Britpop. It's all over the place--all of a sudden. There's Oasis, the Beatles rip-offs trying to emulate the Rolling Stones' drug-taking, groupie-filled past. Then there's Blur, the self-described "middle-class" darlings of the U.K. music scene who just can't seem to make a dent in America. Don't forget Elastica, Pulp, Supergrass, and Echobelly. But whatever you do, please, please do not include Radiohead in the list of "Britpop" bands.
The only thing Radiohead have in common with the abovementioned bands is that, yes, they are from England. What makes them different from their fellow UK musician brothers and sisters is that Radiohead do not limit themselves to playing recycled '60s music, and they do not engage in public spats with other bands nor do they spend their free time bragging about how "fookin' great" they are. They don't have to talk the talk. Radiohead's songs and live performances speak loud enough for themselves.
They do, however, have their temperamental rockstar outbursts. I had a run-in with Yorke on a bad day last year during the KOME Almost Acoustic Christmas Show in San Jose, CA. "I just got here! Leave me alone!" he shouted, as I approached him for an interview. Completely shattered and feeling like a worm, I crawled into the corner, and wondered if I had chosen the right career path.
So it is that dreadful memory that is weighing heavily on my mind as I arrive at the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco for my interview with Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood? My heart pounds and my palms begin to sweat as Tour Manager Tim walks me over to meet Yorke.
"Hi. Have we met before? You look familiar," says Yorke, pleasant as can be.
"Um, yeah," I stammer. "We definitely have." I wait until later to let him know the when, where and how.
Yorke and Greenwood could be brothers. They don't look anything alike, but they do weird things like finish each other's sentences and repeat every other word the other is saying. Jonny's real-life brother is Colin, but after hanging out with these two, I'm beginning to wonder if they were related in a previous life. They even play-fight over who will answer what question, constantly cutting each other off, competing to see who can be more clever. But it is all in fun. No Liam/Noel-esque punch-outs here in Camp Radiohead.
ATN: Tell me about your songwriting process. How does it all come together?
Jonny: It's quite defecatory.
Thom: Yes, it's very defecatory and it's a friggen mess and, um, often you'll have a song for a year, which you won't know what to do with, and then Jonny will change one note and it'll all fall into place. And some songs are completely automatic, like "Lucky" where there was absolutely no thought process or anything involved. We just played it one day and that was it. I played the chords once around and everyone joined in and that was the song (laughs). It was just frightening, frankly. HAVE YOU HEARD THE WORD OF GOD TODAY?
ATN: Tell me some interesting fan encounters.
Thom: Mostly people trying to convert me to God.
Jonny: There's some people who follow him around and say, "You should use that power you have to spread the word of our Lord Jesus Christ!"
Thom: And I say, "I'll spread something else instead." I had someone come knocking at my door in Oxford. And I was forced to slam it in her face. Because that was the line that was drawn and she went across it...(laughing..trying to have a sense of humor about it).
Jonny: Someone grabbed me, when I was onstage at a Canadian show and said "Quick, write your name on my arm." Which wasn't a first, but they showed up at the next show, which was like 300 miles away, which was quite strange. But stranger still was that my name, was sort of, very roughly..didn't even look like my name...they had it tattooed on...permanently.
Thom: There's a lesson there. Always write neatly.
Jonny: Yes, that's a good lesson.
ATN: Did that freak you out?
Jonny: Nooo....I just wish they would've asked Thom to draw something. It's better than an anchor, or a lion's head.
ATN: So you just signed "Jonny?"
Jonny: Well, it was more like Jeremy actually...(laughing)
ATN: Do any of you have tattoos?
Thom: No. I get a transfer occasionally. I find [tattoos] very sexy. Hmmmm.
ATN: But you don't want to get one?
Thom: Well, not on me.
Jonny: Yeah, standing in the mirror admiring your own tattoo...
Thom: And getting off on it. Anyway, ohhhhh...that could get really messy.
