Official Hail to the Thief Interview CD, april 2003
[Interviews with the full band]
This is a transcript from the Hail to the Thief interview CD, which was officially released by Parlophone. The questions were not included in the recordings, but only appeared in the booklet. Colin was interviewed together with Phil, Ed with Jonny, and Thom on his own. The CD was produced and edited by Kevin McCabe and Tony Hale. The interviewer is apparently Steve Lamacq.
So, the title. How did it come to be chosen?
Phil: "We always have quite a long list as we're going along of potential titles, and they, you know... at some point or another, you know, each one has their day. That one... for the period that that record was written in and recorded, there were dark forces at work, which I think, you know fed themselves back into what was happening lyrically there. For us, I think that comes across as quite a strong aspect of a record, so something like that tied to it, we need... we felt to actually do justice to what was a strong record needed quite a spiky title like that, really."
Colin: "Yeah, yeah."
Phil: "We'd settled on the title a little while ago, actually."
Colin: "Yeah (laughs). We didn't produce it last week."
Phil: "Yeah, I mean that would have just been crass sensationalism, not our style generally."
Phil: "But, you know, once... I mean we'd been very sure of our reasons for actually choosing that title, and then it comes out into this very charged context, so I suppose once it comes out into that... out there, you know, you think, yes everybody is very polarised by a sense of patriotism whatever at the moment, so it is probably going to be taken that way, but that is not our intention in it."
Colin: "I mean there was a kind of evolution of the title, we chose other things, but it's sort of... we wanted something that was more jumping out of the cake as a title than something that was sort of like more frozen over and more sort of neutral like the previous records, I suppose, because it reflected like the colours of the music, and the colours of the images of all these maps that we have on the artwork."
Jonny: "But I think all our album titles have been an attempt to sum up the mood of the time within which the songs were written, like OK Computer and Kid A, and this was another attempt to do the same. It's about whether you choose to, you know confront and complain and deal with what's upsetting you around you, or just kind of go home with your family and hide and wait for it to change and wait for everything to be alright, because both options are really tempting, and I think everybody at the moment is thinking in those terms, they're thinking kind of personally about the people they care about, but they're also thinking 'why is this happening in the world, why is this... ?' you know, 'why does is feel so dark at the moment?' or 'why does everybody feel threatened?', so it's kind of a conflict between the two things, this record, it's about feeling like you know, looking forward to escape from it, and or kind of shouting about it."
Thom: "I mean everything... everything on the record has that... I mean I think this is why we ended up calling it Hail to the Thief, really, because it was basically this rise of this... you know, the rise of doublethink and the rise of general intolerance and madness, and feeling very much like individuals were totally out of control of the situation that somehow it was a manifestation of something you know, not really human, or something like a cloud like entering the next dark ages or middle ages. The others felt very strongly about it as a title, I mean I really, really struggled. I couldn't think... I mean, I couldn't think of anything that seemed to work for ages. I think partly because like the artwork for the record... what Stanley did was he used all these words and stuff that he'd seen in LA, and all these notes that I had scattered around the place, so everything was words everywhere I looked, and titles and phrases, so I was sort of a little bit paralysed when it comes to actually thinking what... where the album was coming from, I think. But they sort of were really into it just because it has this sort of crazy jubilation about it, you know, sort of emperor's new clothes thing about it, like 'Wahey! Isn't this marvelous?!', sort of in a kind of pure blind panic written on their faces, I guess, you know like... yeah. I'm not quite sure, but it seems to work for me. I mean, but the album's also called The Gloaming as well, in the artwork, it's Hail to the Thief or The Gloaming, because to me it was two sort of sides to the same thing, really, but to have called the album in itself The Gloaming would have not done justice to any of the music at all, because the music is totally... I think it's sort of quite bright, or if not bright, then energetic and positive you know, and performances and our sort of attitude and everything was sort of like that and I mean it has this sort of shinyness, you know, which is a happy sound, I think, relatively speaking for us (laughs), but lyrically you know, it comes from a different place. The force of the music gave me license I think to explore all these things, really."
What has been the timetable with this album?
Ed: "It's about a year... it's about a year since we started rehearsal, or just under a year, and he... I think it was February 2002, he sent out... he presented three CDs, one of them was with all the more programmy type stuff, and the other two were, you know, a lot of songs that we knew, that we'd been playing for a while but just... they'd either be demoed... they'd be demoed down by the sea or he would just like piano or guitar, wasn't it, and then he presented that in February and we had two months to sort of, you know, get used to them. Rehearsed May, June, went out on the road mid July for a month, and then we went into... we went over to LA sort of mid-September for two weeks, came back, two weeks off, two weeks on in Oxfordshire at our studio and then two weeks off, week on, week off, week on, week off, week on, week off, which amounts to seven hours... seven hours?! (laughs) Seven weeks total recording time, which is sort of... and then the mixing in the New Year, and that's sort of... which is something of a record for us, because its... Pablo Honey was three weeks, and The Bends, about sixteen weeks total recording time, so this fits somewhere in between. And then OK Computer was, you know..."
Jonny: "Months and months."
Ed: "Six months, and Kid A was... (laughs)"
Jonny: "Well, I think you have to include all the rehearsal time as part of the recording process, because we were just obviously rehearsing new songs, writing and arranging them, talking about them in the evening, thinking about how they could be better, what the structure should be, and we spent, you know, a couple of months, I suppose doing that, so that when it came to playing them live, we didn't change them much, and when it came to record them, they were in stone, pretty much."
