was already a certified rock god when Brian Draper sat down with him in Café Rouge in Oxford on 11 October 2004.
The Observer called it ‘an incredible scoop’ and declared it ‘miraculous’. Fans of Radiohead emailed from the United States: ‘Hands down the best interview with Thom ever.’
Photography: Jason Evans
There is a general consensus that Radiohead is all about tortured souls, millennial angst and buzzing fridges. How near the truth is that, or is there another story you tell about yourselves?
That consensus probably represents where we were at at one point, but it doesn’t now. I think that what tends to happen, with the way the music business puts people across, is that initially everyone is really interested in representing what exactly they see you doing and after that they simply perpetuate it and that becomes the definitive… Like Bob Dylan – you know, there are certain elements of Dylan that are endlessly reproduced, even though most of them happened 40 years ago.
Obviously, we don’t have it as bad, and there is no point in getting upset about it. During the OK Computer period, it got so silly that I had to make a conscious decision to switch it all off and not worry about it any more. If you get stuck in other people’s impressions of what you do, it actually starts informing how you carry on – and then you know you’re in trouble, because then you’re part of this noise that actually was nothing to do with you in the first place. Do you know what I mean?
What do you actually hope to be remembered for?
I don’t expect to be remembered for anything. Maybe when I was a teenager… I think that part of the reason you want to get famous initially is that it’s a way of becoming immortal or whatever; but that is just such a scary, fucked-up view of the world, you know? And I think what happened is that once that was achieved, I went into complete meltdown – it’s like, ‘OK, I’ve done it, so I may as well die now.’
But then you realise that actually, other than the work you’ve done and what it produces, everything else is of very little consequence. You can’t say that to people, because they don’t believe you – because we all participate in this system that believes that it is of consequence. So, you give up trying to persuade people otherwise and just sort of go, ‘Oh yeah, it’s nice, I get a table in restaurants and blah blah blah’ and everyone goes away happy.
Is there a point at which your achievements eclipse who you really are?
Firstly, I don’t think that any of us in the band quite understand what exactly is happening musically when things click – it always feels like someone’s given you a nudge and there it is, sort of thing. So, you can’t really take credit for that, because it’s like there’s a collective consciousness within the five of us when we’re working that does it.
All my heroes were people that didn’t care about getting all the glory or whatever – they just got on with their thing. Like Michael Stipe, because he enjoys it but he never smiles at all
Also, whatever it is that you are doing musically at any particular moment is the thing that is going to bore you next anyway, so if you start thinking about becoming part of that thing – the success or whatever it is – then the music you’re creating is worth nothing anyway, because you’re basing it on this noise, this myth that you’ve become – dust in the air – rather than anything that’s actually happening. Basically, it all comes down to the fact that it’s really easy to lose it – and the quickest way to lose it is to participate in the whole media thing.
How would you measure success then?
Success is jumping around the room when you’ve done maybe 15 bars you absolutely totally know for certain works and it’s what you’ve been looking for for six months and you’ve only just found it. That’s success; that’s why you carry on writing stuff. Everything else is like, ‘OK, well, whatever.’
And what is success in personal terms?
Oh, just staying sane. Really. Staying sane. I mean, I’m quite an absorbent person – I have quite a low shield, or force-field or whatever, so I can get very affected by things around me. I just absorb things and sometimes it will make me go to a weird space for a week. But that’s part of being creative, I think.
Do you feel accountable to anyone else, especially as your influence has grown?
I feel extremely accountable to the people that I’ve been influenced by, in the sense of making a point of saying that they have influenced me. I don’t know, it just feels like the right thing to do. If people have been really affected by something, I think they need to know the source you got it from, because otherwise you’re pretending that it came from nowhere when it didn’t, sort of thing.
Can you give an example?
The song ‘Street Spirit’ from The Bends was completely influenced by Ben Okri’s book The Famished Road, which I read on tour in America; and also by REM – it was just a straight rip-off, you know. I’ve ripped them off left, right and centre for years and years and years and years.
