Main Index >> Media Index >> In Rainbows Media | UK Media | 2007 Interviews

Presenter: "Last year Radiohead—one of the biggest bands in the world—allowed fans to download their latest album from the internet, and to pay whatever they liked including—if they chose—nothing at all. Radiohead’s decision prompted much soul-searching in the music business, not least by record companies who are watching, in effect, a band connecting directly to its fan base. Thom Yorke—Radiohead’s frontman and a former Christmas guest editor of this programme—talked to Mark Coles about this experiment.

Thom: "It’s quite exciting to have such a small group of people that have a weird sort of impact like that, you know. It just seemed like an obvious thing to do. We’d finished the record and we wanted to put it out quickly and just get people to make up their own mind. The next thing we know, there’s all this extra froth.
When I get asked by my friends, I say ‘Well, I think it was just one of those stories that was waiting to happen, and we happen to be the band that kicked off the story that people wanted to write anyway’. We have a moral justification in what we did in the sense that, you know, in terms of—if we’re talking about the majors and the big infrastructure of the music business—it has not addressed the way—I think,constructively—the way that artists can communicate directly with their fans and, in fact, they seem to just basically get in the way. Not only do they get in the way but they take all the cash.

Mark: "Are you able to break it down? I mean, I’ve read all sorts of things on the internet. All these web companies that claim to be able to scan exactly how many downloads. At one point, 2 million: 61 percent...

Thom: "That’s what I said... Nonsense!

Mark: "...did it for free.

Thom: "Thanks very much. We’re the only people who know and we ain’t gonna—it feels wrong to sort of say exactly what happened. But—but it has been a really nice surprise and we’ve done really well out of it.

Mark: "That was the download experiment.

Thom: "Yeah. I know. That’s all...

Mark: "You’ve had a month now—two months—to work it out. Now comes the CD—the physical release...

Thom: "Mm.

Mark: "Why was there a feeling that you needed the CD?

Thom: "Well, because um—80% of people still buy physical records. So we’d be stark raving mad to not address that, you know? [laughs] We didn’t want it to be a big announcement about like ‘Everything’s over except the internet; the internet’s the future’, 'cause that’s utter rubbish. And it’s really important to have an artefact as well, as they call it: an object.

Mark: "Melodies do seem to be back right upfront again. I don’t know whether that’s a conscious decision or they just crept back in.

Thom: "It was a conscious decision to focus on the voice, and I guess from that it all became melodic by necessity, really. I mean, they were the best songs we had at the time, so obviously they’re the ones we chose to record. [laughs]

Mark: "But eight of them had been played live, I believe, or something.

Thom: "Yeah, nine almost, actually. Um...

Mark: "“Nude” stretches back—what—ten years?

Thom: "Yeah, that was ’97, that it was written, as the whole OK Computer thing kicked off. But it never really had a place ‘til now.

Mark: "Do you have a favourite song on the record?

Thom: "Uh—“Videotape.” I wanted to put it first until someone pointed out that if we did that everybody would turn it straight off. [laughs] But um—I like it because it very much happened despite me. The others sort of took the reins on it. Turned it into this stripped down thing. Personally speaking, that’s my favourite thing we’ve ever created because it has this inexpressible substance thing going on behind what’s the specifics of the song. So I’m really, really proud of them.

Mark: "Then comes the world tour. May 2008...

Thom: "It’s not really... I mean, that’s a few months, yeah.

Mark: "But you’re off in North America...

Thom: "Yeah.

Mark: "...Japan, Europe, dates in Britain.

Thom: "Yeah.

Mark: "You’re famous for your environmental work...

Thom: "Mm.

Mark: "...and some will say ‘big band on a world tour’. How do they square that?

Thom: "Not very easily. We had a sort of a—one of those carbon footprint things done, and there’s a few things we can change, but the really mad thing about it is the—I guess it’s obvious but—it’s the mass of people travelling to one place. And on the charts and stuff that’s the really big impact overall. Us moving around has an impact, and we reduce the uh—flying of equipment: put it on a ship. But then we looked into—well, ‘Can we go around by ship?’ Yes, technically speaking, if we were in the freight containers and were prepared to be on the sea for two weeks, that would be more ecologically sound, but if we were like to go on the Queen Mary, for example, that’s actually worse, because they go so fast and they’re so heavy. Pfff... so I think the idea, so far, we’ve got as far is, we’re playing in places—municipal centres, cities, and so on—that have public transport systems, so that there is at least an option for people travelling, other than singularly in a car and so on. And we’ll just reduce our flying to the absolute minimum. It is quite extraordinary—the rock ‘n roll business—that at this stage the normal protocol would be to fly in/fly out on your Lear jet every night; go back to New York, or whatever. And so to choose to bum around on a bus and stuff is gonna be interesting.