This is a transcript from both the radio broadcast.
[recording starts here]
John Kennedy: "You're listening to XFM, this is John Kennedy, and I have Thom Yorke here with me this evening. Hi Thom."
Thom: "What's up John?
John: "I'm very well, how are you? You're a busy man. Thanks for finding a little spot in your schedule to come in and talk to us. I just played "The Eraser" the title track of the album, Um, which came out recently. And there's so much to talk about really...
Thom: "..Is there?
John: "Um, well, I think there is. Congratulations on being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize for the album. Does that surprise you?
Thom: "Uh, yeah, a little bit. We have been nominated... the band have been nominated a few times. I think any attention at all on this record was much appreciated, really, considering how random the whole process was. So, yeah, it was great!
John: "Yeah, when I first heard about a solo record coming and it seemed as if the preamble towards it was like: "This isn't a solo record, it's just some recordings I made."
Thom: "It's just some stuff!
John: "So, has it garnered a bit more attention than you wanted, or is that not the case.
Thom: "No, no, I mean... Nigel and I worked hard on it! The really whole solo/not solo thing was based around the fact that it was done in the context of still being in Radiohead and years of sort of build-up of bits and pieces that never made it into Radiohead things and sort of morphing into something else, really, and without the Radiohead thing, then this wouldn't exist, so, it was difficult, you know, to say "I 'm going to go off on my own and create, screw the lot of you!" It would have not been appropriate really, 'cause that's not how it was.
John: "Yeah, but I mean, know, you're all making different music at different times. Be it together, or with other people, or experimenting. When Jonny released the soundtrack album last year
Thom: "What's it...sort of... Bodysong. That last year…
John: "Was it last year or the year before...
Thom: "The year before, I think.
Thom: "So, say he did that stuff
John: "Now would these songs possibly have ended up as Radiohead songs if you hadn't done this, or have they always just existed
Thom: "Well, there was a weird sort of particular moment when I realized that they were songs... when I suddenly started to think, Oh, uh, maybe, Oh! ... They're songs, Uh.... But that was okay, that went away, because really the whole point was me and Nigel had decided to sit down and do this particular project, it had sort of bookends to it, and it was a limited amount. It was quite good to say, "At this particular moment I am doing this. That 's that, and when I am finished then I will go and do this" So, the fact that they are songs, you know, I was worried that, because they're songs, I should do them with Radiohead? It seems, basically because I'm a singer and I sing songs? So if I do a record I'm probably going to end up singing on it.
Thom: "Does that make any sense to you at all?
John: "I think I can get a sense out of that
Thom: "You might have to chop that up a bit!
John: "We won't do any kind of chopping up!
Thom: "Put the end on the beginning!
John: "No, we want whole Thom, not little bits of Thom! The whole thing... So, did you just stumble into this project, then? Because that's the way that you seem to be talking about it, that you just kind of thought "Oh! I've got some songs, I didn't realise..."
Thom: "I stumbled out of it...
Thom: "Well it was, we talked about doing it, and talked to the band, saying "Is this ok?" and they said yes, so, um, it was something that was hanging around that I wanted to do I guess, you know, you end up with a lot of stray ends that you know are not gonna end up in the Radiohead camp, because, it's just no way, well, at the time, especially, you just think "There is no way this in gonna work." So it was just a build-up of that really, and going through it, you just sort of, something starts to form together really. But the interesting thing about that as well, is that, I think, ultimately, it's not a good idea to um, make those decisions a lot. You know 'cause it's like "Well this is not appropriate for the band, and this is." 'Cause you get into that weird zone, we've been talking about this, where, that means, that's assuming that Radiohead is a certain thing. It "is" a rock band, or it "is" a live performance band, or, you know that... And I think some of the best stuff we've done is when you get into that tension between that and programmed stuff and electronics. And Jonny's orchestration, and all that sort of thing. And so the fact that Jonny has gone and done some orchestra stuff, and all that, and his Bodysong thing, and the fact that I've done this, what we're really talking about now is like, Okay, taking all that energy, and frustrations, sort of over the years that we suddenly sort of like, "Well we have to go off and do something else", actually bringing those frustrations back into the Radiohead thing, sort of forcing it back into that. Because otherwise it is going to become a peculiar situation where, oh, that's obviously not a Radiohead thing and that is, and, I think that's kind of rubbish. For frustration, of, a particular format, of being within a six album record deal, and you are producing a Radiohead album, and you have to talk endlessly about it for... six, seven, ten months. That sort of thing.
