A 1996 Radiohead Interview – The Bends, Britpop And OK Computer

The year before the release of _OK Computer_ Radiohead were standing on the verge of becoming the biggest alternative rock band in the world. Clare Kleinedler, spoke to them for US magazine _Addicted To Noise_

Britpop. IT’S ALL over the place – all of a sudden. There’s Oasis, the Beatles’ rip-offs trying to emulate the Rolling Stones’ drug-taking, groupie-filled past. Then there’s Blur, the self-described "middle-class" darlings of the UK music scene who just can’t seem to make a dent in America. Don’t forget Elastica, Pulp, Supergrass and Echobelly. But whatever you do, please, please do not include Radiohead in the list of "Britpop" bands.

The only thing Radiohead have in common with the abovementioned bands is that, yes, they are from England. What makes them different from their fellow UK musician brothers and sisters is that Radiohead do not limit themselves to playing recycled ’60s music, and they do not engage in public spats with other bands nor do they spend their free time bragging about how "fookin’ great" they are. They don’t have to talk the talk. Radiohead’s songs and live performances speak loud enough for themselves.

Radiohead’s current album, The Bends, alone made 1995 a year of great music. Every single song on the record is amazing; from the breathtakingly beautiful melody ‘Street Spirit’ to the ear-piercing, guitar-wailing ‘Just’. And after over 50 weeks on the charts, people are finally beginning to take notice. The album is currently bobbing in and out of the top ten in Britain, and is enjoying its first break into the top 100 here in the States. MTV can’t get enough of the band’s video for the single ‘High and Dry’, and virtually every other music critic in the U.S. and the UK voted the album as one of their top ten for last year.

Not too shabby for a band that used to play to a crowd of about, um, two people at parties 10 years ago when they first started out. Having met at an all-boys private school in Abington, England, singer/guitarist Thom Yorke, guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood and drummer Phil Selway formed the band out of sheer boredom. The group put the band on hold to attend college (except for youngest-member Jonny, who stayed behind at school) but rehearsed during breaks and holidays. By the summer of 1991, the lads re-grouped and decided to take this whole music thing seriously.

They called themselves On A Friday and started gigging around their home town of Oxford. Though in retrospect, Yorke says "We were pretty crap," their appearance at Oxford’s Jericho Tavern in October of 1991 attracted about 25-30 A&R guys and inspired a journalist from a local ‘zine to write: "And successful On A Friday will be. No ifs and buts with this lot. This time next year they will have outgrown all the venues they talk about and for once I think I may just have got it right."

The journalist was right. The band changed their name from On A Friday, a name that proved confusing on fliers if they played a gig, for example, on a Thursday, to Radiohead and scored themselves a record deal with Parlophone. The band recorded their debut album Pablo Honey in three weeks, and released it to minimum hype and enthusiasm. In 1993, the band’s single ‘Creep’ was re-released, and the rest is history.

‘Creep’ was probably the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Radiohead. While the single propelled Pablo Honey into gold album status in the states, the song became somewhat of an anthem for the band, especially singer Yorke. Much to the band’s dismay, Radiohead became "that ‘Creep’ band" and Yorke became the weirdo of all weirdoes, the misunderstood, reluctant poster boy for a generation that identified with the agonizing lyrics "I wish I was special/you’re so fucking special/but I’m a creep!" MTV picked up a heavy rotation of the video, and even invited the band to play to a crowd of bikini babes and frat boys at the channel’s Beach House. Seeing the video of that performance proves how undiscriminating the whole ‘Creep’ obsession was; frat boys banging their heads to Radiohead? Creepy.

Although many bands dream of having a hit single early on, the men of Radiohead loathed the idea. The band was immediately pressured to come out with another ‘Creep’, and the recording of their follow-up album became a nightmare. Yorke and Co. "crawled" around the studio with producer John Leckie (Stone Roses, Ride) for three months, driving Leckie and each other crazy. According to the group, it was a major lowpoint for the band; a time that saw each member go through bouts of self-doubt and depression. Finally, Leckie ordered everyone to go home, with the exception of Yorke, and made him go to work. The band went back out on the road for a bit, came back, and in two-weeks time, The Bends was finished.

Since the release of the album in March of 1995, Radiohead has been a non-stop touring machine. The band has done several headlining club tours around the globe and supported R.E.M. last year in America, giving them the opportunity to play arena-size venues. While touring is very much a part of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle, off time is spent in a very un-rock ‘n roll manner. The members of Radiohead prefer books over parties, and each keeps a fairly low profile in the public, choosing to stay in Oxford rather than join the Britpop masses in London or Manchester. Often referred to as "the most polite band in music," the guys are pleasant, with the exception of an occasional stress-induced outburst from Yorke.

