Jonny Greenwood is in a tiny backstage room staring at my tiny digital tape recorder like it’s about to jump up and bite him. Twenty minutes ago, he was onstage with Radiohead, wrapping up their second consecutive night at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California with a haunting rendition of “Karma Police.”
“Sitting here and talking to you and knowing what I say is going to, you know, it’s all a bit…” He pauses, wipes his long black bangs from his eyes and searches for the right word. “It’s nauseating,” he finally says. “The thought of you having to go through these recordings, listen to them and assemble them into something readable and interesting. It’s that whole sort of ‘look at me’ side of what we do that feels really stupid.”
It feels like a lost scene from Meeting People Is Easy, the 1998 documentary from the Ok Computer era where the group received an endless onslaught of press and adulation until they nearly went insane. But these days, the group gives virtually no interviews and move at a much slower pace. They dropped their 2016 LP A Moon Shaped Pool without doing a single interview and it still topped the charts all over the world, even if Drake and Beyonce kept them stuck at Number Three in America.
But to promote their upcoming 20th anniversary package OK COMPUTER OKNOTOK 1997 2017, they agreed to a rare series of conversations about their 1997 masterpiece for the latest cover story. But we got way more than we needed from our time with the band – even if the process occasionally made them “nauseated.” Here are 19 things we learned that didn’t make it into the piece.
1. The James Bond movie Spectre screwed with their momentum while making A Moon Shaped Pool.
Producers of the James Bond movie Spectre approached the band to write the theme song, but it was Sam Smith’s tune that ultimately wound up in the film. Radiohead released their song for free online, but the timing was not great.
“That fucking James Bond movie threw us a massive curveball,” says producer Nigel Godrich. “It was a real waste of energy. We stopped doing what we were doing and had to concentrate on that for awhile since we were told it was something that was going to come to fruition. I haven’t seen the movie and I think they ended up with something more suitable for it, but in terms of making A Moon Shaped Pool it caused a stop right when we were in the middle of it.”
2. Jonny Greenwood hates guitar solos.
“When we were at school, we hated and distrusted anything that was successful on a large scale,” he says. “We just associated it with bands that did guitar solos with big hair. It’s already such a preening, self-regarding profession. I’ve always hated guitar solos. There’s nothing worse than hearing someone cautiously going up and down the scales of their guitar. You can hear them thinking about what the next note should be, and then out it comes. It’s more interesting to write something that doesn’t outstay its welcome.”
3. He’s also got very mixed feelings about the idea of rock bands in general.
“Even when we were starting out, it felt like everyone’s been in a band,” Greenwood says. “Bands were already old hat. That felt true then, and more so today. But I tend to change my mind and sometimes I think it’s really important and they’re doing things worthwhile, but other times I feel just like it’s people copying their grandfather’s generation. There are grandparents now that were in punk bands and their grandkids are in bands. Maybe that’s a great thing. Anything that involves making music, I’m all for. That’s the bottom line. But I’ve also got old-fashioned ideas that there should be some element to it being done without parental approval. That still feels feel important to me.
“I know that sounds really cheesy, but it should unlistenable to the previous generation,” he continues. “There should be someone saying, ‘That’s not music.’ It’s encouraging many older people feel that way about some rap and extreme electronic stuff. That’s good. At the same time, it says nothing about the quality of the music. I change my mind about this all the time.”
4. Nigel Godrich can tell the complete story of King of Limbs in a succinct paragraph.
“I had a friend in LA who’s a DJ,” he says. “And he’s like, ‘You want to DJ?’ And so I started DJing and I got Thom into it, just doing parties and stuff. We were like, ‘This is such an amazing tool. We can make music with this.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do an experiment for two weeks where everyone has a turntable instead of playing the guitar or drums or whatever.’ And that two-week experiment ended up being fucking six months. And that’s that record, the whole story of all of it.”
5. Thom Yorke’s teenage children are huge Radiohead fans.
“That makes me feel proud,” says Yorke. “They travel with us quite a bit. It makes me think, ‘Cool, this is good. When they tell me we suck, I’ll stop.'”
6. He’s psyched to be creating the score for the upcoming horror remake Suspiria by Italian director Luca Guadagnino.
“The original soundtrack was by [1970s progressive rock band] Goblin and it’s completely bonkers,” he says. “It’s been fucking hard work.”
