Radiohead reveal the secret of their greasy sound
'We put dirty underwear in our amplifiers'
After the amazing OK Computer (1997) and the following tour, we haven't heard much from Radiohead. Here in Belgium we find that normal - the band has prepared itself for the new album in all silence and tranquillity - but in England they don't tolerate heroes to get out of the spotlights. Ok, on an unguarded we too ask ourselves what Mauro Pawlowski (ex-singer of Evil Superstars) is in fact up to, and when that pioneer solo début will come out, but we won't go and ring at his grandma's house to ask if she has already heard the new record. The British magazine Melody Maker díd find it necessary to go to Radiohead-ville Oxford and to interview everybody who had seen, heard or smellt singer Thom Yorke and his band in the last 2 years. A friend of the band told them it would be a 'stormy' record, the wife of bass player Colin Greenwood thought that they were stalkers en smashed the door in their face, en a local bartender said that Thom Yorke had been fooling around with Björk once in his establishment. Other magazines made a sport of getting to know as many titles of the new songs as possible. Here are some: 'Follow Me Around', 'How to Disappear', 'Move along', 'Optimistic', 'Up the Ladder', 'Cuttooth', 'Knives Out' and 'Say the Word'.
And then last week Radiohead announced they would give a concert in Werchter on september 11. They even were prepared to tell HUMO about their plans. While Thom Yorke is thinking about the cd-title and -cover, somewhere in London, we talk with the Greenwood brothers, Jonny (guitar) and Colin (bass)
HUMO: Why did you decide to talk to the press after all?
Jonny: We wanted to let the people know that we're still alive. It's been very quiet, but we needed that. If we hadn't locked ourselves up like we did, we would have had so much bother that we would have never been able to make the record we wanted to make. We didn't want to know what the people wanted from us, we wanted to make our own record.
Colin: In fact we just got out of the madhouse, and we try to get in contact with the rest of humanity again. (laugs) When you play in a big band, you automatically get pushed into strait-jacket: you make a record, you tour for 2 years and you get pushed straight from the tour bus into the studio again. We've decided that we didn't want to do it that way. Every now and then we take the time get some air, because before you know it, you're so confused that you but dirty underwear in the amplifiers, thinking it's a washing machine. Or you plug your guitar into the washing machine, which is even more dangerous (laughs).
HUMO: Many bands complain about their hectic life, but you seem to be the only ones who're able to escape from that. How come?
Colin: We try to do it in a different way, but that doesn't mean we'll succeed. Maybe, in a year, we'll have to admit that those other band were right, en we'll be sitting here, saying: "Sorry, we were so wrong. Here's the record, here are the glossy pictures, here are our photomodel-girlfriends, here's our MTV-special, sponsored by Carlsberg." (laughs) We didn't say it'll be easy, but we'll try. It's better for everyone: for us, for the listener, ánd for the record company and the concert promotors who will get better and more honest music. We're planning on playing a gig here and there, taking a little brake, getting back into the studio... That's much more interesting than planning your life for the rest two years minute per minute. And the tabloids will have less to make up, cause every 6 months or every year something new from Radiohead will come out. It's really better for everyone (laughs).
HUMO: How are you going to do that, through the Internet?
Jonny: Unfortunately, the Web isn't fast and flexible enough for that yet. We already did a couple of low budget webcasts, but the quality was too low. For the time being, we want to bring out a couple of songs now and then, and organising special concerts, like the one in Werchter in september.
HUMO: Right, what is that going to be exactly?
Jonny: We're bringing along our own circus tent, cause we are tired - and I think the crowd will agree on that - of playing in sports halls. We were really getting sick of it: the sound always sucks, there's no atmosphere, it's all so unperonal.
HUMO: Is it going to be something like the Rolling Stones' 'Rock 'n Roll Circus', end of the sixties?
Colin: Yeah, Jonny already ordered his clown's costume with flannel buttons, and he also started doing LSD (laughs). No, not really. Wha the Stones did, was a rather bizarre combination of circus and rock 'n roll, which was influenced by the drugs from that time. We're just gonna give a concert.
HUMO: Why do you play live before the new album comes out?
Jonny: We want to around the classic single-record-gig-order: first we play, then we bring out the record, and then we might talk about an eventual single. It's nice if the people have caught a glance of the record in good conditions, before they can listen to it intensively.
HUMO: Are you also starting to rehearse after the gig?
Jonny: No, we don't wanna do that to the people (laughs).
HUMO: Is the record finished completely?
Colin: Yeah, in fact. The recording is over, but we don't have a cover nor a title - well we do in fact, we've got 15 of them - and we have way too much songs. Covers and titles are Thom's thing, he's thinking about that in London now, but for the choice of the songs, we all do that together. I can assure you: it's hell. We have meetings that take hours - often from 4 pm until midnight - only about the order of the songs. We have had 3 of those sessions already. Also, we want a short record - 10, 11 songs - but we've got more than 20 songs. That doesn't make it any easier.
