Main Index >> Media Index >> OK Computer Media | Australian Media | 1998 Interviews

[Part 1 of recording starts]

[jingle plays: "THE J FILES"]

Richard Kingsmill: "Ok, well let’s now get into Thom Yorke’s high five. I got to speak to the singer of Radiohead when they were in Sydney, and I got him to pick five songs that changed his life. So we’ll get to that in just a moment.

I actually started by talking to Thom about the year ahead for Radiohead. What did 1998 look for... look like happening for the band? And we began by talking about the Grammys, which the band are scheduled to be appearing at later this month.

[cut to recorded interview]

Thom: "No, we pulled out of that. They said that we weren’t good for the ratings, so we said okay."

Richard: "Are you serious?"

Thom: "Yeah, yeah! It was cool, we were so happy man, you wouldn’t believe it. (laughs) We kind of went into it going 'Oh it would be quite interesting to go on to it and play Exit Music in front of a lot of people who just won’t get it at all, and sing "we hope that you choke" and walk off the stage', but... given the context of it I think actually it probably wouldn’t even... even that wouldn’t translate. And then they just started saying things like 'Well, we don’t think you’re appropriate, really, 'cause you’ll lower the ratings. And we were like 'fine, thanks very much'."

Richard: "Even though you are nominated in like, major categories, like best album of the year?"

Thom: "Yeah but then, you know, the way those things work it’s like they probably just go and ask whoever’s the taste maker in New York that particular day, in that particular year, who probably has the attention speed of a gnat on speed, and ask him, you know, what he thinks. You know, it’s all bullshit anyway. Once it gets to that level it’s got nothing to do with the music at all, so... and it’s not voted for by people who actually buy the records. The people who vote for them are the ones who get them free anyway, so..."

Richard: "So I take it you’re not even going to make an appearance at the thing anyway?"

Thom: "No they were asking us to, erm... saying do you want to go up and present an award to somebody else. And like, (laughs)... and what purpose does that serve?"

Richard: "You said 'no sorry, we’ll lower the ratings, we don’t wanna...'"

Thom: "(laughs) Yeah, yeah... I’ll have to get a face mask... a face pack or something before I go on."

Richard: "All right, well if that’s scrubbed off the schedule then... after that, when do you think you’ll start work on the next album?"

Thom: "Erm, no idea. We’re not discussing it. We’re going to walk away... from this, and er... and then when we can’t stand it any more maybe we’ll start work. But that could be a year. I’m not... I’m not necessarily convinced that we’ll do another one before the year 2000, necessarily."

Richard: "That’s still a fair way... that’s, you know, two years away."

Thom: "Yeah but, it’s like the end of a cycle, really, for us. And if we don’t attempt to integrate ourselves into real life again, now, then that’s it; we never will really, we’ll just carry on doing this and just turn into monsters."

Richard: "So the next couple of years. But I believe... I was reading that five songs are already written possibly for the next album? You’ve got some songs hanging in the air?"

Thom: "We could go and do it tomorrow if you’re talking about the extra material, but that’s not really it, that’s not really the point. It’s more about what sticks with us, and what takes on a significance. Like erm... like you have a song, like, erm... there’s a Tom Waits quote about songwriting, he says he’ll have loads of little ideas and stuff, he’ll leave them in his shed at the bottom of the garden, which is his studio, and he shuts the door, and it’s like they’re little kids and they all breed and when he comes back there’s loads of them... certain things have really flourished and certain things have died. You know, we could go and do it all tomorrow, but... when you write a song, certain songs you just forget about and certain songs increasingly take on a significance and just don’t go away, and I think that’s the most important stage, really, because I think anyone can just rattle ‘em off. But it’s what ends up meaning something to you."

Richard: "Well, can we translate that to OK Computer... do you think if you went in after touring now for the last couple of years and playing that material... do you think if you went in an recorded those songs now, it would sound markedly different from the album?"

