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Radiohead
What the A? The Oxford Powerhouse Shocks the World With an Oblique, Obtuse, Impressionistic, Artistic, Total Curve Ball of a New LP. But Will It Stick?
by Jack Rabid


Without question, the new Radiohead LP is the most anticipated record in all the rock world. Three years after they were a staple in just about every critic, artist, and fan "Top 10 of the year" list with one of the ’90s penultimate achievements, their third LP OK Computer, the expectations are high that they would now deliver a new work that - like OK Computer compared to its predecessor, the also remarkable 1995 LP The Bends - would build still further on the quintet’s now-recognizable, often-imitated but never remotely equaled song-template (Travis and Muse, anyone?) while retaining the band’s core sounds. In other words, I’m sure they were aware how we all craved more fascinating, twisting, spiraling, and sometimes lulling guitars from spasmodic Jonny Greenwood and lanky Ed O’Brien, more heavy and unique rhythms from the ace rhythm section, thinking man’s bass-anchor Colin Greenwood and shops-a-plenty drummer Phil Selway, and a maelstrom of vocal prowess from the riveting Thom Yorke - from the most agitated and paranoid to the most trembling or helpless. After the platinum smash success of OK Computer and the tour that just seemed to build on breathless reviews, no one would have faulted them for forging further on this established path.
Well you can forget about that. The most admired young rock band in the world has instead pulled a total "screw expectations" move with their new LP, Kid A. Here’s a record no one was expecting. It’s bound to confound, bewilder, amaze, and perhaps even perplex and confuse a fan base that’s grown into the millions, worldwide. It’s as if the trademark guitars that built their reputation, the six-string sounds that were so responsible for their fearsome prowess and brilliant dynamics, were all but left accidentally in the trunk of the car at the studio. Oh, they’re there - in spots - but it seems like their place has largely been taken by new affections, mostly keyboards and computer technology, and other unusual seasonings, such as the Harmonium guitarist Ed O’Brien mentions in the interview below.
But beyond the new instrumentation, the entire basis for the band’s songwriting, their very approach, seems as overhauled as Atlanta was after Sherman held his mass weenie-roast there in 1863. Talk about impressionistic: without continuous glancing at the readings on one’s CD player, it was difficult on first listen to discern where one song concluded and the next commenced, as if the album was an hour of a single stream of consciousness (to borrow an O’Brien description below), rather than a batch of strongly-advanced compositions, like in the past. Think of pieces, of daring musical suites, drifting in and out, stitched together to form a sonic dye that embraces elements of rock, pop, techno, electronica, slowcore, ambient, and mood music, but only barely resolves into a tight whole. It’s bound to throw a big monkeywrench into the gray matter of those salivating over its long-awaited release, as well as the whole rock industry.
As I write, on the eve of its appearance, one can only hypothesize what the reaction to Kid A will be. Will it be roundly rejected, stomped on, detested, dismissed, discarded, and maybe even disemboweled by the press? Or will it slowly earn new admiration, by those impressed by the band’s willingness to strike out into such new spheres for them? Will the LP make more and more sense with repeated playings (the kind I wasn’t afforded); will it reveal a profound genius, yet again, that no other rock band of their popularity could boast? Will they retain the mantle of the band to peg one’s hopes on, the last hope of sorts, for the new-tricks-for-old-dog genre yet? Or have Radiohead gone so far to the left of field that the new work will never be allowed to take root, leaving even their most ardent followers baffled?
The bet here is that it might be a bit of a struggle, but that the band might well succeed despite its daring. At Kid A’s best, one detects the hint of the similarly unusual and intriguing David Bowie and Brian Eno mid-to-late ’70s words (particularly the trilogy of Bowie LPS from 1977-1979 where the latter produced and collaborated with the former, and the earlier, equally thought-provoking pre-ambient Eno LPS like Here Come the Warm Jets), especially on such smoothly esoteric works as the opening "Everything in the Right Place," the brief, chin-stroking instrumental interlude "Treefingers," and the futuristic sounding keyboards of "Kid A." At its most difficult, the LP forces you through the electronica-cold, odd-rhythmed "Idiotecque," and the quietly explosive "Optimistic."
