BBC Radio 6 'Adam Buxton's Big Mixtape', june 20th 2010
[Interview with Ed]
The interview was recorded on june 18th 2010 and was aired two days later. This is a transcript from an audio recording of the broadcast.
Adam Buxton: My compilation, my big mixtape this week which features music suitable for a journey into space. And I’m joined by one of the pre-eminent space rockers for this or any other time, Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. How are you doing man?
Ed O’Brien: I’m very good, man, how are you?
Adam: I'm good to see you and meet you. I mean, we have met before but it’s always so very excited. I’m such a big fan of Radiohead. We haven’t interviewed too many other musicians on this. Emmy the Great was the only other musical guest, I think. No, Supergrass, of course. But, I’m a sort of a, let’s just say unusual interviewer at the best times. And then when I’m up against people that I really admire, as I have been on this show, you know, sometimes it gets away from me. Just warning you in case things get really rubbish.
Ed: OK. Alright, OK.
Adam: But before we go any further, can I fire off our quick-fire questions to you that I’ve been asking all my guests the last few weeks. Answer any way you wish to these. Who are you?
Ed: Uh... Edward O’brien.
Adam: What do you do?
Ed: I play guitar and I’m a dad.
Adam: Who do you do?
Ed: Who do you do? How do you do? [chuckles]
Ed: Faces? Uhh... football? [chuckles]
Ed: Worsties? Smelly cabs.
Adam: Thank you very much, Ed. That’s all there is to it, there’s no right or wrong way to respond to those questions.
Ed: Yeah, OK.
Adam: Uhm how you doing anyway, how’s the band?
Ed: Really good, we are in the studio at the moment. Well, not right this moment. We are in the heart of the record
Ed: And uhm, it’s great, it feels, I’m really excited, I feel like this is the best record [chuckles] I sound like one of those blokes, “I think this is the best record we’ve ever made” but it really, it’s genuinely exciting. It’s very different from what we did last time. And uhm, yeah, it’s just really nice to be doing this, it’s so good to be making music with the band you feel is still as good as it’s ever been.
Adam: Yeah especially after the last record, “In Rainbows”, you seemed to kind of completely reinvent yourselves and actually you seemed to turn a corner and start having a lot more fun as well. That’s what it looked like from the outside looking in. Is that fair?
Ed: [chuckles] It wasn’t fun making the record but what we decided was – making record’s been hard, it’s always been a slog. Traditionally, Radiohead in the studio has been kind of “Don your tin helmet, get in there and just see it out”, like a war of attrition.
Ed: And basically at the end of “In Rainbows” it had taken 3 years to sort of come together. When we initially started off on our own and pulled in someone else and you know and after a year we worked with Nigel again.
Adam: Nigel Godrich?
Ed: Nigel Godrich, yeah. And it was such a hard, it was such a slog, we know we had these songs, we really believed in these songs, so we had to do it right and it just took a long time. We basically then and there with the end of that record that we were never going to do it this way. That was kind of like the end of Radiohead mk 2 and we decided the only way that’d work for us to carry on is to actually do it in a different spirit, you know, enjoy it.
Adam: This is after “Hail to the Thief”?
Ed: No, this is after “In Rainbows”. Cause that was such a hard record to make.
Adam: Cause it sounds so carefree...
Ed: That’s what everyone says, “You guys sound like you had great time in the studio!”. Oh man...
Adam: It sounds like a summer’s day.
Ed: That was a slog. I mean it was a really long process and by the end, for a instance, a song like, I don’t know, “House of Cards” had been recorded 6 times,
Ed: Plus the fact we had a genius idea in 2006 to go out and tour. We did that 15-odd shows and the idea was we play these songs and then get back in the studio and record them. That’s when we went back with Nigel and recorded them, having played them 15 times. We kind of got the arrangements sorted and we were like “We gotta get these down, we’ve played them enough”. And we got them down and they were, most of them were rubbish.
Ed: You know, you just have to keep going.
Adam: It’s just so hard for a fan of a band to think about what it would be like for those songs to be rubbish. I can’t imagine what it would be like to hear a rubbish Radiohead song. Especially if I know those songs, I already like them, I know they’re good songs, right? So I can’t imagine what a rubbish version of them would be like. Why were they rubbish?
Ed: Uh, have you ever seen that Stones’ documentary. Uhm, is it the Jean-Luc Godard one, Sympathy for the Devil?
Adam: Oh yeah.
Ed: So they’ve spent three days recording. It’s brilliant seeing that as a person from a band. Day 1 and day 2, it’s rubbish!
Ed: You know, it’s not until they get the conga player in, Keith’s on bass. And then it gets, you know, 3 days later. I think that’s the truth, I think you’ll probably find that for lots of bands. I know I’ve heard demos of bands. For instance, ages ago, when U2 did “Achtung baby”, there’s a whole leaked tape of them basically just jamming and most of it’s rubbish. And it’s true, most of what you end up doing in the creative process is rubbish.
