Main Index >> Media Index >> Hail to the Thief Media | UK Media | 2003 Interviews
[recording starts]

John Kennedy: "(cuts in) ...heard the opener '2 + 2 = 5'. I've got Thom Yorke with me tonight. And uh, what can you tell us about 'Snakes and Ladders', as it's otherwise known?"

Thom: "Oh right! Uh, yeah. Mmm! Dunno, just liked that one. That was one of the titles that uh, for the record, that we kept running around, but it didn't make it. Dunno..."

John: "It seems to me that "Sit down stand up" is a phrase that uh, ties in, a lot, with my understanding of this record. In a sense that you're kind of questioning... what we have to do, in life, in society and whatever, and, do we sit down and do nothing, or do we stand up and be counted for doing something? And that seems to run through quite a few of the songs, in different ways."

Thom: "Yeah. Uh, when I sing it, though I always think of, um, uh, the 'We can wipe you out any time' line, uh, and they just, they developed that missile now; that they can just launch and target it on the strength of your mobile signal. And they wiped someone out on that, before the Iraq war they did that. It's pretty impressive. But, that's what I always think of. Careful what you say! Careful what you say on your mobile phone!"

John: "Harmless stuff..."

Thom: "Not that I'm paranoid, really!"

John: "It's called 'Sail to the Moon' and it's a really beautiful piece of music. It must be said, it was a real highlight, I got to see, at the Saturday night at Shepherds Bush Empire."

Thom: "Mmm."

John: "And I thought it sounded beautiful there."

Thom: "Yeah, it was a good night!"

John: "Is this a love song?"

Thom: "Uh! Yeah, it's a really hopeful song! Um, and... quite personal, and, that's about all I can say about it, really! 'Brush the Cobwebs out of the Sky'... Dunno, that's from somewhere, but I can't remember... Oh, yes! It's from Bagpuss."

(both laugh)

John: "Which, on one of the little cards that come up between scenes?"

Thom: "Um, I think it's one of those amazing Oliver Postgate song-story things! I'm not sure."

John: "Ok. This is 'Sail to the Moon', Radiohead."

[Cut]

John: "'Sail to the Moon', Radiohead, from the new album Hail to the Thief. It's X-Posure. It's 104.9 XFM. It's another X-Posure album playback. This time with Thom Yorke with us, to tell us about all the songs! 'Backdrifts (Honeymoon is Over)' is the next track!

Thom: "Oh!"

John: "Which part is the most important? 'Backdrifts', or 'Honeymoon is Over'?"

Thom: "Oh definitely 'Backdrifts'! I don't know where 'Honeymoon is Over'... I was in a hurry, you know what I mean?"

John: "'We're backdrifters', and 'you're backtracking', are two of the little things I notice in the lyrics."

Thom: "Yeah..."

John: "What's the idea?"

Thom: "I really don't know. Says he. No, I don't, this, for me, is that the lyrics came from so many different places. Um, and, it sounds good in your car."

John: "A good one to drive to!"

Thom: "Yes."

John: "How do you go about collecting lyrics, then? Do you take notes of different things and combine..."

Thom: "Well, you can't get two more opposites than the one you just heard, 'Sail to the Moon', which the lyrics were sort of done in ten minutes, really, and this one, which was a bunch of samples kicking around for years, that i didn't know what to do with. And then this melody starts forming and Cozzie and Jonny started programming this stuff with it, but really, I had to really struggle with the words, it drove me crazy, I had to try every trick in the book, cutting them up endlessly, re-cut them, did it again and again and again. And the really peculiar thing is that song originally comes from an episode in Japan. Where we were trying to travel to a gig, on a bullet train, and we got stuck in a snow drift. And I've never saw... you know that cliche'd thing about, a blanket of snow. And I've never actually seen it absolutely pure. There was nothing, you couldn't see anything. You could just about make out that it was so high it was covering cars almost until the top. And this was before we actually hit the snow drift, as we flew along, the snow would fall from the branches, you know, and it was just completely dreamlike, and at the time i was doing what ended up being the sample for this thing, on a QY-70 machine. So originally it was all based around that, and even some of the words are cut up from the original lyrics for that, that never made it anywhere, and the samples are cut from that period. But then it's mutated again into something else, and then something else, and then something else! So it's, it's that cut up endlessly thing."