Much, perhaps, depends on the band’s choice of single to promote the new work. For example, the aforementioned three Bowie LPS with Eno, 1977's Low and Heroes and 1979's Lodger, failed to sink the star’s ship. Instead, as a right turn out of his "Thin White Duke" Station to Station period, these wildly creative albums managed to double his reputation as the most maverick, challenging, inspired, and gutsy popular artist of that often fallow decade. Yea, conceived as they were in the midst of the punk explosion, the Bowie/Eno trilogy not only pointed the way towards the coming post-punk revolution, but they also sold appreciably, largely because the singles chosen remain among Bowie’s most enduring classics ("Sound and Vision," the mega-hit "Heroes," and "D.J."). In the process, the artist managed to sneak in whole album sides of blatantly avant-garde, soundscape work for buyers to encounter and ponder.
Now, the also-intensely respected Radiohead have the same chance to let their inventive reputation carry them, if a strong radio/TV single can provide a portal to Alice’s bizarre wonderland. If, for example, the members of Radiohead and their label Capitol go with "The National Anthem" as the first single (as it seems they might, at press time), then Kid A could well blow minds just as OK Computer did. It might also encourage more popular and aspiring rock groups to get out of the turgid miasma of the bludgeoning, deadening, post-grunge rawk infestation (or worse, the infinitely more despicable macho-posturing rock/rap crap trap), and genuinely try once again to experiment with the form. Likewise, just as R.E.M. wisely picked "Daysleeper" as Up’s first single, since it was one of the few tracks that even remotely resembled their past favorites, so might "The National Anthem" hearken back enough to entice the faithful - it’s a heady mix of nasty bass, isolated vocal, discordant, barking sax, and heavy background fuzz. In such manner, might more eventually succumb to the more buried but not entirely impenetrable charms of the LP, such as the washed out "In Limbo," the acoustic-pretty "How to Disappear Completely," and the gliding, effulgent closer "Motion Picture Soundtrack"?
In any case, the band has come so far since our last chat with them, it was a great chance to catch up with Radiohead, and take a measure of their own feelings about the LP before the public weighs in. In fact, the band had announced that they were going to do a tiny handful of interviews to promote their new opus (just a couple of carefully chosen among the mags they like), preferring the LP to speak for itself without that aspect of the hype machine. Fortunately, they made us one of those rare exceptions in this instance, out of genuine affection for what our publication is about (as affable Ed makes clear below), and as a recognition for this special 20th Anniversary Issue, and I for one am entirely grateful for that honor. My thanks to the group for giving us that special exception; to Mr. O’Brien for chatting with us by transatlantic phone from the band’s native Oxford; and to Amy and Perry at Nasty Little Man for their help in making this come about. Enjoy.
JR: Hi Ed. We’ve actually met before, I’m not sure if you might remember.
ED: Refresh my memory. I’m terrible putting names to faces, but I can remember incidents quite well.
JR: Well, I’ve interviewed the band twice before on the last two LPS, in various Capitol Records conference rooms. And we took you all out on 7th Avenue in the middle of traffic to shoot our last photo session for our cover with you. That you might remember, because we had to go back on the sidewalk from the middle of the Avenue every time the light turned green.
ED: Oh right! OK.
JR: And I’ve met you at most of the gigs you’ve done here, going back to the CBGB one. I’m not sure if you remember that far back.
ED: Actually, I do remember that one really, really, really well.
JR: That must seem like 7,000 years ago, doesn’t it?
ED: Well it was seven years ago, wasn’t it?
JR: That’s why I said 7,000! A good multiplier, perhaps.
ED: Yes, a long time ago. So how are you doing, you all right?
JR: Yeah, thanks. I understand you’re familiar with our publication, right?
ED: Oh yeah, absolutely. In fact, I hear it is your 20th Anniversary. That’s fantastic, I think you should be congratulated for doing it for so long. I think that’s just amazing. It’s like what you’re doing is incredible, to write about music you really love for so long and sticking it out. I can’t think of many that have.
