Esquire, March 2013
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Thom Yorke: What I've Learned
Singer, 44, Oxford, England
Interviewed December 19, 2012
Yorke, the cofounder and lead singer of Radiohead, has just released the album Amok with his other band, Atoms for Peace.
Thom: If you're going to be a vegetarian, you really do have to like lentils. Otherwise you're fucked.
All walls are great if the roof doesn't fall.
My dad taught me to always expect someone coming around the bend on the wrong side of the road, right at me. I was always to assume that would be the case. He tried to teach me to be very suspicious of people — not to trust. I think he took it a bit too far when I was a kid. I had to unlearn that one.
It's much better to attempt to trust people until they prove you wrong.
I only started singing because I couldn't find anybody else to sing. Everybody I asked was a bloody idiot.
Twenty thousand people can all look like one big mush, but actually it's really interesting how you can walk onstage and within ten minutes feel what their vibe is.
When we first started supporting R.E.M., there were some gigs we played where people were ordering chicken dinners, and that kind of fucked with my head.
I was in hospital a lot when I was a kid 'cause I was born with my left eye shut, and they had to take muscle from my ass and graft it to make a muscle that would open the eyelid. So I had four or five operations, starting when I was very young. I must've started complaining by the time I was five. "Look, you've got to do it," my parents said. "If you go, we'll buy you whatever you want, okay? What do you want?" I said, "I want a red tracksuit." And they got me a red tracksuit, tops and bottoms, and I was happy to go back to the hospital even knowing that I was going to go under the general anesthetic, wake up, and throw up everywhere. I loved that red tracksuit. I wore that red tracksuit until it looked so small that it was ridiculous on me.
Respect is if you're having a political argument with someone, just before you get to the point where you call them a fascist, you sort of step back and wonder how on earth they've ended up at this point of complete ignorance and stupidity.
When I was a student, my bank used to cut off my credit card all the time. I could never seem to stop bouncing checks. I was always on the phone with the bank. It was a very satisfying day after I signed a big record deal, when I went to the bank and paid off all my debts. The banker came across the desk to shake my hand and I told him to fuck off. How did he react? I think he was quite used to it.
Every time I go to the ATM and it asks how much I want, I say, "Give the most you can give me."
I'll go to the bookshop in town, grab three or four books of poetry, sit in the coffee shop, and read those for a while. It's like loosening up your muscles before a workout.
My grandfather would come to our house in the countryside, borrow one of our bikes, and disappear. He'd come back after dark and we had no idea where he'd been. If he ran into anybody, he'd just ask where the good nightclub was. He did that right up into his nineties.
I don't feel disappointment anymore. But I do feel the pressure of time marching on.
I was sitting with my son the other day and his friend, who's eleven, and I said, "Okay guys, do the math. Work out how many seconds you've got left." Took 'em a while, but they got there.
Kids teach you to lighten up, which for me was very handy because I wasn't very light at the time. They were a blessing for that.
I think what makes people ill a lot of the time is the belief that your thoughts are concrete and that you're responsible for your thoughts. Whereas actually — the way I see it — your thoughts are what the wind blows through your mind.
It takes a long time for an audience to relax on Monday nights.
Build gaps in your life. Pauses. Proper pauses.
Getting everything you want has nothing to do with anything.
If we were going out and just playing the hits and shit, then I would feel very differently about things. But we're playing new things, and some of it's very difficult to play, actually. The idea that twenty thousand people come and watch us do some of this music that's pretty bonkers and certainly not on the radio... that's a good thing, man. We played in Phoenix, and Ed and I came offstage and looked at each other. Did you see that?
I can't imagine twenty years ahead because I'm sort of here right now.