7. He’s much more vague when it comes to his other future plans.
“There’s also a bunch of things I’m doing on my own that I have to finish,” is all Yorke will say on the matter. “They’ve been on hold for ages. Whether they will translate into anything, I’m not quite sure. It’s kind of weird. I don’t have a plan for the second part of the year at the moment. I mean, I wasn’t able to plan things for a long time now and now I can. I’m trying to get my head around that.”
8. There are no dates on the books after the tour wraps in Tel Aviv on July 19th, and the group has different opinions about adding on more legs.
Phil Selway: “It’s a blank calendar at the moment [after this leg ends], but we all have other stuff that’s been on hold for a little while. I feel that come July we will have done as much as we can with what we’ve got at the moment. I’d love the idea that we’d be back out again touring at some point, but I think this feels about right for this record.”
Yorke: “I would imagine we’ll keep going. I mean, I don’t know how, or when, but no, we’re not gonna stop. I fucking hope not.”
Colin Greenwood: “I don’t know what’s going to happen after July, so I can’t say anything beyond that. But I love the people that I work with, and I love what everyone does. So we’ll see. But I’m happy to go play anywhere else.”
Ed O’Brien: “I think the tour will be done after these shows.”
9. Nigel Godrich’s father died near the end of the A Moon Shaped Pool sessions.
“The day he died was the day that we had the string session for ‘Burn the Witch,'” he says. “We had two days to do it, so I literally left him on a fucking table in my house and went and recorded. And it was a very, very emotional day for me. He was a string player as well so it was one of those things where it felt like he would want me to go and just do this.”
10. The sessions for the album went through other difficult times.
“It felt hard to make progress,” says Jonny Greenwood, “and then suddenly we had two golden weeks in the studio – kind of isolated – and it felt like we broke the back of lots of difficult things and came away with half a record suddenly. We just needed some isolation … And I think we just operate on a steady diet of anxiety and uncertainty and utter conviction in the songs.”
11. Nigel Godrich basically finished the album on his own.
“With Radiohead, people always say, ‘Oh, it’s much better live,'” says Godrich. “But this record didn’t exist before it was created in the studio. Thom just doesn’t work like he used to. He will write a song, or a piece of the song, and the idea is the last part of it is developed with everyone’s input. If the focus isn’t there, then it has to be my job to make it happen. I just have to do whatever it takes, which makes me unpopular because I’m like, ‘Okay, this is how we’re going to do it. This is where this happens. You’re going to change to that bit there.’
“At first, there was nothing happening, and I had to find a way of making that record,” he continues. “One of them is just that it’s all recorded on 8-track tape, except for three songs that were recorded using 24-track tape loops. I did that to bring everything together and keep them focused. Because otherwise it wouldn’t have happened … In the end, we went to a residential studio in the south of France for three weeks and then I went off and I just put it all together myself.”
12. Ed O’Brien briefly thought about bringing in Dr. Dre to work on Kid A.
“It was sort of like a dream,” he says. “I kept on saying, ‘Oh I’d love to work with Dr. Dre.’ I knew it would likely be shouted down or laughed at. Also, it might have been be a little bit forced. But at the time, in my head, it made perfect sense. The problem would have been finding modus operandi because Dre obviously works in a certain way. Could he have handled a rock band? Who knows? But it came from being a fan of N.W.A and his productions around that time.”
13. Ed would like to see the band still tour in their 70s.
“You see that joy Leonard Cohen got,” he says. “You see it with the Dead or Neil Young when he goes off with Crazy Horse. Everybody would like to see Pink Floyd do it. If we were to do it, it would have to be authentic. It might be like the Rolling Stones. It might be like Leonard Cohen or the Grateful Dead.”
14. They’re mostly enjoying playing the occasional “Creep” on this tour.
“It’s a good song,” says O’Brien. “It’s nice to play for the right reasons. People like it and want to hear it. We do err towards not playing it because you don’t want it feel like show business. But we started throwing it in last year.”
Yorke is a little less sure about the whole thing. “We only did it once or twice this year,” he says. “The first time I’m feeling the fakes we’ll stop. It can be cool sometimes, but other times I want to stop halfway through and be like, ‘Nah, this isn’t happening.'”