Ed: And the art is to not give in, carry on and persevere.
Adam: And to be hard on yourselves.
Ed: Yeah! The great thing about Nigel is that he raises the bar.
Adam: A hard man. I mean, I’ve been on the wrong end of Nigel’s taskmaster skills once or twice as well, that’s quite scary.
Ed: He drives you hard and you think you’ve done your take, you think you’ve done your overdub, you think it’s in there, but [he says] “Maybe one more?”
Adam: He’s the guy that told Macca off for not being good enough.
Ed: [laughs] But that’s why he’s so good! You know, he gets the best performances out of you, he’s amazing. He also drives himself really hard, as well. The quality of the stuff he does is really high. So it’s good, it’s actually, to be driven hard.
Adam: So have you any idea when this album might see the light of day? The current one?
Ed: No, but ideally, it would be great if it came out some time this year, it’s got to, I mean, I hope so.
Adam: And do you think you’re weeks away or months away from completion? I mean, you can’t say, I guess.
Ed: I can’t really say. I’m sure it’s like that when you make anything, a film or whatever, write a book: for ages and ages it seems like the finishing line is miles away. And now it feels it’s in touching distance. But, of course, it being a creative process, this last bit, it’s like a burst of energy, you know, you achieve a lot in small period of time. And then sometimes things slow down and you are nearly there, you are nearly there. You know, you get the point. Yeah, hopefully, it’s gonna be a matter of weeks.
Adam: Excellent. Let’s listen to some of the music you’ve brought in right now. And this is a track from Deodato. I don’t know anything about this band, all I know about them is that they provided the opening titles for “Being there”, the Peter Sellers movie.
Ed: Yeah, that’s where I first heard this track. “Being There” is one of my all-time favourite films.
Adam: It’s an amazing film.
Ed: Isn’t it? And when he leaves the house into the big wide world and he is walking down Washington DC, lost, and this music comes on. I didn’t know anything about him, Deodato was Brazilian, I think, and in the band he had, like, a young funky guitarists who’s a bit of a prodigy and they had Stanley Clarke, the ubermeister, the funkmeister, on bass.
Adam: Well, we can hear it bubbling away underneath us. We won’t play the whole thing cause it’s a bit of an epic, but here’s a nice...
Adam: Deodato there with “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss. How you doing, ladies and gentlemen? Welcome, we are flailing in space. This is Adam Buxton here, this is my big mixtape “2010: a tape odyssey” and my guest is Ed O’Brien from Radiohead.
Ed: Hello. Again.
Adam: He’s the tall, handsome one, plays the guitar and he has many pedals on stage. Is that fair?
Ed: Lots of pedals.
Adam: You love your pedals
Ed: I love pedals, man.
Adam: Absolutely love them.
Ed: I’ve got more as well.
Adam: Listen, before we get into that, on the “2001” tip there, as we were – have you ever heard The Portsmouth Sinfonia’s version of that track?
Ed: [chortle] No.
Adam: Do you know about The Portsmouth Sinfonia?
Adam: Well this is something Brian Eno was involved with, one of the many wonderful perverse art projects that he’s undertaken in his life. And this is around 1970 in the Portsmouth’s school of art. And the idea was that it was an orchestra comprised of non-musicians. And if they were musicians, then you had to play an instrument that was entirely new to you, OK? So it was a completely naïve orchestra, if you will. You can imagine the noise they created was quite bizarre. And the project was, they had to play as well as they possibly could, they couldn’t do, like, jokey playing. In fact, Brian Eno said that at one point they had one guy that came in and he thought it was a big joke and he was sort of making funny honking noises and they had to boot him out cause he wasn’t taking it seriously. But this is what they sounded like doing “2001” there, the “Also Sprach Zarathustra”
[music starts playing]
Adam: The tympani‘s good.
Ed: [chuckling] The sound of the bagpipes [imitates a bagpipe]. Wait.
Adam: Here it comes.
[music reaches climax, Ed and Adam laugh]
Adam: There was no way they were ever going to get that one.
Ed: [laughs] No.
Adam: This is the thing, the thing is, it’s particularly effective with brass instruments cause they are so hard to play.
Ed: So hard. I played the trumpet for four years.
Adam: Did you?
Ed: Yeah and I was rubbish at it after 4 years, it’s really hard.
Ed: It’s not like picking up a guitar where you can strum a chord.
Adam: You can make yourself sound decent in a day
[music continues in the background, Adam and Ed laugh]
Adam: Ah man, you gotta love Brian Eno.
Ed: Brilliant, good man.
Adam: You, of course, worked with Eno. You spent a day in the studio, did he not sort of oversee the creation of either “Lucky” or “The Tourist”? Or the War Child album?
Ed: Ah, no. He wasn’t. We have never worked with him.
Adam: Have you not? Or what was the deal with the War Child album? Was that something he kind of wrote you into?
Ed: Yeah. Isn’t he the patron of War Child?
Adam: Oh yeah.