Thom: "It would sound dreadful. It would sound absolutely awful, because there is only a certain time when you should record a song, and then you should never record it again, because you’re just... you're always from then on going through the motions. I guess it’s like, if you’re a writer you wouldn’t write the same book over and over again. It’s a completely different thing recording, because you’re finding things out about yourself while you’re doing it, and then it’s over, and then it’s somebody else’s forever more. And all you do then is like, if people want to hear you play it again then you’ll play it for them, because they’re giving you something, they’re giving you a reason to play the song again. But otherwise it’s pointless, because you just get bored of the material and you don’t understand the sentiment of it. Because you only understand the sentiment... I mean, like, Let Down, for example. That song, when we recorded it, we were already just at the point when we were bored of it. And we just managed to sort of get a version down, which doesn’t quite reveal the fact that we’re almost bored of it. And then I had a complete nightmare, personally, to do... for doing the vocal for it, because I was bored of it, and I couldn’t get it together and I didn’t understand the song. And it was only because the others weren’t as bored of it as I was that we managed to get it together, you know. And now I think, I guess it’s a year or so since we finished it or whatever, erm... now I kind of like it, because now I have a distance from it and now I understand it."

[intro to Let Down begins, then cut]

Richard: "Alright, listen. We’ve got you to also select your high five as well. It’s a mystery to me, I have no idea what you are going to select, what you're going to play, obviously some of your all time favourite music, I hope. So, we’re going to dedicate the next wee while on the J-Files to your favourite music, so where do you want to start?"

Thom: "I think I want to start with Prince Buster, actually. Which one... I think this is my favourite album to wake up to, if I’ve got a screaming hangover or, you know, feeling low or whatever. I just put on the first track of a greatest hits compilation of Prince Buster, which is Madness."

Richard: "Are you hung over much usually, do you find?"

Thom: "(laughs) I’m trying to cut down."

Richard: "He said it with a smile on his face. Let’s hear it right now. Thom Yorke from Radiohead is with us."

[cut, outro to 'Madness# by Prince Buster]

Richard: "Erm, 1960s, big sort of influence on the ska thing, wasn’t he?"

Thom: "Yeah, I mean, I find this whole American ska thing just such... offensively shit... it just blows my mind."

Richard: "It’s so funny, you know... you being English... the ska scene in Australia hit at the same time as it hit in the UK, back in the early ‘80s. And it has been weird to see America sort of pick up on it so many years down the track. You’re touring around the States, is it really noticeable? Do you think it’s a really strong scene over there?"

Thom: "Well it seems to be, but as far as I can work out it’s completely soulless. Except the young skate kids doing it, it’s fair enough, right? But like, the thirtysomethings playing ska music and stuff, and like, getting signed, and... why? You know, I don’t get it, sorry. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t get it... It seems to me when the ska thing was invented... Prince Buster was voicing all these really insane things as part of his culture, you know, and the American culture is so utterly barren that to put it in the context of ska music... I, well, that’s just me, that’s what I doesn’t wash with me when some white boy is playing ska music like that. It didn’t even wash... the only time it ever washed with me really was The Specials. Like, you know, we were all Specials freaks when we were kids. I’m digging myself a hole; oh I don’t care, I’ll probably get hate mail."

Richard: "Well, no, The Specials are totally cool still."

Thom: "Well, yeah. But they were, like, writing their own material, and they did something with it, you know. The beat, they really did something with it, they really tried to reinvent it and make it their own. But these boys, fuck, they’re about as rude boy as I am. (laughs)"

Richard: "Okay, Prince Buster there with Madness, the first in Thom Yorke’s high five. Radiohead in the country at the moment, we’re featuring him tonight on the J-Files. Track number two for you, Thom?"

Thom: "Okay, I’ll just flick through here..."

Richard: "You’ve got a great selection, I was just looking at them. Neil Young, Smiths..."

Thom: "Errrr... I can’t find the Neil Young... I’ve lost it, oh no. Errr... ah, Doctor Octagon. Oh man, they don’t have the titles. Shit. Oh, Blue Flowers... (sings) Blue Flowers... do you know that one?"

Richard: "No I don’t know this one. Tell me a little about Doctor Octagon, I know the name."

Thom: "Errrm... James Lavelle, who runs Mo’Wax. Do you know Mo’Wax? Erm, he sent me Doctor Octagon, he sent me Blue Flowers. And I just thought it was genius, it makes me absolutely cry with laughter. The guy who wrote this, he was so high when he did it (laughs). Brilliant. Fucking great."