Did you have heroes when you were growing up?
All my heroes were people that didn’t really care how they looked, and didn’t care about getting all the glory or whatever – they just got on with their thing. Like [the novelist] Thomas Pynchon. And Michael Stipe [of REM] as well, because he enjoys it but he never smiles at all.
[Noam] Chomsky is a hero of mine, just because I can’t believe that anyone has a brain that size and can lift his head up.
Do you reflect on the fact that you may be a hero to other kids yourself?
There’s a good way to be a hero and a bad way to be a hero. There was a weird point during the OK Computer period when it was getting a bit psycho, a little extreme, and the sort of people who were following us around would project things onto us that we absolutely had no responsibility for at all, and it took me a long time to realise that actually this was nothing to do with me.
But we’re lucky now that the people who tend to be into us or in any way find us heroes are people who are prepared to go off and find out things for themselves. Hopefully. That’s what Chomsky always says at the end of his lectures: ‘Don’t take my word for it! Go and read it up yourself!’
Depressing music to me is just shit music. It’s like air freshener – just a nasty little poison in the air
We still get lots of letters from teenagers – kids as well, despite the fact that I’m 36 and getting on a bit – that say, ‘I don’t understand all the other kids in my school. I’m thinking all these things and when I talk to them they don’t know what I’m talking about. They just want to make sure that they’re in with the crowd.’ If I can help out people like that who don’t feel able to participate, that’s great, because I had the same problem – except possibly the pressure to fit in is worse now than it was even then. So, I’d feel really good if there was an element of heroics there, because when I was looking up to my idols at that age that’s what I took from them, you know? That it was OK to just walk the plank and do your own thing.
You once said, ‘My songs are my kids.’ Do you feel protective about them or do you just send them out into the world for people to make of them whatever they will?
To be honest, that’s quite a weird one to think about at the moment. One of the weirdest things for us with the last album, Hail to the Thief, was working really incredibly hard on the music – as usual, too hard – and then seeing the music business itself going into meltdown and so the value of what we do is basically diminished.
To me, it’s frightening. There’s nothing I can do about it (and it sounds really precious) but it’s kind of doing my head in at the moment, and it’s stopping me knowing where to go next. Music has always been a commodity but now it’s a commodity that’s almost free – you can download it for a quid and you can do it through McDonald’s, you can do it through Metro magazine or anything. I always felt that it was more valuable than that, and somehow at the moment it feels cheap. It’s just so disposable. It’s like, ‘I’ll download another 50 tracks and listen to them once and then throw them away,’ that sort of thing. I find it sort of depressing.
Does it bother you when people interpret a song in a way you didn’t intend?
You have to take a deep breath and just go, ‘H’mm, that’s interesting!’ and then forget about it. I think that has always been the hardest bit: having to finish a song and accept the fact that people probably won’t get it. Because it’s so obvious to me, to all of us, at the time and it’s such a headfuck when we are called ‘depressing’. They just don’t get it. Depressing music to me is just shit music. It’s like air freshener – just a nasty little poison in the air.
I remember being pinned down in a bar once by this guy who just went on and on and on and on about how ‘No Surprises’ was the most depressing piece of music he had ever heard in his life and why on earth would we choose to inflict that on people? But we don’t choose to inflict anything on anybody – and anyway I just don’t hear what he was hearing. And then you think, ‘Well, I’m not doing this to be loved anyway, so that’s OK.’
So, I’ve sort of learnt not to – well, I say that. It’s all bullshit, of course – I hope I’ve learnt not to think about it, but you do think about it. Because what we choose to be engaged in is trying to communicate with people.
But sometimes people may find things in a song that you didn’t intend which they really appreciate.
