Philip Selway on Finding His Voice and Radiohead's Return to the Studio

"It’s great to be making music together again [with Radiohead]. We just have to see where it leads us."

Phil Selway Credit: Will Ireland/Rhythm Magazine via Getty Images

Radiohead drummer Philip Selway's solo debut, Familial, was a hushed, folky first step. Four years later, his second album, Weatherhouse (out now), is something entirely different: a sweeping suite full of moody psychedelic arrangements that aren't so different from the music Selway makes with his main band.

"I suppose on this one I didn't feel I wanted to avoid it, which I did on Familial," Selway says, sitting in his 30 Rock dressing room before taping a Tonight Show performance with the Dap-Kings backing him. "It’s a big part of what I do, Radiohead, and it is very much part of me. So it felt very natural to draw on those elements."

Selway recorded Weatherhouse over the last 18 months at Radiohead's studio outside Oxford, England, working with multi-instrumentalists Adem Ilhan and Quinta. "We wanted it to sound like a band," Selway says. "Getting something that felt authentically me down on – I would say tape, but it’s not tape, is it? But that was very satisfying thing."

The drummer was only in the U.S. for a quick promo trip: Next week, he's heading back to Oxford to rejoin the recording sessions that Radiohead have embarked on this fall. Read on for our full Q&A about Selway's latest solo album, how he learned to love drumming again, and a status update on Radiohead's next album.

Did you know from the start that you wanted to go in a different direction from your first album?
Absolutely. On Familial, I was basically starting from zero. I had no previous record [as an artist] apart from drumming. Then, taking the record out to play live shows –that was a lovely album to play, but it only worked in particular venues. It had to be very intimate places, or else it would get lost. There was a sense of being on stage and thinking, “Actually, I just wish it was something a bit more…expansive here.”

One big difference on this album is that you play drums – which you didn't on most of Familial.
Glenn Kotche drummed on Familial, which was great. He's just amazing. But on this one, Adem kind of coaxed me into playing. It was surprisingly enjoyable, actually. Before this record, I hadn’t heard my own drum parts on my songs. There was probably a little bit of trepidation there. But once I got into the whole process, I found it very liberating.

Liberating in what way?
I think when you’ve been playing an instrument for a long time, you go through peaks and troughs on how you feel about it. And the Radiohead tour we did in 2012, when we did the double drummer thing with Clive Deamer, and then recording this record, really fired me up about drumming again. I found myself getting quite passionate about drumming again, just really enjoying it. At the core of it, there has to be that sense of vitality in what you do, particularly in drums, or else it’s just going to be flat. To get that joy in playing back was great.

Did you feel that you gained more confidence as a singer this time, too?
Yes and no. We recorded all of the arrangements last year, from the end of January 2013 to the beginning of July 2013. Then I went away and spent a lot of time writing the lyrics and actually figuring out how I was going to sing it – because at that point, I was thinking, “I don’t know how to do this.” My starting point for most things, no matter what, playing or anything, is that I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s a healthy place to be. But it was underpinned by the thought that I'd found my way through that once before.

What's the Radiohead studio outside Oxford like? Set the scene for us.
It's a lovely place to work. It's full of gear that we've accumulated over the years, so there are lots of good instruments there. There's a good live room. Because we took time away from Radiohead after we finished touring in 2012, and the studio has everybody's different projects, it's had a lot of use. I think places really benefit from that.

What did you do after that Radiohead tour ended in 2012? Did you take any time off?
I jumped straight into doing this, more or less. I think we got to the end of our touring and we knew this time off was coming up – and that felt really healthy. We enjoyed the touring, and we knew that we wanted to get back together to make more music, but it felt the appropriate time to have that clear space for a while. That’s really how I went into that year, with a real sense of clear water in front of me.

Thom Yorke just surprise-released a solo album of his own, a little over a week before yours came out. How much advance notice did you get?
[Smiles.] Oh, I knew.

How do you feel about having both records out at the same time?
Well, they’re very different records. Got very different release methods as well. So they occupy two very different spaces. I kind of like the way they rub up against each other. They both stand up in their own right, but I think for anybody looking in from a Radiohead perspective, you can see the elements of everything there. It's an opportune coincidence.

Now that you're on your second album, it feels like you're serious about a solo career. Is that right?
Well, it hasn't dried up yet, so that's good. It's a good benchmark for me personally, having something that's very identifiably me. I love being part of a bigger picture as well, but I think there's something very healthy about getting that sense of what your own musicality is, what your own voice is. And actually, when you come back into Radiohead, I think that you're much more aware of what your voice is, and what you can bring to that process as well.

Speaking of that, how are Radiohead's new recording sessions going?
It's great to be making music together again. It's got a vitality to it. We just have to see where it leads us at the moment. But it's been good so far. When it works, it still feels exciting.

Is the band returning to music that you've worked on in the past few years, or is this a completely fresh start?
We're sifting through ideas we’ve accumulated over time, and some of them might be new and some of them might be a bit older. You look back at In Rainbows – "Nude" had been kicking around for quite a while. So you just try to find an appropriate time for songs. We’re just getting a sense of what we want to do musically at the moment, more than anything.