Richard: "How did he create music? I know you are big fans of DJ Shadow, is Doctor Octagon something similar?"

Thom: "Mmm, no, it’s much more... it's kind of old school hip-hop. The main sample in Blue Flowers is this gorgeous string section, it’s really amazing."

[cut, small section missing]

Richard: "How much input do you have into what the directors actually do to the songs you’ve created?"

Thom: "It varies wildly, really. Sometimes you just get the script in and it’s just amazing, and it’s exactly right and that’s the end. When we did Paranoid Android I couldn’t find anybody’s work that I thought in any way came close to the mood of the song, except for this... while we were finishing off the album I had this collection of Magnus Carlsson’s Robin cartoons, right? We just watched them all the time and it was just totally where our heads were at. In the end I just sort of asked him to do a Robin cartoon, because... that was it. And the weird thing was the way he interpreted it was so uncanny, because he didn’t want the words to the song, right, he doesn’t understand English very well, and he sat and he listened to it all day on repeat on the CD player, constantly all day, and then, you know, writing down images as he was seeing them in his head, and putting them together and faxed it back to us, and it was just... weird. It was like the whole story of the actual song anyway, [???] it was written. Sometimes you just have things like that where people just respond in such a weird way. And then the latest one we did, No Surprises, has been done by Grant who has been following us around, and he was sort of seeing the other things that were coming up, and a lot of the scripts for No Surprises were the same old thing like a lot of... I’d be walking down the street and cars are blowing up and everything’s going off, and I have this completely dead pan reaction and it’s all like... and it’s all pretty much the same. And we had this one script (laughs)... where I was going to fly out of a toilet. I was going to get into a toilet on an aeroplane, and I was going to press the button to flush the toilet and it was going to be the ejector seat. And we were half way down that and we suddenly thought, nnnoo... no hang on, great idea but totally wrong song. And then Grant just came up with this weirdest idea of me just basically drowning myself... with the titles rolling up."

Richard: "I’ve seen a portion of it, I haven’t see the whole thing, but it’s... you’ve got a spacesuit on or a space helmet on."

Thom: "Yeah, it’s kind of in reference to the 2001 bit, you know, with the helmet? There’s a 2001 segment when the lights are being reflected in the helmet. But Grant chose to frame it in such a way that actually the television was the frame, which I got really excited about because I like the idea of walking into a bar or something and seeing my head just framed by the television just like a goldfish bowl, and then I drown in... or almost drown, and I actually had to do that as well, it was horrible, it was terrifying."

Richard: "For this video you had to do that as well?"

Thom: "Yeah, there was no way of cheating it, so I did have to actually be submerged in the water for a minute. There was no other way of doing it so they built this helmet and filled it up with water with my head in it. And I had a pullout thing I could do. But, erm..."

Richard: "Were you mouthing the words at the same time?"

Thom: "No I just, erm, I was there for a minute... in a goldfish bowl full of water, basically."

Richard: "Any goldfish?"

Thom: "No, thankfully not."

Richard: "(laughs) And are you good at holding your breath?"

Thom: "Well, I was good by the end of it, yeah. We had a stuntman training and everything."

[No Surprises intro plays, then cut]

Thom: "When we first started doing videos, every video director we ever met was just a bullshitter and a sort of hangover from the 80’s, most of them were just sort of... we had guys who used to come in and pretend they’d written a script and then get us to come up with the ideas, and then repeat them back to us and walk out thinking they’d sold us a video. And we were like, 'they must think we’re really out of our heads on something'."

Richard: "Karma Police, I saw that one and I kind of thought at the time 'it won’t be long before a director offers Thom a part in a movie'. Have you had any offers yet?"

Thom: "No, the best one is the Robin cartoon... Magnus wants me to do the voiceover on Robin. (laughs) Which is great, because it means I don’t have to sort of... ‘cause I can do that, I can’t remember lines and erm... I’m not very good at acting, and anyway who would want to see me in a film?"

Richard: "(laughs) Take one step back, are you going to do that part?"