ATN: OK...I have some questions that have been emailed to me by the members of the Radiohead emailing list. Some of them are very strange.
Thom: Yes, let's answer those.
ATN: First question. Thom, why are there so many car references in your songs like "Killer Cars," "An Airbag Saved My Life," "Stupid Car,"....
Thom: First of all, where did you get the title "An Airbag Saved My Life?"
ATN: Everyone on the Radiohead e-mailing list is talking about it.
Thom: Oh fuck! Never mind.
Jonny: That was quick!
Jonny: It hasn't been recorded or filmed live yet...
Thom: Or done anything at all...
ATN: Someone already has it on tape.
Thom: Ah fuck! London!
Jonny: How? When did we do it?
Thom: We did it in London for XFM.
Jonny: Oh yeah. We did it well, though, so that's all right.
Thom: No, we did it dreadfully.
Jonny: No it wasn't.
Jonny: No, it was good.
Thom: Oh, OK. Why are there so many references to cars? Well, I'll tell you why. It's because when I was younger, my parents moved to this house, which was a long long way from Oxford, and I was just at the age where I wanted to go out the whole time. I used to have this one car, and I very nearly killed myself in it one morning, and gave my girlfriend at the time really bad whiplash in an accident. I was 17. Hadn't slept the night before. Anyway, eventually, my dad bought me another car, a Morris Minor, you know, and when you drove around corners in it, the driver door used to fly open. Um, and I'd only do 50 miles an hour, and on the road that went from my house to Oxford, there was fucking maniacs all the time, people who would drive 100 miles an hour to work, and I was in the Morris Minor, and it was like standing in the middle of the road with no protection at all. So I just gradually became emotionally tied up in this whole thing.
MAD COW DISEASE AND RENNET...EEEW.
ATN: What are your feelings on vegetarianism?
Thom: I think we were right, and the rest of the world's wrong. (referring to the Mad Cow disease.) Yeah...we were right...nah, nah, nah..so there.
Jonny: I find it increasingly hard to do, because you discover with horror that your favorite chocolate sweets have gelatin in them..
Thom: And cheese, when they put the rennet in...that's the most disgusting thing imaginable! I think basically, that it's the responsibility of the supermarkets to fucking get themselves sorted out, you know. Because basically people rely on supermarket chains and they're really the ones that should be endorsing vegetarianism. Cos if they don't, then it'll never happen, you know.
ATN: What do you want fans to see in your work?
Thom: The word of God!
Thom: (notices my silence, waiting for him to finish) That was pretty good, I thought! (laughs) Um, if people get it, they wouldn't think it's depressing. When people sort of say, um..all that fucking annoying thing about "Oh your work's so depressing, na, na, na,...." Well it's not because those are just the words. The point is I put the words to music which I think is incredibly uplifting, otherwise, there would be no point to doing it at all.
ATN: Several people on the list want to know this: Jonny, do you have a girlfriend?
Jonny: I have hundreds, yeah. A different one every day. No, no, I'm not interested in women or sex or anything...
Thom: No. Messy, smelly...
ATN: How do you feel about the whole promotion aspect of the US?
Thom: I sort of envision myself in a sort of a Billy Graham role, you know...shake hands, and spread the word of God and fuck off, and take the money and run...
Jonny: We have money?
Thom: Apparently. Apparently it comes later. We haven't seen any money yet.
OFF TIME? WHAT OFF TIME?
ATN: What do you do on your off time?
Thom: Off time? Don't have any. Try and sit still. Can't do it.
Jonny: We usually sit around and think about what we're going to do with our on-time, sadly.
Thom: Yeah. It's really really really pathetic. In fact, we all need to get hobbies.
ATN: You told me last time we talked that you were going to travel to Japan for vacation. Did you go?
Thom: No, I was going to. The reason I didn't was because it's so fucking expensive and we haven't seen any money yet.
JAPAN, LOST PLOTS AND VAGUE HOPES
Jonny: The Japanese are the most....I think the most stylish nation on the earth.
