Look Who's Talking
They’re fitter and – shock! – happier. Welcome back, then, to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brien, plus studio Merlin Nigel Godrich. “We’ve been drinking our own urine,” they tell Steve Lowe.
So, are you pleased to still be the best band in the world?
Ed O'Brien: Yes, we're the defending champions.
Thom Yorke: And we haven't even done anything.
You've just spent two weeks in the studio. How many more weeks will you need?
TY: Not many, judging by the look I'm getting from Nigel.
Didn't you plan to have the album finished in Los Angeles?
Nigel Godrich: That was like a really big enormous carrot.
TY: That was never going to happen. It was just a running joke.
EO: We usually extend the two-week stints to three or four weeks. But then sometimes it can be eight weeks. Two weeks is good.
TY: Mind you, we did one track when we went straight in, this song called ‘Go To Sleep’. I think it's called that. It should have been called ‘Over My Dead Body’, but I kind of have a problem with that. Obviously.
So how was LA?
TY: It was good, Everyone hired Minis except Ed, who had a Volvo.
EO: I had a hairdresser's car.
TY: All the minis had Union Jacks on and we turned up at the studio in convoy.
Are you sure about that?
TY: It's true.
EO: But it was good for us to go some where sunny We've always locked ourselves away in the winter. But a couple of times we went to Griffiths Park Observatory and watched the sun go down. It's a mad city.
NG: Typically, we're back here for winter, so that was a bit of a miscalculation. I've been trying to get them there for a while.
Did the sun affect the music?
TY: It did quite a lot, actually. No matter where we go it always affects us a lot. But it wasn't so much the sun as the complete lack of any reality whatsoever. We were there during the Earth Summit and there was nothing about it anywhere. We were there during 11 September and there was a load of sanctimonious drivel on the telly. There was no reality, no nothing.
NG: Inevitably you soak up your surroundings. So we usually go to nice, beautiful places. But even going somewhere that's really abstract and bizarre is going to contribute to some sort of inspiration.
TY: It was a bit like working in a void, though. But it had a powerful influence - I can't really work out what it was, though.
Were they relaxed sessions?
TY: Yes. The first couple of days it was, then it was like, [panicked voice] "Fucking hell, we're back." But apart from that...
NG: I thought we weren't going to talk about the album.
So did road testing the songs live in Spain and Portugal change things?
EO: We had arrangements for the first time going into the studio for years. It was really important to do that, though. If you do four weeks of touring and you're playing new songs, you've got this energy you're chomping at the bit to record them. So the first thing we recorded on the first day; it was just an introduction, something that was a bit throwaway, but you go back to it and you can feel that excitement.
So are the songs still close in feel to the live versions (recorded during the gigs in Portugal in July) on the internet?
TY: I'd say that's about a third of the picture as to what it will end up being.
Has the album got a working title?
TY: I would say no at the moment. There is one, but I ain't going to tell you it because... that would be an error.
EO: That would be an error! I like that, I'm going to remember that. That would not be right. Not proper.
So you've missed the first deadline. Are you still trying to keep it fairly quick?
TY: Yes. A song a day.
Did you think the Kid A/Amnesiac period...
TY: Here we go, here it comes.
...set you on more of an even keel?
TY: Oh, right!
What did you think the question was going to be?
TY: I don't know, something like... you went off the track for a while there, but now you're back on. But yeah, we've got more confidence now. And that's actually a good thing. Usually it's a bad thing, but for us it's a good thing. Everybody's more relaxed and not so shit-scared, so I guess you're right.
So you haven't been thinking about not carrying on this time?
TY: That happens with every album we make. I'm sure it'll happen on this one. It almost happened on Friday. As I said onstage, I thought, "Oh my God, we've fucked up. We've done it now, we've finally fucked up." But it was OK on Saturday.
So what's the secret of longevity?
TY: Ah well, you see, lots of herbal baths.
EO: Drinking your own urine.
TY: Loads of... oh, I won't say. That would be an error.
You're kind of rocking the black overcoat look today, aren't you, Thom?
TY: What are you saying about my black overcoat? [Mock hurt] Fucking hell, you're on dodgy ground, man. I tell you, this is... my fucking wardrobe. It's my LA purchase. I found the only coat in LA.