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Prove Yourself
HOW DID RADIOHEAD COPE WITH THE PRESSURE OF FOLLOWING UP THE MIGHTY OK COMPUTER?
“WE GOT DRUNK IN TAXIS,” SAYS GUITARIST ED O’BRIEN.
by Tobias Hoi / Photograph by Neil Cooper


“When we started recording, we had no idea what we were doing,” says Radiohead drummer Phil Selway of the soon-to-be-released follow up to OK Computer, the group’s critically praised 1997 breakthrough album. “All we knew was that we needed to proceed differently than we had in the past.”

Apparently, wiping the creative slate clean worked for the band, as they have reportedly finished not one but two albums, the first of which will be released this fall and the second next spring. But coming up with a worthy successor to OK Computer was no easy feat, and it took the group nearly two years of assiduous work with OK producer Nigel Godrich (R.E.M., Beck, Natalie Imbruglia) in studios all across Europe to accomplish the mammoth task.

“When we started, we were all saying that we should have some fun and keep everything simple and focus on two- or three-minute songs,” says guitarist Ed O’Brien. “Of course, that didn’t happen. If there is one thing that Radiohead lacks, it’s the discipline to do anything in a straight-ahead fashion. We simply can’t walk away from something and say, ‘This will do, it’s good enough.’ Sometimes,” he sighs, “I sensed that the people we were working with thought that we were quite uptight and stupid, really.”

As the recording dragged on (O’Brien’s studio diary at www.radiohead.com provides a blow-by-blow account of the grueling affair), tempers flared and egos were crushed, but Radiohead established a new, more democratic approach to its recording process. “Nothing about the making of this record was supposed to be territorial,” says O’Brien. “Even though it can become utterly exhausting, we’re always in the studio together so that we can execute musical ideas as they emerge. As a result, [Radiohead frontman] Thom Yorke played a lot of bass and some drums, Phil did tons of guitar, and Johnny [sic] [Greenwood, guitarist] also played drums. All that anyone ever really wanted to do was play drums, actually.”

“The Radiohead drum seat is a bitterly coveted hot seat,” laughs Selway.

If extremely time consuming, Radiohead’s game of musical chairs yielded fresh – and widely varied – results. “This record’s much more patchy,” O’Brien reveals of the album, slated for fall release. “Every song is extremely different from the next. But of course,” he assure, “the album as a whole has a certain continuity and consistency. It’s got the feel of a record you’d want to listen to at night, probably while smoking a cigarette.”

Although a final track listing has yet to be confirmed, songs on the album will include “Morning Bell,” which was recorded in Copenhagen and reminds O’Brien of “everything being dark and cold, and getting drunk in taxis,” and “Knives Up,” [sic] which is, according to Selway, “The only song where we used the traditional ‘three guitar, bass and drums’ approach of the previous records.”

Radiohead debuted the new songs at a number of festivals in France and Spain, and this summer and fall they will tour in a specially designed, big-top style tent. “It’s a novel way of touring,” says O’Brien. “An interesting concept. The tent tour is a statement of intent, because we really want to break the cycle of doing an album and then following it up with an endless, 18-month world tour. Being on the road that long is good if you’re in it for the money and you want to maximise your income, but it’s not all that conductive to creating music.”

And as for the group’s long-term plans?

“We don’t necessarily want to be doing this in 10 years,” O’Brien says. “The nightmare scenario for me is being in one of those old rock and roll bands, like the Rolling Stone, who haven’t bothered to reinvent themselves in eons. There’s more to life than that, and the idea of going out on top, when we’re still at a creative peak seems quite appealing to me.”