Thom: Yeah...it's embarrassing. Makes the rest of us look like ill-dressed spazzes.
ATN: So I take it you like touring Japan?
Thom: Yeah. Any opportunity to go back will be gladly received. (laughs) We keep trying but they say they don't want us.
ATN: That's not true. My sister just called from Tokyo this morning and asked when you're coming.
Jonny: The official line allegedly is that we're going to go back when we can sort of...
Thom: ...sell something new.
Jonny: No, when there are clubs that have room for about 1,000 people. and after that it's like 15-20,000 people...
Thom: Oh right. So we don't go back 'til then? (sarcastic). Oh yeah. That really makes sense. I think someone's lost the plot (reaches up in the air as if trying to grasp Jonny's meaning).
Jonny: We hope we can play Budokan and we'll go back when we can sort of..
Thom: What is the Budokan?
Jonny: It's a horribly big, scary place.
ATN: Didn't the Beatles play there?
Jonny: Blur played there too.
ATN: Well if Blur can sell it out, you should be able to..
Jonny: Well this is what we're vaguely trying to hope, yes.
Thom: How big is it?
Jonny: It's like Wembly Arena.
Thom: Oh, fuck that. I'm sorry, but people are losing the plot here, thank you very much. That's not my idea of a good night out. At all.
Jonny: Hmmm. We'll see.
IT'S JUST SO HARD TO FOCUS WHEN YOU FLIRT LIKE THAT...
Thom: [Back to the previous question] Um, as I said, trying to sit still, which was something I tried to do over Christmas. Sit in front of the television for more than 20 minutes without just shouting at it and getting up and moving out again. And I find it very, very, very, very difficult indeed. Other than that, I play with my Macintosh. All day long. Very sadly.
Thom: No, I don't play games. I do sort of art work, but it's actually usually related to the band, always find that I'll do this image and put Radiohead above and I'll go "Fuck, I'm doing it again! Shit!" Yeah...so I think we all need to get hobbies.
Jonny: Macrame. It was very big in the '70s. It's like crochet, I believe. It's made of crochet material.
ATN: Do you weave them?
Jonny: I think so. I'll let you know next time I see you. I'll take it up.
ATN: Are you going to make me a pot-holder?
Jonny: I'll make you a tea cozy.
Thom: How about shoelaces? And decorate my house.
ATN: In pot-holders and tea cozies.
Jonny: Do you want to get married?
ATN: Excuse me?
Thom: (waving his hand in front of Jonny's face) No, that was my gag!
Jonny: Because I can legally marry you now.
Thom: Well, I could actually...(trying to cut in)
Jonny: (cutting Thom off) No, we're reverends.....
Thom: (Cutting Jonny off) Oh yeah, we're reverends...we're all reverends.
Jonny: We started our own church.
Thom: The Holy Church of Waste.
Jonny: Well, we can legally marry people and bury people in 13 American states, including California.
Thom: So if anybody needs, you know, to get married, we can do it for them now. (to Jonny) How much did it cost us? Twenty dollars?
Jonny: Ten dollars or something. So we are going to conduct a mass community-style wedding at our LA show, that's tomorrow.
Thom: Waste packaging is going to be the next thing.
ATN: Your fan club and newsletter are called W.A.S.T.E...what's the obsession with waste?
Thom: Waste? Well, um, just waste really. You know, everything about it. Waste, waste, you know... it really fucking does my head in, man! It does, honestly. I sound like a real idiot, but it's true. Think about it, when you go to the supermarket, and you come home, and you have your vegetables, and they're in cling-film..and what do you do with it? You put it in the bin, and where's it go?
Thom: Well, not in our country it doesn't.
ATN: You guys don't have a recycling program?
Thom: They do not have anything like that in Britain. Britain is so backward, it's frightening.
Jonny: They put a little curly thing [on packaging] where they sort of have a little recycle sign, and you think "great" then you look at it a little closer and it says "recyclable." Instead of "recycle".