Thom: "Oh yeah, sorry, yes, ‘cause that’s just the voice."

Richard: "I suppose you have trouble remembering other people’s words. Do you have trouble remembering your own words on stage?"

Thom: "Yeah, terrible trouble."

Richard: "Do you write them down like Michael Stipe did a while ago, a few years ago?"

Thom: "Well he did because he... no, but I don’t, you just get in the habit of it... you know, I don’t have to do that, which is good. A discipline."

Richard: "Okay, Thom Yorke from Radiohead. We’re up to track number three."

Thom: "Okay, erm... (flicks through records)... no that might kill you off... (laughs)"

Richard: "Oh wow, yeah..."

Thom: "Get the four wheel drivers to turn off."

Richard: (sniggers)

Thom: "Erm, ok. This is Tom Waits, Bone Machine, which I just got out... ah yeah, Jesus Gonna Be Here. This is amazing, "I can hear him rolling down the lane I said Hollywood be thy name" (laughs). He’s just always been a complete inspiration to me. And the thing that inspires me now is he has a studio at the bottom of his garden, apparently. And he does... he does a lot of other things, and just... he’s... as a song writer and a musician and a singer he’s aged so disgracefully. Most people sort of end up, you know, going down the Elton John way a bit, they have the blood sucked out of them and... well, literally in his case - erm... (laughs)... he’s had so many, was it blood transfusions? But anyway..."

Richard: "Yeah..."

Thom: "Is that right? I’m going to get sued now aren’t I... erm..."

Richard: "I’m not saying a word (laughs)..."

Thom: "Erm..."

Richard: "Disgracefully, you just said?"

Thom: "Yeah... aged utterly disgracefully. I mean, musically you know, he just got more and more and more off the fucking wall and... great. That’s what you want, man."

Richard: "But he still, he has that cult following who has stayed there..."

Thom: "Yeah, and he’s writing better songs than he ever did, as well. That’s what blows my mind about it. That’s why he’s a constant inspiration to me, the idea that he... you know, it’s alright, you don’t have to lose it, you can actually get better. Jazz musicians, they get better. Rock musicians get worse."

[Part 1 of recording ends]
[Part 2 of recording starts]

Richard: "Richard Kingsmill with you tonight for another half hour. Time to get back to Thom Yorke, singer from Radiohead, with the fourth track in his high five."

[cut to recorded interview]

Thom: "I think it’s going to have to be this one. This is Neu!... (says "Neu!" a few times in silly voice)... anyway German accent. First track. I don’t even know what it’s called now. It’s the first track on the Neu!, you’ll know the one... ah here we go. Okay, this is one we just listened to constantly when we were on tour in Europe. It has a very strange effect, I mean if you are listening to this in a car, and you are driving along fast, you should turn this really up as loud as it possibly goes, even so it’s distorting. It’s called Hallogallo and it’s ten minutes long."

[track intro, cut to outro]

Richard: "Neu! there, on Triple J. Selected by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. And you reckon that one... full ten minute track from Neu! there, on Triple J... you reckon that one’s for the, ah... what did you say before, the four wheeled truck drivers?"

Thom: "I think the four wheeled truck drivers have already turned off. I think that was, that was... (laughs)"

Richard: "That’s not brought them back?"

Thom: "Oh no... (laughs)"

Richard: "Okay. Tell me a little about this band, they’re seen along with Can and Kraftwerk as being innovators in the German music scene. How long have you been into their music and what does it do for you?"

Thom: "I’ve only got this album, I don’t know anything else by them at all. Every time I go to Krautrock sections which keep cropping up, to me it’s sort of like... I mean I’ve got the Julian Cope book on Krautrock, and it’s really inspiring and it’s just "oh great" you really wanna to go out and buy them... and I have to say some of them are a bit disappointing... but it’s just... there’s a later track on this one as well. Which is just... I’ve never heard anything like it in my life, it was mind boggling. Again, I was listening to it on the motorway, and there’s a guy singing but he’s singing so quietly that it’s just breath, but they recorded it incredibly loudly, so that it’s just horrible, it’s like this spirit coming out the walls at you, it’s like you’re hallucinating... you don’t... you start seeing things, just 'cause the... I mean I’ve just never heard anyone do that before, it was... anyway."

