocalist Thom Yorke with a refrain that brought them into the spotlight ("I'm a creep/I'm a weirdo/what the hell am I doing here?/I don't belong here"). The momentum of "Creep" was so overwhelming that it became a curse and a blessing for the five Oxford, England natives. The blessing was that the song pushed the band's debut full lenth record Pablo Honey to gold record status (500,000 copies). The curse was that the song became the band's identity. The song had such a long run in the public eye that even the follow-up videos and singles from Pablo Honey were overshadowed by its counterpart's staying power.
In '95 Radiohead popped up again with its second effort The Bends, a collection of well-executed songs that for the most part avoids the slash of the wrist mentality that the band was tagged with. It proved to be the tim to Pablo Honey's yang. The songs on The Bends were optimistic in ways that left anyone expecting a "Creep" rehash out in the cold. "Fake Plastic Trees" one of the video/singles from The Bends, gave the culture a taste of the band's ability to create moody music that can mean everything and nothing in the same breath.
"Just" and 'Black Star" also proved to be two other incredible songs that created a mood of their own while staying true to the sound of the overall record. The band was taking chances with their sound and they all paid off.
The music tested well on the road as well. High profile tours with the likes of R.E.M. and Alanis Morissette gave them the opportunity once again to be seen and heard. The passionate and physical delivery of Radiohead, the live band was quickly becoming a trademark -- so much that Jonny Greenwood took to wearing an arm brace onstage to protect himself from finger lacerations and chronic strain injuries and Thom Yorke completely blacked out during a gig.
Physical casualties aside, the second record and tour campaign was not met with the same commercial force that greeted the band the first time around. The songs were great and the live show was compelling but the general public was busy snatching for Alanis Morissette who was busy covering "Fake Plastic Trees."
The band regrouped in their rehearsal studio in January last year to compose tracks for their next album, OK Computer. Released on July 1, OK Computer is a dramatic affair with a very extreme sound, from the heartfelt ballad and second single, "Let Down" to the bouncy "Karma Police." To achieve such extremism the band self-produced the album. Self production is always a hit-or-miss affair, but in this case the vision of the band is all that was needed.
They have been laying to waste the competition at festival sized events this summer as they gear up for a bonafide tour that will commence later in the year. The macabre animated video for "Paranoid Android" has been added to MTV's Buzz Bin and just about the entire music industry is talking about nothing but Radiohead. At their pre-album release gig in New York's Irving Plaza, members of the audience who went to see the band ran the gamut of today's popular music, including Marilyn Manson, Madonna, Courtney Love, U2, R.E.M., Oasis and Blur.
Their worldwide popularity didn't happen overnight. The five began rehearsing together in the mid-80's as a school band in their hometown as On A Friday, and incorporated influences like The Smiths, The Waterboys and The Fall into their performances and songs. Since their first gig in 1987, the band continued to play together and would do so into their colleg careers. Their first demo, the Drill EP, was circulated in 1991 and after the record big-wigs gained interest, they eventually were signed to Parlophone, and changed their name to the present moniker.
The band filled out by bassist Colin Greenwood (yes they are brothers), and drummer Phil Selway are poised to do it all over again. Let's find out if Colin Greenwood thinks it's worth it.
Circus: Over the past few years you've started to get a lot of respect from people in the industry. Other musicians and critics love Radiohead.
Greenwood: God knows why...(laughs) Cool well thank you... you are very kind.
I heard many celebrities attended the Irving Plaza show on June 9. Were you nervous playing in front of so many of your peers?
CG: To be honest with you, no. I think we were more nervous about playing The Troubadour in L.A. I mean them (famous musicians) showing up has got nothing to do with us. It's not real and it's not the real world. All of those famous people just happened to be there and were in town. There was a spotlight you know but next week they will be there checking out somebody else. There is just nothing particularly real about that. It's great that they all turned out and it was such a treat to see R.E.M. again.
From what I hear, Blur went on the Rockline National Radio Show later that night and raved about the show.
CG: That's right they didn't see the whole show. They had to go and do that radio interview. Aaah you see it's really cool to see English bands that enjoy being over here and doing well. God knows that happens over in the U.K. with your American groups. I look at it the way that English and American music ebbs and flows from one direction to another. At the moment there is a lot of cool English stuff happening in America.
With so many electronic bands coming down the pike, do you think that people are correct in saying that rock 'n' roll is dead?
CG: I think rock music or whatever you want to call it goes through periodic like almost revolutionary cycles. I think that's very important and in fact that I think that it is very much alive. It is just constantly in a state of flux. The elements that were around us in the times of The Stones and The Beatles are still around now. Things just keep changing and different flavors are added to the mix.