Thom: "So we're not in that zone any more. It's quite and interesting position really, because I don't think we've ever really sort of thought, we are just a rock band, but um, having done this, I sort of don't feel in any way trapped by the sort of Radiohead thing anymore. Which... I think is to the benefit of everybody, to be honest! I hope so anyway... But it doesn't mean I'm intending to dash off and do another one straight away, because, that doesn't feel right at all.
John: "It kind of skirts around a few different things that Radiohead are facing, in a way. This record has come out on XL, and that's one deal, a one-off deal I think, Just for that release. Radiohead are in a position where you can do whatever you like, now, and that you're not tied to a particular record company or anything like that. And... Is that a liberating experience at the moment for you?
Thom: "It depends on who you talk to! I think Jonny prefers, and Jonny especially like... when the deal was up and all that and we were sitting around talking - he definitely was of the opinion that we should have some sort of whip being cracked over us otherwise we'd never get it together, and initially I didn't agree, but I can kind of see what he means, because, it's five people, you've got to get everyone to focus in a certain way and blah blah blah, and that was why, in a lot of ways, we decided to do a bit of playing live stuff, it was like, Ok, we need to get some focus going on there. But I mean, I think it's gone a bit too far the other way to go back to the old um, record deal system, but one off deals, and, you know, "When one has a record, it makes sense to bring it out", that is a good thing. It's a weird situation. It kind of blew our minds a little bit for a while, because we were used to having something to kick against, well, especially me, even if it's the wall, and suddenly it's not there, so it's a bit weird
John: "It's like a big change in a way, well, I'll go back to Radiohead a bit later on I suspect, but we are here also to talk about you, Thom, because you have this album, the "Eraser" out
Thom: "Thank you very much
John: "And I'm gonna play another track from it, "And it rained all night" and it's possibly my favourite from the album
Thom: "wow, cool
John: "What can you tell us about the song? 'Cause, you still paint quite a picture
Thom: "Eh, It was originally done in New York, the original riff and stuff was a sleepless night in New York, mutating lots of bits and pieces into the sound that starts it off, and then... I had this long extended, ramble, poem, I sometimes write like that. And it seems to fit very quickly into the groove that I'd done, which i was very surprised, it's one of those peculiar things where the vocal you hear is I think the only vocal I did, we only did one take, and I was going through the whole thing thinking... "This doesn't work, this definitely doesn't work," and got a little "wohooo" at the end from Nigel, because, it's almost like a rap, but not really... it's a melody, I just didn't expect it to work. We did it... it was a full moon when we did it, which is always a good time for me. We did it in the middle of nowhere. I have one of those big enormous telescopes where you can look at the moon. We had that set up, so we'd go and do a bit, and then look at the moon, and then do a bit, until about Six in the morning.
John: "Wow! Just working on this one track.
Thom: "It was fun! It was brilliant
John: "Well the results speak for themselves! This is it
[plays And It Rained All Night]
John: "The Eraser, on XL records, Thom Yorke is my special guest tonight
Thom: "Hey John.
John: "And we have got live session music from you which you've just recorded…
Thom: "I have!
John: "…a few minutes ago, here in the studios of XFM. I'm going to tease people a little, and play that towards the end of your time with us... In the meantime, I thought we'd have a selection from you! Because I'm intrigued to know kind of what input other things had on the album, particularly, other musics, because I know you're somebody who seems to have a great appetite for various different styles of music,
John: "And the love the way it comes out both in, obviously, this album, and also Radiohead's work...What kinds of things had you been listening to around the time of writing some of these songs?