Probably the most sacred thing I have to do is sit and watch, or go off and… Just go off, basically. I guess I see it as something religious, really. It’s not simply about doing nothing, it’s about being able to get to the right head space
Yeah. It’s quite amazing when things take on extra meaning, but you have absolutely no idea when it’s going to happen or where it’s going to come from. ‘No Surprises’ was the most peculiar one on the last tour, because it had the line ‘Bring down the government. They don’t speak for us.’ When we were in the US, even though it is such a slow, passive song (and it was written in 1995, ’96), every night we’d get this stir in the audience and people would start screaming and shouting. Oh, it was really amazing.
And then a song like ‘Myxomatosis’ – when we did it in the studio, we kind of liked the sound of it but it really frustrated us, because we didn’t really understand where it was going; and then we played it live and the last three or four times we got this absolutely amazing reaction. It was like a train crash, you know? And sometimes these things happen.
The other interesting thing, I think, is that sometimes really powerful music can presage things that then happen. Like any art form, there’s that element of seeing into the future, no matter how dimly and naively. I’ve had it with artwork as well. Amnesiac came out in the summer of 2001 and almost every other image on the album is two towers collapsing. That freaked us out a bit.
You have said of some of your songs that it’s almost as if you received them.
A bit, yeah. I mean, all the good bits are received. All the bad bits I’ve had to hammer out with my own tools – fill in the gaps.
Given that, and that strange sense sometimes of presaging the future, do you ever feel as though there’s something not otherworldly but maybe sacred…?
Oh yeah! I was thinking about this last week, that I should count myself most lucky just to be able to stand back and look at what goes on around me – having the time just to zone out and absorb things and think about them. It’s an incredible privilege, because most people’s lives are full up from the moment they’re born to the moment they die, and I don’t have that. I spend a lot of my time watching that process without actually participating in it.
Which is a kind of shamanic thing to do. That’s always been the role of artists in a way, and it’s incredibly important that someone’s doing it. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) But you know what I mean? It’s not as easy as it sounds, either. For me, it’s quite difficult. In some ways, you are tempted to fill your life up with other noise instead. I see other people do it with all these incredibly important things they have to do all the time. It’s very easy to exist in this perpetual state of activity and then you’ll never be nudged in the direction you need to be nudged in if you’re trying to write. I do believe there are things pushing me in certain directions, but that only ever happens if I’m zoned out enough to let it happen.
Probably the most sacred thing I have to do is sit and watch, or go off and… Just go off, basically. I guess I see it as something religious, really. It’s not simply about doing nothing, it’s about being able to get to the right head space.
Can you put a name to the things that are nudging you? Do you have an explanation for it?
No, not really. It’s sometimes quite scary (I’m sure I sound like a bleeding nutter). What happens is that there are certain periods when things that are happening here and now will take on a meaning they don’t normally have and become incredibly significant. It’s not my only inspiration, but it’s one that’s usually very formative in terms of moving on.
The closest description I’ve ever heard of it is the bardo thing in Buddhism. (I haven’t read it for ages, so I’ll probably get this wrong.) The simplest way to describe it is that when you’re about to drop into your deepest sleep you slip into that subconscious region where you may wake up or you may go further into sleep; and that’s a very important time in Buddhism, not for spiritual enrichment but for an opening into the beyond, that being able to see the strands that hold things together.
The difference between me and Bono is that he’s quite happy to go and flatter people to get what he wants and he’s very good at it, but I just can’t do it. I’d probably end up punching them in the face
I don’t see it as clearly as that – I mean, I can’t meditate, I wish I could – but there are times when things take on such significance that I’ll write down what’s happened or I’ll try and write the music that went with it or whatever. And those are the things that, when I look back a few months later, are the things that are really powerful. All the endless-hard-work stuff will not be half as good.
I find that often the mere sound of a Radiohead song takes me to another place. Is that what you aim for?
In a way, music does it to me – but the weird thing is that when you’re recording there are times when you are taken to another place while you’re doing it and it doesn’t come across on tape. You’ll come out of doing a version of a song and go, ‘Wow, that was just amazing!’ and you listen back to it and the tape has sucked that energy off; and it blows your mind a little, do you know what I mean? But then there are other times when there’s no doubt it’s there.