John: "And then finally you arrive at something that is finished."

Thom: "Yeah, which is very much like a performance, which is the word better than the ego, yes."

[Cut for 'Backdrifts']

John: "'Backdrifts', Radiohead, from the new album Hail to the Thief. It is X-Posure, it is XFM, and Thom Yorke is with me tonight. 'Go to Sleep' is the next track. 'Little man being erased'. I love the juxtaposition, I must say, of the whole thing, with the subtitles, about the album title, because it adds a real element. It does seem to be a dichotomy all the time, and if you're going to look at the lyric booklet and go through it, it's often as if there's a kind of call-and-response thing in some of the songs. As if, one person is saying..."

Thom: "Well, yeah, 'Go to Sleep' is, yes! Definitely that."

John: "And one person is saying the other..."

Thom: "Absolutely."

John: "So you ask a question and then someone else gives a reply."

Thom: "There's two sides of the coin a lot of time I suppose. We've got... there's definitely two prevailing voices, yeah, I agree with that! Um, 'Little man being erased' is an animation that Stanley did, which is going to be on the website probably. That was, again, another possible title for the record, which is nice, but didn't fit! Sigh... Um, and the words to this were very much all the way down like, all the way down the line. Like 'I'm going to have to... I'll change all these at one point, because this is all nonsense. Blah blah blah.' But then, actually, ended up in the studio and it's like, 'Ok, now we're going to do this one', I'm going 'Ok, I need to rewrite the words' and then reading through the words I'd got in the notes, and just discovering that I'd actually got something really coherent, without having made the effort to do it, or, rather, I couldn't see it. Um, sort of. It's actually the lyrics I'm most proud of on the record, I think!"

[Cut]

John: "You're listening to London's 104.9 XFM, It is X-Posure. John Kennedy with you until 1, and tonight, we've got another X-Posure album playback, it is the brand new album from Radiohead, Hail to the Thief, the song you just heard was 'Go to Sleep', otherwise known as 'Little man being erased'. The next track is 'Where I End and You Begin', which is a great title, another love song possibly? I mean, that's..."

Thom: "Well now, let's have a look shall we, huh?"

John: "Go on, it's just the idea of the two becoming one! But maybe I'm just an old romantic!"

Thom: "Or the opposite! Um. I really don't know what on earth these words mean. Uh. I do know I went through a phase where I couldn't actually, where I couldn't get back into my head. I'd walk around and I'd be, I could sort of see myself from above. It's not much fun, I tell you..."

John: "Hmm, no, I don't think it would be..."

Thom: "The song originally stems from that."

John: "'I will eat you alive, and there will be no more lies'..."

Thom: "God knows. Constant cannibal thing, I'm going to get it out of my system one day."

John: "Well let's see what we all make of this, this is Radiohead, 'Where I End and You Begin', Radiohead."

[Cut]

John: "'Where I End and You Begin', Radiohead, from the new album Hail to the Thief, we're almost halfway through the album. 'We Suck Young Blood'..."

Thom: (laughs)

John: "...is the title of the next track. Or otherwise known as 'Your time is up'. And there is a kind of, I guess, a vampiric quality to this?"

Thom: "Yeah, well, yeah, that's right, well, we um, There was, some completely... We did this thing (um), I think we have had it in London here now as well, where we were putting up these ads: 'Hungry? Sick? Begging for a break? Ring this number'. And (uh), someone somewhere had really completely missed the point. Or, sort of did. Or maybe they didn't: that (um) where they kind of thought we were running some (uh) Radiohead talent show. Which was, just genius, it was like , "Oh, that would have been perfect!" Um, sadly not. It was a good idea, though. (UH) I think it's called 'Your time is up' simply just taking the piss out of the fact that we're basically old gits now, and we need to suck young blood to keep young! (laughs)"

John: (Starts...)