HUMO: You were going to bring out songs faster? Can't you just keep the rest?
Colin: Yeah, but then we have to choose what we already want to let the people hear now. In september 2001 we want to have finished a new album with all new songs. Before that, everything we still have has to be brought out first.
HUMO: Why do you want to bring out a short album, in fact?
Colin: We didn't want to bother anyone, and -again- we want to avoid the classic rock-'n-roll traps. The more successful and rich a band gets, the bigger the danger for a double album. If such a band records it's fourth or fifth album, suddenly they have enough time and space, and usually the band members think they've made a huge progress as musicians. And then they decide to bother the audience with a double album. No one needs that. Even the best double albums - The White Album by The Beatles, or Sandinista by The Clash - would have been even better if half of the songs had been deleted. It's no popular point of view, I know, but I'm sure that if The White Album had been one single album, no one would dare say that Sgt. Pepper's is the best Beatles record.
HUMO: When does a band grow the most: during touring or between the tours?
Jonny: Not during tours, that's for sure, cause absolutely nothing changes then. You feel musical tentions coming up, you feel that something's going to change, but only when you're going to reherse for the new album, all of that comes to the surface.
HUMO: And what came to the surface with this record?
Colin: Thom's the most creative man of the band, so most of the new things come from him. (thinks) He has written completely different songs, but of course it's still Thom. But it doesn't depend on Thom only, of course. Everyone evolves, although you usually don't notice that immediately. I, for instance, only discovered after a week that Jonny was getting a completely new sound from his amplifiers. Seemed that he had already been experimenting with that during the tour.
HUMO: Don't you ever write songs on the road?
Colin: Oh yeah, we do, on the new record are songs that originated during the soundchecks of the last tour. You can be creative on tour - the big benefit is that you always have everything with you - but you can only finish the stuff at home.
HUMO: In English magazines are the wildest stories on your new record. Are they true?
Colin: I'm sure they're not, but I don't really know: I don't read those things anymore. What doesn't mean that we haven't experimented. Recording an album is trying, and some things succeed, others don't. For instance, we've recorded one song with a jazz band, and another song with a 10-piece orchestra. Both songs will be on the new album. With the computer program ProTools you can really try wicked stuff in the studio. One one song, for example, Thom sings backwards. Now that's gonna be a challenge when we play live (laughs). We don't have a clue how we're going to play some songs live. For example, Thom has built up a piano part with a sequencer, because he doesn't know how to play a piano. You just can't play the result, unless you have 5 hands with 20 fingers each.
HUMO: You could just use the sequencer during live shows?
Jonny: Oh, no, we don't do that, no machines on stage. We've played with band like Massive Attack, and we know what kind of a hell it is: you become a slave of the technique. In the best case, it gives you some sort of karaoke.
Colin: You can't respond to the crowd either with machines, which is Radiohead's exact strenght, especially Thom's.
Jonny: The great benefit of playing live, is that you can make mistakes. I'm really convinced that that is Radiohead's strength. We're really sure about our songs, we know they're strong, but we're surely not the most talented musicians in the world. But thanks to our restricions, our songs get something extra. No one can play our music better than we: our mistakes are in them.
HUMO: I've heard bands say that old songs often feel like covers.
Jonny: With us, that was the case with 'Creep'. It seemed like the crowd had written that song. We had nothing to say to it. But I recently saw a band that covered 'Creep', and then I found it fantastic again.
HUMO: Before I forget: thank you for the documentary of Grant Gee, Meeting People Is Easy, where quite a negative image of music journalism was given. I have, seriously, had a hard time during interviews for about a month.
Colin: Our appologies, that really wasn't the aim. Grant Gee wanted to show the boredom during a long tour mostly. Many people don't understand that artists moan about their tours, but it's really exhausting. In most tour documentries you only see pleasure and fun. Sometimes it indeed is fun, but usually it's not, and Meeting People Is Easy show that other side. Grant Gee consciously filmed us when it was extremely cold. We also played at paradisiacal sites during that tour, we swum in the sea and froliced around, but he was never around then. Apparently he didn't want to show that. Grant Gee's an artist, en artists need to get 'carte blanche'.
HUMO: What do you think of the uncountable amount of bands who try very hard to sound like Radiohead?
Colin: (sighs) Muse, Travis, ... I don't really know them, but I've heard of them. I think it's very weird. We have never ever tried to create our own sound, we've always just played. Those bands know how you can make music that sounds like Radiohead, so apparently they play better than we do, but is that what it's about? I don't think so. A couple of days ago I saw Muse on MTV, and I really got scared. They really try to look like us, but they didn't seem to enjoy it very much. Those guys really need to cheer up, and quick. Apparently they've seen Meeting People Is Easy one time too much (laughs).