Ed: And he started it up and it was actually a brilliant idea. One of those great moments, when you look back on it, that whole thing of everybody doing a track a day and it was really exciting. Brian Eno, actually, when we were making “OK Computer” – here’s a bit of trivia – there’s a track on the album called “Let Down” and we finished it quite early on and we sent it off for him to mix it.
Adam: And what did he come back with? He sort of tried out? You were sort of thinking “Let’s see what Brian Eno comes up with.”?
Ed: Well, I think the thing was, it was Nigel’s first big, first album and I think he was kinda quite up for someone else to... Maybe it was the fashion in those days... sometimes you get someone in to mix it. You know, The Bends and Pablo Honey. “The Bends” had been recorded and produced by John Leckie, mixed by Slade and Kolderie. So there was a trend for people to mix stuff. And I remember thinking we thought the track was appropriate for maybe kind of Eno’s, it was a big sort of, big beautiful kind of stellar track, that it might suit him. And, you know, it’s very difficult to mix something you have no idea of what the band wants.
Adam: Cause the final mix on the album is not his.
Ed: No, Nigel mixed the whole lot and, you know, Nigel’s the ubermixer, he’s amazing.
Adam: He’s a massive doo-wop, Eno, isn’t it?
Ed: He is, he’s a big doo-wop fan.
Adam: So, did he try any of his doo-wop backing vocals on there?
Ed: [laughs] No, no he hasn’t. But there are apparently many stories of Brian Eno doing sessions and sort of coming in and adding some doo-wop vocals to some fairly unlikely tunes.
Adam: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ah man, I’ve always liked a bit of Eno’s doo-wop. He’s a big fan of backing vocals, obviously. He believes strongly that a great song always has a sort of harmony backing vocal that you can sing along with. And that’s the enjoyable thing for the listener, I find that all the time that I like to the high harmony parts in the car.
Ed: Yeah, you are like my mum.
Adam: Right. And that’s your job in Radiohead when you are playing live, of course, is to do those high harmonies. And so when you are in the car do you find yourself carrying on, you know, when you are not at work?
Ed: Yeah, you know, I think the backing vocals thing is great. To me, if I’m honest, up until recently, I’ve found them pretty tricky because Thom had usually sung them in the studio so he’s got a much higher range than I have and he’s got a much better voice than I have. I remember in the OK Computer-era sort of going on stage and doing backing vocals and [imitates absent-minded harmonising]. You know, not really going for it cause I was self-conscious I wasn’t actually doing the job properly.
Adam: Cause the first time I saw you play I was really struck by how similar your voices sounded and, I guess, “No Surprises” is the one where it’s a very, very distinctive harmony that comes in at the end there. And I was knocked out, I was like “Wow, he can really sing!”.
Ed: Oh, really?
Adam: And it sounded, I’ve always assumed that it was Thom doing the vocal parts on the album.
Ed: Yeah, he does. I mean, I’ve done very little vocal parts on recording cause it’s, I guess it’s a confidence thing. I mean, Thom’s got such an amazing voice, I mean he can go and [snaps fingers] he just gets those backing vocals out and you might be an hour later with me.
Adam: But live it sounds just amazing.
Ed: Well, I love it. I really love singing, basically, I really love singing. Once you get the confidence and love something, then it becomes easy, you relax, you get the notes, you know.
Adam: Man, I wanna talk to you about the whole business of playing live and touring in just a second, but let’s have some more music now. This is another track that you’ve brought in with you, Ed, tell us about this one.
Ed: This track is “Into the Sun” by Diplo and Martina Topley-Bird and, in fact, the first time I ever heard this one was on the tour bus about three years ago, Thom played this track.
Adam: I know Martina Topley-Bird, I don’t know Diplo.
Ed: You know that track “Pon de Floor”?
Adam: Oh, sure, Major Lazer.
Ed: Yeah, he’s one half of Major Lazer. He’s very talented, used to go out with M.I.A. He basically programmed, he did a lot of music on Paper Planes. And he’s a wiz, he’s brilliant and Martina Topley-Bird is obviously brilliant, she sang on Maxinquaye
Adam: She was Tricky’s muse, for a while, wasn’t she?
Ed: Ahh, she’s amazing. And her voice is just, you know...
Adam: That was “Into the Sun” by Diplo featuring Martina Topley-Bird. Hey, how you doing, this is Adam Buxton here, thanks for listening to my big mixtape this afternoon, my guest is Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. How you doing , Ed?
Ed: I’m good, man.
Adam: Very nice to see you. We were talking before about the whole business of playing and singing live and stuff like that. I mean, how long have you been at it now?
Ed: Well, we’ve been a band since, uh, 1985.
Adam: 1985? That was a long time ago.
Ed: That was a long time ago. The summer of Live Aid.
Adam: Good one.
Adam: And when you formed then you were called... ?
Ed: On a Friday.
Adam: On a Friday. And at some point you were called something like Worley Gig or something?