I’ve personally experienced both aspects of the band. The first interview I did was a phoner with bassist Colin Greenwood. As fate would have it, during the interview my computer crashed as did my tape-recorder. Of course, I didn’t realize until after I’d hung up with Greenwood that my tape was blank. In fear of losing my job, I frantically called Greenwood back, explaining through tears what had happened. "No problem," he replied calmly. "Call me back in two hours and we’ll do it on my lunch break." A gesture I will never forget.

On a heavier note, I had a run-in with Yorke on a bad day last year during the KOME Almost Acoustic Christmas Show in San Jose, CA. "I just got here! Leave me alone!" he shouted, as I approached him for an interview. Completely shattered and feeling like a worm, I crawled into the corner, and wondered if I had chosen the right career path.

So it is that dreadful memory that is weighing heavily on my mind as I arrive at the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco for my interview with Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood. My heart pounds and my palms begin to sweat as Tour Manager Tim walks me over to meet Yorke.

"Hi. Have we met before? You look familiar," says Yorke, pleasant as can be.

"Um, yeah," I stammer. "We definitely have." I wait until later to let him know the when, where and how.

Yorke and I have a seat on some plastic lawn furniture next to the pool. His hair is a blinding orange today, contrasting sharply with the oversized black-black sunglasses on his face. Seems he is nursing quite a hangover, but is in good spirits nonetheless. Jonny bounds over, shakes my hand and slides into a chair. The reluctant girl-magnet of the group, he’s got "cheekbones that could start a war," (according to my friend Cat) and a bob of shiny black hair that hangs carelessly into his eyes. Noticing a painful-looking shaving cut on his chin, I inform him that he is bleeding.

"Oh, I know. I enjoy it though," he says, pressing his hand against the cut. Staring at the splotch of blood on his hand, he looks surprised. "Cool! Should I go and mop?"

"No. Bleed on the table," says Thom, sarcastically.

The two of them could be brothers. They don’t look anything alike, but they do weird things like finish each other’s sentences and repeat every other word the other is saying. Jonny’s real-life brother is Colin, but after hanging out with these two, I’m beginning to wonder if they were related in a previous life. They even play-fight over who will answer what question, constantly cutting each other off, competing to see who can be more clever. But it is all in fun. No Liam/Noel-esque punch-outs here in Camp Radiohead.

Addicted to Noise: How is the tour going so far?

Thom Yorke: "Pretty good. It’s quite exciting, but I’ve got to stop drinking."

ATN: Better then the last tour?

TY: "Yeah, it’s sort of… yeah. I think so. And they’ve all sold out, which is pretty amazing."

ATN: Did you ever retrieve any of the stolen equipment from the Soul Asylum tour? (The band awoke one morning in Denver to find their entire truck, filled with all of their gear, had been stolen right out of their hotel parking lot.)

Jonny Greenwood: "Nothing at all. Not a musical sausage."

TY: "Not a bleeding sausage."

ATN: Let’s start from the beginning. You all met at school…

JG: "It was a dark, moonlit night…"

TY: "A dark moonlit night…"

JG: "We should make it more romantic than it was. It was a boring afternoon at school, probably."

TY: "I’m still fond of Jonny coming in and playing every instrument that he possibly think of to get into the band…"

JG: "Yeah, turning up with gel horns."

TY: "Yeah. He started with the harmonica, and we weren’t into that."

ATN: Is it true that none of you knew how to play your instruments when you first started the band?

TY: "It’s all relative, but I would say it was true…"

JG: (To Thom) "Really?"

TY: "Well, you were quite good."

JG: "Well, we just didn’t play in public. I don’t think we were as bad as most bands… we just sort of… we didn’t think we were very good."

TY: "It was more a low opinion of oneself, you know, but justified low opinion I think."

ATN: You all seem to have different musical influences: jazz, Scott Walker, XTC, Magazine, various trip-hop groups… How do you all write music together?

TY: "Well, it’s not like you go to a recording studio or rehearsal going ‘Well, we’re gonna make it sound like this.’ It’s pretty bad if we do anything like that because there would be no point. I think like if you were a painter, you wouldn’t like argue about who to copy, you know. You presume you get over that. It’s not really an issue. If we were all into the Pixies and nothing else, then it would be pretty obvious what the band would sound like. I think it’s the same with any band, really. I mean, if you talk to R.E.M., their influences are pretty disparate… about a disparate as you can get, really. Anyway, [looks at Jonny] he’s got me into jazz now. Bastard."