Ed: "But there's a... and also, you know, it didn't feel like there was a lot of pressure on this record at all, it didn't feel... because the whole thing about this record, kind of what's underpinned it, is letting go. You know, what we've tended to do is we've tended to over-scrutinise things, you say... take an example like OK Computer, take a track like No Surprises... No Surprises was one of the first things we recorded, in fact it was on the first day that we recorded for OK Computer. We then went on this (laughs) journey of spending six months doing different versions, and then coming back to the original song, you know, from that first day, so I think there was, you know... we recognised that, you know, as much as anything, when you make a record, the difference is the approach that you make it, and Nigel sort of instigated that by saying “we're going to Ocean Way, we've got two weeks there, and let's do a track a day”, and that was kind of the challenge, and in doing so, you kind of let go of things, you don't become obsessed with the minutiae, it's like “ok, that's not right, we'll fix that later”, and of course when you come back to it sort of five weeks later, it's like “well the vocal's great and the rest is crap, but that's alright” sort of thing, so it's... it's regaining the sort of spontaneity and, you know, not getting too bogged down in minutiae, which is... a band on their sixth album is likely to do. It's all in the preparation, so the idea is that we play it live."
Jonny: "Even all the computers and the electronics have to be working and set up and ready to work for those... for the five minutes, for the length of the song, because I think we were occasionally guilty of forgetting, you know a lot of bands forget to always think of the songs in terms of five minutes of music, because that's obviously how the listener is eventually going to be interpreting them, and when you're recording, it's tempting to let those five minutes feel like they're days and days long as you analyse every second and every fraction of a second, and so... especially with electronic music, and that's why we had to have it all working and ready to happen in five minutes, basically."
And what kind of working style did you adopt? Were you working mostly days? Nights?
Phil: "Mostly days, actually, starting at about midday, and going on through, but..."
Colin: "We hired all these Minis."
Colin: "It was brilliant. We had like this convoy of like the new boiled sweet coloured Minis, and what did you have? You had a red one with the Union Jack on it."
Colin: "And it was like The Italian Job, and like I had one with like the stars and stripes on, because I figured that could be a bit safer, and then we had another one as well, and then a couple of Range Rovers, so we were like... we were sort of ambassadors for sort of German car companies, I suppose, but it was like ambassadors from Oxford, and we'd all like... we'd all leave the studio and come back in convoys like driving down Sunset, and there'd be like this Austin Powers sort of retro convoy, it was brilliant."
Phil: "In terms of working hours as well, I mean it was kind of very much led by wanting to actually complete a track in a day."
Colin: "Yeah, yeah."
Phil: "It was that kind of cut-off time, really."
Colin: "Ed had a magnolia coloured Volvo convertible, so everyone took the piss out of him, and said that it was a hairdresser's car."
Colin: "But, you know, it was great, wasn't it? So that's the car side of the record. (laughs)"
Phil: "That's the car side of it."
Colin: "Phil kind of looked like one of those sort of Bond villains behind this sort of smoked bulletproof glass surrounded by fairy lights, because he was in this sort of separate room, which we could all see, so... (laughs)"
Phil: "I'm not bitter, actually, but when I walked into the studio, the main studio was set up beautifully."
Phil: "Pot plants."
Phil: "You know, plants, fairy lights, and I was in the broom cupboard, practically. (laughs)"
Colin: "Yeah, well, you know, we could all see him seething through this sort of tobacco stained glass, it was brilliant, so we were thinking of flooding it, like having sharks swim past and things, it would have been great. (laughs)"
Phil: "I'm sure it was, you know, it was kind of like just psyching me out, wasn't it?"
Colin: "Yeah, yeah it was, yeah."
Phil: "Brutal performances."
Colin: "Putting you in your place, yeah. (PS laughs) No, it was great, it was a great big Fifties room and just sort of (check) you in there were these black and white photographs of Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin all singing into the same like 1940's German microphones they're still using there, so... and then we were in there too, so it was great."
Thom: "Yeah, we were very much into like getting the sound of people in a room on this record, and you know, the sounds of things off mic and all that kind of stuff, and just kind of in a weird way a celebration of going back out on the road with Kid A and Amnesiac, which were such incredibly studio... seriously studio records, and learning to play them live and getting all that... getting something off that and just wanting to bring that back in the studio, and it was very much... there was very little analysis or mandate, or you know, “we're going to do this, and this is how it's going to be” when we went in the studio, you know, we played a lot of these songs live ready to go in and everything, we'd gone out on tour, and everything was geared towards these sessions."
Let's talk now about Thom's vocals on this CD...
Jonny: "I think it's quite a vocal led record."
Jonny: "I think on the last two records we've done, Thom was getting bored with the sound of his voice... or, not bored even, but was just... he was frustrated with how it was in a way, how it was just doing the one thing, and was experimenting with what else he could do with the human voice in a way."
Ed: "It was a reaction to OK Computer..."
Ed: "That he kind of got himself into... I think he felt he got himself into some kind of cul-de-sac on that one, because you know, he was Thom Yorke, and he was being labeled as the... you know, all his lyrics were about, you know, his plight, his suffering or whatever, and he had to find something else, and he had to look externally, and that's what that Kid A, Amnesiac, you know, why you don't see the lyrics you know, published or whatever, because he... you know he was uncertain, and he was trying to find the vocals... It's interesting what he was listening to beforehand, that he was listening to... apparently he said he listened to a lot of Mahalia Jackson, and he was really struck by the way that a voice could be that kind of musical instrument, and I mean from our point of view, I mean it was so obvious from day one, we went into the studio, and the voice... he was so relaxed, you know, there was none of that “here we are making our next record”, whereas it was all about... he was very calm, and he was just singing amazingly."
Jonny: "You could just hear how his throat was so open."
Jonny: "And it was this really rich sound, because he's relaxed with it."
Ed: "Because he's relaxed, totally relaxed, and that kind of confidence, and you know, he's probably re-finding his voice and... "
Jonny: "Enjoying it, even."