Ed: [chuckles] You want a full run-down?
Adam: Yeah, come on.
Ed: OK. Try not to laugh too hard. Then we became Dearest.
Adam: Dearest? Who’s idea was that?
Ed: I dunno, I shouldn’t attribute the blame, I think that was Thom’s... and then there was [laughing] Shindig.
Adam: [laughing] Shinding?! What the hell was that? Were you going through like a Poe’s phase or something?
Ed: I think one of the things was, we were sort of... there was a bit of an Irish phase going on [laughing hard]. Phil had an Irish girlfriend at the time.
Adam: That’s a laugh, isn’t it?
Ed: Yeah, and we were... the worst song was, there was a song called “Wise Up”.
Adam: “Wise Up”? I’ve never heard of “Wise Up”.
Ed: “Wise Up” was like a Northern-Irish kind of phrase, “Why don’t you wise up?”, but of course it was at the same time as Happy Mondays so it was bit flowered up, so it was kind of quite clever, really.
Adam: It’s more like some kind of Janet Street-Porter youth show, “Come on, wise up!”, a little bit of rapping in the middle.
Ed: Yeah, exactly.
Adam: Shinding is my favourite.
Ed: Shinding, terrible.
Adam: [in a mock announcer-voice] Ladies and gentlemen: Shindig! [mimics jolly trumpets]
Ed: The thing is, stylistically, at that time, we were all over the shop , you know. I mean, we were literally playing the music that we loved and we loved everything so there was a track that sounded like Elvis Costello, there’d be the track that was an homage to the Smiths, there was a... Do you remember Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road?
Adam: U-huh, sure.
Ed: One summer, Phil went to Northern Ireland to, you know, to be with his girlfriend so we got another friend in to play. And Nigel’s a bit more of a rock drummer, you know, more kind of four-on-the-floors and stick-twiddling kind of thing and suddenly we were, like, country rock. So it was kind of, you know, you kind of have to go down all those different avenues or country lanes in our case.
Adam: Absolutely. I mean, one of the impressive and heartening things about Radiohead is that, apparently by sheer dint of hard work and tenacity and perspicaciousness, whatever the right word is, you have turned yourselves into a good band from fairly inauspicious beginnings if you don’t mind me saying so. Do you think that’s fair?
Ed: Yeah, you know, I mean. OK, so when we first started I thought we were the best band in the world. I remember there was this feeling of, you know, 1985, probably about 3rd rehearsal, I remember thinking “God, this is amazing!”. Then, of course, 6 years later, you get your record deal, you get signed and you make a record and you still think you are really good. And then you make a record and it’s not great. And we hadn’t got our chops together. For instance, when were signed, it was the Nirvana, you know, post-Stone Roses. People were saying, you know, one record company said: “So, uh, what’s your agenda? What’s your manifesto?”. And were like: “Uhh, music?”. So we sort of stumbled, you know. Image-wise we looked terrible, you know, we didn’t think these things were important and I guess that’s fairly naïve and of course they’re important, you know, how you look and how you present yourself. We were fairly shambolic in the early days and I think the whole experience of “Pablo Honey” and then “Creep” getting really big in America, you know, finding ourselves in the public eye, looking shambolic. We knew we had to get our stuff together. And, so, who do we look towards? The coolest band at the time – and they’re still very cool – were Massive Attack, as far as we were concerned. “OK, we need to reappraise things”, it wasn’t a very conscious thing, we knew we had to do it differently, so it was kind of like, the big thing, I think, was doing the videos. It was, for “The Bends”, getting Jake Scott to do “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Street Spirit”. At that time, the video could really define you as well, so that really helped.
Adam: I remember being sort of aware of Radiohead and aware of Pablo Honey. I remember sort of seeing those posters with the baby, thinking “What the hell is that... ”. And I remember then a friend of mine, Louis Theroux in fact, who was a guest on this show, sort of said, “You into Radiohead?”. And I went, “Not really... ”. And he said: “Oh, you should check out this album “The Bends” that’s come out, it’s good”. And I said: “Really? Is it?”. And he gave me a tape and I didn’t listen to it for ages. Then I was on a holiday in France, it was kind of a grim holiday, just me and my dad, wandering around, wondering what we were doing. And on one long drive, I thought: “Hang on, let’s listen to this thing Louis’ given me. And, instantly, “Planet Telex” comes on and you think “Oh, OK, this is quite different and this is good, this is what they call “widescreen music” on press releases. Track after track you think “Hey, this is, uh, I don’t know which part of me it’s speaking to, but it’s speaking very loudly to it.”
