Radiohead interview: The Golden Age of Radiohead
Everyone in the band seemed pleased with the results. Yorke calls the epic “Exit Music (For a Film)” “the first performance that we recorded where every note of it makes me really happy.” As on The Bends, much of OK Computer’s music was contributed by members of the band besides Yorke, especially Jonny Greenwood, who wrote the slow “rain down” section of “Paranoid Android” and all the music to the album-closing “The Tourist.” Also like The Bends, many of the more interesting sounds, like those at the end of “Karma Police,” which features O’Brien’s AMS digital delay unit feeding back on itself, were recorded with a sense of abandon. “We said, ‘Put down the headphones and just go,’” says Yorke, “and so he made weird noises, and we taped that a few times. Sometimes the best stuff happens when you’re not even listening at all. Once we get to a studio, we either do it together live at the same time, so we can hear what we’re doing, or we do the exact opposite, so we don’t know what’s going on at all. A lot of the time you have to either make it really random or really calculated. There’s no middle ground.”
Among the more random moments on OK Computer, the use of transistor radio noise and tape loops on “Climbing Up the Walls.” (Yorke: “Whenever there was tape all over the studio floor, I knew things were going well.”) Among the more calculated: The drum track to “Airbag,” which was recorded, sampled with an Akai S3000 sampler and then laboriously edited and manipulated over two days on the band’s Macintosh. Yorke admits this technique was inspired by the work of DJ Shadow [a sample/turntable artist from the San Francisco Bay Area who has released two acclaimed albums on the London/Mo’ Wax label—GW Ed.], and the result has led many to argue that Radiohead are in fact creating a sort of new rock/techno hybrid. O’Brien downplays this idea, though.
“I think that’s more a critics’ interpretation. We do try to be diverse. The guitar sound on ‘No Surprises’ was supposed to hark back to [the Beach Boys’] Pet Sounds, ‘Let Down’ was a nod to Phil Spector, ‘Exit Music’ had a [composer Ennio] Morricone atmosphere, ‘Airbag’ was an attempt to do something like DJ Shadow—but because we haven’t paid the dues, if you like, to play those types of music, we fail to get what we hope to achieve. But by going down that route, we find our own thing.”
Other notable albums that influenced OK Computer included Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (as demonstrated by the presence of so much Fender Rhodes electric piano on the album) and the Beatles’ “White Album” (the tripartite nature of “Paranoid Android” was inspired by “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” while the chorus of “Karma Police” owes an undeniable debt to “Sexy Sadie”). Of course, it’s the way Radiohead absorbs these influences and turns them into something very different that’s most interesting. They may be shooting for a certain familiar sound at first, but what they come up with is invariably new and quite their own. As Yorke says, “Aiming and missing is the whole point, really.”
Radiohead followed up the release of OK Computer with their most rigorous touring schedule yet. One of their most notable shows of 1997 took place at New York’s Irving Plaza, where the guest list included members of U2, R.E.M., Oasis, Blur, Marilyn Manson, Courtney Love, Madonna and many other notables—including Ed O’Brien’s mother. “It was the first time she’d seen us in four years,” O’Brien says. “Before the doors opened, I went round looking at the V.I.P. section, and I saw that Madonna had the best table in the house and my mum’s table was way in the back. I thought, ‘I’m not having this,’ so I swapped the signs on the tables around. So,” he continues with a giggle, “Madonna was at the back, and my mum had the best table in the house, between U2 and R.E.M. And that’s exactly how it should be.”
After the accolades of 1997, what’s next for Radiohead? Word has it that their touring will continue, and they’re traveling with a mobile recording setup, taking down ideas for new tunes. O’Brien confirms this, but doubts most of the tracks recorded on the road will be used on an album. How and when the follow-up to OK Computer will be recorded is still anyone’s guess, but if Thom Yorke’s comments are anything to go by, it’ll be done as naturally as possible. “I just read in a magazine in L.A. that [writer Charles] Bukowski was once asked, ‘What’s your philosophy of life?’ And he said, ‘Don’t try.’ And that’s right. You can’t try. If you try, you’re fucked ’cause then you’re like everybody else.”
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