The sound is usually half accident, half thought, really, and when you’re recording it all you can do is keep your fingers crossed that other people will get it. In fact, by the time you’ve finished a record you can’t hear the sound you’re talking about at all – you’re sort of immune to it. It’s kind of horrible, but you just have to accept it. But when you play it live you’re affected in the same way again.
You have said that the person up there playing live is not the same man as the one talking now, for example, or the one leading a Jubilee 2000 demo…
It’s not strictly true to say that it’s not me up on the stage. I mean, when it’s going well it’s not me.
Who is it, then?
Well, I’m participating in it in the same way everybody else is, you know. You just sort of lose – you’re not aware of every moment of it, really. Whereas when you do something like Jubilee 2000 you’re incredibly self-conscious all the time, because you just feel so out of your depth doing all these interviews about the relationship of the World Bank and the IMF to the Paris – who was it? I can’t remember now – you see, it’s gone already! – and trying to engage a Sky News reporter who hasn’t a clue what you’re talking about. It stresses me out.
Even doing the CND demo I did two weeks ago up in Fylingdales,1RAF Fylingdales is a long-range radar station in North Yorkshire. In 2003, the Government gave permission for the US to incorporate it into its controversial national missile defence system. that just stressed me out totally. You know, I’m cynically using my position to get that issue across, but at the same time if you choose to do that, you’re responsible, you know? You can’t just walk away going, ‘Ah, fuck it!’
When Bono addressed the Labour Party conference recently, he said, ‘I’m a rock star. There’s no point listening to me’ – and you have also been at pains to say that you don’t speak for your generation or anything. But people do appreciate the way you and he help to put the likes of Chomsky, Naomi Klein and George Monbiot on the agenda. If you weren’t doing it within popular culture, who would be?
Maybe. I don’t know. The difference between me and Bono is that he’s quite happy to go and flatter people to get what he wants and he’s very good at it, but I just can’t do it. I’d probably end up punching them in the face rather than shaking their hand, so it’s best that I stay out of their way. I can’t engage with that level of bullshit. Which is a shame, really, and in a way it would help if I could, but I just can’t. I admire the fact that Bono can, and can walk away from it smelling of roses.
One of the most formative things for me was at the G8 summit in Cologne [in 1999] for Drop the Debt, when this massive row broke out when Bono refused to do a photocall with Blair because the G8 hadn’t actually delivered what they had promised. Two million [British] signatures and all these different movements like Christian Aid and yet the most important thing to Blair was being photographed shaking hands with Bono. That’s where I get off. I’m sorry. If that’s what he wants, then fuck him! How dare he – or, at least, the people around him – see it in that way? It’s just so offensive.
As long as a religion doesn’t insist on converting other people, then that’s OK. But when people have this sort of glint in their eye, like ‘I’m going to tell you what it’s all about,’ sort of thing, I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no’
But also I think that in some ways there’s a big danger in involving people like me. This is not my thing, you know – whereas someone like Monbiot can get information across in a way you can understand. I think that’s what stresses me out when I get involved in things like that: I know I don’t know as much as he does and I’m always conscious of making it something titillating, some sort of lightweight thing, you know?
Jubilee 2000 was dreamt up by two Christians and it rode largely on a groundswell of church-going ‘cardigan-wearers’. Religion is so often viewed as part of the problem, but can you conceive that it could help to provide the solution?
But then, you see, [George W] Bush agrees to give millions of dollars to Africa to fight Aids and he does it by telling them to abstain. Just don’t have sex! We fundamentalist Christians believe you shouldn’t stick it in at all. You should wait. What the fuck? That sort of religious activity is more about assuming the moral high ground, and that’s where I get off, really. If you think you have the right to impose your moral code, I think everybody should find that deeply offensive.
But that’s a different matter from Jubilee 2000.