Ed: Well, we knew, after Pablo Honey, I remember my dad, who’s a always a great arbiter, he said: “One good song on “Pablo Honey”, it’s “Creep”, rest of it’s... you know... ”. And, you know, that’s maybe a little harsh, but basically when we did “The Bends” we knew that the idea was that 12 songs, every song had to be kind of a single. It had to be. Cause we were losing momentum and we were losing momentum fast. “Creep” held us in there, but, you know, for bands, when you’re young, it’s inertia and momentum. If you are losing it, if you are going down, everyone can sniff it, anyone can. And they want it. They wanted to see us fail, you know, we were five minor-public school boys from Oxfordshire. We weren’t liked by the Melody Maker, NME and the reviews were terrible and they were probably justified, but they did not really like anything about us. Except, you know, people liked “Creep” and that kept us in there. So we kinda got one chance and that was our chance, the record. “Lucky” was brilliant and that was when we met Nigel cause he was the engineer on that session.
Adam: So it all started coming together?
Adam: And was that a fun time? Was that a hopefully time or were you all just dragged down by, did you just think: “Listen, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this?”?
Ed: Not really, it wasn’t fun. I mean, the thing that was always there was when we were touring “Pablo Honey” with these songs that Thom had written, we knew that they were very special , you know, cause we were playing a lot of them live. We must’ve been mid-20s so you know you want to things in a certain way, you know you want to, but you don’t have the confidence to see it through. So, for instance, when we first went to the studio [for “The Bends”], it was the last time the record company really told us what to do, at EMI. They said: “We want you to record these five songs upfront, we think they might be potential singles.”. So there was “Just” and there was “Sulk” and it was disastrous, cause it put all this pressure on us to get it right. You don’t enter a recording session like that, you enter it like, you just do it, you know, it pans out, it evolves naturally. But we weren’t in the position to say “No, we’re not going to do that”, so it was a bit fraught. What happened was that we had about 6-7 weeks in the studio in London and, we didn’t abort the sessions, but we thought “Right, what we need to do is get out on the road” and we went out on the road and basically played all these songs live, came back in and did them live, most of them live, in about three weeks at The Manor, a studio outside Oxford. And I guess it was just very, very lucky. We kept on doing, we kept on going and that was the key.
Adam: Yeah, keep your head down. We’re gonna skip ahead, musically, to “OK Computer” , one of the b-sides that came out for, I think, “Karma Police”. That was an album that, obviously, meant a lot to a huge amount of people, continues to mean a lot to an awful lot of people, that’s when I met my wife, that year, 1997. It was so intense, there was so much good music around and when that album came out and every one of those tracks spoke to me. And then there was this instrumental on the “Karma Police” single and I thought “Wow, this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard!”. I’ve found out since that you’re responsible for it, it was “Meeting in the Aisle”. Am I right in saying that that’s the only instrumental Radiohead have ever done?
Ed: Yeah, I think it’s the only instrumental. I mean, I’m only responsible for coming up with the original riff, the music, but I wasn’t responsible for the production of the track. Nigel and, you know, we all worked on that. I think that came out of St Catherine’s Court, Jane Seymour. Late at night, you know, fooling around with my pedals as usual and then up with this riff and sampled it. Sam and Henry, who are basically Zero 7, they did the drum programming on that. I like this track cause it conveys that feeling of what it was like around that time, there’s a whole element of, you are almost in like a trance just doing this stuff, you are going through this bubble. “OK Computer” was amazing, but it was sort of the same, the eye of the storm was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It was a magic time, don’t get me wrong. For me, this always sums up this – what’s the word? – progression, movement and being quite spaced out. Naturally.
Adam: This is “Meeting in the Aisle”.
Adam: That’s “Meeting People [sic] in the Aisle” from Radiohead, there. My guest is Ed O’Brien from the band. Let me take you back to the time, if you don’t mind. I’m thinking of the documentary “Meeting People is Easy”, directed by Grant Gee. That is basically painting a picture of band around the “OK Computer” touring time. And you look as if you are under a lot of pressure. Both sort of external pressure from critics and things, becoming successful, and also sort of internal pressure about how to actually deal with that. Do you think, when you see that film – and I don’t know if you’ve seen it since – do you think it was sort of exaggerated, the feeling of claustrophobia and imminent implosion or was that a fairly accurate portrait?
Ed: It was very accurate when Grant was out there with us. And he happened to –I mean, I don’t know what it was – but he happened to be around the moments when it all got a little hairy. I mean, there were lighter moments, you know. The Japanese stuff was followed by a glorious tour of Australia. But it was just one of those things, it was growing pains. I think we wanted to be in that situation, but we weren’t very good at handling it. We were basically collectively quite shy, individually we were quite shy. We weren’t very well prepared for it. But it was all good.
Adam: Cause I remember thinking, like, “Oh no, this band is not gonna last, they’re just gonna fold. This lead singer, he’s writing these songs from his heart, suddenly he’s got all these fans who feel like he’s communicating directly with them, there’s all that unbelievable pressure from a group of unusually emotional and intelligent fans, I would characterise Radiohead fans as being –myself included, of course. But that must continue to be a huge pressure for all the members of the band. Or is it not?
Ed: Not really, I mean it was pressure on Thom around that time. Hence you see the shift to “Kid A”.
Adam: Withdrawing a little?
