Speaking as both a journalist and a fanboy, if I spent two days hanging out with Radiohead, I’d wring every bit of possible content out of it. It’s not like they’re doing a lot of interviews these days, so you might as well milk it for all it’s worth. Thus, I understand why Rolling Stone, having published an entertaining cover story on Radiohead’s OK Computer reissue, as well as outtakes from that story and Thom Yorke’s defense of Radiohead’s upcoming gig in Tel Aviv, have now funneled those conversations into a lengthy OK Computer oral history. More power to them, I say!
Technically the oral history covers way more than just the OK Computer era. It begins with the band’s genesis as On A Friday in the mid-’80s and continues through their their first two albums before really zeroing in on the making of OKC. Below, find some of the highlights, but please do read the whole thing.
Regarding those obscure early years, Jonny Greenwood remembers, “We didn’t play in concerts. It’s weird looking back. I guess we were just very into kind of hearing ourselves and hearing each other.” Ed O’Brien expands on the thought:
They never felt like lean years. It was exploring. And musically we were exploring. We started off at the time of the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, that era. By the end of that period, or the middle of that period, there was the Pixies, Happy Mondays and Stone Roses and all these things. We dipped our toe, not very effectively, in each. But in doing so we came out with a sound. We came up with our thing. And that’s how we got signed.
Lest you forget the performative ethics of the early ’90s, Radiohead caught a lot of flack for signing with EMI rather than an indie label, Yorke remembers:
We got destroyed for signing to a major label. Everyone was like, “Why did you sign with EMI?” And we were like, “Well, because they had the Beatles, Queen and Pink Floyd. And they were the ones that believed in us.”
Yorke, who has always been sheepish or even hostile about the success of early single “Creep,” also seems to appreciate the song’s impact on his career now:
Having a big hit was a bit of a mind-fuck on one level, but it was extremely useful on another level. It was like a pass that allowed us to do whatever the fuck we wanted for a few years.
O’Brein expressed a similar sentiment:
If you’re at a big company like EMI, it’s very easy to get sort of forgotten about. And the good thing about “Creep” was, just on a purely business side, it meant that we weren’t in debt to the company. We broke even on that first record. So it meant, artistically, that when we made The Bends, we didn’t have the record company breathing down our neck. They basically let us get on with it.
Here’s Alanis Morisette explaining why she chose Radiohead to open for her on tour at the height of her popularity:
I was on tour in Europe and my bandmates and I were traveling overnight at three in the morning after a show to Italy, and we all decided to just sit and listen to The Bends from beginning to end and my mind was blown. Before that I just knew “Creep” and “Fake Plastic Trees,” which I’d covered on tour. It’s just such a flawless piece of music in my mind.
Colin Greenwood’s recollection of that tour is particularly humorous:
I remember we played Jones Beach [in Long Island]. We all wore black and sort of scowled onto the stage, and played our heavy tunes. And, like, mums were there. Preteen girls starting to cry.
O’Brien on why they recorded OK Computer in a remote farmhouse and Jane Seymour’s mansion:
The big thing is we didn’t want to go into conventional recording studios. We felt that there was this whole move to make the space our own.
There is also this whole exchange about the mansion’s alleged haunting:
Thom Yorke: I don’t remember sleeping a lot. I remember it was very haunted.
Jane Seymour: People had claimed they had seen what they thought was my [dead] mother in a big blue dress walking through walls to go into the bathroom. Clearly, that was obviously odd. We had séances. We got people who specialize in that kind of thing to wander around the house. Everyone who ever wanted to find a ghost had been at that house and nobody found anything.
Nigel Godrich: It was very Scooby-Doo.
Stanley Donwood: All the old houses in England are haunted. I think it’s the law.
Thom Yorke: The ghosts would talk to me while I was asleep. You couldn’t discern the conversations because there was more than one at the same time. I got really spooked while recording the vocals for “Exit Music.” It felt like someone was standing next to me.
Before I excerpt the whole damn article, you might as well click over and read it in full.