Thom: "I mean they're over quite a few years, some of these songs, so it's quite difficult to say, oh, it was this and this and this, I mean, uh, looking at what, cause I mean what I've done is, today, I made a CD of things I'm really excited about at the moment
Thom: "Which is kind of not the same thing, well, actually, umm, Modeselektor in particular, there's been a big influence on me, although, I'm sure they would find that hilarious, if they knew that. Um, they're from Berlin, you know?
John: "What's the name of the group again?
Thom: "They're called Modeselektor, they're not... not really a group, I'm not even sure if it's one or two people; I'm pretty sure it's two, and they're on B-pitch Control
Thom: "They're just like, um, to me they're like the best of a particular thing, by a long way, um, there's one track I brought in today called Silicon which is off of a record they had just done recently, which has got this sort of cut up vocal thing, and, it's just, you know if I was in a club right now, that's the thing I would want to hear, it's one of those tunes. They cut up things in a very raw, simple way. It's very very effective and reminds me a lot of old school stuff I used to understand, then I got out of touch, as usual, so we can start with that, if you want.
John: "yeah. Let's hear... This is Modeselektor
John: "That is Modeselektor, chosen and brought in by Thom Yorke, who is my guest tonight. You're listening to X-posure, it is XFM. You'll find that on the B-pitch Control label,
Thom: "That's right!
John: "I don't know that song enough to track it down by itself
Thom: "They did an album. Last year, I think it was last year? Yeah.
John: "So, when you've been working on solo material, in terms of sketching down ideas, you did that at home, have you got a little portable studio or something?
Thom: "I have a home system and a portable system, it's nothing flashy at all, it's just the basics, because you actually don't need much, um, although, saying that, sometimes the most exciting thing was mixing that up with live bass and importing drumming, bits of vocals, piano. A lot of sketches were done at the Radiohead studio, with Graham, who's sort of like an in-house engineer, who's spent hours like queueing up all my computers, and patiently watching me mess around for weeks, poor chap! Um, and then, uh, a lot of it was gleaned from bits of laptop stuff over the years. I don't know, it was this weird thing where I just basically had to go through, I had stuff everywhere, on computers and disks, and drove Graham crazy kind of trying to put it all into one place, for when Nigel turned up, and then we went through it all, but even then it was very much just the absolute basics.. of things. A lot of it I was writing on the hoof, basically.
John: "Well I'm gonna play another selection from the album in just a moment, We're gonna take a break and we'll be back with more from Thom Yorke after this.
John: "You're listening to XFM, it is John Kennedy and X-posure, with XFM Scotland, XFM Manchester and XFM London, united for a very special occasion, because Thom Yorke is my guest, and that was Thom Yorke, Harrowdown Hill single which is out this week, taken from the album, The Eraser, and you were talking about live bass, that's live bass there...
Thom: "That was live bass
John: "Quite a kind of funky bass line, at the beginning of that
Thom: "Oh thank you very much
John: "which I like! But the subject matter of the song seems to be in large contrast to that, now, I mean, a lot of people seem to have been talking about the album in political terms, and about the idea that it is a political album from Thom Yorke, and if they cite a song, that is to be the most political, then they cite Harrowdown Hill, um because, uh…
Thom: "Well, it's an angle.
John: "It is an angle, and they like to find an angle, which you know is the case. But uh, what can you tell us about Harrowdown Hill then?
