Thom Yorke Discusses Dystopian New Solo Album, Release Of “Really Cool” Kid A Ephemera

Lately, Thom Yorke has been putting himself out there, working in new and unfamiliar genres — classical pieces, a film score. And in his solo shows, he’s also been changing things up, working with electronic music and leaving himself alone at the middle of the stage, without instruments, to dance. Yorke has lately been working on a new solo album that’s likely to be in that vein. And he talked a bit about that in a new Crack cover-story feature.

Without really saying anything specific about his new solo album, Yorke discusses his recent explorations, which he says were inspired by Flying Lotus:

We watched Flying Lotus in the early years on tour with us, and we watched him with his live set-up performing all his loops and thought, “Well, that’s interesting,” because it’s a live performance, he’s improvising. We suddenly realised this is a new way to write stuff. I would send [Nigel Godrich] completely unfinished, sprawling tracks and he would focus in on the bits and pieces that he thought would work, build them up into samples and loops, and then throw them back at me, where I would start writing vocals…

At the beginning, it was terrifying. I was hiding behind the decks, pretending to sort of DJ, but it’s not like that because I’m also singing and occasionally playing guitar. There was a bit of a eureka moment at one show we did in Paris where there was a stage in front [of me] and I thought, “Oh, fuck this,” and I just ended up using the stage [to dance].

When you don’t have a band playing you come at it from a different point of view. You start off basically feeling really exposed. Then you have to find a new way to just be there. The worst thing onstage is to feel self-conscious. That’s where it all got a bit weird because suddenly it was like, “Hang on, this is a bit more like theatre…”

Yorke also talked about the feeling of his new album, which he says is based in a dystopian feeling of anxiety:

There is. Have you ever flown to Tokyo? That jet lag is the definition of an existential crisis, every time. There was one night where I’d go to sleep, two hours later I’m absolutely wide awake and I just had these images… humans and rats changed places. A dream. And as I came out, I woke up with this really strong set of images of girls in tottering heels, but they’re actually rats and the human beings are in the drains. I had another one, these weird images of the city of London and all the skyscrapers are just shuffling along.

The dystopian thing is one part of it, yes, but for me, one of the big, prevailing things was a sense of anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety it manifests itself in unpredictable ways, some people have over-emotional reactions. [For] some people the roots of reality can just get pulled out, you don’t know what’s happening. Then eventually, reality comes back. For some reason, I thought a really good way of expressing anxiety creatively was in a dystopian environment. I had so many visual things going on at this point. Another one was where everybody was traveling to work but their bodies were telling them that they wouldn’t do it anymore. They were refusing to cooperate, so they were doing these involuntary movements.

He also talked about the idea of political engagement, something he has trouble taking on directly in his music (even though Radiohead made Hail To The Thief and all):

I don’t see [British politics] as subject matter because you can’t write about it directly. What you can do is pick up on the sense of anger and fear and half-truths. Maybe it’s dissipated now our glorious leader has stopped threatening us with crashing out [of the European Union]. But that build up, a purely manufactured build up, we’ll look back on that in 10 years — if we survive for that long — going, “What the fuck!” I mean, how on earth did we let these people manipulate us to the point where it was genuinely inducing a sense of anxiety and panic, eating at the fabric of society. For what? To appease a bunch of lunatics who will never be appeased. About 200 people plus their fascist friends? Crazy. You couldn’t even imagine when I grew up, even in the midst of the darkest years of Thatcher when she was having a war with the miners, that we’d induce the entire country into a state of blind panic. And then wake up one day and say, “Oh yeah, we didn’t mean that. Sorry.”

We’ll look back in 10 years and see how our current Prime Minister, more than any other PM ever, spent her entire time trying to circumvent the sovereignty of Parliament. I wrote one thing directly to Theresa May on Twitter one day, ’cause I couldn’t accept the fact that one human being believes she has the right to drive us off a cliff like that.

Yorke says that Radiohead don’t have any immediate plans, though he misses playing live with them and thinks that their last shows left them in “a good place.” He also reflects a bit on the band’s Kid A/Amnesiac era and says that there’s some leftover material from that time that might find its way into the world:

Recently, I’ve been going through the Kid A and Amnesiac stuff with the others. We were all a bit mad by the end of that period. We went through the whole crazy OK Computer period and I became catatonic at the end of it. Then we worked really hard for a year and a half with really not that many breaks and it was really intense. We didn’t know what the fuck we were doing, and I was refusing to rehearse anything! Imagine, if you will, the chaos.

I recently found this box file of all the faxes I was sending and receiving from Stanley [Donwood, visual artist] about the artwork, and they’re hilarious. I’ve got all this stuff, pages and pages and photocopies, that I just left strewn around the studios. Nigel picked them up and thought, “We’d better keep these.” I was so focused and at the same time angry, confused, paranoid. I’m looking at all these people involved, going “Who the fuck are these people?!” We’re going to do something really cool with all that material.

You can read the whole feature here.