JR: Thanks. I can’t think of many who’d want to! But I need good bands to write about, too. If everyone just wanted to be Guns ‘n' Roses, I would have been out of business pretty quick a long time ago.
ED: [laughs] That’s true. It is a two-way thing, I guess.
JR: Yeah, it’s a good thing that some people still like to challenge the art form, like your band, for example. Or else I’d have no one to interview. Which - brilliant segueway - brings me to yourr new LP, Kid A, which will be out in two months. Talk about challenging! Anyway, let me explain that I’ve only had once chance to listen to the LP, because nowadays your label won’t give us advance copies to listen to, unlike the last three LPS. You’ve hit a higher level of sales now, and they’re far more protective of the music in advance of the release date. We can only come down to the publicist’s office and hear it by appointment down there. There’s like shifts of us going in and out, and sitting down to listen once, a parade of different writers.
ED: Really? It’s fucking terrible, isn’t it? They’re so worried about Napster and MP3, whereas I think, yeah, you know, whatever. It’s going to get on Napster and MP3 eventually, anyway! Why don’t we just put it on there and let everyone hear it. What’s the big deal?
JR: Or the usual thing, to give us journalists advance copies, so we can do a better job, as I said. It makes it easier to ask you good questions.
ED: [laughs] They don’t trust you lot, do they?
JR: Nah, I wouldn’t either! [both laugh] All it takes is one of us to put it in the wrong hands, and millions of people would have the LP months before it’s released. I had to interview R.E.M. last year on only one listen to Up too, for the same reason. It’s a higher level, your bands, then many I interview, where the labels aren’t the least bit worried about it. At least, as I said, you’ve sort of graduated to that label since the last time we spoke three years ago.
ED: [laughs] It’s amazing, isn’t it, when you think about it. I mean, the technology... It’s true, all you need is one person, one individual, who could be offered a thousand dollars, or could have rent to pay, or whatever, and they think, "Oh, what the fuck." And then, it’s all over the internet, all over the world! It’s really interesting, it’s so powerful. When you think about human beings, the human psyche, it’s really powerful. This is bound to happen, the generalizations of the human psyche, it’s bound to go pear-shaped.
JR: We’re finding that out more and more. Well, getting back to the new LP, I was talking about how we need bands of a more popular nature to constantly challenge the art form of so-called "rock music" instead of just recycling it forever like some kind of staple, just another cog in the dull machine. And the one time I was allowed to listen to the record, I was pretty surprised, to say the least.
ED: [pleased] Good!
JR: I imagine that was your intent?
ED: I mean, I don’t think that was all there was to it. I don’t think you can be thinking like that entirely. Yes, it’s great to be a surprise, but we kind of hoped that people would say that last time with OK Computer, that that would catch them by surprise after The Bends, too. But you see, I hope it doesn’t just go into the realms of gratuitousness, that’s not the issue. It’s not like, "Wow, we’ve shocked people!" It has to move people, too, or it’s worthless. We want to move people most of all.
JR: Well that makes perfect sense. I thought immediately upon hearing it through that it was a rather brave thing to make an LP like this, actually - never mind that is was so surprising. I don’t know how many bands in your position would have!
ED: I don’t know whether it is brave just because it isn’t what people might be expecting. You know, we got to that stage already with OK Computer, where we were playing arenas after it came out. We’re not really that major league, though. People always say we’re on the cusp of being like U2 was in the ’80s, or Pink Floyd was in the ’70s. You know how people get [especially at record labels!]. As soon as you have a guitar around your neck, they’re thinking, "You could make the jump to stadiums from where you are now." But when we were in America last time, when we were playing arenas, we weren’t happier than playing the smaller venues just because there were more people there. So I don’t think it’s brave; we don’t really have that much to lose.