Richard: "And so the effect’s not great?"

Thom: "Oh no, it’s brilliant, but it’s completely upsetting. It’s not something you’d want to put on a lot. But anyway."

Richard: "Do you play a lot in the studio? Do you play around a lot with your vocals to finally get the sound that you like?"

Thom: "Erm... yeah, its... I’m not... you know we weren’t that confident, when we were doing the record we were very much 'no we need to stick to certain rules', because Nigel was sort of... Nigel Godrich was worried that I’d do a... ‘cause I would... when I was doing vocals I’d usually do it first take, because then I’d lose it. (nervous laugh)"

Richard: "You really do get bored quickly don’t you?"

Thom: "And... so he had to know that he’d got the right microphone in front of me in time (laughs). So erm... But now he sort of says he’s much less worried about it now, because he knows it doesn’t really matter so long as... it doesn’t really matter what microphone you put in front of it or whatever... but anyway I just thought the Neu! thing was a really interesting idea and a very beautiful song as well."

Richard: "Okay..."

Thom: "But erm... but now, we are going to listen to... so how many have I got left now that that was ten minutes long?"

Richard: "Oh no no, we’ve still got room for five, don’t worry."

Thom: "Cool... okay well, I’ve just bought Tindersticks, Curtains. I’m a huge Tindersticks fan. Erm... A lot of people can’t get past his voice but I think his voice is just amazing and I think it will get better as well. He seems to get more confident as well about the actual lyrics and everything. Then as a band the confidence level, you know, has just gone up and it’s just really inspiring to listen to. And this particular track is just an emotional black hole, it starts off and you just sort of think well okay, it’s not really doing that much, and then suddenly it’s terrifying, it’s like going down a slide and this string thing descends down. And what he’s actually singing about as well."

[track intro plays, cut to outro]

Richard: "Alright, well that was... I have heard some of the Tindersticks past stuff, but that was an amazing track from their latest album, Curtains. Thanks for selecting some of you favourite music. You want to go on for another fifteen don’t you?"

Thom: "I’m just getting started man."

Richard: "Yeah, you’re just getting warmed up, there’s Velvet Underground in front of us, Charlie Mingus. Yeah, were playing a bit of that. Yep. The Meters of course, one of the great bands."

Thom: "The last one I want to take, actually, is... Charlie Mingus."

Richard: "Oh, you’re going to play another one?"

Thom: "I think..."

Richard: "Oh we are going to make it six now are we?"

Thom: "Yeah, we’re gonna play..."

Richard: "And why... ahhh... (exasperated sounds)... I’m counting it back, I’m pretty sure we’ve had... we’ve had Tom Waits..."

Thom: (muffled protest)

Richard: "Ah, no..."

Thom: "Oh go on... (laughs)"

Richard: "Well I was preparing myself for you to play something off Bitches Brew which is a fairly hefty record, and I’d set aside a fair amount of the programme..."

Thom: "Ok well - yeah, well you’d have to really, but no... see now, I can justify this, right because the only record since Bitches Brew that’s had the same effect on me, right, is this Charles Mingus record, and it’s called the Complete Town Hall Concert. And there’s a long, very amazing story about how... it was an incredibly ambitious project, he had two full jazz bands, saxes, tenor saxes, baritone, all fat... and he was trying to score it out, and he was trying to record it, and there was an audience there, and it was total anarchy, and the album finishes with booing... and it was a complete disaster of a recording session, but even so, there’s... first time I heard Bitches Brew I started seeing things immediately. I wasn’t on drugs or anything, it was just straight away I was seeing things, it really freaked me out... I’ve never had that before... and most people probably listening to this programme probably don’t listen to jazz at all, that’s fine, but to me... the thing about Miles Davis, Bitches Brew, and the thing about this Charles Mingus album is, to me it’s not jazz at all, it’s rock and roll, you know... and the first track is the one I want to play, right, which is Freedom, part one. And listen out for this amazing baritone sax bit which just goes "ba ba ba ba ba bam!" and it just sounds like... it just doesn’t... it’s so funny. It’s brilliant."

[track plays]