Ed: "Enjoying it, yeah."
And what was the mindset in recording? After all, there's a single release!
Phil: "It just felt as though there were singles on this record though, you know it's... Kid A just didn't feel like the kind of record that you could present in that way, and I don't think we were in the right place, you know, emotionally or whatever, to actually kind of put together the approach that we're doing at the moment. But I mean everything's always led... for us is led by what we have recorded, and with this record, I mean as we've been going through it, we've felt that there have been tracks on there which all along could be... would have potential as a single, so yeah, as with every record, it's following, you know, what is the most appropriate thing for this... for what we've recorded."
Where there many tracks left over after recording? Annd can we mention the great song 'Lift', and ask what happened to that?
Ed: "Not that many."
Jonny: "Two? Three?"
Ed: "Two or three. You can mention Lift, yeah. (laughs)"
Jonny: "There's a whole pile of songs that we just... we..."
Ed: "We have the intention of... we played it last year live didn't we?"
Jonny: "Yeah. There's a lot of songs like that that people are fond of... Nude, and we're fond of them too, it's like... but the time has to... you know, people have been talking about I Will for three years, four years and now we've recorded it and it's great and it's out, so..."
Jonny: "You know, we think about it all the time too, songs like that, but we haven't got round to it."
Ed: "And Lift was a song like that as well, we did a different type of version of Lift..."
Jonny: "We did a bad version of it."
Ed: "But it's not... the spirit of the song was there in '96, it was kind of like... when it was first done, it was our... it was Radiohead doing their Design For Life, you know, it was that kind of epic song, and it's not... we're not in that place at the moment, so you know, maybe it will happen, you never know, you never know."
Could this album have been made 2 years ago?
Ed: "No. I mean, you know every record that we make, we could not have made it the previous year, or the year after, they're very... the thing about, you know, for better or worse about us as a band is that, you know emotionally we're pretty honest, you know, you can tell with us when you hear our records, you can actually tell where our emotional, mental and spiritual, you know, what state that's... they're all in, so this completely... and it's you know, Leckie taught us that, John Leckie taught us that on The Bends, and he said, you know “an album should be just literally sort of an aural snapshot of a band at a given time”, and it's totally true, now, you know like on Kid A and Amnesiac that was expanded over, you know, over basically a year and a bit, but you know the whole state of the band did not change within that year, so, you know, it's totally of its time and we won't make another record like this, you know, that's for sure, and we know that every time we make a record, because you've got... you know, the thing about making a record is that it's not just you know, what songs that you're presenting, what, you know, there's so many, you know, there's so many infinite permutations of how a record can... you know, this record wouldn't have sounded like this if we'd decided to record it in, you know, Berlin, in Hansa Ton studios for six weeks, it would have... it wouldn't be as warm as that, you know, it reflects the fact that it was started in LA, the sun was shining in September, you know, we were in that studio for two weeks, it's all these little things that adds... you know, they add the... it's the character, it's the make up of each record."
What about touring - has that become enjoyment again?
Phil: "I mean, on paper, touring should be an absolutely incredible experience, really shouldn't it, you know? You do get to play live, you know, you do get that direct feedback, essentially you know, that privileged position of doing what you love, and traveling to all these wonderful places..."
Colin: "It's much easier to tell you when we didn't enjoy it, that's quite straightforward, really, which was... I mean for me it was like touring with like REM in these huge places, I mean they were really nice, but you just... the bus drove into these sort of sixty thousand door like baseball arenas and with a sort of lone bird fluttering up in the top, unable to escape, and you didn't get any light, and you were like... and there was a two kilometre ring of concrete car park around you, and the nearest town was like twelve miles away, and it was just terrible, and so that kind of thing's not good. It all sounds like a bad Pink Floyd album copy, but the rest of it was brilliant, like getting off of the bus in the middle of like some cool part of town, and there's a coffee shop and a record shop, and people who are like into it, and it's great."
Track #1 is called 2+2=5
Thom: "That was quite a funny one, really, in the sense that I can't really remember doing it. It was the first day in the studio. We went to Ocean Way in L.A., which was a... Nigel Godrich, it was his idea, he's the man who operates the faders. And he had worked there with Beck, I went along to see him when he was working with Beck there. I really liked the place and the way the place sounded as well, it was really fat. Anyway, so there we were on the first day, we've plugged all the gear in, and we needed to sort of test, really. And that was it. And we hadn't eaten all morning, and we were all pretty wired. That's about as much as I remember about it. We were sort of doing a track a day, but that one actually only took a couple of hours. And then we kind of didn't really listen to it again until the end of the session. And everybody just thought it was... I mean I was like 'well, that's just throwaway'. But it actually ended up being something, that was really kind of handy, because it was a really good...flipping, sort of like... for us it was just like 'uuuhhhhhhhh'... you know, getting out a lot of frustration, really. There was something about it, that stuck. We really liked it. But our normal [???] selves would have not considered that in the running, really. I don't think realistically. If it hadn't been for the fact, that it was a test. Really would've just thrown it out on the grounds it was too silly.
It was interesting, 'cause the playlisting and the way that record was put together and stuff was... we tried this thing where basically we did like the initial 2 week session. And then we were like in our studio, and the whole record only took 7 weeks to track. And then it was a few weeks to mix after that. But a lot of that time Ed and Phil went away with the tracks and were like trying to piece them together way, way before we'd finished them. Because we sort of really needed to know what we're doing. It seemed like a really good way of finding out. It was actually like 'well, it's gonna roughly look like this'. So we had a pretty good idea how the whole thing was gonna look 3 weeks in. And '2+2' was so obviously a sort of statement of intent, but equally in true Radiohead style totally misleading."
