Fresh outta Oxford come RADIOHEAD hoping to use the might of a major label to get their guitar squall onto the air-waves and squeeze out Michael Bolton. John Harris reports. pictured by Piers Alladyce.
“THROWAWAY pop wouldn’t suit us“, says Radiohead’s co-axe-wielder, Ed, “because it’s very difficult to play live night after night. When we’re onstage, it’s almost like an exorcism - we really throw ourselves into what we play. How can you do that with a three minute pop song?”
He’s got a point. The schizoid intensity of Radiohead’s songs makes for performances that ooze an astonishing energy, due chiefly to the lunatic demeanour of vocalist Tom.
“We just try to hold off all our energy, so for that 40 minutes we’re burning through the songs,” he enthuses. “Being onstage is the most important thing we do; everything else consists of waiting for that. It might sound old fashioned, but we do try to give it everything.”
Radiohead are gathering in the Jericho Tavern, an infamous pint-sized venue that’s acted as their launch pad. They’re about to set out on a nationwide trek with Catherine Wheel, having prepared themselves for the big league by finally getting around to changing their name. “On a Friday” (“the worst name in the f***ing world”) has been wisely jettisoned, in favour of a moniker that encapsulates the band’s weird wireless fixation.
“The radio is everywhere,” explains skeletal guitarist Johnny. “Everyone’s subject to the same information all the time, becoming more and more like each other. I really hate the idea of radio waves being inescapable. Wherever you go, they’re going through you. it’s horrible.”
“A couple of weeks before the name change,” continues Ed, “ we put on the radio in my car, and every channel was playing Michael Bolton, singing the same song, It was despicable. satan had taken over the airwaves.”
The corporate machinery of EMI should ensure that Radiohead seize some of the ether from the forces of darkness, but its hard to envisage their wonderfully tortured songs going down a storm with the likes of Steve Wright; cranked -up cathartic pieces like “Prove Yourself” ( a heart-stopping examination of the suicidal impulse) and the lovelorn “Stupid Car” are hardly the kind of stuff you’ll find the milkman whistling.
Radiohead’s first EP sounds deliciously crazed, betraying their love of the disquieting work of bands like the pixies and Throwing Muses. The Yank reference points go further; their aim, should the masters of the airwaves take a shine to them, is to make an aural impact on the nation’s listeners akin to that achieved by Nirvana.
“’Smells Like Teen Spirit’ had the kind of feel we’re after,” concludes tom. “When it came on the radio, you had no choice but to listen to it. You couldn’t just drive along and ignore it; it came out at you. I hope we’ll come out of people’s speakers in the same way. All our songs come from a state of conflict, and if you listen to them in the right way, you’re bound to feel that conflict as well.”
Radiohead’s debut EP is out now on Parlophone.