Ed: Withdrawing, that’s right. And I think, what’s interesting about “In Rainbows”, I remember at the time and I think it was brought on by Thom doing “The Eraser”. When Thom did “The Eraser” the vocals were, for the first time in a long time, for the first time since “OK Computer”, they were upfront. And that was a big thing on “In Rainbows”. Suddenly, there was something very tangible to hold on to. It was a, you know, a security thing, to remain intact, he withdrew. “Kid A” is what it is, cause it was a reaction for what went on before. And I think, precisely as you said, it doesn’t sit comfortably; suddenly people are latching to every single word you’re writing and taking them to heart and personalizing them. That’s a strong load to bear.
Adam: That’s a lot of responsibility. And the flipside of that, of course, is that when you’re so visible and successful you get a lot of people saying “Come on, they’re not THAT good!” and “Why won’t they stop whining?” and “What’s so wrong with being successful? If you don’t like it, stop doing it.” Were there bits of criticism that remain with you to this day? Things that either fans or critics said about the band that you thought “Uhh, that hurts... ”?
Ed: [chortle] Not really. The only thing [laughing], the only thing that comes into my mind is how a really good friend of mine said “Listen, mate, you gotta check out this website.” And, I mean, I never, I never ever, I don’t read our reviews, I stopped reading them around the time of “Kid A”, I don’t see us, I don’t listen to us, you know, because it makes you too self-conscious. And he directed me, the only bit of criticism, he directed me to this website. And it was about how I was the worst-dressed member of Radiohead [laughing]. And I looked at it and said “Yeah, they’re right, aren’t they? They’re really right!”.
Adam: Around about when was this?
Ed: Oh this was about 2003. I mean it’s very superficial. I know you say people say we whine. I mean, life isn’t necessarily a bed of roses wherever you are. And I think that in those days we were struggling with a lot of things, we were struggling with ourselves. So it’s, you know, fine.
Adam: Struggling with universal things. People latch on to the music and that’s why it means so much to them.
Ed: Exactly. Totally. I mean, we’ve always been honest. Nigel said to us in the early days: “God, you guys are like method actors.” We’d have to get in to the right collective mind space and it would come out. But it wasn’t a conscious thing, it wasn’t putting it on as it was. I think we were sort of very lucky. I think it’s still true to that, the only way you can make music is to be honest. The only way music is good is if it honestly reflects where you are as an individual and as a collective and that’s always been the case and it has to carry on being the case. Otherwise you get into dreadful kind of scenarios where you are kind of second-guessing what people want and you shouldn’t be like this.
Adam: Absolutely. Just before we play some more music, you mentioning being called “badly dressed”, there, by someone. I mean, that’s harsh, I think of you as being very sartorially correct on stage these days.
Ed: Well, I’ve made an effort over the last 4 years [laughing]. And they were right, all these pictures, with captions like “What are those trousers?!”, “What the hell was going on?”.
Adam: What were you wearing, like salmon-pink cords or something?
Ed: No, they were like, they were quite ill-fitting, cause I’m quite tall so I would get things that didn’t quite fit so maybe they were a little bit short, you know.
Adam: Mr Bean!
Ed: Yes, exactly!
Adam: And are there times when you are all in your dressing rooms or whatever before a gig and then everyone convenes for whatever the Radiohead version of the band hug is, before you go on stage and look at what someone else is wearing and you think [imitates a sad trumpet]. “Do we mention it or... ?”
Ed: In the early days, certainly. I mean, we don’t have individual dressing rooms, we still have ours. Now it’s kind of funny, the more time you hang out with people the more you sort of morph into looking the same, we’ve been saying that recently. Certainly in the early days, there was a waistcoat that Colin used to wear – he’ll kill me for mentioning it. And everyone would look at me constantly and I knew there would be raised eyebrows like “Those trousers and two inches too short but we’re not gonna tell him!” [laughing]
Adam: That was called “Hawaii in 10 seconds”, before that you heard Plone.
Adam: Scott Walker, there. I think we’ve played almost every track from Scott on “The Big Mixtape”. That’s what you’re listening to, incidentally. Hey, I’m Adam Buxton, thank you so much for tuning in, listeners. This week, our fictional compilation is space-themed tape, it’s called “2010: A Tape Odyssey” and my guest, who chose that last track, incidentally, is Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. How you doing, Ed?
Ed: Very well, thank you.
Adam: I’ve got some questions from some of the people who’ve been blogging and logging into the blog, doing some bloglogs. We were over-whelmed with questions, let me say, when people found out that you were going to be on the show so apologies to anyone out there who doesn’t have their question read out. Here’s one from James, he says, “Ed, after saying many of your concerts, I noticed that unlike Jonny, Thom or Colin, you seem to use a wide range of guitars. I see Strats, Tellies, Gibsons and the Plank flying on and off stage. Which one’s your favourite or do you not get attached to guitars in that way?” What’s the Plank?