Phil: "Each opening track on an album always seems to be the opposite of the overall atmosphere of the last record. So '2+2', I mean, that really fulfills that for us, I think. And you know, the album is grounded so much more in the performance between the 5 of us this time, then on Kid A and Amnesiac. The fact that you're there, and you're starting up with this guitar just like cranking up at the beginning of it. For us it's a very unselfconscious way of working, and I think that comes across especially in '2+2', really."
Sit Down, Stand Up. Where did that come from?
Thom: "It was sort of written initially... the demo I did of it for the others was very, very, very slow, indeed. And I kind of wanted it to keep that in, keep this sort of like chanting about it, really. And the words weren't really relevant, it was just these melodies going 'round and 'round against each other, you know. I'm not quite sure where that came from, but it's probably kind of a Mingus thing, one of my many Mingus hang-ups from another Mingus track. But then it just turned into this blimming, I don't know, rhythm fest thing. because it was obviously not gonna stay like that, I don't know... It's very, very old as well. I mean, it's pre-Kid A, the initial idea for the song. And the 'rain drops' section just came out of thin air, I don't know where the hell that came from, to be honest. Got no idea.
It was a series of... I mean, virtually everything on that track scarily is from one take. Except obviously the other vocals. I mean, all the instrumentation and everything. And when we were playing that live we were getting this insane response, and we didn't know... 'cause we went out and we tried out all the songs before we recorded them, you know. We went to Spain and Portugal and played all these things. And 'Sit Down. Stand Up.' always used to... I mean, it was such a joke, because, you know, the last 2 minutes of the song we just didn't know what we were doing. We didn't have a clue, you know. Jonny was like sitting there on his big AS machine, and all the lights flashing, Phil was trying to work out where he'd left the beat, and me and Ed are just like 'well, let's just keep singing 'raindrops', and hopefully people will think that it's coherent, even when it's not. And that's basically what we ended up with, really. But then we went into this sort of thing where we had this... there was one section where we basically cut it all into shreds and put it through the laptop and spat it back out, and kind of thought it was really too silly. But Nigel was like 'no, no, that's gonna go in'. And he was right, he was really good. It just switches into this other mode completely, like someone switched on the calculator and made everything quite rational, and then it's kind of not. I don't know. It's something I'm very proud of, but I just can't remember how the hell we got there, to be honest, like with most things on this record."
Phil: "That song was recorded in the first week of recording. That was actually... probably went through more processes than any other of the tracks on the album. We got the main performance down on the day it was recorded, and then we had this... it was brilliant, it builds and builds and builds. And you get to that section in the middle, which just explodes into this kind of electronica thing. And it was just fizzled out at that point. And fortunately it was just coming down to me doing this very, you know, beautifully played, of course, but it was a very lacklustre pattern. And so that section there... it was just trying to find something there, that maintained and built on that intensity, as we're going through."
Colin: "I think you're being a bit harsh on yourself about that, though, so... it's just one of those things where... we played it live before we recorded it and it was like, we got really big PA and it's like, we had a plot worked out. But then we took that plot into the studio, and we didn't record it how we'd been playing live in that section properly, whatever, with all these voices and stuff. Just didn't work out, so we changed it. I like that song because of the James Bond beginning as well, with this electric piano sound, that Jonny plays, doing this Glockenspiel thing or whatever it is. And it sounds like the beginning of 'Diamonds Are Forever' or something."
Sail to the Moon, let's talk about your vocals on this album. But first off, it sounds like a sinister nursery rhyme...
Thom: "Well, it was written for my little boy, which I decided to sort of say, be honest about, 'cause it's fairly obvious, I suppose. It's just a very personal song, I think. I mean, I got back into singing. But as to where they [the vocals] were placed a lot of the time, and how they sounded, I really left that up to Nigel. I think he was sort of enjoying the fact, that I was just singing normally and not complaining. So he could just get on with it. I think the band did an amazing thing with that, because I never thought we'd get it off the ground, because all the counting and the timing on it is really funny. I mean, I guess you can't hear it, maybe people can't hear it, but it's just a total nightmare. And everyone's having to count all the way through. 'Ok, this one's 7, this one's 6, this one's 5, bla bla bla'. But it doesn't really sound like that, they made it sound really effortless. So I was really happy about that, I was really proud of that."
Phil: "It's a track that we'd had quite a bit of difficulty arranging, 'cause we can't count beyond 4. But it's just one of those things that.. over to you Colin, on that one."
Colin: "What my brother Jonny says about it is, there are two kinds of songs we were working on with Thom. There are the ones which are sort of alright, and you do something that's really good. And then there's the ones like 'Sail To The Moon', that, when you hear the demo of it, you could just put that on the record and everyone would swoon. And it's a real case of 'don't walk on the grass, don't step on the flowers' when you're playing it. So you really just try and like play as little as possible to get in the way with the tracks, cause it's such a delicate sort of thing, such a beautiful thing. And it's great. And of course it's got like great James Bond sort of Moonraker vibe to it. When they switch the gravity machine off in the studio and everyone's floating around."
Phil: "I mean, it's a stunning song. As with so much of this record, I think Thom's voice has really been outstanding, being a real feature. And on the CDs, that he distributed amongst us before we actually started rehearsing, I think that was one of the stand-out songs, really. I think it's quite a good indication of where his head was at during this recording. 'Cause I mean, to actually give those kinds of performances you need to be very relaxed and very confident in what you're doing."
Here's a change (irony!) as a definition of a Radiohead song....Track #4 Backdrifts seems a pretty desolate vision.
