Radiohead and Edward Norton both became huge stars in the late ’90s, and they became pals along the way. Back in 2016, the band and actor held a contest in support of Conservation International offering one lucky fan (a Cartoon Network animator named Julia, as it turned out) a chance to meet them both backstage at Madison Square Garden during Radiohead’s tour in support of A Moon Shaped Pool. And now Norton and Thom Yorke are collaborating again in the context of their respective trades.
As Rolling Stone reports, Yorke is contributing a new song called “Daily Battles” to Norton’s upcoming movie Motherless Brooklyn. It’s the second movie Norton has directed following 2000’s Keeping The Faith. Norton also wrote and is starring in the movie, adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s novel about a 1950s New York detective with Tourette’s syndrome.
“Daily Battles” reportedly began as a Yorke piano ballad. As Norton told Rolling Stone, “He sent me this track of him on a piano singing it and I was sitting on the edge of my bed in the dark, crying from listening to this song.” As heard in the film, it’s been transformed into a ’50s jazz instrumental arranged and performed by Wynton Marsalis — the idea was to render it as something Norton’s character could encounter Miles Davis performing at a jazz club in 1957. In turn, Yorke’s official recording features horn arrangement by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Yorke’s one-time bandmate in Atoms For Peace. (They’re pictured above performing together at the 2015 climate change benefit Pathway To Paris.)
Norton elaborates, “People don’t really know this, but Flea went back to USC and got his masters on music theory on trumpet, and his dad was a jazz musician and he is a deep aficionado of jazz. So Flea came in and played the most beautiful, simple lines that add that dimension. And then Thom took some of them and reversed them and put them through compressors so that it’s playing backward and forward at the same time. It’s really beautiful.” Both the Yorke and Marsalis versions of “Daily Battles” will premiere at Rolling Stone in the coming weeks before being released together as a split 7″.
The interview includes some details on how Norton and Radiohead struck up their friendship. Apparently he was among R.E.M.’s guests at Radiohead’s famously celeb-packed 1997 concert at Irving Plaza in New York. Michael Stipe introduced Norton to Yorke, and they’ve been buddies ever since. Despite the two-decade friendship, Norton wasn’t certain Yorke would agree to contribute a song to his movie: “I wanted Thom to write an old-world melancholy ballad, and I wanted his voice to be the properties for [Norton’s character] Lionel’s voice … But I sort of said to myself, ‘Yeah, you and everybody else in the world.'”