Well, it is and it isn’t. No, I agree, it is. It’s just that the USAid thing is for me personally such a big deal, because all US aid now is going through USAid and they have this Christian fundamentalist agenda and that is such bullshit. But, yeah, the whole Drop the Debt thing was a religious issue. I was quite surprised at how embedded it was – in every church in the country there were these little posters and so on.
To me, as long as a religion doesn’t insist on converting other people, as long as it approaches each issue from the point of view of compassion and tolerance rather than assuming that you’re automatically going to heaven and they’re going to hell, then that’s OK. But when people have this sort of glint in their eye, like ‘I’m going to tell you what it’s all about,’ sort of thing, I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’
Were you brought up with any specifically spiritual values?
I can remember being dragged to one of those high churches in Scotland when I was a kid, and I didn’t like that much. But no, not really.
You said in one interview that you were a shameless dabbler in Buddhism –
I was. I mean, I am – I just never get it together. I’ve totally just dipped my toes in and walked away, you know? Because there’s this whole lifestyle thing about it as well I find really odd. A lot of people try it on like a new coat and go, ‘Well, that’s nice!’ and walk around for a few weeks and then take it off again. And I don’t want to do that.
What else do you read for spiritual enlightenment or inspiration? Would you ever look in the Bible?
No, not really, no. To me, it has too much baggage.
There was this really good book I bought once in which the Dalai Lama had a debate with various British Christians and he said that he thought it was much, much harder for someone brought up in an essentially Christian environment to just suddenly up sticks and convert to Buddhism, because part of the religious aspect of your life is the fact that it is around you all the time, informing everything that goes on. But that’s not the case with me, and never has been. And I think it’s not the case for an awful lot of people.
I think that if we ourselves are broken or cracked, what happens outside will be cracked, you know?
What I find incredibly endearing about the Dalai Lama – not that it’s any sort of hero worship or anything – is that he always has this sense of humour about things. This sounds really daft, but I still cannot understand – I wish I could – why all the religious movements can’t sit down together and say, ‘OK, now this is what we have got in common: this, this, this and this. OK, there are some things we disagree on, but your figurehead and your figurehead and your figurehead are basically the same person, just at different points in human evolution. So, why don’t we agree that it’s the same person and we’ve got more in common than we have not in common? And now let’s stop fighting!’
To me, one of the craziest things about how incredibly globalised we are now is that, just at the point when we could be saying these things, we’re doing the exact opposite – or rather we’re not but that’s exactly what our politicians are doing, because the easiest way to gain power is to press the buttons of fear and hatred and ignorance about other cultures. Which is exactly what’s going on.
Do you have a moral compass?
I have this mad thing about – it’s not really a Buddhist thing, but I think that if we ourselves are broken or cracked, then what happens outside will be cracked, you know? And if we’re able to straighten ourselves out, then the things that happen around us will straighten out to some extent as well.
And that’s about as far as it gets.
A lot of your lyrics refer to brokenness. Do you sense that there is any hope of redemption?
I don’t think about redemption. I focus on the most imminent ecological things. You know, there are so many scenarios on the horizon at the moment that will result in mass suffering, and that to me is what everybody should be thinking about. That’s what I spend most of my time thinking about. It wouldn’t take that much for people to turn their heads and see that we have just been looking the wrong way, that our priorities are wrong.
For the most part in the West we worship a certain type of economics, which is like worshipping a false god. It’s like the Incas sacrificing children to try to get immortal life: politicians are willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of the people in their country in order to fit into this economic straitjacket which doesn’t actually benefit anyone.
It’s a theory about economics which will collapse, and the sooner people realise that, the quicker they will be able to understand how we should be engaging with the world around us. Hopefully they will realise it before it collapses. To me, it’s like spinning plates: I’m not sure how long we can keep this trick going. Do you know what I mean?
You once said that the most important thing about music is the sense of escape it gives us. Our shallow popular culture seems to be all about escapism, but is that what we really need?