ATN: But there's nowhere to recycle?
Thom: I think the most important thing for anyone to do at the moment is that, really. That's why I'm becoming a politician, so I can find a way to get rid of my rubbish.
Jonny: I think if you drive far enough, you can get your paper recycled. That's about it, you know.
Thom: [But] you cannot recycle plastic in Oxford or London. So where the fuck does it go? And it's not like it even costs that much to do it! Anyway, that's far more important than Radiohead. That's why we formed a company called Waste.
ATN: Can't you just bring your own bags and put produce in that?
Thom: Can't do that in Britain. You can do this thing where there's this farm, and you get a big hamper of food every weekend, and they come deliver it, and that's your food for the week. And that's what we're going to be doing when we get back. But I mean if you need to dash out and stuff, you come back with bananas in clingfilm....and you put them in a bin, and it's like...and that's why we formed the Holy Church of Waste.
ATN: To start the recycling program going on in Britain?
Jonny: and marry people.
Thom: And marry people.
Jonny: And bury people.
Thom: We can christen people...
Jonny: ...into the Church of Waste. I mean, there's nothing derogatory about the idea. There are a lot of people in the public in England, like the Reverend Ian Paisley, who actually have no qualification...
Thom: Yeah. He woke up one morning and decided that he wanted to be a reverend.
Jonny: And people tend to use titles like that to get people to throw their money. It's quite easy to get masters degrees and doctorates...
ATN: It is?
Thom: Oh yeah. It's a piece of piss! I actually got one for being mad from Oxford!
ATN: Oh, like the honorary ones?
Jonny: No, no, actual ones. Where they send you booklets, and you have to answer...
ATN: Oh, mail order ones.
Jonny: Yeah, but they're all legal. You can get mail order anything. You can be a rabbi if you wanted to. It's very very disrespectful.
Thom: Never leave your house. It'll all turn up in big packaging and bits of foam and cardboard, which you'll then put in the attic...
Jonny: (yells over to a roadie) Cline!! Clare, can Cline be in our photo shoot?
Thom: No! He doesn't go with any of our clothes....
(Jonny and Thom are both distracted for a minute)
APOLOGIES AND FINAL THOUGHTS
Thom: Sorry, we're not behaving. I'm sorry about the KOME thing...I'm really sorry about the KOME.....
ATN: It's OK, don't worry about it. Any last thoughts?
Jonny: Yes, lots. Why do Americans express the word say with the word like? Like, he's like let's do this, and he's like let's do that...
ATN: (try to explain)...I don't know where it started...maybe with the whole Valley Girl thing in the 80s...
Thom: Valley Girl? Valley girl? That's an interesting phrase.
ATN: I can't get out of it either, and English isn't even my first language...
Jonny: What is your first language?
Jonny: All right!
ATN: But I've forgotten it all...
Jonny: Noooo! I know pidgin Japanese...Phil-san wa, doco desu ka.
ATN: You're better at speaking Japanese than I am.
Jonny: Nooo! Jonny no Radiohead desu. Can you remember how to count? (Jonny and I count in Japanese together.)
Thom: (Waving disc player.) All the new songs are on this. It's a mini-disc-walkman-recording-thing.
ATN: You can record onto a disk?
Thom: Yeah. And you can name them as well, which is the cool bit. So when every track comes up, it's got a different name on it...£300 it cost me, but it's amazing. You can make records on that. It's like a dat, you know...but it's easier to use. You can use it as a data input and output thing using the optical line in...so it can be like a hard disk if you want it. It's got like instant access to each track as well...just go (pushes the button) and it's there...it's not like rewinding a tape or anything.... So, I'm giving it the hard sell.
ATN: Well, that's all for now.
Jonny: Domo arigato. (Thank you very much)
ATN: Doitashimaste. (You're welcome)
Jonny: Hai. Dewa mata. (See you again)