i want you to know / he's not coming back / look into my eyes / i'm not coming back // so knives out / catch the mouse / don't look down / shove it in your mouth // if you'd been a dog they would have drowned you at birth / look into my eyes / it's the only way you'll know that i'm telling the truth // so knives out / cook him up / squash his head / put him in the pot // ~ // i want you to know / he's not coming back / he's bloated and frozen / still there's no point in letting it go to waste // so knives out / catch the mouse / squash his head / put him in the pot
The Ok Computer tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy features a soundcheck recording of an instrumental sketch, that sounds like it could be the musical basis for 'Knives Out'. The chords and guitar melody bear great resemblance to those of the finished song, and the pace and feel of the performance are similar to Ed's description of an early studio version from march 1999 (see Ed's diary entry for october 4th 1999 below). Judging from its time of appearance in the chronologically edited film, it was probably recorded at the soundcheck for MTV's 'Live from the 10 Spot' performance on december 19th 1997, or at some point around that:
The artwork of Amnesiac featured a page that contains a piece of text, that seems to be the starting point for the lyrics. As the visual components of the artwork are arranged differently in the CD booklet and the limited edition book, both are presented here in addition to the cover of the Knives Out single, which features yet another slightly different arrangement and is included for the sake of completeness (click images to enlarge):
A further early draft of lyrics, that develops the sketch above and reminds of lines of dialogue from a murder story, appeared in this page of radiohead.com during the Kid A period under the title 'outta juice':
i want you to know. you have a beautiful smile. i want you to know. he needs his eyes. i was so angry. i couldn't let him leave me. and not come back. i didnt want to. is that why you killed him? won't be long now. he's cold. freezing. doesn't need clothes. i used to have a hole right through me. i want you to know. he's not coming back. i won't forget. if you'd been a dog. they would have drowned you at birth. look into my eyes. its the only way you'll know i'm telling the truth. i wont let them touch you. i won't let them near you. i won't let you come to any harm.
The same page, still titled 'outta juice', was later updated with a modified text. It now incorporates the cannibalism theme. A line from an entirely different contemporary set of lyrics, that would form the basis for 'Myxomatosis', appears at the top. Both songs are certainly related through the cannibalism theme. But as lines from that early set of 'Myxomatosis' lyrics appeared as headlines in many succeeding pages of radiohead.com at the time, it is probably not more than coincidence:
we boild the head
i want you to know. hes not coming back. hes bloated and frozen. still theres no point in letting it go to waste. . if youd been a dog. they would have drowned you at birth. look into my eyes. its the only way you'll know im telling the truth won't be long now. he's cold. freezing. catch da mouse put him in the pot cook him up dont look down shove it in yer mouth.
Several entries from Ed's Diary give insight in the tortuous process of recording this relatively simple track:
thursday, september 9th 1999
'knives out' sounding quite 'smiths-esque'. especially phil who has got that mike joyce thing down to a tee. on to 'optimistic' -must record that soon before we lose it (remember 'lift'?). 'up on the ladder' sounds pretty grim. 'say the word' (or c-minor song); great drum, bass and vocals - personally getting a bit anxious over it, as i can't find anything that works with it, or rather i have an idea but can't get the sound right. makes me a bit neurotic. finish on what i used to call the 'jonny scott walker song' - very short and sweet.
last diary piece for a couple of weeks. how was it for you? i'm finding it a little difficult to set the right tone, but as i'm not a journo i guess that's fair enough. hopefully this is going to be an ongoing thing throughout recording and maybe even touring, so it will get better.
monday, october 4th 1999
Start working on ‘Knives Out’ and ironically after Fridays night's talk of new ways & approaches, we set up as a 5 piece and play it live. Not really happening & it feels as though we’re heading down ‘Say The Word’ territory like last week. Thom wants more energy in this version, in contrast to Copenhagen's version which ‘floats’ along. It's decided that Thom and Phil should play it together. The energy levels are noticeably higher. They bang out about seven takes & Nigel does his thing editing together the best bits from different versions. Bangin!
tuesday, october 5th 1999
Pick up from where we left off on ‘Knives Out’ - it's felt that we ought to try and finish it or at least something. Coz overdubs bass, then Jonny follows on guitar. It doesn’t seem to be happening. Then someone puts the Copenhagen version on - it sounds better in terms of how it actually puts the song across – Nigel loves the feel of this version, but doesn’t think it’s quite good enough. The prospect of restarting & attempting to copy this version is too daunting. This also adds to the anxieties of not completing stuff – Nigel says we should be. It feels like we need a break. (not the holiday type – we’ve had enough of those) no, the watershed type.