Thom: "It's all very tied up with Hollywood, as well, and (uh), you know the constant desire to stay young, and (uh) I think that... fleece people, suck their energy, corporations, corporate "media groups" love to do that, blah blah blah. It's not really about the music business as such. Erm, definitely much more about the glamorous world of Hollywood."

John: "Right! And though, but the music seems to tie in with the lyrical theme in a way."

Thom: "It's quite sexy as well."

John: "And it has that kind of work song clapping thing, and then there's a little New orleans jazz freakout type of thing!"

Thom: "Yeah. I've always wanted to do the slave ship tune, and this is definitely it. Now, what film is it? (Uh). There's a film where... I don't know. To me it always reminds me of being in the bottom of the ship, where all the slaves are rowing the boat."

[Cut]

John: "Radiohead, and 'The Gloaming' from the new album Hail to the Thief, it's another X-Posure album playback. You're listening to 104.9 XFM, I'm John Kennedy with you until one, and I've got Thom Yorke with me, to tell us about this album. 'The Gloaming' was the alternative title of the album Hail to the Thief."

Thom: "Yes."

John: "And it's been described: the gloaming, the darkness is what this album is all about. Can you explain a little bit about 'The Gloaming'?"

Thom: "Well, it's not really... There's definitely a sense of foreboding. 'Gloaming'... I looked it up and, it does have lots of associations with, (uhm), dream state stuff. Um, (and), It's a very out of fashion poetic word for twilight. In fact the only time you see it on... dodgy folk records. Well, maybe they're not dodgy, I don't know anything about folk music, but I'll dig myself out of that one shortly... But, it ties in again with the Hail to the thief thing because every time... I went through this phase of driving around in twilight for various reasons, down endless country roads on my own. Listening to loud music. And uh... the highlight of my day, as you can imagine. And (uh) I always, I would just think about the, what I've heard on the radio. And what I was hearing on the radio and blah blah blah. And there's something that happens within that light and the way it mixed with the head lights from my car, which is something I had tried to get into a painting for ages, and, gave up because i basically can't paint. But, it just sort of, that thing stuck with me, it's quite a difficult.... That's the best way I can explain it. I think most records that we do have certain colours. And those are the colours for me. If you know what I mean."

John: "And uh, 'Your alarm bells should be ringing'."

Thom: "Well, the song itself, I really think the song itself is the most explicit, uhm, not political song on the record, but I think the most, the most explicit protest song on the record. Uhm, and when I did it, I didn't really realise, what it was, but every time we play it live now I feel really strongly that it's about the rise of Fascism, intolerance, bigotry, and fear, and all the things that keep a population down, keep a population in their place, when things get sticky the economy starts to go pear-shaped, what do we do? 'Ooh, need some scapegoats, I know, let's do this.'. So they open the bottle, they find some scapegoats, they let the genie out of the bottle and the next thing they know, they have (uh) a state of terror, fear, and the rise of the right, and they all need to be put back in the bottle as far as I'm concerned. They're very, very dangerous people."

John: "So that is what 'The Gloaming' is all about, the next track is the first single from the album 'There there'. Um, 'The Boney King of Nowhere', is this an alternative title?"

Thom: "That's dedicated to Oliver Postgate, it's an amazing animation that he did... it's on Bagpuss, again. (laughs)"

John: "You can't beat Bagpuss!"

Thom: "You can't..."

John: "Nope, you can't!"

John: "So, 'There there', this was, oh, or has been the opening track on the recent live shows."

Thom: "Actually, uh, 'The Boney King of Nowhere'..."

John: "Yeah, sorry..."

Thom: "He can't sit down, yeah, sorry, He can't sit down, you see, he's the king right? And um, but, uh, he can't find a... He's very boney. Well, he's actually made out of drainpipe things, Is it drain pipes? Or you know those things that..."

John: "Pipe cleaners."

Thom: "Pipe cleaners. And he keeps sitting down on his stone throne, and it's too cold, and he just doesn't feel comfortable. And he's this new king but he just can't get comfortable in his throne. And so eventually they find him a little cushion for him to sit on, and I thought that was very appropriate."