15. They’ve never felt cool.
“We went to some awards show years ago, I can’t remember which one,” says Jonny. “U2 got something and then Ed and Phil came on afterward to get an award for packaging or something. The difference was comical. U2 walk on with such charisma and just swagger on. Then us idiots shuffle on. We’d feel awkward and would make everyone in the audience feel awkward.”
16. They are drawing from a much larger repertoire of songs on this tour than in 2012.
“King of Limbs had this rhythm thing and we wanted to create this kind of rave with the tour,” says O’Brien. “This one feels looser. It feels like we’ve got more songs to play around with. We’ve got 60-odd songs we’ve rehearsed. We’ve got that ability to go out and play a few songs we don’t normally play.”
Selway says that most anything is on the table. “Nothing much ever really creeps in from Pablo Honey besides the obvious one,” he says. “From The Bends onwards we can revisit any material that feels relevant. Take ‘Fake Plastic Trees.’ We haven’t been near that song for years. But you come back to it. You’re just like, ‘Ah, okay. This works. This is good.’ There has been a request for ‘Lurgee.’ We’ve not worked it out, but off Pablo Honey that’s probably the one that would work best in the context of what we’re doing now. It’s a good song.”
17. Don’t expect to see them play Ok Computer in its entirety.
They may have a new 20th anniversary box set and they may even be playing a gig in Monza, Italy on the exact day it came out, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to play it straight through at any point. “‘Fitter Happier’ might have a few issues,” says drummer Phil Selway. “We’d also have to play ‘Electioneering’ then, wouldn’t we? [They haven’t played the song since 1998.] So no, I don’t think we’ll do that. There’s no plans, although I am going to see John Cale do the Velvet Underground and Nico. My eldest son turns 18 around the time of the Liverpool show and really wants to go. I said, ‘Okay, we’ll do that.'”
18. The sound meltdown at Coachella was very confusing.
“I think we were at the third song, which was ‘Ful Stop,’ and suddenly I heard a crash in my ears,” says Colin Greenwood. “Then our stage manager walked out in front of Thom and everyone and was like, ‘Gentlemen, can you please leave the stage?’ I thought there’d been an actual crash. I’m right in the back between two drum kits, so I can’t really hear the P.A. I thought there had been a plane crash or something since I heard this explosion. I found out it was a technical problem, but we played the whole set and I’m happy with that.”
They don’t blame Coachella for the fiasco, though. “It was the software or hardware from our mixing desk,” says Yorke. “[At the second Coachella], they double-bagged it with two desks and an engineer. They massively over-compensated. In all the times we’ve played I’ve only ever had the tap on the shoulder during thunderstorms, so it was quite weird to have two taps on the shoulder. It was like one of those recurring nightmares where you’re playing your guts out and you realize no one can hear you.”
19. They are eligible to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to show up.
Phil Selway: “It’s a bit like having the free bus pass in the UK when you reach a certain age. Blimey. Have we got to that point? God knows [if we’ll go]. We’d have to sit down and talk about it, but it’s probably not at the top of my list of things to do. But who knows? I don’t know.”
Jonny Greenwood: “I don’t care. Maybe it’s a cultural thing that I really don’t understand. I mean, from the outside it looks like … it’s quite a self-regarding profession anyway. And anything that heightens that just makes me feel even more uncomfortable.”
Ed O’Brien: “I don’t want to be rude about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because for a lot of people it means something, but culturally I don’t understand it. I think it might be a quintessential American thing. Brits are not very good at slapping ourselves on the back. It seems very show-biz and I’m not very show-biz. We haven’t even been asked. I don’t want to be rude. But if you ask me what I’d rather be doing that night, I’d rather be sitting at home in front of the fire or going to a gig. I realized years ago that I didn’t like award ceremonies. You walk in there and you feel self-conscious. It’s just really uncomfortable. Wherever there is media there seem to be a real level of bullshit. It just feels non-authentic to us.”
Thom Yorke: “It wouldn’t be the first place … don’t ask me things like that. I always put my foot in my mouth.”
Colin Greenwood: “I’d be grateful if we got in. Look at the other people that have been inducted. I don’t know if everyone else will go though. It might be me just doing bass versions of everything like, ‘Come on, you know this one!’ I’d have to play the bass part to ‘Creep’ five times.”