Thom: "Ah... It was written during that dark period when the poor man died, but, half the words were written before that started getting absorbed in. If you know what i mean. The choruses were already there, but for some, you know, I woke up sort of one day and realised, my god it's about this, that sort of thing. So things started forming out of that. It happened very naturally, didn't really think about it and then I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who knew something about what was going on, and I decided that I shouldn't hide away from the fact that it was about what it was about, and called it Harrowdown Hill, because it represented a particularly, as I said a particularly dark period in Britain, for me, anyway, for a lot of people, it was a profoundly disturbing ..thing, they had an inquiry to whitewash the smug look on Alistaire Campbell's face, you know. You could say, it was briefly political, I was being a little bit political, but at the same time it's about... It's not just about that, but that, I absorbed that into it. But you, if I didn't tell you that, you would never know. If I hadn't called it Harrowdown Hill, you wouldn't have known, but I didn't want to hide away from it because it felt important, that it was that. It felt important that I said, I was honest about where it came from, that it was an honest response to that ...thing. But you know, one other way of looking at it is like it's sort of going to be a call to arms, or it's just a groove, something you could dance to in a club, or whatever. You know, it's not necessarily any of those things. But to me, the most exciting music I've ever had is when you get all this mixed up together and you can't tell where one starts and one ends. Like "Games without frontiers" for example. Which is my… probably top five songs ever. It sounds like nonsense but you know there's something else going on. It's got the best groove ever, It's all that sort of thing really, to me, I don't try, I don't want to apologise for any of it, but also I think it's probably lazy and a little bit...just a response to what people think I am or am not: to say this is a political record. Because it has a lot of love songs, and a lot of very personal songs, and anything that is political is political on a personal level. And having Harrowdown Hill was a deeply personal thing, a personal story, and it's, a lot of what was going on when I was writing, was a response to powers that seem overwhelming, whether they be forces of nature, or other people, or the Ministry of Defense or whoever. Things that are just out of your control and you are trying desperately to deny they exist, or at least deal with it or get 'round it. I was really proud of how the video came together, all the scripts we had for Harrowdown Hill were all like "Dark cars draw up, shadowy man gets out, shadowed figures looking..." Ugh! And I kept saying to… when we did it, well, when I was singing it I had the Poll Tax Riots in my head, I didn't go to the Poll Tax Riots, but I went to, I have been on riots, and have seen people have their legs broken by police horses, in front of my eyes, and I know what this government is capable of, and I try not to put anger directly into songs, but, it's there. I wanted it to be something far more like a call to arms, far more like, we think the same things at the same time. We don't know what to do about it, the British probably knew exactly what was going on and knew they were being lied to, and know they're being lied to now. I can't quite understand why the person who was in charge at the time is still there, having deliberately fabricated evidence that took us to a war we didn't want to be in, why's he still there? Why are we still in this position? Why are we getting into another one, all these things... we all think it, we all talk about it in the pub, Nothing happens. That's what Harrowdown Hill is about to me, much more than Mr... Dr. Kelly.
John: "You're listening to X-posure, it's XFM, we have Thom Yorke in the studio tonight, he's talking about the album The Eraser, he's going to be playing live for us... or rather he's just played some songs for us
Thom: "If I'm a spectacular contortionist!
John: "And we'll be playing them to you... Among other things. Another selection of your own musical taste
Thom: "Oh okay!
John: "Why not...
Thom: "Yeah! Uh, hmm... I think, as this is XFM you need a bit of Madvillain and Quasimoto in your life! From the Madvillain record... Madvillainy, it's a track called "America's most blunted" I wonder what that could be about?
(America's most blunted)
John: "That is Madvillain, courtesy of Thom Yorke, who has brought that in to play for us tonight! You're listening to X-posure, you're listening to XFM! You like your rap music, Thom?
Thom: "I like particularly Madlib, a surfer friend of mine turned me on to... well, not like I surf, but a friend of mine who 's a surfer who I hang out with sometimes, he turned me on to Madlib, and ...it was just the nuttiest hip hop! I mean in terms of the way he puts things together, that I hadn't heard since Public enemy, really! Which shows my ignorance, but, to me, he uses really low grade gear, it's really crazy the way he cuts stuff up, and Madvillain, he's got the best rhymes, as they say. 'Cause he doesn't really, I don't know, it just seems so casual, like completely effortless the way he puts things across. And it's sort of slinky, and he's obviously mad as a brush! Which is always good.
John: "Are you the kind of person where when you're introduced to something you hadn't heard before, you then want to seek out all the other stuff that they've done, or, do you not delve that deeply?