John: "That's quite comforting really, isn't it."

Thom: "Well, yeah. Sort of."

John: "So, how did it come about this song? 'Cause when you've been playing it live on this tour that you've been on, it's this great opener with Ed and Jonny... two snare drums each and kind of pounding away, and it's been working really well. And I was watching you do it and thinking 'Is this how the song came about? Is this what they did? They just set up their stuff and started rocking out in that way', or... no?"

Thom: "Well, yeah, pretty much. Well, I mean, you know, it's so obviously taken... a homage to something off of Tago Mago by Can."

John: "I was going to bring Can up later, actually."

Thom: "Because, uh, obviously not as well played, but there you go, that's life. But, definitely, it's always been in that area for me, that song."

[Cut]

John: "That's 'There there', Radiohead, from the new album Hail to the Thief. You're listening to 104.9 XFM. It is XFM X-Posure with Thom Yorke tonight, telling us about the album. 'I will' is the next track. It's the shortest one on the album, which is a fascinating fact... But it's lovely. It sounds lovely, but you said it's the angriest thing you've ever written."

Thom: "Yeah, well, yeah, I guess it is. I mean it's quite simple really, I had an extremely unhealthy obsession that ran on through the Kid A thing, about the First Gulf War, when they... When they started it up, they did that lovely thing of putting the camera on the end of the missile, and you got to see the wonders of modern military technology blow up this bunker, and then - some time afterwards in the back pages - it was announced that that bunker was not full of weapons at all, but women and children, and it was actually a bomb shelter. And so, everybody they got to witness the wonders of modern technology, and I, you know, it ran through... so much stuff, for so long, for me. I just could not get that out of my head, so sick, and that's where the anger came from."

John: "This song, have you been trying to get down for quite some time?"

Thom: "Oh, yeah, we did the most dreadful version of it.. .so, yeah... (laughs)"

Thom: "It was all that programmed... oh, it was just a disaster, but interestingly something good came out of it 'cause we turned the tape over and it became 'Spinning Plates'."

John: "Which is amazing, if you go back and listen to 'Spinning Plates' and then listen to this, which I did, and um I was trying to work out... I couldn't..."

Thom: "Ah, the power of editing!"

John: "I couldn't tell! But (uhm), yeah, that's fantastic. So let's hear it! We're going to hear two songs in a row now because I think they work so well together. You're going to hear 'I will' followed by 'A Punchup at a Wedding'."

[Cut]

John: "Radiohead and 'A Punchup at a Wedding' from the new album Hail to the Thief, before that you heard 'I will'. And 'A Punchup at a Wedding', uhm, it has a kind of Can-soul-groove to it, you mentioned Tago Mago and Can."

Thom: "Woah, ok... Hah, I wish...."

John: "But I was kind of listening to it and I was thinking about the idea that Can were..."

Thom: "I've heard [it sounds like] "The meters"

John: "Yeah, well..."

Thom: "In our dream, it was "The meters", only in our dreams, really..."

John: "Well, if Can were trying to imitate James Brown and his bands, and the way that they played."

Thom: "Maybe. But this is about half the speed."

John: "Right... Yeah? But not always."

Thom: "Yeah, that's true, no, you're right..."

John: "Yeah... It has a nice kind of swing and groove to it, in a way that some other Radiohead stuff hasn't, to date."

Thom: "Yeah, it's funny cause, we'd not really, we hadn't actually really, you know, when we did... that was the first thing that we got together, when we got back together after six months. I think it's quite interesting that, that was the first thing, 'cause it's like, has got this like you know, basically a very loose swing to it, like you know, very, you could only, we, we. We as five people could only have come up with that after having a long break! (laughs) And now, it's interesting, 'cause Nigel was like, in a way he sort of, it's interesting that he sort of said 'You've never really done anything like that before where you... where the whole thing was just based around a sort of, you know, baggy swagger thing'. Baggy is not the right word... Swagger, anyway."

John: "Well it worked! It was a treat, it sounds great."

Thom: "Thank you!"

