Me, An Android Sick with Poetry
They've been topping the charts for 22 weeks: an amazing success for a band whose music is certainly not commercial-oriented. In our editorial office we believe they are the true revelation of 1997. And the meeting with their leader, Thom Yorke, is one of those which leave a mark...
Thom Yorke flees after taking two or three pictures for the delivery of the platinum record, following the concert in Milan (28 October 1997). In the air you can still breathe the magic of the sweetness and the anger of guitars, the intensity of his voice which melt in the coloured sparkling of simple and delicate lights. Radiohead, with their last album OK Computer, not only did sell millions of records: they wrote some among the most beautiful songs of the last years. Their album is not simply beautiful, but deals with Beauty in the most spiritual meaning of the word. A beauty which includes also bad things, tearing on the inside and opposite poles.
This time the interview, the only one released by Thom Yorke in Italy, is not a one in the rut. Because you know that you are standing before the only person is currently expressing - through words which no-one else is able to find - the common feeling of a generation. As it was the case of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten or Doors' Jim Morrison. There is no rock star aura around Thom, though. We get on the bus where we can finally find some quietness, and as soon as Thom starts talking you get stunned by the charm of this man - who's probably not beautiful, but who becomes more than beautiful. And you understand why Radiohead can really change your life.
In your lyrics there are some definitions which are apparently contradictory. In "Paranoid Android", the android is "paranoid", therefore able to feel emotions...
I am fascinated with contradictions, both in music and in literature. The paranoid android is the figure of a rebel who, looking around him in the galaxy, gets disheartened. It's a reference to me and my way of loving my own self (even the worst part) and what surrounds me. I deal with people who would never speak to me and whom I would never like to meet, If I weren't a thing which somebody is investing their money on: a pop star, a name. This song tells how it feels to be part of a circle in Dante's Inferno.
Your lyrics and your music are both complex and delicate. Aren't you scared of all the huge success that you are experiencing?
Every day, when I wake up, I try not to be intimidated by the weird things going on around us. When we finished the record, I didn't sleep for a week. I kept saying to myself "My god, what have we done". I didn't expect such a success. I hope that the people who listen to us consider the album as a painting they love, something that might change their life. This is not being pretentious, I just believe that's the way it is. Well, it happens to me at least: an author who recently changed my life is Arvo Part. I was in a place by the sea and I listened to his music every night with that little fog coming out of the water. It was better than any drug I ever took. My life did change because this music made a connection with a part of myself which I wasn't really aware of. Therefore, I am not scared, although the whole thing itself is scaring.
It's crucial to have some courage if you really think of having something to say...
It may sound weird, but whenever a gig goes wrong, that gives me strenght: it means that I am not dead yet.
Which were your turning points in the process leading to become an "adult"?
When I was 15, I was part of a group of boys always looking for some huge mess to be involved in. We hated the world, destroyed everything. Then my best friends turned against me in a very strange way. We're now friends again, but I didn't forgive them for about ten years. I guess this story changed completely my life: I was headed towards destruction but all of a sudden I woke up from it all. It was a positive event, although at the time I didn't perceive it as such.
Was making music a cure, a way to express parts of you that you couldn't listen to?
There was nothing else I could do, I had no exit.
There's a sentence in the booklet saying "Against demons". Who are they?
In Basquiat's paintings there are recurring sings. One of them has the shape of an egg and it's very used in Spain: people paint it on the door to keep demons away. For a rock'n'roll band as we are it's absolutely out of context.. so we thought it'd be funny.
What about the kicking squealing Gucci little piggies in "Paranoid Android"?
In an exorcism against demons, they couldn't be missing.
The video for "Paranoid Android" is a cartoon, sweet and cruel at the same time. And with a weird vision of sex...
Sex, and the content of the video in general, is extremely violent but not as much as it might seem at first sight. The focus is not on sex, but on making people void. And in the scene of the hand with chopped off fingers, violence is a symbol: it's just the idea of being raped, and banished and totally unable of reacting.
We then have the video for "Karma Police", with a luxury car chasing a man. He's unarmed, but he simply finds some matches in his pockets and realises that the fuel tank is leaking. In other words, he uses his intellect against the power and he wins...
I am obsessed with the idea of identity and control. But also with the fact the power is often not what it seems. For instance, Clinton, one of power's symbols, has no power at all: he is an hostage in the hands of the lobbies of multinational companies. We seldom know who really owns the power and this is frightening.
A constant in the tracks of the record is indeed this sense of helplessness and anger towards "the yuppies networking"...
Once I went to a party in New York, with plenty of these people. At 10 PM I was already back to my hotel: there was absolutely nothing to say. The idea of networks is strictly connected to the one of computers: this is a computer world. They go from a point to another and they create a connection leading them to another different point, but there is no knowledge behind all of this.
Computers can be useful for communication though...
I wrote my graduate dissertation on computer art and I came to the conclusion that technology will be useless until the world has changed. My bank, for instance, is able to know in every precise moment where in the world I am. Who manages these things? Who are they? Who can see them? We only know that most of them is working for Bill Gates. The fight for controlling the world is a fight for controlling technology.