Ed: The Plank was built by Peter Plank, our chief back-line. Plank’s been with us forever, since ´93, he looks after... he’s in the studio with us, looks after all our gear. He built be a guitar in ´93 and then we had all our gear nicked in ´95 when we were on tour in America and he built another one. It’s a very beautiful kind of a Rickenbacker-Gibson hybrid that he built and, yeah, it’s lovely.
Adam: And do you have favourites?
Ed: Yeah. He’s right, I play way too many guitars on stage and I’m stripping it down, next time we go out: two guitars, Gibson 335 and a Fender Telly, that’s all I’ll use.
Adam: And a lot of pedals.
Ed: Lots of pedals... No! I’m stripping down, yeah man. I’ve got it down, really, I’ve been working on it.
Adam: Which one would you keep? Which one is the ultimate pedal?
Ed: The ultimate pedal? Well, I’ve just got this one called the Klon Centaur.
Ed: [chuckles] Yeah, you know it’s good.
Adam: [in a mock, high-pitched, demanding voice] I am the Klon Centaur, what is your bidding?
Ed: It’s brilliant cause it’s like, it’s a boutique pedal, you know.
Adam: [same comic voice] Step on my face, I will change the sound!
Ed: [laughing] But it’s got like a centaur on the pedal.
Adam: Has it? And little horns coming out?
Ed: Yeah, totally, man. It’s disconcerting looking down there.
Adam: What about the Kaoss pad?
Ed: The Kaoss pad is, Jonny uses the Kaoss pad, that’s still around, that’s still there, that’s still rocking our world.
Adam: Excellent, thank you very much for your question, James. Let’s play another track right now that you’ve brought in for our space tape, Ed, what have you got for us?
Ed: Well, I’ve got “Runaways” by the XTC which might seem a little tenuous, the link, but I thought we’d be running away into space. And XTC are a band... I mean, that’s the first track from “English Settlement”, great album. Probably “Black Sea” is my favourite album by XTC. But they were a Swindon band as well, I mean, I lived half-way between Oxford and Swindon. There’s this bizarre rivalry between Oxford and Swindon that used to exist. It used to manifest itself in the football games mainly. I was sort of on the cusp of it and you’d hear, on the one hand there’d be the Oxford song about Swindon, dunno if you’ve ever heard it, it was like “We hate Swindon and we hate Swindon, we hate Swindon and we hate Swindon, we hate Swindon and we hate Swindon, we are the Swindon-haters”. [both laugh]. So there was that coming from the east side of Oxfordshire, on the other side it was more “We love Swindon and we love Swindon, we are the Swindon-lovers”. I digressed, of course, but XTC are an amazing band and I love this tune. I think this is from when they sort of discovered the 12-string.
Adam: Fantastic, this is XTC with “Runaways”.
Adam: XTC with “Runaways” there, that was the choice of my guest this week , Ed O’Brien. Hey, this is Adam Buxton here and you are listening to my “Big Mixtape” on 6 Music, thank you so much for doing so. Andy Partridge, of course, is someone whose live commitments as a band had been cartelled by his stage fright a lot of the time. I dunno if that’s something he’s got over completely or not really. He’s still in a studio band because of that, I guess. And that’s a shame for any musician because presumably, playing live is more than half of the deal a lot of the time, isn’t it? Isn’t that the fun part?
Ed: Well, I guess it is frustrating, but I guess it’s horses for courses, you know. I mean, it must be a nightmare for you, if you, you know, you have to go out and play live and you’ve got such fear for it. I mean, whatever he needs to do to make music is the thing. I mean, for us, it’s the big part of what we do, so, yeah.
Adam: Is it something you look forward to or is it something you feel frightened of?
Ed: Um, a little bit apprehensive at the start of the tour, in terms of are we gonna play well, and then when you are doing it, it’s brilliant.
Adam: Looking up at the stage and seeing you guys play, doing an amazing job, it’s so exciting. And there are moments, when, for example when you play “There There” in particularly, it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen and you can tell the rest of the crowd feel the same way. It just lives up to all your fantasies about what it would be like to see this amazing band. Is it like that on the stage, though? Do you ever get that feeling of “I’m in an amazing band!”?
Ed: Do you ever get that feeling of “This is an amazing night”? And the amazing night is that it’s not about us, it’s about everybody, it’s about the audience, that’s an amazing thing about music and that’s what I love about life. I mean, when you come to one of our shows, then you’re participating as much as we are. If you wanna get it down to physics, then it’s an exchange of energy, there’s energies going on there. So what happens is that, on a great night, what we do, individually and collectively, and what the people in the audience do, it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And, literally, there’s nights when you think the roof’s gonna come off and we’re all gonna be sucked up into space. It feels amazing. I think you’re tapping into these very primal things, you know, rhythm, tribal, meditative, hypnotic, melodic. That’s why we love music, because it taps into something with all of us, it resonates very, very deeply. It’s amazing, I mean, when you are in the middle of it, you’re kind of lost in it, it’s just amazing.