A good piece of music is like knocking a hole in the wall so that you can see out on another place you didn’t know existed. Every good piece of music – or art or writing – stops you feeling trapped. Maybe that is what religion is as well
‘Escapism’ isn’t really the right word. I think that all the best music – Well, for example, just off the top of my head, one of my absolute favourite pieces of music ever is ‘Freeman Hardy and Willis Acid’. It’s an Aphex Twin/Squarepusher instrumental that has this frantic hi-hat thing going all the way through it and then at some point everything switches tonally and it all goes out of phase and seems to disappear down the speaker cones for a while. And the first time I heard it, it was like someone had just reached over and switched a switch in my head and I never, ever saw anything the same again. I was completely straight – I was just driving along the road, driving home, whatever – and I had to stop the car.
And that’s what we should be aiming at. A good piece of music – like Arvo Pärt – is like knocking a hole in the wall so that you can see out on another place you didn’t know existed. If your consciousness is not constantly evolving somehow or other and you just keep going round the same room again and again, then you’re sort of trapped – and every good piece of music – or art or writing – stops you feeling trapped. Maybe that is what religion is as well, I don’t really know. But it’s not really escapism, that’s the point.
There’s certainly a feeling of liberation in your music.
That’s what this bardo thing is as well, actually. It’s that sudden sense of relief, that ‘Ah, phew! There is something else.’
There is also a lot of darkness in your music. Would you call yourself an optimist or a pessimist?
If I was a pessimist, I’d have killed myself by now. I don’t believe anything I do is pessimistic. But anyway I think that when you have children you switch and you become responsible for what’s going on and what future they will have. There’s no way around that. You can’t abdicate and go, ‘Yeah, sorry about that, Noah. Couldn’t do anything about that. Did try, but…’ You can’t do it.
Although you do…
Why did you name your son after the man who built the Ark? Was that just a coincidence?
I don’t know quite how it happened, it’s just one of those things… I was just into the name. I don’t really quite understand how that happened.
Do you believe that we have a soul? It seems to me that when music is working at the deepest level it is connecting with something beyond our minds.
Last time we went out on tour we chose to do really big shows for the first time for ages and part of that was for us all to get over our fear of doing big shows and the other part of it was that I was interested in whether there really is this sort of collective feeling in a massive crowd of people. And there is. Sometimes you finish a song and there’s this sort of shocked silence, because everyone is crawling back from wherever they were.
I think that one of the most powerful things that people can experience is being in a group of people and feeling things collectively like that, in one go. When someone in the crowd can look around and see the same look in lots of people’s eyes, like – not Billy Graham Land but that sort of ‘Oh right! Well, OK!’ It’s incredibly powerful. I used to see it on protests and stuff – where everyone is there for this one reason and there’s this sort of…
It must be an amazing privilege to be responsible for generating that sort of shared experience.
There’s a voice in my head that says, ‘Why me? Why should I get this? Have I walked through the wrong door? What happened?’ You have to be cool
Yeah, only the trouble with it is that, like taking a hallucinogenic drug or whatever, you can become addicted to it or can start to believe in it for its own sake and you get sucked into that – and that’s not good for your mind. That’s why I can only do it in bits. It is an incredible privilege but at the same time there’s a voice in my head that says, ‘Why me? Why should I get this? Have I walked through the wrong door? What happened?’ You have to be cool.
It is extraordinary to think that Radiohead started out as a group of school friends. Do you ever wonder whether some kind of fate brought you all together?
Some people in the band think that.
I do think about it, but I basically think that, well, when it works, which is not all the time, a lot of it is what you might call ‘luck’ or you might call something else, I don’t know really. It’s all sort of tied up with getting stuck into thinking, ‘I am That Person’ – which, you know, I’m not. It’s what I live and breathe, but if that was all there was I’d go nuts.
