"It has a very different identity. There's a lot of violence in soft sounds and language, staring at something very frightening square in the face... There's also some of the most reassuring stuff we've ever done."
Spin: The theme of this issue is the "40 most important bands" making music right now. The idea of "important music" is an odd one, don't you think?
Thom: I hope it doesn't mean "talked-about." Ever since people like Lester Bangs were writing about rock 'n' roll, it seems it has only been called important because it's part of a canon, a history, like someone's written a list--this but not this, that but not that. Stuff that's important to me is important because of what went with it. The records that you keep with you are the ones your life has stuck to. I think your favourite records are like your own tape recordings of the things that happened alongside them.
Spin: What do you think being original means?
Thom: Well, people said Kid A was original, that it was radical or a departure or whatever, and I guess they meant it as a compliment--or they meant we'd gone off the rails, one of the two--but I was surprised. There just weren't as many guitars; it wasn't rocket science. It wasn't that amazingly original or different at all. You're talking about developing certain techniques or using certain pieces of machinery or a new instrument, but once other people have learned to use it, okay, then you're no longer original. It usually doesn't take very long. Originality is completely subjective; one man's Pro tools is another man's Marshall stack.
Spin: A while back Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine was talking about some bands he admired--Jane's Addiction, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails. He said, "There was a guilt and a shame involved in having an audience and a feeling adulation in every one of those bands...a kind of conflict that none of those bands could process." Sound familiar?
Thom: It's also a level of scrutiny that's placed on you. To be honest, when it first starts happening, the novelty of it is just amazing. But it gets problematic when it becomes habit-forming, like when you're Aerosmith or something. If you let 50,000 people into your brain every day, then you're going to have trouble ushering them out.
Spin: Have you been feeling anything different about the band post-Kid A?
Thom: I think I've started to accept that there are cyclical peaks and troughs to what we do. Of course, now the worry is things will become too much of a cycle--in the past year so much has happened now I'm worried that we'll get really complacent.
Spin: Are you and the band all getting along better these days?
Thom: Yes. The personal crap is gone, which basically, I think, was the product of being put in a weird place after OK Computer. In order to evolve you can't let the lifestyle--which is a horrendous word that I hate--take over. You can't let the life you choose to lead take over from the reason you got to lead that life in the first place. And the culture surrounding the rock business is itself a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Which is why I get so jealous of artists who are able to just issue 12-inches and never really get involved in the press bust still get their music to people. But in actual fact, I've discovered coming back to this stuff after three years that I like bits of it. I've found that I actually kind of like having to explain myself.
Spin: And playing guitar, too?
Thom: Yeah. In the studio, we got back into carefully crafting songs--the old-style sort of thing--and it was great because I found out I really missed it. [Laughs] I think it was from being on tour. You realize it's just kind of nice having a guitar 'round you neck, and it makes this great noise.
Spin: You sound alarmingly content.
Thom: I guess. I was a bit disappointed that in Britain Kid A didn't stick around very long because of the likes of Robbie Williams and all that. To be honest, I was fucking gob-smacked about what happened in the U.S. When we came to New York [in October, for a small live show and Saturday Night Live] and they said, "You're No. 1," that whole week was like the best week of my life.
Spin: Why was the response in Britain so different?
Thom: We were primed for a lynching. It was damned no matter what, really. And then I guess we sort of fucked up because people were only allowed to hear the record once and then were forced to write a review. So all the reviewers were saying, "Uh, this isn't Radiohead, we don't recognize it, it might be good later on, but right now I don't get it all."
Spin: So you'll invite everyone over for tea next time?
Thom: Fuck it. We're going to put out singles and everything. We're going to sell out completely!
Spin: No you're not.
Thom: Well, really, not releasing a single means radio people are going to pick what they want, and the fact they picked "Optimistic" from Kid A was kind of annoying. And we might do a video. But the thing that always kills me stone dead about making videos is they cost so much money and you meet the director once and you never see him again. It's like sleeping with someone and never seeing them again. Videos should be much more about having a group of people who hang out and do stuff whenever. I find it very destabilizing to constantly have to work with different people. It's good to have security around you. I need it.
Spin: What about getting lazy/fat/complacent/stupid/boring?
Thom: Oh shit, right. Well, since everything is nice and warm and safe now, expect a good MOR record from us next time. Enjoy!