John: "'Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner)' is the next track. And this was pretty amazing live the other night at the Shepherds Bush Empire, and in a way, I mean it, then, hearing that version it sounded like The Stooges or something like that, and obviously when you hear the record..."

Thom: "Then it's more electro clash."

John: "Exactly! It's more like 'Add N to X' or something like that. But, you know, it kind of took on a whole new sound."

Thom: "Well we'll have to record the other live one properly as well then, maybe, cause sometimes that happens, you know....(Uhm.) One of the ones that we've... 'Morning Bell' is a really interesting one from Kid A where it had become this other thing, uh, which is you know, it's actually more exciting than the record, because the fact that Phil just keeps going on that beat and it's just "rrrr!" and it's actually the same sort of thing with 'Myxomatosis' really I guess... It's sort of taken on this other life live, only sometimes though! Not every time. (laughs) It's very hit and miss! But then, that's us, really."

John: "So, I mean, what's 'Myxomatosis' about? There 's some great lines in it, 'no one likes a smart arse, but we all like stars', particularly like that one!"

Thom: "Yeah, I'm sure probably the Daily Mail won't... (laughs) Nevermind. Where does this come from? Well, I mean it was actually a short story kind of thing that I wrote and kind of cut up, and I never wrote short stories, it's about the only one I've ever written, well, I used to write them at University. In fact I managed to back my way out of a course for creative writing at University just cos I didn't want to do Spencer, what's his name... Spencer? Yeah, something like that. Very old. Very big thick book, I was not having any of that. Anyway, where am I? Uh, Myxomatosis is a man-made disease, really, and I think I may have it. I think it, you know, it's kind of maybe got a lot of that absurdist thing in it. You know? Like, there's obviously something wrong with me and I'm obviously missing something here. I must be ill, you know, ah, 'cause when I listen to the radio I just go (mouth aghast) and it makes me very angry. I'm one of those people who shout at the TV."

John: "Well, fair enough. And there's listening to Radio Four, too."

Thom: "Yeah, I shout at that, too..."

John: "Well, there's a lot, well, there's so much information, and so much of it is depressing."

Thom: "Um, yeah I..."

John: "It creates some kind of reaction, doesn't it..."

Thom: "Yeah... I don't consider it depressing, I think it's... It makes me angry, but it's very motivating. I mean there's not many shows like it left in the world, he says. Now I know I shouldn't be plugging, probably, BBC..."

John: "No, well, it's a different... we can talk about that."

Thom: "Yeah! You can't, we're paying for them to... Yeah, it's good. So here you go, this is for Radiohead, and this is for the Today programme."

[Cut]

John: "'Myxomatosis', Radiohead, from Hail to the Thief. 'Scatterbrain (As dead as leaves)' is the next track. And you mentioned this earlier on when we were talking about the genesis of the album. It seems to combine the specifics, but also universal thing at the same time, which you do quite a lot."

Thom: "Yeah."

John: "It seems to me... 'Yesterday's head lines blown by the wind'."

Thom: "Yeah um, the song itself basically... some day, it's a really really difficult song to describe where it came from. Because on the surface it really was just an instant where, um, those things happen. But at the same time there was a lot of other stuff going on which might have gave it significance... My favorite type of weather in the whole wide world is extreme wind. I just get really excited! Oh dear..."

John: "Fair enough, it is exciting! It is a bit dangerous..."

Thom: "Yeah, it is a bit dangerous, there was one time when... I have a house in the middle of nowhere, and the house next door, the roof blew off! And we just watched it. And it was exactly like, uh... Wizard of Oz. It was fantastic... (Uh.) And this was in a similar instant in the city."

John: "Do you seek out this kind of weather condition?"

Thom: "Yeah, man, I don't care if slates come flying off."

John: "So, you're going straight to the eye of the hurricane."

Thom: "Too right, man."

John: "Excellent, right... 'Scatterbrain'. Bear that in mind when you hear this."

Thom: "But it's kind of a love song as well, in a way."

John: "Really?"

Thom: "Yeah. (laughs) That's it!"

John: "You won't be revealing too much!"