Thom: "There's lots and lots of different interpretations. I mean, the lyrics are incredibly ambivalent. Deliberately. But it sort of came from a certain type of light that I saw, a certain type of smell. It's not particularly anything, that... it's sort of basically this pure blind panic, which I kept encountering in various different forms, and that ended up being a song called 'Backdrifts'. It's a sort of fluorescent light. That's probably not very helpful... I can't really explain it. I mean... 'Backdrifts' to me ended up being, I mean if we're talking lyrically, ended up being very much about the slide into... the slide backwards, that's happening everywhere you look, you know. There was a time when everybody sort of felt like maybe the world was progressing and maybe we were getting better, sort of understanding other people, you know, that there was a high level of tolerance and compassion and so on. And then someone literally flicked a switch and the light went on and everybody just scaried for the dark. And that's to me is sort of the best... that's quite a good way of describing the sort of general atmosphere of that song."
Colin: "It was the point when we managed to work out how to make all the boxes and machines talk to each other, I suppose. And I guess that's what happened with it, really. But I think it started off with a loop of Thom's of sound, right at the beginning of the song. And I suppose it's, I don't know... 'Backdrifts'... I mean, it's sort of like snow or whatever."
Phil: "It's one of those tracks that came out from when we were actually still doing the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions. And initially Jonny and Colin disappeared off to a different part of the house and emerged a week later with this really dynamic sounding rhythm track, really. That's where the song emerged from."
Track #5, Go to Sleep
Thom: "'Go To Sleep' was one we never thought... a track that we kind of didn't think we'd get off the ground. A few times, that we played it live to people, it was just this embarrassing sort of guitar noodle thing, that just didn't really work out or would just collapse halfway through, it was aweful. But we sort of kept going, and kept going. And it was one of those ones that we just expected to die all the time, and then it didn't. And then it turned into this really jubilant thing, you know. And there's bits of Phil's playing in that... the way he plays really, really lose at the moment, which is great, you know. I think it's sort of quite sexy and it really... it's not something we... you know, normally we play uptight, but I think at the end of Kid A and Amnesiac we suddenly weren't playing uptight anymore. And it's a good thing for us, I think.
And the lyrics themselves were just... I mean, I had this whole thing about the record, where I really, really wanted it to write itself, where I really didn't want like any sort of mandate or we're trying to prove anything or whatever. It was just... I think that was a payback from the Kid A/Amnesiac thing, where I think in a way I was quite shocked about how suddenly... you know, the way everybody interpreted about this big sort of left turn deliberately or whatever, whereas to me it didn't really feel like that. It was sort of logical progreesion. But obviously not, or something, I don't know. So I was like 'ok, I'm just not gonna think about this at all from my point of view'. So when I was writing the lyrics, it was sort of... whatever was coming out of my mouth, if I thought it was half decent I'd make a note of it. And then 'Go To Sleep' was like... it was literally whatever was coming out of my mouth. And I just had a look at it in the end, and to me it was nonsense all the way through, and I was like 'it's ok'. You know, much of the lyrics on this record I'd say 'Obviously I'll rewrite this in the end, chaps. At the moment this is just nonsense.' And they were going 'Really? Ok'. And that was one where it was all kind of... at the time I thought it was complete nonsense. And then it turned into this really amazing thing, that, to be honest, wasn't me, really. Didn't feel like me at all. In fact I've done it, which is great. I mean, that's how I remember when I first started writing songs, when we first were in the band as well, that's how I remember doing it. I think you get all this baggage over the years, that comes up through the analysis and stuff. And you start like worrying about the consequences of what you might say in this track or that track. And it ultimately ends up being bollocks, really. And also, I mean, I think Kid A and Amnesiac were born out of that. The way I was trying to write there was a way of trying to deal with that. Whereas this time it was like 'whatever, I'm not interested what the consequences of this are', you know. 'This is just what I do today. Gotta get home at lunchtime anyway'."
Colin: "For me, what summed the record up was a track called 'Go To Sleep', which we were rehearsing. And it's got a sort of folky first half, and then it sort of grooves out in the second half. And we had this great sort of 1960s English sort of folk, I don't know, west coast thing going, early garfunkel, first half. It was brilliant. And then we couldn't have an outro, so then we just played it through and recorded it like in one take. And it sounded great, but we sort of lost the first half of the song. What I'm saying is, people didn't come into the studio with like 'this is how everything should sound, and if it's not gonna sound like this then I'm going to throw my toys out', or just freak out or not be happy or... You know, everyone was like very 'well, if it didn't work out, that's fine'. because everyone was relaxed about it. We created a space for something unexpected, and it's good or sometimes better to replace it."
Track #6. Where I end and You begin next. Great bassline!
Thom: "That's again a very old song. That was initially born out of a... there's a very rough demo, that we've had for about 5 years, of it. And when I bought this house after OK Computer and moved in, and it's in the middle of nowhere, and set up a studio in there. And it's the first thing I did in the studio. But it's actually been written before that, it was written when me and Jonny and our partners went... we went on this trip in a Landrover in the Negev desert in Israel for 3 days. And I have one of these little things, called a QY70, which is sort of like a... Björk uses it, and it's a sort of calc... it looks like a calculator, but it's a sort of sequencer/programmer/composer thing. Quite cheap and sort of simple. And I wrote the initial idea for it on that in this desert, and then just finished it in the studio, in my very rough and ready studio. And then we had it kicking around and didn't know what to do with it for ages. And, I don't know, I think it was something about the way that Phil has changed the way he drums, that he can... he was just like on it all the way through without any effort and just banging away. And we were sort of getting out a bit of our "neuer" frustrations really as well, I think. And Cozzie, you know, he was obviously loving it cause he got to play like Peter Hook a little bit, you know."
