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Radiohead
by Stephen Dowling

They've left the guitars in the rehearsal room. Along with all the melodies. And, it seems, Thom Yorke's vocal chords.

Kid A is one of the year's most awaited albums, and also one of the strangest, in that it veers so far away from what Radiohead are best known for - Jonny Greenwood's crunching guitar and Thom Yorke's plaintive voice. Coming from Oxford, Radiohead carved out a cult career by the time of their first album, 1993's Pablo Honey (and it's furious single 'Creep'), and the re-defined alternative guitar rock with 1995's The Bends before making one of last decade's most defining albums with OK Computer, an album regularly hailed in music magazines as one of the greatest LPs of all time.

But the last three years have found Radiohead reacting against the superstardom that's been thrust upon them. The tour film Meeting People Is Easy filmed around their world tour for OK Computer, found them sick and tired of the traditional route of recording, releasing an album and touring every two years. So Radiohead - who also include Guitarist Ed O'Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway - decided to getaway from the anthems of the past, play around with electronica and create an album that sounded like nothing they'd recorded before.

Music365 caught up with Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway a few weeks ago to talk about their new album, their tour of Europe in a tent, and what the future holds from Britain's most enigmatic band...

You're not releasing any singles or making any videos for Kid A. Why?

Ed O Brien: "I think we’re generally not very comfortable with the hype that surrounds the release of the record, that’s one of the things that did our heads in with 'OK Computer'... I don’t think we respond well to being in the limelight."

Phil Selway: "And that kind of limelight is a barrier for music as well. People aren't coming to it with an open mind. They’ve already had their opinions formed by it or a railing against those opinions."

People have been waiting a long time for this album. There were rumours that you were all suffering from writer's block.

E: "It seemed like we were away for a long time. I remember writing in the diary a year ago that my big fear was that we had got into this position we really wanted to be in and we could fuck it up so badly. Essentially, we were working on this album for a year and by the end of December last year we hadn't finished a single track."

'Optimistic' is about the only song that really sounds like Radiohead.

P: "I think that's part of the problem, it was a direct link to what we’d done before, and unfortunately it was one of the few things that was working at the time. You needed to get those in the back really, so you know the whole thing is progressing. Because we were trying to get our heads around new technology and the Internet, progress was slow but we've never been a band renowned for its patience. Even going to Paris at the beginning of last year and the fact we didn't have something gleaming and a giant leap from OK Computer was a major frustration. We had to learn to give ourselves space last year."

You recorded dozens of songs... yet Kid A has only ten tracks. Ever think of putting out a double album?

P: "The tricky thing was getting over the hump of 'shall we put out a double album?' That would have been so unpalatable. In a way there's a logic in doing it but it just wouldn't have worked. Once we'd got over that we were able to cut it down to something which is quite concise, to ten tracks, which is something we’ve never had before. With The Bends and OK Computer and Pablo Honey we’ve tried to cram too much on there, but with Kid A we were able to select stuff. In the end it was a much more balanced album."

This is a pretty uncompromising album. Some people might find it difficult to take all of it in, rather than having a few experimental pieces on the next few albums.

E: "This is a really different sounding record, let's not do one bold song and reward people with three anthems. If you were going to sit in your bedroom and make an interesting piece of music that ultimately moved you then how would you segue it? Again, trying to get into that slightly naïve notion that people will sit and listen to 46 minutes from start to finish.

Why no guitars on this album?

E: "'Treefingers' is actually all guitar, but doesn't sound like guitar, 'Optimistic' is, and 'Morning Bell' is though you wouldn't necessarily pick it. But there’s not a massive guitar hit ratio. Possibly Jonny was bored by playing the guitar, and he wanted to get into arranging, his new toy the martenot [an electronic instrument that sounds like a theremin] which he played a lot. The way we had been playing was too easy. When you're bored of what you're playing you can't do it with any conviction. That's one of the problems with what I've heard from the last two Oasis albums. They just sound bored."

The lyrics on OK Computer dealt with alienation in the modern age. Did Thom talk to you about what these songs were about?

E: "I think because he wanted to change the way he wrote the lyrics, and I think that was as much out of insecurity about what he was writing about as much as anything else. He wanted to change the tone of them. When you do that you very often don't reveal about what you're writing about, very often they don't stand up to scrutiny. A lot of the lyrics were added afterwards, 'Idioteque' was some of the last stuff on the record, music and then lyrics added on. We’ve never worked like that. The lyrics have really helped us as a band, helped us find a route, you follow the lyrics and the vocal. I found it really difficult without the lyrics, and I only really cottoned on about two weeks before the end of the record, and then it was 'now I know why I'm finding it so difficult'."

What now for Radiohead? You say you've got another album already recorded and it may be out next year.

E: "I think the most important thing we feel is to bring out a record every year. What happens is you stop making music, you start going out on the road and you forget that discipline of making music. And it's like 'OK, we're not going to do that'. But it means we can't please everyone all of the time. It means we're not going to America this year, which is unheard of... we've got two dates, but unheard of on the release of an album not to do a three or four week tour, we’ve always done that. You have to keep an eye on what is the really important thing here, and the really important thing is that everything remains set up to making music, making records. If we do that then the touring that we do will benefit so much better from that kind of freshness, we’re touring because we want to tour."