JR: No, I’m not sure I agree. We’ve both seen much smaller bands than yours be conservative, worrying about their careers. It’s a key thing for a band in your standing, "on the cusp" as you said, of complete and total mega-stardom. Whereas your band seems more interested in what music you’re making instead, at least that seems obvious to me from one listen to this! Or you would never have made a record this far out in left field compared to what is currently popular in the rock sales. In fact, I believe Kid A is bound to throw even some of your staunchest fans a bit of a shock. And yet they’ll probably grow to like it if they give it a chance.
ED: That’s what you hope. What we were saying was, let’s go back to what we’re trying to do here. We never wanted to be the biggest band of the year; we just want to carry on learning, on how to do something new each time. And if you do something new, you have to be prepared to take some risks. I just don’t think it’s brave - though what I loved best was when someone calls our new record "commercial suicide..."
JR: [laughs loudly] Commercial suicide? Hey, does that mean this LP is your [Lou Reed’s] Metal Machine Music?
ED: [laughs] Well I don’t know that much about that, but I think what we’re doing is different. What we’ve done, and it was scary at the time, because I didn’t think we’d finish it, is that we fucked around with the methodology. There was no structure in place. Three months from the end, we started deciding that we had to finish things off. I mean, we’d been on the road for eight years, and what we’ve accomplished is that we’ve afforded ourselves some breathing space. That’s what we’ve got now. Breathing space that’s personal, like the ability to record when we want, and tour when we want - we’re in more control of that now. Butt also musically - we can do an LP like this [and feel confident that it will be given a proper hearing], we can use the technology. I’ll tell you, the thing that annoys me is that most bands in our situation stop taking risks, they have a lifestyle to support or something. It’s music by numbers. I’m not talking about bands like U2 or R.E.M., they’re examples of popular bands, particularly, that have continually evolved. They’ve been true to themselves. But I think a lot of other bands out there haven’t. They carry on for years making the same record over and over to support their lifestyle. [O’Brien would later tell Q, "We almost split up three of four times. We just thought, ‘What’s the point of doing the same thing all over again.’" Holy Cow!]
JR: Yeah, I call that Rock Inc. It’s just business, product marketing without much substance. The machine cranks, no more.
ED: Yeah, that’s it.
JR: It’s funny how you mention R.E.M. and U2, both of which are finishing up new LPS as we speak - in fact U2 I think is now done. But anyway, as it happens, I interviewed R.E.M. last year for another cover of our magazine, and Michael Stipe mentioned that he hit an extremely rare case of writer’s block while doing the lyrics for that last record [Up], and that it was people like Bono and your own Thom that really encouraged him, gave him advice, and got him out of his funk. It’s clear there’s a mutual respect going on between the three groups, a sort of parting with the ways of how to run a "successful" rock groups with much of the rest of the herd. Even U2 at least always tries to do something different with every LP. Some I’ve greatly liked, like [1991's] Achtung Baby, and some I haven’t at all, like [1993's] Zooropa. But in that they do have my respect. And I’ve always been an R.E.M. fan, going back to their early days.
ED: I think it’s interesting; people slag off U2 in particular and sometimes R.E.M., but I really think that U2 have been true to themselves. They’ve always tried to evolve and do something new. And it’s sort of brave on their level, if anyone’s brave, because unlike us they’ve always wanted to be the biggest band in the world, yet they always challenge themselves. There is a lot of tensions in being the biggest band in the world. We don’t sell 1/20th of what they do. When we fuck up it doesn’t really matter. Imagine what it must be like if you are them, playing at a stadium. If you fuck up, it’s in front of 80,000 people. They’re sort of brave to keep doing something new each time, and trying new things.
JR: Yeah, they’ve made changes from album to album. Still, with the exception of Pop, which I thought was kind of a weak [U2] LP, I don’t think U2 or even R.E.M. with the exception of Up has ever made such a drastic turn on their fans as you guys are making on this LP. This, I think, is a whole new strata of testing a band’s audience of a band that are Platinum like yourselves. I admire that greatly. I love LPS that are bound to play with people’s heads but are still really good ones! I know how hard it must be to conceive and achieve something like that, even if you set out with that goal. For instance, in our last interview, Thom was saying how difficult it was to make OK Computer, what with starting in your practice space, recording there, all the false starts, shifting over to the house in the country... You intimated just now that this new one was perhaps an even more difficult one to make, seeing as it seems to have been put together in sections and fragments, with pieces of music that remained unfinished until the end of the sessions when they were tied all together.