Colin: "Well, that's not my bassline. That's Thom's bassline, I mean, I'm just copying what he did on the demo. But me and Phil are definitely having a serious 80s flashback. New Order live at the Oxford Apollo in 1984."
Here's a cheery title for Track #7: We Suck Young Blood. Humour perhaps?
Thom: "'We Suck Young Blood'... hmm, yeah... I mean, I think that's funny. That track to me is funny. I mean, sort of... I mean, it's sort of so vaudeville and like... we had all these fantasies about... when we were recording it we had... Paul Thomas Anderson came to the studio, and he brought this camera with him, which was a 1920s... it was exactly the same camera model, that they shot the original Nosferatu on. This camera is basically just a box and you wind it. And you have to have a sort of tempo to wind it to. And if you wind it fast or slow you get this extraordinary movement. And we wanted to shoot this sort of really over the top, vaudeville sort of b-movie thing with it. Because that to me was totally where it was coming from, you know. And also it's really sick, and sort of like sexual in a really perverse way. Very L.A., as far as I'm concerned. I mean, I think that was the reason we went to L.A., 'cause 'We Suck Young Blood' was.. that was our take on Hollywood, really, basically. In fact we went out to a party that night. We went to this place and... [whispers] you people are so silly. And it was like that's how they dressed every day to create an impression. It was brilliant. We felt like old people or maybe we'd missed something."
Phil: "It doesn't sound light-hearted, but it was done in a very light-hearted spirit, really. It started off sounding quite like a pastiche, really. And normally, when it starts off there, we discard something very quickly, I think. But we actually stuck with it. It's got a very sinister feel to it."
Colin: "The backing session from Phil on the drums, then we got the rest of this like clapping over the top of it, completely out of time. Expensive microphones and a lot of studio hours and studio tape were spent on like getting this sort of clapping like that. There's a lot of different takes, Nigel really drove us. I think it was like 3 days."
Track #8 The Gloaming is next. That's teh time just before night falls, isn't it? And this sounds to me like the listener is being eaten by a big technological machine...
Jonny: "People have reported feeling unwell and uneasy and unsure listening to it, which is a good rection to get, I think, halfway through a record. I think there's lots of incertainty on the record lyrically, and that's one point where the music goes quite unsettling, I think."
Ed: "It was one of those ones that... when Thom brought 'The Gloaming' into the... and we heard it on a CD that he presented us with a load of material, before we even started. But it was one of the few tracks, that came from, you know, essentially a laptop. And we sort of revisited it back in our studio after we'd been in L.A. and after we'd done a lot of live stuff. And it was really refreshing to hear something out of a... you know, we'd done a lot of live stuff, and to hear something that was digital... I remember it was a friday night that we revisited it. It was the end of a session, end of a week, and it another tone, it was another mood. And it was different. It was like 'we've got to make this work in the record', it takes it to another extreme, in a way."
Jonny: "And strangely it was actually put together without computers. It's all done from, don't wanna get overly technical, but it was done with pieces of tape. So the rhythms you're hearing are in a way quite mechanical. So that's why it's so unsettling maybe."
Thom: "Musically that was born out of an experiment that Jonny started, where he wanted to cut... he did it with tape loop. And he wanted to cut it as... on a record, you know, as a locked groove. You know what a locked groove is... so you put one on and rather than the record going to the middle it just stays where it is. And so he sat down with Graeme Stewart, who is another engineer we work with, and basically figured it out. And they... I don't know what he was gonna use it for, really, but I heard it when he and Colin started working on it, and just thought it was the most amazing thing, that Jonny had ever written. And I just said 'I'll have that'... and took the hard disc away and... used to drive 'round down country roads during dusk, basically, or the gloaming, listening to this thing, and had this melody, that was coming out underneath. And it was very much about imminent sense of darkness and thinking about the future and, I guess, you know... it's got a lot of dread in it, really. And a lot of sort of totally out of control feelings, you know. I mean, my favourite line in the whole record is the 'genie let out of the bottle' thing, 'cause that kind of really sums it up for me. It was during the Afghan War, and I was also thinking a lot about that it was the rise of the right. All that stuff about the right in Europe, and in France and, was it Belgium? I'm not sure, can't remember now. And that sort of general sense of ignorance and intolerance and panic and stupidity, and everybody running for cover, which is also, I guess, in my description of 'Backdrifts' as well."
Track #9 There There is next; and it's a single, unusual indeed for Radiohead...
Thom: "It made me cry when we finished it, actually, I blubbed my eyes out. Don't know why... I went to L.A. and Nigel played me the mix and it just made me cry, I was in tears for ages. I just thought it was the best thing we'd ever done. So, there's something about it, I love the way... what he did with the guitar sound and the way he mixed it and just the way... it's really jubilant to me, that song, in a funny way. And also, it happened to be... I mean, at one time I thought it was a song that we were gonna lose, which I was really upset about, because the melody stayed with me for about 4 months without going away, which for me is really unusual. It doesn't take me long to get bored. And I really never got bored of this song. Any time I went for a walk any way, or whatever, there it was. It tends to be a long sort of process where... the more you... what I'm finding is, the more I think about how I first heard it, the worse it gets. I mean, what I'm sort of saying is, this is what i kind of mean about the 'let it happen' thing. What I discovered, I think, in making this record, is that along the way things form themselves. And the way things sound, it can form itself. And you may have dreamed of how you wanted it to sound. And then one day you walk into the studio and there it is. But you've not been standing there with a hammer and trying to beat it out of the desk or your guitar, it's not necessary. It's just there one day. I think that's why I cried when I heard the mix, 'cause I was so shocked that it was there. You know, I thought we'd lost it or whatever. And it was really important to me and it was right there one day. And that sort of feeling can then sustain me for months, you know. I'm not bothered about anything else for months. Everything else I can just about cope. I think that's why it's the first single as well, really."