The song was premiered during Radiohead's first webcast in the night of december 9th/10th 1999, which is also mentioned in Ed's Diary:
thursday, december 9th 1999
first 'live' performance in front of an audience for exactly (and strangely) a year........it was early morning so it was the 10th. it started with jonny (aka DJ REQUIRED) and thom's dj set and then a last minute executive decision was made to play 'knives out' around the xmas tree. 'amateur hour' will hopefully become a regular night for us - but will be different each time - there will however be ongoing items like phil's puppet show. for those who don't know what i'm going on about - we did a live web broadcast to about 250 people - courtesy of tim bran and those lovely people at the ninja tunes label.
phil and thom also nailed a wonderful version of 'egyptian song' during the day. thom thinks it's the best thing we've committed to tape, ever.
monday, march 20th 2000
there's a line drawn.....above which are the names of tracks finished bar mixing.....and below, those nearly completed. for the first time the tracks below and above the line are equal in number. that was the state of play at 5am friday morning. 'knives up' was complete. i was telling a mate over the w/end about 'knives out' and how it was started in copenhagen on 10/3/99.......some 373 days later we finally finished it.............a ridiculously long gestation period for any song..........naturally my mate thought that having taken so long on a piece of music it would be some sort of magnum opus, a kind of paranoid android to the power of ten..................... the song is probably the most straight ahead thing that we've done in years......and that might explain why we took so long on it. i'm a real believer that bands as they become more successful often lose the ability to do straight ahead stuff well...... the need to embellish tracks with melodies and sounds becomes imperative. and often in doing so the song loses its essence especially if it was written on acoustic guitar. but i think we've done alright on 'knives out'.........
thom's got a busy old week this week........most of the finishing touches are vocal things. i'm trying to get my head around some new software called logic which seems to be what all the right programmers are using...........the manual is about the thickness of a hardback edition of 'war and peace'.........he's singing along to 'fastrack'. he's hyperactive as well....it's 1.30am..fantastic..
This page appeared in radiohead.com during the Kid A period under the title 'FRoZZen':
pharisle pharoah hebrides. knives out. catch da mouse. squash his head. put him
in the pot. no sense it letting it go to wlud odsgfocggsg
n o s o ulllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
Thom: "We just lost our nerve. It was so straight-ahead. We thought, 'We've gotta put that in the bin, it's too straight.' We couldn't possibly do anything that straight until we'd gone and been completely arse about face with everything else, in order to feel good about doing something straight like that. It took 373 days to be arse-about-face enough to realise it was alright the way it was."
Thom: "It's partly the idea of the businessman walking out on his wife and kids and never coming back. It's also the thousand yard stare when you look at someone close to you and you know they're gonna die. It's like a shadow over them, or the way they look straight through you. The shine goes out of their eyes."
Q: "One of the songs that I've heard about which isn't in the ten on the Kid A album is supposed to be a very commercial song called 'Knives Out'.
Thom: "That's commercial, is it?"
Q: "I've no idea, I haven't heard it, so..."
Thom: "I would say definitely not, but go on."
Q: "Would that be any indicator that the next album might be more halfway between The Bends and OK Computer?"
Thom: "Well, what we've always tended to do in the past is have a body of work which is kind of 'in-betweenies', you know, and that's what I'm worried about with the set of songs that haven't gone on this. Maybe they're just 'in-betweenies'. But I don't think that's the case. I think there's a lot of really cool stuff there that just didn't fit on this."
Returning to Britain, Radiohead immediately retreated to the studio to finish work on the follow-up to Kid A.
Jonny: "We are just sequencing and planning the order of tracks for it at the moment."
Ed: "This is another crucial stage."
Jonny: "We're just trying to decide how to do it this time around."
Ed: "The thing is you mustn't get into second-guessing or worrying about how this one might be received. You've got to shut everything off and go with your instincts. I think most of the songs on there Radiohead fans will already have heard before, songs like 'Knives Out' will definitely be on there. We need another two or three weeks to live with it and knock it into shape. It's at such a crucial stage."
Q: "Is it going to be more conventional?"
