Radiohead recently released “Harry Patch (In Memory Of),” but don’t hold your breath for a new full-length. In an interview that appears in the current (July/August 2009) issue of The Believer, Thom Yorke tells the magazine “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off.” He tells interviewer Ross Simonini a lot more, too. (Full disclosure: I’m a Contributing Editor at said magazine and have an interview with Phil Elverum in the same issue.) Part of the Q&A’s on-line, and I transcribed some of it. All of it’s worth a look. They begin by discussing sustainable options for touring, then Yorke gets into his dislike of CDs. As he puts it, “I always hated CDs … I’m happy to see the CD format disappear.” This leads into his thoughts on the digital realm — a place where it’s not necessary to include album art — and Radiohead’s possible movement beyond “physical” releases.
THE BELIEVER:…This isn’t the end of Radiohead album art as we know it?
TY: No, we’ve actually got a good plan, but I can’t tell you what it is, because someone will rip it off. But we’ve got this great idea for putting things out.
THE BELIEVER: In a digital realm?
TY: In a physical realm and a digital realm. But, yeah.. no, I can’t tell you what it is. [Laughs] Sorry to be so vague about everything.
THE BELIEVER: Do you think [the In Rainbows pay-what-you-want method] worked?
TY: Oh, yeah. It worked on two or three different levels. The first level is just sort of getting a point across that we wanted to get across about music being valuable. It also worked as a way of using the Internet to promote your record, without having to use iTunes or Google or whatever. You rely on the fact that you know a lot of people want to hear it. You don’t want to have to go to the radio first and go through all that bullshit about what’s the first single. You don’t want to have to go to the press. That was my thing, like, I am not giving it to the press two months early so they can tear it to shreds and destroy it for people before they’ve even heard it. And it worked on that level. And it also worked financially.
BELIEVER: Do you think this method would work for other bands who aren’t as known as Radiohead?
TY: With the press, we’re in a lucky position where we don’t really have to rely on a reviewer’s opinion, so why would we let that get in the way? If people want to play it for themselves, why don’t we just give it to them to listen to? I just don’t want to have to read about it first.
BELIEVER: And that style of release definitely promotes the album as a work of art, rather than a bunch of singles floating around the Internet.
TY: Oh, that’s interesting. I appreciate that. Unfortunately, a lot of people got the album in the wrong order.
BELIEVER: What about the idea of an album as a musical form? You think that the format is still worthwhile amid iPod shuffling?
TY: I’m not very interested in the album at the moment.
BELIEVER: I’ve heard you talk a lot about singles and EPs. Is that what you’ve been moving toward?
TY: I’ve got this running joke: Mr. Tanaka runs this magazine in Japan. He always says to me, “EPs next time?” And I say yes and go off on one, and he says, “Bullshit.” [Laughs] But I think really, this time, it could work. It’s part of the physical-release plan I was talking about earlier. None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us … Jonny [Greenwood] and I have talked about sitting down and writing songs for orchestra and orchestrating it fully and just doing it like that and then doing a live take of it and that’s it — finished. We’ve always wanted to do it, but we’ve never done it because, I think the reason is, we’re always taking songs that haven’t been written for that, and then trying to adapt them. That’s one possible EP because, with things like that, you think do you want to do a whole record like that? Or do you just want to get stuck into it for a bit and see how it feels?
THE BELIEVER: In some ways, the way Internet singles work is close to the way things used to be with the music industry in the ’50s, before full-lengths were the thing, and radio singles were what defined artists.
THOM YORKE: Right, and if you forget about the money issue for just a minute, if it’s possible to do that — because these are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about — and you look at it in terms of the most amazing broadcasting network ever built, then it’s completely different. In some ways, that’s the best way of looking at it. I mean, I don’t spend my fucking life downloading free MP3s, because I hate the websites. No one seems to know what they’re talking about. I’d much rather go to sites like Boomkat, where people know what they’re talking about.
BLVR: Boomkat is great.
TY: It’s brilliant. To me, that’s a business model. It’s like when I used to go to music shops in Oxford. You’re looking at this and you’re looking at that and there’s a whole line of other things going down the side saying, “You’ll probably like this,” and “You might like this.”
BLVR: I love those stores where everything’s hand-selected and the clerks write little descriptions about the music.
TY: Yeah, and you can listen to it all. I mean, Boomkat is very specific with the type of stuff they flog there, but I can’t see why that wouldn’t work for all music.
At one point, Yorke says “In Rainbows was a particular aesthetic and I can’t bear the idea of doing that again,” so Simonini asks:
BELIEVER: So what’s the next sound?
TY: As a band we haven’t gotten together much. I’ve just been working on stuff.
TY: Well, yeah, ’cause my inability to play drums dictates certain electronic drums. Computers are pretty nice at tidying you up. It’s great. Actually, it’s not that great… but I’ve been working, keeping myself going. It’s like a limb. I need to keep exercising it. Otherwise ti goes dead, floppy.
Like this? Find out more (like how to get a physical copy of the magazine) at The Believer. This issue also includes a great traveling diary by Michelle Tea kept during her time with the Gossip in Paris during Fashion Week.