Ed: "Sound wasn't right in L.A."
Jonny: "Yeah, partly. And because the end was just... It's that interesting thing of, on one level it's really great to record a band in a studio, playing together as a band. And sometimes it doesn't work at all, because you haven't got the real volume of a live concert. And it's not the same, and you're trying to capture something, that just doesn't really work coming out of speakers in your front room, as it would have done in a concert. So that's one song, that I think the first recording suffered from that. It just sounded a bit like we were trying to make a worthy 'live band playing together' recording."
Ed: "Because we'd been used to it in live... you know, we played it live, and it was one of the ones that really worked live. And it was 'augmented' by Jonny and myself playing some drums on it. I think we all had images of sort of tribal sort of... and of course, as Jonny says, it doesn't work necessarily in the studio, so it had to become something else. So you have to find out what it becomes. And it took us to get back to England and just approach it again."
Track #10 is I Will. Something of a curio?
Thom: "That was something, that we smashed out against the wall about 4 times during Kid A session. And we had all these versions of it, that were like... they were just so over the top, I mean like sort of electronic, all electronic and bla bla bla. And it sounded like blimming ultravoxes, horrible. But there was something in the lyric, that just stuck around. And everyone was massively into the song, I seem to remember Colin especially. And then I suddenly sort of thought 'well, it would be nice to just try some vocal things with it', really. Cause I got into the idea of doing harmonies. I mean I did not enough harmonies, I wanted, you know, really over the top harmonies, but didn't get away with it this time. But the other thing was the lyric of it seemed really... I mean, even though it was written 4 years ago, if not more, it just seemed to totally make sense. And it was irresistable to put it in, really, because it did have this sort of... it's sort of quite interesting, cause as a song it's sort of like a love song, but it's also sort of the angriest thing I've ever written as well, you know. That sort of anger, that you can't even begin to express, you know. This thing about 'you can do anything you want to me, but if you come after my family I will kill you'. You know, that sort of thing, which everyone has in them, I think."
Ed: "I think we first rehearsed it as a band 1998 when we were... just before... we'd had three months off after the end of OK Computer touring, and we were going to reconvene in the new year for the sessions for Kid A. But we were doing a gig for Amnesty International in '98. So we rehearsed, and that's when 'I Will' first came up. And 'I Will' was... you know, we rehearsed it as a band, and it was always... you know, it's one of those songs, that Thom presents you, and you know, it's really stunning, you know that, and there's the excitement of doing it. But there's also a slight kind of 'oh... how are we gonna do this, are we gonna ruin this, or what'. You know, it's one of those songs, that sometimes a band arrangement can actually get in the way. So we went through several different versions, and we recorded it for the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions, which became... the backwards version of it became 'Like Spinning Plates' on Amnesiac. It was a track played backwards. And then Thom demoed it again, and he just did it with just a guitar and him doing all the harmonies. And it like recaptured the essence of the song. A lot of the feeling about this record was we just wanna get to the core of what's good about that song, let's not get sidetracked by production details or new sounds or whatever. It's like, whatever works for the song, which is kind of going back to what we used to do a lot."
Track #11 is A Punchup at a Wedding. The title seems to sum up your frustration at the human condition. "Why does everything have to be like this?"
Thom: "That was a song where I was letting it happen. I mean, a lot of the lyrics for that song to me were born out of listening to Radio 4 an aweful lot, like every day, for 6 months - religiously. And just listening to what was happening, and just had this thing in my head about 'this is just like a punch-up at a wedding, nobody knows what's going on, it's just a riot. And someone in the middle is being affected by this, and this is supposed to be the biggest day in their lives, and it's being ruined', or whatever. And it also came out of a... I mean, I basically don't read anything that anybody writes now about us, at all. Cause I just can't anymore. And the main reason for that was, that I happened upon, sort of by accident basically, a review of our Oxford gig [july 7th 2001], which was just like.. I mean, one of the biggest days in my life. Obviously for all of us. And this... whoever this person was, just tore it to shreds. And they couldn't really think of how to tear us to shreds, really, so they just tore the audience to shreds. And just said basically 'who are these people, bunch of students', you know, 'white middle class', which was not the case at all, but what's the point in arguing. But this person managed to totally and utterly ruin that day for me forever. And it really shouldn't have done, and I should be bighead enough to just ignore it. And there was a lesson there, which I have I learned now. But I just didn't understand why... how someone, just because they had access to a keyboard and a typewriter, could just totally write off an event, that meant an aweful lot to an aweful lot of people. And there'd been just no answering back, no nothing, that was it, the end of the story. And obviously that happens all the way through your career... And that was another impetus for the song, really. Because to me it was like... so many people were there and saw something completely different, but yet you're the twat who gets to sort of write it all off. And it's sort of... I don't know, I should be used to it by now."
Ed: "If you think of the links between songs, it's kind of a cousin of... a dear old friend of 'Karma Police'."
Jonny: "Yeah, I can see that. It's sort of all in the rhythm of the piano, and it's us doing our kind of slow grind kind of funk thing, I suppose. Some of the harmonies in it are quite unsettling as well. So again it's a mixture of quite straight pop thing and all the wailing that Thom's doing at the beginning and the end, it's... you have to hear it, really."
Track #12 is Myxomatosis (a disease that infected the rabbit population of Australia, deliberately, in the 1950s.) Do we detect a Tubeway Army sound here?