ED: Well, this one was difficult for very different reasons, from all the shifting through stuff. In the past, the difficulties were more growing pains that bands go through - it was more personalities clashing and individual neuroses. With an LP like OK Computer, we’d have songs that we’d rehearse, and then we’d go and play them live. All the personalities and insecurities were difficult, the way it is with five people in their 20s. This record, that wasn’t the issue. The reason it was so tough is we worked in different ways then we have before, by design. We did rehearse last summer for three weeks, but that was the only time. We did a few shows. But those were the only things we did beforehand in order to know what would work and what wouldn’t. So this was the crisis: we’ve never gone into the studio like that, and started 20 songs, none of which were even close to being finished in an eight-month period! It was the total chaos factor. But I’m really glad we did it. We were actually always one step behind the songs as they were coming together. So in this case, the difficulties lay in the chaos that was there all along, in the nature of making such a record.
JR: I noticed as well, my impression of the LP, was that the songs had no definite start or finish, they sort of floated into each other like one giant soundtrack piece.
ED: With this record itself we had 24 songs to choose from. We could have recorded them all and just picked out all the best recognizable "songs" with the most developed melodies, and put only those on the record. But we’ve done that before. OK Computer was much like that, where we’d carved finished songs out of all that we’d set down. But this is the part of the challenge, I think. Like to put a song like "Treefingers" in the middle of the LP, it’s highly unusual for us.
JR: I remember that one. A short little soundscape with no vocals. It reminded me of something esoteric off of Low or Heroes or Lodger or something.
ED: That’s good!!! I think that David Bowie analogies are great. I think that Bowie in the ’70s should be greatly upheld, his more recent ’90s work, too.
JR: Yeah, I really liked Outside a lot.
ED: Right. And in the ’70s he not only wrote so many classic songs, but every year he would bring out a really different LP. So I like Bowie analogies for us a lot, we’d like to do that, too - make records that are honest reflections of the time they were made, instead of some kind of formula. That’s what Bowie was doing, and he did it so well. Fantastic stuff. When I listen to Kid A, it reminds me of 1999, being in Copenhagen and other places and playing, and then recording. We could have made an LP that didn’t sound like that, what we were feeling at that point of time, refreshed and off the road. But this is the things that grabbed us then.
JR: Also I noticed that in addition to the change in methodology and in the structure of the songs themselves, that the sounds are hugely different this time, a big departure from the overall emphasis on guitars on you first three albums. What a sea-change this is, given the reputation you’ve built up!
ED: The very fact that there aren’t the sort of songs like we had before is evidence, I think, of a rethink of what we’re doing. But I think it’s very easy to get bored with the guitar. Sometimes I am loving it, I love playing it, it’s so very histrionic. It’s a wonderful thing. You can hit it and make a great sound. And without the guitars, sometimes you miss the sort of emotional peaks, the big crescendos you build up to, like on our first three albums. Guitars are great tension builders, for those sort of big buildups, really, and that’s how we’ve been using them. But hopefully you can find other instruments to do that, so that you don’t repeat yourself, and get bored with the guitar sounds. This one is more like stream of consciousness, I guess. I know Jonny has always wanted to orchestrate like he’s doing now, and he was able to do it this time. I’ve never played keyboards before [Jack laughs], so that was really interesting for me as well, and so on. I had to learn. It’s just one of those things. I think if we had made another guitar record, we would have been forcing it, and it would have showed. The worst thing is to get bored of what you’re playing, because it always comes through somehow. (Drummer Phil Selway added in Q, "I remember coming into the studio one day, seeing Ed actually holding a guitar and thinking, ‘Ooh that’s strange.’ They’re on there, but not much.)
JR: That kind of reminds me of something Johnny Marr said around 1986, before The Smiths recorded Strangeways Here We Come... about how he was really interested more in the orchestration and the arrangements possibilities in the Smiths more than his actual playing. And as you were saying, I think it really showed in that record, my favorite Smiths LP. That was an inspired album for arrangements.