ATN: So finally, The Bends is getting some recognition. Why do you think it took so long?

TY: "Well, the nicest thing is that Billboard thing. They have three journalists with their faces going (makes a fake grin) and we were number one in two of them and three in the third, I think."

JG: "It’s weird. It’s been kind of a reversal from Pablo Honey. We had an album that sold a lot but wasn’t taken much notice of and now we’ve become that horrible thing of a band’s band, or a critic’s band."

TY: "Frightening."

JG: "Which is kind of a big reversal for us…"

TY: "Because they’re even more fickle than the public."

JG: "It’s a nice change from the first album."

ATN: Is this kind of what you wanted from the beginning, to slowly climb up the charts?

JG: "Yeah. At least now, when journalists miss the point, and reviewers miss the point, then we can sort of disagree with them. But when reviewers are saying bad things about the first album, we just sort of half agree with them. [Thom lets out an enormous laugh] There’s some truth to what they’re saying. If they say [The Bends] is rubbish, and no one has said that, so it makes sense, really."

TY: "It makes us a little nervous."

ATN: What are your inspirations for your songs?

TY: "Change all the time. Mostly books about politics at the moment."

ATN: Speaking of politics, do you plan on pursuing a career in it, since you’re involved in the Rock the Vote UK and you have a new song called ‘Electioneering’?

TY: "Oh yeah. I think I wanna become a politician. Well, I wanna actually get into the arms trade first, and make my money there. Pop stardom, arms trade, have it all."

ATN: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

JG: "Career? You sound like my mother… she says that. ‘When are you going to get a career?’"

TY: "Yeah. ‘Why have you chosen this career?’ A career is going in the army."

JG: "Career suggests long…"

TY: "Longevity…"

JG: "…and planning. There’s something quite depressing when you hear a band say, ‘We want to make music together for another 20-30 years.’"

ATN: [jokingly] You don’t want to do that?

JG: "I don’t know what I want to do, really. Music. That would be good, but you know, I don’t plan on anything, really."

TY: "Peter Buck, he said… we were at this bar, and these two girls came up and tried to pick a fight with us. They started on me by saying something like… Oh, there was a Vancouver show where I walked onstage and said ‘We’ve been all over the world and you’re the rudest fucking audience we’ve ever met,’ [laughs] and a fight ensued [laughs harder] and she sort of tried to pick a fight with me about that, and that didn’t work. Then she turns to Peter Buck and says ‘R.E.M. guy’ and started pushing him and stuff. It was really fucking weird! We both just stood there, and he said ‘Well, you gotta sort of cultivate a healthy sense of the absurd,’ which I thought was pretty cool. Then I said ‘Yeah, it’s all gonna mean shit diddly when you’re dead.’ And he said, ‘No, no, it will mean nothing well before that.’ So, that resounded in my head."

ATN: So what have been the highlights in being in Radiohead?

JG: "I heard one of our songs used by the BBC for a trailer for Match of the Day."

ATN: What’s that?

JG: "Oh, you know, sort of ‘On BBC1 Tonight. [mimicking the announcer] We’ll be showing the Everton match.’ And they’ll play a Radiohead song to it. It’s usually something like Tears for Fears or something… [Thom making drum noises in the background]. It’s surreal, yes."

ATN: How about lowlights?

Both: "Lowlights?"

TY: "Is that code?"

ATN: Highlights, lowlights…

TY: "Oh, lowlights. Oh sorry. I thought is was a type of milk or something. Lowpoints. Soul Asylum was pretty fucking low, I think."

JG: "Yeah, that was pretty bad."

TY: "That was pretty low.[laughs] Just having one’s gear stolen, then having to carry on with the tour. It wasn’t much fun. Especially since we just came off R.E.M., so you couldn’t really go down further. Couldn’t really get much more let down. Handy link to a song.

ATN: You all seem to stay away from the Britpop party scene. Why is that?

TY: "There is one at the moment, apparently. We don’t really like cocaine that much."

JG: "We’re from the wrong city, as well… Oxford."

TY: "Yeah, deliberately. They don’t let us out."

ATN: So much of what is written about you in the press tends to focus on your volatile personality. Why do you think the papers are so obsessed with that aspect of Thom Yorke?

TY: "Because most people in my position have learnt to behave and I haven’t and I’m just not very good at behaving…"

JG: "I think people like their pop stars easy."