I mean, I had a time after OK Computer when we were doing these big gigs and people were constantly saying, ‘Isn’t this great?’ and talking to you in a certain way blah blah blah blah and I would be standing on stage doing these big shows and all I wanted to do was just walk off, say goodbye to everybody and never see them again. I had no idea why I was like that – and, you know, what a selfish thing to do! But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t work out what it was for ages, but I think it was that I’d started to believe in it as something that it was not.
I don’t really think about it that much any more. I think it’s the responsibility of everyone at the show for the show to be good. If the audience have come with a bad attitude, then it’s going to be a shitty gig. It’s a participatory thing: everybody has their role to play – you know, the crew and everybody. Which is why you must not take glory from it. I mean, you can do it for half an hour after the gig – Yessss! Or if it’s a bad show, you do the opposite – you let off steam and then you have to forget about it.
I got punched in the back in a U2 gig once because I was right at the front and this guy behind me wanted my space – and there I was, expecting everyone there to be in tune with the whole vibe…
Well, it does happen. You can be on tour for weeks and every show is, like, it’s just not there. And then suddenly you’ll have an amazing show and it’s come out of nowhere and you’ve no idea why. It’s so not a precise thing.
Actually, recording is the same, in the sense that you can go in for three or four days in a row and absolutely nothing’s happening at all and you just want to give up and then something will happen and you’ve no idea how it happened or where it came from or anything. That’s why you can’t really take glory from it, because you’re like, well, you’re just chipping away all the time, hoping that something is forming and you’ve got no idea.
This edit was originally published in the December 2004 issue of Third Way.
[ + ]
|1.||⇑||RAF Fylingdales is a long-range radar station in North Yorkshire. In 2003, the Government gave permission for the US to incorporate it into its controversial national missile defence system.|
Thom Yorke was born in 1968 and educated at Abingdon School. He studied English and fine art at Exeter University, graduating in 1991.
In 1982, he had formed a band which eventually included four other boys from his school: Colin and Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway. Their first public performance was at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford in 1987. Initially called On a Friday, they were signed by Parlophone in 1991 and changed their name to Radiohead.
In 1992, they released the four-track EP Drill and the single ‘Creep’, which after a false start became a modest hit in the United States and reached number seven in the British chart – and established itself worldwide as something of a cult classic.
In the next year, their first album, Pablo Honey, came out, eventually selling a million copies in the US, where the band duly toured. The eight-track EP My Iron Lung followed, and gigs in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand and Mexico.
Their second album, The Bends (1995), spawned five hit singles, including ‘Street Spirit’ (which reached number five in the British chart), and sold 300,000 copies in Britain alone. It has since topped many polls for the best album ever. Radiohead were nominated for the Brit award for best band of the year and supported first REM and then Alanis Morissette in shows across the US.
Their third album, OK Computer (1997), shot to the top of the British chart, spun off three Top 10 singles and was quickly hailed as the best album of the year, the decade and all time. It won the Grammy for the best ‘alternative music’ performance and was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize.
The band embarked on a major world tour entitled ‘Against Demons’, which included a headline set at the Glastonbury Festival (recently named ‘the best gig ever’ by readers of Q) and their first of three consecutive performances at the annual Tibetan Freedom Concert. In 1998, they played for Amnesty International in Paris.
Two years later, Radiohead’s fourth album, Kid A, entered both the British and the US charts at number one and won another Grammy. Amnesiac followed in 2001, going straight to number one in Britain and number two in the US, and then I Might Be Wrong, a live ‘mini-album’ recorded during a sold-out world tour.
In 2003, the single ‘There There’ reached number four in the British chart and Hail to the Thief won the NME award for the year’s best album. The band played at a dozen festivals throughout Europe, including their second headline appearance at Glastonbury.
Among many other accolades, Radiohead have been voted ‘the best act in the world today’ by readers of Q in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and this year the same magazine named OK Computer the second most important rock album of the last 25 years.
Thom Yorke’s first child was born in 2001.
Up-to-date as at 1 November 2004