ED: Yeah, that’s a perfect example! I mean, Johnny Marr was a guitar god! But I bet what he meant was that he didn’t want to just play the sort of "This Charming Man" riff all his life. He had a lot more to offer. I think it’s also a little like when Neil Young made that all-electronic record in the early ’80s. Regardless of whether you think it is good or bad, that’s where he was at that moment. There’s just no point in just going through the motions, doing what you’re already good at and expected to do. I’ll tell you a better example on the opposite side: If anything, that’s what I didn’t like about the last two Oasis LPS. I think Noel [Gallagher] is bored with the band and with the guitar. The first album was great [1994's Definitely Maybe], the second album was great [1995's (What’s the Story) Morning Glory], and then the last two have been really, really struggling, just the same thing with no inspiration [1997's Be Here Now and the recent Standing on the Shoulder of Giants]. Whereas we were making an attempt to embrace the technology and work in new, creative patterns. Working with a lot of keyboards and computers was really interesting for us, just going in, and smoking a lot of weed...
JR: [laughs] Ha, a lot of albums seem to have been made that way...
ED: Yeah, I’m telling you, I’ve never smoked so much weed in my life, it was a way to get through the chaos.
JR: Very amusing image. Another example of what you were talking about is when Peter Buck mostly switched to the mandolin before R.E.M. recorded Out of Time [1991]. He said the same thing, ten years ago, that he was bored witless of the guitar and just wanted to plink away at the mandolin on the whole album, on songs such as "Losing My Religion." And I think it really made for sort of a resurgence for them, a nice break with what they’d been doing for a decade in different shades.
ED: Yeah, I agree, that’s a really good album. I remember that. I should mention that Thom was bringing in a lot of Aphex Twin and a lot of electronic music for us to listen to. It’s been very exciting for him; I think this is the direction he wanted us to go in. I mean, we couldn’t really pull out the banjos and the double basses, or the mandolins like Buck did - we really were happy to try to work with the technology around. But whatever you can do to keep from starting to bore yourself is good.
JR: We don’t have a lot of time, but I think it’s worthwhile asking, with an unusual LP such as this, what is your own personal favorite song on it? There’s so many different flavors. There’s so many directions the band could go from here...
ED: I think in a way it might be, I would say, "The National Anthem."
JR: Mine too.
ED: That one’s been really kicking around for a long, long time, and I really like that sort of thing. I don’t know. I’m a real kind of a sucker for bass that hardly ever moves, and drums that groove, and the noise that comes up, and it’s like driving late at night in the car, watching all the scenery change. I like the audacity of getting in a brass section, a 16-piece brass section, on it, rather than using guitars for those parts. I really like the energy of that.
JR: I was also really struck by "Motion Picture Soundtrack" the one time I heard it. It really seemed to live up to its name. It should be in a movie, with all those glistening waterfalls of sound for Thom to croon over.
ED: Yeah, that’s a real favorite of mine as well. It sounds American to me somehow, like a Grandaddy song. It’s got great harmonium organ, you know, like a blow organ that you have to keep pumping to keep the notes going. And I like the Disney-like, operatic singing - it’s so American Midwesty, it wouldn’t be out of place in that sort of movie.
JR: And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least ask you about the second album you’re going to release in the spring, recorded at the same sessions. How did that come about, and what’s the difference? What’s the scoop, as it were?
ED: Well, yeah, it’s not finished, actually; we still have to decide on a running order. Also, we don’t know what form it’s going to take, if it is going to be an LP or a mini-LP. They’re really great songs that just didn’t figure to fit in any place on Kid A. In fact, Nigel [Godrich, co-producer/engineer] really prefers it to the new LP! We’ll have to decide on the track listing soon, by November, I think, and it’s looking to be a full LP. What I want to stress, though, is that it’s not just a bunch of leftovers we’re putting out. It has to stand up on its own as a finished LP. Like Bowie did with [1972's] Ziggy Stardust and [1973's] Aladdin Sane, separate and distinct records made at the same time. They have to sound independent of each other and be good releases.
