At the turn of the twenty-first century, when Radiohead became the new gleaming hope for innovation in rock and roll, the band began renovating the dismal state of the music industry. At concerts they banned corporate sponsors; they attempted to minimize the heavy ecological footprint of traditional touring; and, recently, they released their seventh album, In Rainbows, without a record label, in a digital format on their website, allowing buyers to pay as much or as little as they liked.
Along with all these experiments came furies of hype that Thom Yorke, primary hype-target and living-legendary singer of the band, described as “being the Beatles, for a week.” Yorke has been reticent in his interactions with the press, and in past interviews, especially those from the OK Computer era, Yorke acted downright spiteful: hissing at questions he didn’t like, ignoring others, and criticizing the interviewer with Dylan-esque zingers: “Next question…” “It’s not your business.…” “Answering questions like that’s a fucking waste of time.” Meeting People Is Easy, the only of several Radiohead documentaries the band endorses, is mostly an investigation into the conflicted relationship between the press and the music.
I met Yorke in the lobby of his hotel, the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. Before the interview, he had spent the day shopping with Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s longtime producer, and during the interview he took a few minutes to talk about Australia with Neil Young’s manager, Elliot Roberts. He wore cargo pants mottled with white paint. He apologized four or five times for his jet lag, but responded to every question with thoughtfulness and patience, demonstrating what seemed to be a newfound acceptance of his place amid the stars of rock.
Below is an excerpt from the 2009 interview:
BLVR: I’ve heard you talk a lot about singles and EPs. Is that what you’re moving toward?
TY: I’ve got this running joke: Mr. Tanaka runs this magazine in Japan. He always says to me, “EPs next time?” And I say yes and go off on one, and he says, “Bullshit.” [Laughs] But I think really, this time, it could work. It’s part of the physical-release plan I was talking about earlier. None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us. It’s also linked up to this whole thing about what is the band, what is the method of how we get together and work. But you know, Jonny [Greenwood] and I have talked about sitting down and writing songs for orchestra and orchestrating it fully and just doing it like that and then doing a live take of it and that’s it—finished. We’ve always wanted to do it, but we’ve never done it because, I think the reason is, we’re always taking songs that haven’t been written for that, and then trying to adapt them. That’s one possible EP because, with things like that, you think, Do you want to do a whole record like that? Or do you just want to get stuck into it for a bit and see how it feels?
The entire interview is now available on the Believer site.
video take from Radiohead’s excellent performance at Austin City Limits