Main Index Pablo Honey The Bends OK Computer Kid A Amnesiac Hail to the Thief In Rainbows The King of Limbs A Moon Shaped Pool Thom Yorke Jonny Greenwood Ed O'Brien Colin Greenwood Philip Selway
During the OK Computer period, an early lyrical link to the song could be seen on a page which appeared on
one of god's cruel jokes.

damaged fruit,
rotten to the core,
i stay out of the way
out of your way,
till the storm has passed.

outside is a beautiful blue day
inside there is a war going on.

we are some of god's cruel jokes.
he was having a laugh.
he was putting us on.
we are
some of god's cruel jokes
In January 1998, further ideas which would form the basis for the song were written while Radiohead were on tour in Japan.
The first musical ideas for the song also stem from 1998. These were programmed by Thom on his QY70 sequencer:
When working on Kid A, this sketch was developed into a rhythm track by Jonny and Colin during the experimental electronica-only sessions in early 2000. Colin mentioned that with this track they "managed to work out how to make all the boxes and machines talk to each other". Certainly a breakthrough point in the process of adapting new ways of working into the band. The resulting rhythm track wouldn't be used for the time being, but would become the basis of 'Backdrifts' when making Hail to the Thief.
In spring 2001, around the time Amnesiac was released, these early lyrics appeared in the 'imaginery prisons' section of It is well possible that this is what Thom noted down in early 1998:

Backdrifts in Japan.
Covers everything in a blanket.
Teeters on a branch.

Here I go
Trying to be someone I'm not.
Someone I'm not.

Use it well.
Watch it slip.

I fell into your arms.
There was nothing i could do.

In summer 2002, 'Backdrifts' was one of the two songs on Hail To The Thief, that weren't performed on the Iberian Tour. Chances are that the band hadn't figured out yet how to play the track live, but the main reason probably was, that Thom hadn't finished the lyrics yet. Three pages, that Thom wrote in september 2002 while the band was in L.A., appeared in the 'scrapbook' section of and showcase him trying to work out the lyrics. While one of the pages only mentions the songtitle, the other two feature lines that would be scrapped for the final version and shed more light on the development of the lyrics:

Thom admittedly had great difficulty finishing the lyrics, and ultimately used a method where he cut up the lines and shuffled them around until constellations appeared that appealed to him.
On march 30th 2003, the rough mix of the song leaked and it represents the state of work from February. This version is almost identical to the released version, but features a slightly different, longer ending.
Thom: "There's lots and lots of different interpretations. I mean, the lyrics are incredibly ambivalent. Deliberately. But it sort of came from a certain type of light that I saw, a certain type of smell. It's not particularly anything, that... it's sort of basically this pure blind panic, which I kept encountering in various different forms, and that ended up being a song called 'Backdrifts'. It's a sort of fluorescent light. That's probably not very helpful... I can't really explain it. I mean... 'Backdrifts' to me ended up being, I mean if we're talking lyrically, ended up being very much about the slide into... the slide backwards, that's happening everywhere you look, you know. There was a time when everybody sort of felt like Maybe the world was progressing and Maybe we were getting better, sort of understanding other people, you know, that there was a high level of tolerance and compassion and so on. And then someone literally flicked a switch and the light went on and everybody just scaried for the dark. And that's to me is sort of the best... that's quite a good way of describing the sort of general atmosphere of that song."

Colin: "It was the point when we managed to work out how to make all the boxes and machines talk to each other, I suppose. And I guess that's what happened with it, really. But I think it started off with a loop of Thom's of sound, right at the beginning of the song. And I suppose it's, I don't know... 'Backdrifts'... I mean, it's sort of like snow or whatever."

Phil: "It's one of those tracks that came out from when we were actually still doing the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions. And initially Jonny and Colin disappeared off to a different part of the house and emerged a week later with this really dynamic sounding rhythm track, really. That's where the song emerged from."
Jonny: "That's pretty old. That was started, I guess, about three years ago. Then there was an acceleration in terms of writing and arranging, where it came together quite quickly from being a bit aimless to quite exciting."

Thom: "As to where the words go, that one is pretty difficult to explain. The original thing, which was unrecognisable, was written on one of those QY70 things, that you can program on. Björk uses them. We were stuck in a snowdrift in Japan. It was the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. The snow was piled high on the branches, and then a bullet train would go past, and the snow would drop off the branch. The whole world was utterly blanketed except for these straggly bits of black and white. And that's where it started. The words have always been based in that image."
Ed: "'The Gloaming' and 'Backdrifts' were pretty much fully formed on a laptop having used sounds that Colin and Jonny had originally processed."
Thom: "The lyrics came from so many different places. And… sounds good in your car. This one was a bunch of samples kicking around for years, that I didn't know what to do with. And then this melody starts forming and Cozzie and Jonny started programming this stuff… But really… I had to really struggle with the words, it drove me crazy. I had to try every trick in the book. Cut them up endlessly, re-cut them. Did that again and again and again. And the really peculiar thing is that the song originally comes from an episode in Japan where we were trying to travel to a gig on like a Bullet train and we got stuck in a snowdrift. And I'd never sort of… You know, that clichèd thing about a blanket of snow – and I'd never actually seen it absolutely pure. There was nothing. You couldn't see anything. It was so high, it was covering cars almost until the top. And, before we actually hit the snowdrift, as we flew along, the snow would fall from the branches, you know. And it was just completely dreamlike and at the time I was doing what ended up being a sample for this thing on this QY70 machine. And it all… So originally, it was all based around that and then even some of the words are cut up from the original lyric for that, that never made it anywhere and the samples were cut from that period. But then it mutated again into something else, and something else, and something else and something else. So it's that cut up endlessly thing again, I guess."
Q: "Which song took the least time?"

Thom: "'We Suck Young Blood' was easy and 'The Gloaming' and 'Backdrifts' were finished pretty fast."
Thom: "Yes, we do a version of it live. I mean, we don't do live drums. We slice up all the drums and put them down, so that Phil mixes all the rhythms in and out and stuff. And Jonny, you do all this nutty backwards stuff on the guitar. So it's just different, basically. We invented something else to do with it, really."
On may 17th 2003, 'Backdrifts' had its live premiere in Dublin. The audio of the original clip was substituted by a better recording for this website: