Radiohead's 'The Bends' at 20: Alt-J's Thom Green Looks Back

On the anniversary of the 1995 album, the drummer reflects on its influence

Credit: Rob Ball/Redferns/Getty

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Radiohead's The Bends, the second album from the Oxford quintet and the LP that proved Thom Yorke and Co. were more than just "Creep." With tracks like "High and Dry," "My Iron Lung" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," the record would go on to influence a new wave of rock groups like Coldplay, Muse and Alt-J, the latest act to be levied with the "next Radiohead" label by the British press.

Rolling Stone spoke to drummer Thom Green, the band's resident Radiohead fanatic, to talk about The Bends and the impact Radiohead had on Alt-J's early years.

I think I was about 15 the first time I heard The Bends. I went to a wedding and I was getting a lift back from my dad's friend, Dave, and he was playing it in the car on the way back. At the time, I strictly listened to metal and grunge, I wouldn't listen to anything else. But listening to The Bends on that journey, I felt so relaxed. So I remember hearing it and thinking, "This is actually pretty good." At the time, it did have an impression on me. I thought I should look [Radiohead] up, because sonically, the album is pretty incredible.  

It wasn't until I was 19 that I got a set of drums and, like I said, I was still strictly metal. I was in a metal band. But when I turned 21, at university, when [Alt-J] met each other, the combination of being at art school and being around creative people of similar mind, and being around people who listened to different kinds of music, it changed my life, really. The way I go about music, the way I hear music, the way I relate to people. The Bends, and hearing In Rainbows as well, it made me dig into every nuance of Radiohead's music. Every single track on every single album was so incredible — with the exception of a couple, maybe — and I thought, "How did I miss this?"

Radiohead could record [The Bends] tracks today and the sound would still be timeless. It doesn't sound like it was recorded 20 years ago. My favorite Bends track is "Street Spirit," it reminds me of the later stuff Radiohead were doing. What makes it a brilliant song is how the strings surround you and the long drawn-out synths. It's such a mature track when you compare it to something like "High and Dry"; it's a more refined song, and I really like the darker sounds of their albums.

[Phil Selway's] drumming definitely influenced my style. When Alt-J got first together, I had a minimal setup and the way Joe [Newman] plays guitar, he plays very rhythmically, doesn't play a lot of chords, so I had to pick up on that and, subconsciously, I think Selway's drumming played into that, the off-beats and the odd time signatures. He just fits so well with the instrumental, and I just started playing like that.

I haven't seen Radiohead live. It's just never happened. I don't really get to that many shows. We've never crossed paths either. Well, once, Alt-J played Glastonbury and we were watching the Rolling Stones when Thom Yorke and [Radiohead guitarist] Ed O'Brien walked past me — they weren't playing that year, they just walked past — and I just went into shock. I couldn't move, I couldn't speak. When you're obsessed with a band that much, they become like a myth, like they're not even real people.