Thom: "A lot of that was experiencing being on the outskirts of the whirling vacuum, which is current politics, really. When you get to the center, or you start to sort of see the center, you know, like a tornado, there's just basically nothing there. And 'Myxomatosis' was really sort of born out of that. Born out of this idea like... well, again I guess, like 'Punch-up' as well, it's like 'well, I was there, and no, it wasn't like that'. But yet... I must be ill, because what I saw and what was reported was a totally different thing. Very specifically provoked by something that happened a few years ago, the 'Drop The Debt' thing, that just stuck with me when we went to Cologne. I mean, I've talked about this before, how all these nice old ladies and quakers and stuff were all there protesting the G7 or 8... I can never remember who they dumped off last. We handed in this petition with millions of signatures, or whatever, to Schröder at this thing in Cologne. And there was a small riot... there's a protest, that turned into a riot, back in London. Reclaim The Streets were involved in all that, I'm quite sure they weren't involved with the rioting. But somehow the British press, obviously the Murdoch papers in particular, because they love this sort of shit, were just writing it up as if all these old ladies and all these nice quakers were somehow anti-capitalist lunatics - and it was all part of the same coordinated protest - which was just nonsense, you know. And the whole thing was just written up so badly and everyone was ignoring the fact, that there was actually millions of people's fixed signatures on this thing. It was... I don't know. It just stuck with me how utterly powerless people are to really represent what goes on, if other people elsewhere see fit... if they see a nicer and more convenient story to be written another way, they can write off the wishes of millions of people in a split second at editorial decision, which I feel is immoral."
Jonny: "That's all playing around a lot with the idea of how keyboards used to be, they used to sound frightening, and Tubeway Army style, I suppose, or slightly out of tune. You forget that presumably in the 80s when keyboards were being recorded people would be playing them. And even if a band just had keyboards in it, they'd have to one at a time play keyboards onto tape, which is a really alien concept, because of computers and sequencing and how music is made today. So, that was done like that, pretty much."
Ed: "Well, it was a tricky one, because it was... the version that Thom did on it, it was - he demoed it - it was really sort of... it was very digital, it was very... it was really great, but it was a bit of a different beast, in a way. And we wanted to incorporate the live thing. And the Tubeway Army thing was the perfect thing to do. But again, we had to find an approach to it, and we didn't quite get it in L.A., but we eventually got to loop Phil's drums, and then we did a sort of a live rough in the control room. And then other stuff was added. It's that totally playing something in the spirit of how you think they might have made records in '79, '80, or whatever."
Jonny: "And it was one of those occasions where you're recording, and the element you think is the key to the song, the rhythm, actually isn't, and it's in the detail. It's just in the single keyboard lines. And as soon as they became overpowering and took over the song, the song started working. And the rhythm was just a way to lead you through the song, but it wasn't the feature anymore. And suddenly it had this atmosphere attached to it, which is why it works, why it's on the record, really."
Track #13, Scatterbrain, is an unsettling sounding track...
Thom: "My absolute favourite type of weather is force ten gale. That's the happiest I am, in a sort of gale that might just take you up in the air and never come down again. And it was sort of... I mean, whatever came out lyrically, it was actually supposed to be a sort of celebration of this sort of storm, which is that... you know, I thrive on that. You know, I'm singing about a wild storm, but yet the music is very, very soft, you know, and really assuring. Like you're listening to it from outside the window. It's sort of a really lonely song as well. That's sort of the loneliest song on the record, I think."
Jonny: "It's very simple and sort of quite pretty, but there's something about the music for me, the chords for me, where it never quite resolves. It's never... it never really grounds, or something, never grounds itself. So it just sounds like it's always about to resolve, and in a way it never does, which makes it quite floaty and..."
Ed: "But in terms of the instruments that are played... that it gives it that warmth. Reminds me a bit... I always thought it was like Stevie Wonder, that Talking Book era, you get that warmth. And what he's doing a lot of the time is he doesn't resolve stuff. He does these beautiful chords and then they just... it's all wrapped up in the warmth of the recording and his great voice, but sometimes it just doesn't resolve, which is brilliant and why it's so different. We always thought of this as a sunday morning song, really. But maybe it's not... maybe it's a Radiohead sunday morning, which is, you know, a copy of the paper with some bad news on the front, yeah."
And the final track, Track #14, is A Wolf at the Door. A last chance (on this album, anyway) to put across some Home Truths?
Thom: "It was quite weird. That song's been kicking around for a while and I not really thought about how violent the images were for ages, until we came to trying to put the record together working out where it went. And I was also typing up the words for Stanley. And suddenly I was like 'wow, this is pretty bitter stuff'. You know, all the stuff about 'cold wives and mistresses, cold wives and sunday papers, city boys in first class', all that stuff. I was like 'bloody hell, that's pretty serious'. I guess it's just very, very angry, cause I couldn't help it, really. A good place to put anger in is in music. I think better than a lot of other places. But again, the crazy thing about it is, I'm only able to put the anger in that song, because the melody itself is so sweet, you know. Jonny wrote this really sweet guitar melody. Where the words came from was just... that's just where they came from. I mean, it wasn't... I wasn't even thinking that I was angry. I mean, I was just feeling like I was going a bit mad. So, I'm used to that now, I go through phases like that. But that was a particularly bad one. But you know, we were kind of reluctant to put it on the record for ages, because it was just so... we end every record with a nice sort of ending. But really, this wasn't... the whole atmosphere and where this whole record comes from, is not that. It would have been false to do that. In the record there's a lot of sort of fairy tale, children's story things going on in it. And then that one at the end... again, it's obviously a wolf at the door and so on, but it's kind of the most sort of ordinary life, realistic place in the whole record. And it's sort of like waking you up at the end, really. And waking you up is something really not that pleasant. Rather than waking you up and it's like 'uhh, it's all been a lovely dream'... no, it's all been a nightmare and you need to go and get a glass of water now. You know, that's kind of what it is."