"This is a nice little hit," singer Thom Yorke says in a breezy voice the day before Radiohead's September 28th show at New York's Roseland Ballroom. He is sitting in a hotel lobby, drinking tea and talking cheerfully about his band's current promo blitz on behalf of its latest album, the very-electronic enigma The King of Limbs. When the record came out as a download in February, Radiohead – an independent act since it finished its EMI deal with 2003's Hail to the Thief – played no gigs and did no interviews.
"It was nice not to do any of it," Yorke says. "But after a while, we thought, 'Hold on, it might be nice to do something.' And now that we've figured out how to play it live" – referring to the album's lush tangle of samples, drum loops and glassy vocal reveries – "that creates an energy that we want to pursue. You want to get it out there."
Radiohead's New York trip has included TV appearances on Saturday Night Live, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and a special one-hour edition of The Colbert Report, during which the usually limelight-shy Yorke gamely fired quips back at the host. At Roseland on the 28th and 29th, Radiohead, who have not toured North America since 2008, gave a spectacular preview of their new six-piece lineup – with second drummer Clive Deamer of the British group Portishead – and the major roadwork they are planning for 2012. Yorke, bassist Colin Greenwood, drummer Phil Selway and guitarists Ed O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood performed seven of the eight songs on The King of Limbs, invigorating the laptop-built ambience of "Bloom" and "Morning Mr. Magpie" with live-band dynamics and Selway's polyrhythmic bond with Deamer.
The Roseland shows included an unreleased song, "Daily Mail," Yorke's scathing address to ex-British prime minister Tony Blair, the King of Limbs outtake "Supercollider" and a new arrangement with furious double drumming on "Myxomatosis," from Hail to the Thief. Radiohead also resurrected two oldies: "Subterranean Homesick Alien," from 1997's OK Computer and, on the 29th, a bit of the fans' favorite "True Love Waits" during the intro to "Everything in Its Right Place," from 2000's Kid A. The previous night, in the same spot, Yorke paid tribute to the recently split R.E.M. and their singer Michael Stipe, a close friend, singing a chorus from their 1987 hit "The One I Love."
"It was the same thing with Kid A – the studio was this process, then you bring it to life," Yorke says of the delay in bringing The King of Limbs to the stage. "In 'Bloom,' when Clive goes from the electro pads to the live kit, and my guitar shoots up an octave, I'm like, 'Wow!' When we came up with that, it was like, 'OK, we got it.'"
"The whole thing is a morass of syncopations and layers," says Deamer, who started playing with Selway last winter, working out parts, before rehearsing with the whole group. "But every time we play, it grows. Something slightly different can happen."
Radiohead could squeeze in only three concerts this year – the Roseland dates and a surprise set in June at Britain's Glastonbury Festival – because Deamer is also on the road with Portishead. "He wasn't available," says Chris Hufford, one of Radiohead's managers, "and it's why we couldn't go out on tour until next year."
"It will be sort of on and off, with big gaps," Yorke says of the probable schedule, then grins reassuringly. "But not that big."
In the meantime, Radiohead have released another new album. TKOL RMX 1234567 is a two-CD set of radical reconstructions of the tracks on The King of Limbs by DJs and producers such as Modeselektor, Altrice and SBTRKT. "It was kind of my baby," Yorke says, noting that Blawan's remix of "Bloom" "has just a little bit of us in there. But I love that."
Yorke, who turned 43 on October 7th, is determined to finish his new Atoms for Peace album by the end of the year. It is likely to feature recordings from the sessions Yorke did in 2010 with his touring band of that name, whose members include Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The album has "a lot of solo stuff as well," Yorke adds. But, he confesses, "It's not good enough yet." He and Godrich "were excited about it for so long, then we kind of lost our way. So we're taking some steps back."
"The genesis was more like The Eraser – Thom and I in the studio," Godrich says, referring to Yorke's 2006 solo album. "The idea was to generate the music, then record the band. We did that. Some of it worked. We also went back to some of the electronic stuff. It's still in flux. We're waiting for the lightning bolt to strike."
Radiohead are returning to the studio as well. They will work on new material at their recording space in Oxford, England, in December and January. "We can get things together quite rapidly at the moment," Yorke says brightly. He mentions one song, "Come to Your Senses." "We have this version of it. It's a five-minute rehearsal, but it has the essence of what we need.
"There are a few of those," he adds. "It would be fun to have them ready when we go to play next year. I don't know how we would release them." Yorke smiles hopefully. "It would be nice to make it all part of the flow and just enjoy it – not think about it too much."
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This is from the October 27, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.