01 January 2008

Centre Of The Spotlight

Written by Published in Music Interviews

Few bands have achieved what Radiohead have achieved since the days when New Wave momentarily turned the pop charts into a playground of the avant-garde. They have consistently created innovative, even ‘difficult’ music far beyond the confines of easy listening, yet they are one of the most commercially successful groups of the past decade.



Even by their own standards, however, their latest album, the seventh, created an unusually intense degree of anticipation. Four and a half years had elapsed since their previous album, Hail to the Thief. Much had happened in the meantime. Thanks to The Libertines, Britain had rediscovered the concise pleasures of the two-minute song. The internet had become the most important medium for the dissemination of music. A catastrophic lack of vision had pushed the major record labels to the edge of ruin. Various Radioheads, meanwhile, had popped up at occasional demonstrations in support of such causes as fair trade and ecology, while drummer Phil Selway discreetly manned a telephone at the offices of the Samaritans. During 2006, the band introduced a few new songs during a number of festival performances. Then, all of a sudden, early in September, guitarist Jonny Greenwood posted a message on the band’s website announcing the completion of a new album, In Rainbows.


This was followed shortly after by the news that the whole album could be downloaded, again from the band’s own website, almost three months before its anticipated release on CD. Not only that, the price for the download would be as much as the downloader wanted to pay. This was intriguing news indeed – news that brought the band a priceless amount of publicity. In one fell swoop, they had reclaimed the centre of the spotlight.


Sublime met singer Thom Yorke, and – separately – the guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, as well as bassist Colin Greenwood – a few weeks after the release of In Rainbows to discuss the fallout from this adventurous move.


Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Colin Greenwood


SUBLIME: You wrote most of the songs for In Rainbows during 2006. Were you just lazing about during 2007?

Ed: (horrified) Not at all! We did a bunch of recordings with [producer] Nigel Godrich in the autumn last year. At Christmaseverybody went away and reviewed it, and we all concluded it wasn’t very good, that it needed a lot of work. So we started again in January and finished recording in July. It was hard work.

The band wasn’t contracted to any record company during this time. What was it like recording without the sponsors peering over your shoulder?

Ed: It was no different, because they haven’t been involved like that since OK Computer. That album gave us a lot of freedom. They never came down to the studio afterwards to say whether they liked it or not. We presented them the finished work, and that was it.


S: You never had an issue about quality control? Isn’t there a danger that you find everything you do fantastic?

Ed: Our management are very good sounding boards. They carry out kind of what you’d call an old-fashioned A&R role. (To Jonny, grinning) Although you might disagree.

Jonny: (mock-sourish tone) Sometimes they are good. Well – we all have moments of talking rubbish in front of each other.

: How have the various outside projects affected work with Radiohead? (Thom Yorke last year released a successful solo album; Jonny Greenwood compiled a reggae album and worked with THE London Sinfonietta)

Jonny: The only influence from Thom’s was – actually I don’t think there was one. He always goes everywhere with a laptop and headphones anyway, he has done for years, so I think he was just relieved to finally release a batch of that music. They were never going to be Radiohead songs. It just made him more proficient on laptops.


S: So there wasn’t a bunch of ideas he constantly tried and failed to foist on you?

Jonny: He’s been foisting ideas on us since the 80s! That’s what he does. That’s nothing new.


S: Were you surprised at the huge fuss that was made at the way you sold the album over the internet?

Jonny: We assumed everyone would be interested and excited, but we were surprised by the extent of it, how quickly it built up. That was a surprise. A few days before the event we were saying, We don’t actually know that, do we? There could be no interest at all, or we could be too late.

Colin: It was a step in the dark, wasn’t it? We didn’t have a clue. It was so exciting.


S: Some figures have been published by the trade magazines, according to which between 40% and 60% of downloaders paid nothing

Ed: We have no figures at all yet.


S: There were hitches and whinges, too. Some people complained that by playing on the fans’ conscience you’d made them pay for the download when they would later on pay again for the proper CD Ed: When we made our initial announcement through our press people there was always a footnote at the bottom pointing out that a physical release would be available. Some media didn’t report that bit. My big problem with the way we released it is that the website is only in English. But, you know, we’re just doing it ourselves. We haven’t got a big record company behind us. And we wanted to do it quickly. So thereare flaws. But we really have done it with the best intentions.

Colin: The flaws are virtuous, aren’t they? That’s the thing. They’re virtuous because we’ve done it ourselves. It was like a performance. It was like doing a show, that’s what was so exciting about it. After spending two years closeted away making a record, it was like opening the door to the studio and there’s like a million people whom you’re going to give it to. That’s what’s cool about it. It’s not mediated by music magazines. It’s not mediated by the record shops. It’s not mediated by the radio stations. It’s just us and a piece of wire in the computer and the internet.


S: You also made it very difficult to resist ordering the box set instead of sticking to the free download. It happened to me. You read what’s in the box – an extra CD with new songs, the album in vinyl, a book with pictures and the lyrics – and you think, ‘hang on, it’d be stupid not to go for the box!’

Ed: But presumably you like what we’ve done in the past.


S: Very much so

Ed: Most people aren’t gonna do what you did. But I agree with you. If I’m a real fan of a band – say if Kings of Leon had released this – I’d have been like, ‘I’ve got to get this, I want it all!’ I think that’s great. It allows people who have a passion for a band, a real passion, to dig deeper – trawling over the artwork, looking at the credits – all that stuff.

Colin: Because you know it’s something we’ve made as a band. It’s all been put together by us. It’s not the record company. It’s most definitely not a marketing exercise.

Ed: So much CARE, you know, went into this! So much – for want of a better word – LOVE.

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