Adam: And I mentioned “There There”, but are there tracks that you particularly enjoy playing and you think “Ah, can’t wait to play one... ”?
Ed: “Arpeggi”, on the last tour, was like, that was a real moment. Cause it was one of those tracks that was always greeted, Phil started up the drums and it was always greeted with this “Ahhh... ”, you could feel it, and then it just builds and builds and builds and builds and then it cuts down and there’s this moment of delicate beauty where we are all garnered and then it suddenly goes into the big, you know... When I love music it’s really, really... there’s a ... .I can see it, I can feel it, you know, it’s like a film. It takes you places, it’s very vivid. So, yeah, “Arpeggi”’s a good one for that.
Adam: And, conversely, is there a track that you think “Oh, not this one... ”? Either because it’s technically challenging or cause you’re sick of it.
Ed: [laughing] Yeah, there must be and I’m trying to wrap my brain around it. There used to be, I mean, the technically challenging ones are good. I mean, we are very lucky cause we’ve got a big body of songs so the songs we play we’re never sick of. Certainly in the early days, there was a b-side that was on the “My Iron Lung” EP that was called “Punchdrunk Lovesong [pause] ”Love” [pause, Ed can’t remember the title] Punchdrunk Lovesong” [pause] “Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong”. And it had so many chord changes and we always used to joke that Colin used to fluff it [imitates bending a note on bass], bass is very unforgiving. At least on the guitar you can sort of move it or bend the note, but on the bass, if you don’t get the right note, it’s “Ahhh!”. But, we all used to make mistakes, in the early days, when you had a limited number of songs and you played the same songs. And I’ve mentioned Colin, Colin is the best bass player in the world. So I feel like I’m just kind of like... we’re all making mistakes. But he’ll know, if he’s listening, he’ll know exactly what I mean, we used to laugh.
Adam: Yeah, yeah, yeah. What about when you finish a tour, you come off the tour after all that adrenaline has been spent or at least when it’s still coursing through your veins and exiting your body, that must be quite a period of adjustment when you come back home and you have to deal with everyday life, the nappies and washing up.
Ed: Tricky, yeah. [laughing]
Adam: Have you got better at making that adjustment now?
Ed: I think you should ask my wife that, probably not. I think, next time, [I should] stay away from home for about a week and just decompress and maybe go to the woods. Cause it’s like Pavlov’s dogs, 9 o’clock in the evening you are awake and you are kind of like “Ahh!” and your body clock’s going. The worst thing that happens is that, when, for instance, you finish the tour in America on the west coast so you’re going on stage at 9 o’clock in America, that’s 5 o’clock in the morning in the UK. So you fly back to 2 days later and every morning for the next week, I’m –bang! – 5 o’clock in the morning I’m ready, “Where’s the gig, man?”. It’s really, really hard and of course, on tour, it’s quite a selfish existence cause everything’s geared to you doing the best performance on that day. So you have people who help, you have lovely food cooked for you, you don’t have to clean an arse, you don’t have to do anything. It’s done for you, you know, you don’t have to do the nappies, anything. So when you get back, it’s a bit of a ...
Ed: Yeah, and you walk back in expecting to be like the returning hero, but it’s just like “Life’s continued”. And you’re like “But we were up to 20 000 people last night!”.
Adam: “Brad Pitt was at the gig for Christ’s sake! Gimme some respect! You make your own tea!
Ed: [laughing hard, wheezing] Exactly, that’s exactly what it’s like. I can be a total arse when I get off tour; you’ve got to recognize that as well.
Adam: Let’s hear another track that you’ve brought in for our space-mix. Now, this is Mary Wells, how is this space-related?
Ed: Well, the thing is, I was thinking about this, like, you’re in space... have you ever seen the documentary “In the shadow of the Moon”?
Adam: Ah, I don’t think so.
Ed: It’s an amazing documentary; it’s basically interviews with all of the Apollo crews.
Adam: There’s a similar one that’s called “For all Mankind” that has Eno’s music.
Ed: That’s very good as well. And what’s interesting is that when all astronauts get into space there’s this almost universal kind of experience that they have, and it’s a very spiritual one. They always look back on the Earth and they see this beautiful, blue planet, you know, the one James Lovelock called Gaia or whatever, and it’s the most beautiful thing and they are aware of, for the first time, how precious and beautiful it is. And I thought, you know, given that, what would be the bit of music? If I was given a film, what would I do? And I would have Mary Wells’ “My Guy”, cause there’s something in that song, of true beauty, it’s very human, as well. It’s full of love and it’s a joyful song. I wouldn’t necessarily want Richard Strauss to accompany me at that moment, I want something to warm my heart, and that song does that, it’s amazing.
Adam: Mary Wells with “My Guy”, that was the final selection of my guest this week, Ed O’Brien from Radiohead. Thank you so much for coming in and joining me, Ed, it’s been so nice to talk to you.
Adam: Well, listeners, that’s pretty much it for our programme today and, indeed, for our...