JR: Actually, the bulk of Aladdin Sane was written on the American tour after Ziggy’s release, but I know what you mean; they were done within half-a-year of each other [both mostly done at London’s Trident Studios from 1971-1972 with the same production team of Bowie and Ken Scott], and take very different tangents. A more recent, and more spot-on example might be the first two Sugar release: [1992's] Copper Blue and the [1993's] Beaster mini-LP were both recorded at the same sessions and released separately several months apart, and they have completely different personalities. Copper Blue is like roaring, blasting pop, and Beaster is searing post-punk angst.
ED: Yeah, I really liked Sugar - that first album really knocked me flat! Though actually, I thought they were starting to repeat themselves on the second LP. What is Bob Mould doing these days? Is he still around?
JR: He’s been taking a break right now, though he’s been debuting some new songs at recent shows he’s played, so he should be back in the home-studio soon. [He’s stopped doing the writing for a wrestling program now - talk about your career changes!]
ED: That’s good. I remember hearing about his hearing problems, how he had to fall asleep to the TV every night to cover up the ringing in his ears. Terrible! [You can all but hear him shaking his head at the thought, as he muttered that. It’s every loud rock musician’s fear.]
JR: Actually he told me the constant ringing has subsided dramatically, that it only reoccurs when he does a full tour with a loud rock band like Sugar, or the last solo tour he did. Another reason to ditch the loud guitars after a while, I guess, once you’ve done as much as he has with them!!! Well, we have to wrap this up, you have some other interviews to do, so let’s close on another change I foresee in the group in the future from what we were talking about: that of a Radiohead that doesn’t tour as much and keeps a somewhat lower public profile than what we’ve seen. That’s got to be a big difference as well, I’d imagine. No more of that eight months away from home. You sure sound like you grew sick of those giant tours!
ED: That’s right, you’re like half-people at the end. We’ve all had enough of that, I’m sure. Were you at our shows at Radio City in New York last time?
JR: I was. I think I’ve seen all your dates here [except one private Mercury Lounge show just for the record industry I didn’t hear of in time].
ED: I mean, what an amazing building, right? Incredible place. And I don’t know what you thought of those shows, but from my own perspective, what I remember, is that I spent both nights just thinking that I had to just get past them to get to the end of the tour, do you know what I mean? That’s not what it’s supposed to be all about. [Again, this reminds me of the Brian Eno anecdote, that he quit Roxy Music in 1973 when he realized that’d he’d spent an entire song on stage thinking about his laundry!] What we want to do is get back to the idea that it is great to be someplace special. We want to do more things like playing a few dates in Australia and then going home instead of being out constantly for months and months at a time. It’s more civilized, and it’s more special, knowing there isn’t a whole tour to go with it, the whole conveyor belt mentality, and all that part of the rock ’n’ roll circus.
JR: You want to get back to that feeling you had where you could be on stage at a lovely little dive like CBGB and think, "Hey, I’m in New York, what a thrill," Instead of what you described a mere four years later at a shrine like Radio City?
ED: That’s it, that’s right.
JR: Well, I have always thought it interesting that R.E.M. sold tons more records of the two LPS they made when they decided not to do any tour dates to support them, Out of Time and [1992's] Automatic for the People, after touring non-stop for 10 years on their first six albums. Those LPS were blockbusters and they didn’t tour at all! Not only did it possibly save R.E.M. as a band, but it actually refreshed their career. I think like you, they’d had enough. Hopefully, the same will be true of your decision.
ED: Exactly! We want to get back to that "wow!!!" that felt like when we used to go over to New York or somewhere else - to think we’re in a brilliant city, in some brilliant place or country, and feel more like it’s a brilliant experience. I think we’ve bought that ability now, we’ve earned that now, we can get off that circus and be people again. And we can make the LPS we want, and look forward to making them too. It will be interesting to see the response to the new LP.
JR: It should prove fascinating! I couldn’t be more curious.