Thom: "That's all you get! (laughs)"

[Cut]

John: "That's 'Scatterbrain', Radiohead. And the next track is the last one, 'A Wolf at the Door'. And there's something I want to ask you tonight, it's... how you work out what lyrics to go with what pieces of music, that you've all been working on. From what you've been saying tonight, you accumulate words and lyrics often over a period of months or years, maybe. And, when you look at the lyrics in the lyric book, and you look at them and think... um. I was amazed at... to wonder, at what point do you think 'Right, obviously I can sing that line in that way and it will go with that melody line'. You know how some songs, you look at the lyrics, and it's almost as if the lyric carries the melody of the tune, or that you can clearly see how it was meant to be sung that way, but, sometimes with some of the stuff that you've done both on this album and in the past, it's trying to work out how did you arrive at that point to repeat "attention" say earlier on? Do you know what I mean?"

Thom: "Um..."

John: "Is it trial and error?"

Thom: "It depends on the track, I mean with this, it was about a rhythm. And it was the rhythm that fell inside Jonny's guitar line. Which is a really sweet, beautiful melody, like, one of the best ones he's come up with, you know, I think, it's amazing, and I really sort of... it just had that rhythm, sort of infected my head and what happens a lot with songwriting is that a melody or a rhythm, or something... stays with you, like catching a cold, and doesn't go, so, during that time what happens is that I can then fit things onto it. It sort of fits and glues together... whatever words. It can also, sometimes it's crazy 'cause it can almost be anything. It can be like, nonsense, total nonsense, but it's when you get, it's like when you catch the cold, then the nonsense makes sense. If you know what I mean, It's like you're getting beamed it. Or you're doing a ouija board and someone's pushing your hand. That's what it's like. And uhm, it's not a pleasant experience necessarily. This was a deeplyunpleasant experience actually writing the words for this, and the state of mind I was in."

John: "For this particular track?"

Thom: "Yeah. But you know, what constantly carries it through is the fact that I am sitting underneath this beautiful melody that Jonny's written. So it's okay, it makes it okay to sort of be in that state of mind which I what I use music for a lot of the time, not all the time, but a lot of the time. Uhm, the actual words themselves, to me, don't hold the same significance as they might do for other people because it literally is what was in my plastic bag, the carrier bag that I was carrying around that day, if you understand what I mean, that's just what was there. I mean, I walked around for two days, (uh) , going stark raving mad which happens sometimes, and, with this plastic bag with all these notes in it, and, that was the song. 'Bag man', that's what it should be called."

John: "Not 'It Girl. Rag Doll.'?"

Thom: "Well, eh, 'It Girl. Rag Doll.' is just um, again, I don't know or remember where, it's just this thing I had that I really liked, don't know!"

John: "Hmm."

John: "And 'A Wolf at the Door' again continues the fairy tale aspect."

Thom: "Yes. Yes, it does! That's just, you know, the usual paranoia thing, I guess. (laughs) 'I keep the wolf from the door. But he calls me up! He calls me on the phone, tells me all the ways that he's gonna mess me up. Steal all my children, if I don't pay the ransom and I'll never see them again if I squeal to the cops'... It's kind of blackmail... I was gagged, I had a gagging order served on me, indirectly, at one point, over something, which I obviously can't tell you about!"

John: "Yeah."

Thom: "But I have to say, gagging orders are the most unpleasant legal inventions known to man. They are sick, the are bad news. I just, um, it amazes me that if one lives under democracy you are still, you can basically be gagged, and when you're gagged, you're gagged, that's it."

John: "Yeah, no... just silenced... It carries on with everything else you've been saying, the idea that, you know, you can be blown away any time..."

Thom: "Hmm."

John: "...in the same way that you can be silenced, I mean, you might still be alive but you're silenced."

Thom: "Oh yeah, you can be silenced. People are often silenced, MPs are silenced! Everybody, anybody can be silenced in this, in, you know, that's not a paranoid thing, there are legal ways to do it. Blackmail is very effective, as well. Sorry... (laughs)"

John: "That's dangerous talk..."

[recording ends]