Ed: "We laugh at this. People say, 'Is your next record going to be more song-based?' and we're like, 'What were those ten tracks on the last record?' OK, 'Treefingers' might not be a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus, but it's still a song."
Jonny: "Do you want some acoustic strum-a-longs? A 'Mull Of Kintyre'? That's sort of what people mean, isn't it? They basically want their hands held through 12 'Mull Of Kintyre's. That's what it feels like."
Ed: "The songs won't sound like they do live. 'Knives Out' is the most direct one on there, and sounds most like when we play it live..."
Q: "Were you in effect suffering from a form of writer's block?"
Thom: "It wasn't really a writer's block because words were coming out like diarrhoea but they were all awful! And I couldn't tell the difference - which was much worse. But that was because, personally speaking, I'd lost all confidence."
Q: "When and how did it come back?
Thom: "It came back when we recorded 'The National Anthem'. I really, really love that track. 'Everything In Its Right Place' I really, really love as well. And 'In Limbo' I'm still proud of just for the disorientating, floaty feel we managed to capture. It comes from this really peculiar place. On the new one - even though I've heard it too much - 'Pyramid Song' is still a really good one. In terms of trying to get somewhere new, I think 'Spinning Plates' is the best of all the record for me. When I listen to it in my car, it makes the doors shake (laughs). 'Knives Out', though - for the longest time I really, really hated that song."
Q: "It took the longest time to record, apparently..."
Thom: "Yeah, 'cause I hated it so much." [laughs]
Q: "313 hours - is that accurate?"
Thom: "Possibly, I wasn't counting. A lot of time anyway. A lot of time."
"In the video that I have just finished for Radiohead, Knives Out, I reconstructed my memories. It's an autobiographical video. Emma de Caunes plays the role of my ex-girlfriend and Thom Yorke interpretates my role. I received the record the moment we separated. The video, unlike the film, is all based on memory. All these images just came to me. I hadn't managed to have any others. I suggested them to Thom who agreed. It is the story of my girlfriend who had leukaemia and the time I spent watching over her in the hospital. She is practically cured now. The speed at which the illness progresses is horrifying!
"It's terrifying, I watched over my girlfriend in hospital for weeks and weeks. All that medication... I have always had a thing about that... I speak a lot about it because it was a failure, not health-wise but from an emotional point of view. We split up. Why? We had separated once before her illness. I was so sad, I said to myself that I couldn't do anything. She always spoke to me of marriage, so I went to see her and offered her an engagement ring. The next day she had leukaemia. She must have already had it... the problem is that we got back together for all the wrong reasons. She came back to me because she was ill. We stayed three more years together.
"She is much better now. She had the will to live and excellent doctors. Guys who arrived at four in the morning. Four of the best doctors. As we lived at that time in Los Angeles, I had to play by the system and paid for everything in cash. That was a big problem for my girlfriend. She felt guilty that I invested myself so much, in the literal sense of the word. She turned everything against me, unconsciously. It's unfair and that's the reason why I did the video. It is a bit tough for her."
[From an interview with Michel Gondry, director of the video for 'Knives Out':]
"I generally find a good way of communicating to prevent clash, but I had one terrible experience with Radiohead," he says of his 2001 video for 'Knives Out'. Gondry, going through a breakup at the time, transferred his despair to a character played by lead singer Thom Yorke, grieving anxiously in a crowded hospital room."
"I showed him a storyboard and every single detail: he was completely excited and happy for it - and then, it turned out, they all criticize me for being selfish and putting my own views on it and my own introspection," says a still peeved Gondry. (Yorke and Radiohead declined to comment for this story.) "And they didn't let me use my video for my DVD!" he adds, his voice rising.
"And I'm really mad at them for having done that to me, that they abuse their power! It did not go smooth, but if it went smooth, it would be mediocre."
In a special limited edition of Mojo magazine on Morrissey and The Smiths, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr gave this answer when asked he thought The Smiths' musical legacy was. Marr: "I Know we made a huge impression on the next generation of musicians. Ed O'Brien from Radiohead sat me down a couple of years ago in a barn, on top of a mountain in New Zealand and played me the then unreleased Knives Out. It was an unbelievable experience; I was beyond flattered and quite speechless- which takes some doing. He explained to me that with that song they'd tried to take a snapshot of the way I'd done things in The Smiths- and I guess you can hear that in it."