Thom: "Um, pretty random, I mean the first thing I heard of Madvillain's was like a live record, which was fantastic. But, I bought it by accident, but you know, what a weird place to start! With a live rap album, where he comes on, and it's not a particularly big place, and he just goes through all his best stuff. In like forty minutes, and I was left reeling at the end of it! Cause you can't tell what's what, you don't know what track... It all just happens. All the way through, no stopping, and then he walks off. It's amazing.
John: "That sounds great... I'd like to hear that!
Thom: " I can't remember which one it is...
John: "I'll have to seek it out. But, you played a couple of tracks for us earlier on, which we are going to play for everyone else
Thom: "nice link!
John: "Yeah, this is the smooth DJ at work.... But before we let you hear those tracks, we're gonna take another break. Don't go away.
John: "XFM, united, through the power of the network... for the sake of Thom Yorke! Thom Yorke is my special guest tonight, Just about half an hour ago, we recorded two songs, exclusively for the show. Simplistically, as well!, On just a Rhodes piano, or Rhodes keyboard, and a couple microphones, and the results are really great! Were you pleased with how they turned out?
Thom: "Yes! I didn't think it was going to work, now is a good time to find out, I guess!
John: "Ok, we'll play the first track and have a bit more conversation afterwards. This is Thom Yorke with Skip Divided.
(Skip Divided session recording)
John: "That is Thom Yorke and Skip divided recorded here in the studios of XFM, just minutes ago.... with a Rhodes keyboard, and also, like, hitting the top of the keyboard!
Thom: "Yeah...that's one of my favourite noises,
John: "It worked really well, I had to really take a double take when I was looking through the glass, to see exactly what you were doing... it sounds so great, it's almost metronomic, your hand beats!
Thom: "Thank you!
John: "Years of tapping on tables, from school through to....
Thom: "It goes like this!
John: "It sounds great, is that one of the love songs that you referred to earlier on?
Thom: "Yeah, um, kind of, it's a bit messed up for that. It sounds like it's more of a love song than it really is. It's actually a song about, it's more about the dislocation than anything else to me, when I sing it I have this, I always have the image of slick black oil.
John: "That's what you were thinking about when you were performing it?
Thom: "Yeah, that and sex...
John: "Interesting combination?
John: "Well, playing live, I'd probably have my legs torn off if I left the studio tonight without asking you about live Radiohead, and what's happening with Radiohead,
Thom: "You should give it a go, I'd like to see that...
John: "I want my legs! They are a nice shape.
John: "They are quite useful! No, I mean you've been playing a lot recently, you've been airing lots of new songs. You've been doing various different festivals, around the world, and you're also kind of in the studio at the same time, recording new tracks, obviously not literally at the same time, but, you're recording. So, when can we expect new Radiohead?
Thom: "Um! We have actually been scheduling and we're going to go various places which I can't tell you, and we are going to be working until the end of the year on...it, with Nigel, and, it's quite exciting actually. I can't really tell you more than that, well, it will take as long as it takes, really. It's one thing to have the tunes and they work live. It's another thing to try and to get them across probably live. Some will work as they are, some won't, so...it will take a little bit of time, but I promise we won't mess around too much 'cause if we did we would all expire with the energy, 'cause it's just too bloody long now, so, we're trying to get something out next year!
John: "So it's been nice working back with the band after working on the solo album
Thom: "Oh, yeah,
John: "It was a nice change to be on your own and calling all the shots
Thom: "Sleeping around a bit, come back
John: "I'm going to play the other track you recorded earlier on, this is a track called Analyse, this is a slightly different version 'cause this is played on the Rhodes, as opposed to a piano
Thom: "Yup. Couldn't get the piano up six flight of stairs!
John: "Any insights into this song that we should get while you're here?
Thom: " Sigh... Nope. Sorry!
John: "No, keep it short and sweet!
John: "This is Thom Yorke, in session! Thom, thanks so much for coming in! It's very nice to see you again.