When self producing OK Computer, did you consider drama one of those flavors?
CG: Yeah! I think the overall mood on the record is starker than The Bends. I think that there is a consistent sound to 80 percent of the new album. I think we made things a little bit more extreme on this record. The important thing for us on this record was that we produce it ourselves. We had to learn how to make decisions amongst the six of us. There was the five people in the band and the engineer/mixer Nigel Godrich. We learned a lot from doing it on our own and in retrospect, we are very proud of this record.
You built your own studio, Canned Applause, for this one.
CG: We bought $140,000 dollars worth of studio gear to record the album with. We had this mobile studio type of thing going where we could take it all into studios to capture those environments. We recorded about 35 percent of the album in our rehearsal space. Which is built like a storage shed. You had to piss around the corner because there were no toilets or no running water. It was in the middle of the countryside. You had to drive to town to find something to eat. In a reaction to that stark, dreary place we recorded the other two-thirds of the record in this opulent country house.
Are you really going to a video for every song on the record?
CG: Well that's more of a goal than a definite thing. It's something that we would like to do. It's kind of like a journey and it's a journey that we hope to get to the end of. It's so expensive so we are not saying that they [the videos] are definitely going to arrive. We've got two being finished and one is done at the moment. We just found out that "Paranoid Android" has been added to MTV's Buzz Bin and that we are all very excited about.
I've seen it, it's a really cool video and the animation is incredible.
CG: Yeah, I think it's great! There was no way that we could appear in it to perform in it because that would be so Spinal Tap. This way we got to keep it twisted and colorful which is how the song is anyway. Every time that you make a video you realize that it's all a crap shoot anyway. You nver know how it's going to turn out until it's done. The only thing that you can do is put total creative trust to the artist that is directing it for you. We decide what happens [in the video] obviously but after that we don't interfere with the artistic process.
With the goal being to complete a video for very song on the record, does that mean there is a concept to this record?
CG: The only concept that we had for this album was that we wanted to record it away from the city and that we wanted to record it ourselves. You couldn't like put on "The Wizard Of Oz" and turn the sound down and find that Judy Garland is speaking the lyrics to "Subterranean Homesick Alien". There is obviously a certain continuity to the record. We try to stay away from all of that especially after the last album. He [Thom Yorke] wants to do something that is more like a collection of snapshots of images and impressions that he has had from the external world. That's where little phrases like "jack knife jeggernaut" [from the lead off track "Airbag"] come from. It's very much a record that encourages you to try to find a space, your own space mentally in the comtemporary world. Just trying to get away from some of the obsessive internalizations that were on The Bends. That record was very inward looking. This is more about engaging things in the outside world.
There were some health issues on the last tour. How are you gearing up for that?
CG: I don't think that we are that unhealthy, to be honest with you. We are not really a party group. We don't do any drugs or drink heavily at all. We don't really even stay out late. It's more like when you start off you don't know how much your body will or will not tolerate. So you try everything as far as doing shows and your body draws a line in the sand. From there you have a point to work from. We know when to say no and turn things down. I wouldn't say that we are a collection of invalids or anything. We are no sicker and probably much healthier than a lot of other groups. This is probably very un rock'n'roll to say but our biggest concern is the amount of flying that we do. Jet lag and the poor circulation in the cabins of these planes is hard on the larynx.
Ever get sick of playing the old stuff from Pablo honey since you have grown so much musically?
CG: On Pablo Honey we play "Creep", and "Thinking About You". The rest of the stuff is... well we only recorded that record in two and a half weeks. It was our first time really in the studio. I don't think it's a bad effort at all. I [think] that it's a seven and a half out of ten record. Well actually six....but then you put "Creep" on it so you have to say seven. It's cool really to have three, well, two real records to pick from. I think OK Computer is the best to choose from.
For those who have not seen the live show yet, what's that like?
CG: It's enjoyable to play material from The Bends in a relaxed way. It's a record that people really like, but it's not the record that is happening now. We are playing The Bends in its entirety, well except for "Sulk". I think it's really nice how it works with the material from OK Computer. We are going to be on tour in America starting in August.
We are going to be using the dates in August as a way of testing out some production ideas. After that in August we are going to be playing 3,500 to 5,000 seat places in England. We will be working with the best sound and lighting people in the business the best as far as originality and so forth. live is the one thing that we really are proud about and we want to get that right. We want to convince people about us and the new record, especially in America.
(Photo of Thom from High and Dry live package CD) Born on Oct. 7, 1968 Thom Yorke once wore clothes most associated with elderly people in college. He was operated on five times in his childhood for a paralyzed eyelid."