TY: "Like film stars, really. You can’t be temperamental; you’re basically a distraction."

JG: "I think they want Pop Star Lite, really. L-I-T-E."

TY: "Someone from R.E.M. was saying to me the other night, ‘Get nervous when you realize you can do it. When you can go through a whole evening having talked to 50 people and not remember a fucking word of any of it. Then you really are in trouble.’"

ATN: I’ve read somewhere that you’ve been writing down happy thoughts for the next album. Have you written anything down so far?

TY: "Nearest I got was writing about the color of the sky in LA."

ATN: That’s happy?

TY: "Yeah, because that particular day it had rained the night before and you could actually see the sky. That’s as happy as it’s got, so far."

ATN: That’s all?

TY: "Yeah, that’s it." [both laugh]

ATN: What can we expect from the next album? Do you plan to put some of your current B-sides on it?

TY: "There’s been talk of doing a B-sides album at some point."

JG: "Yeah, they are rather good and do get lost…"

TY: "But then that’s sort of cool. Otherwise we’d be getting into Prince territory and releasing three albums a year and there would be no quality control and people would see through it, wouldn’t they, really, frankly? Oh… Um… [to Jonny]. What can we expect from this next album? Jon? It’ll be analog."

JG: "Um, it will be, yes, sort of western."

TY: "Analog."

ATN: Western?

TY: "Western analog. Communist."

JG: "Post-techno-gothic."

ATN: Will it be somewhat experimental like the B-side remix of ‘Planet Telex’?

JG: "I think we’ll do more stuff that will be experimental, but again, it will be as unlike ‘Planet Telex’ as… [It will be] weirder than anything else."

TY: "The best indication of what we’re going to do is that we’re building our own studio, we’re producing it ourselves, and it’s going to be a fucking mess."

ATN: Why are you going to produce it yourself this time?

JG: "Because we sort of always wanted to, and we were used to it when we were recording in bedrooms and it’s not really that much different…"

TY: "Yeah, we just really want to get that bedroom mentality of not giving a fuck and not worrying about it being a record."

ATN: Where are you building your studio?

JG: "That’s a secret."

ATN: I don’t mean the address! Where, like city, place…

JG: [laughing] "17 Turnpike… No, it’s a sort of old apple storage place, or banana storage place…"

TY: "Lots and lots of upside down trees."

ATN: Do you think that is going to be good for you to be out in the middle of nowhere?

TY: "Oh, very good. There’s no toilet…"

JG: "Chi… good for the vibes."

TY: [To Jonny] "The chi? Is that as in Tai Chi?"

JG: "It flows up through the ground. Farms nearby. I mean, we’ve always been the kind of band…"

TY: [cuts him off] "Is that what chi is?"

JG: "Yeah. [trying to finish his sentence] That’s recorded…"

TY: "Does that come up through the ground?"

JG: "Yeah. [continuing the story] That’s why…"

TY: [again, cuts Jonny off] "I thought that was sewage."

JG: "No. That’s why [it’s good to] be barefoot and not wear shoes."

TY: "Really?"

JG: "Yeah. So anyhow…"

TY: [Cuts Jonny off again] "Fucking hell, I didn’t know that!"

JG: "So, yes. We’re recording there. We’ve have always been the kind of band who records in picturesque village holes rather than in a city youth centers, so yeah, that’s probably a good thing. I don’t know."

ATN: Can you talk about some of the songs that you’ve already written for the album?

TY: "OK, what can we say about the… I don’t know if they’re any good, really."

ATN: I heard ‘Electioneering’ is excellent.

TY: "Yeah, it’s all right. I don’t know. I don’t like any of it, really. Some days I like all of it, some days I don’t like any of it. What do you think Jonny?"

JG: "Yeeess. Sometimes all of our songs don’t sound good, sometimes they all sound great."

ATN: How are they sounding like today?

JG: "People keep telling us we sort of sound like Queen, uh… Pink Floyd. Someone said we sounded like a skiffle band last night…"

ATN: A skittle band?

TY: "You know, skiffle. Rockabilly…"

JG: "So, it’s anybody’s guess. Sort of skiffle-Pink Floyd that sounds like Queen. Yeah, that’s us. Easy to categorize, as you can tell. That cliche, that old pigeon hole that we fit into so well."

ATN: A lot of bands like Garbage, R.E.M. and even KD Lang refer to Radiohead as their favorite band. How does it feel to be admired by fellow musicians?

TY: "I don’t get it. Well, we’re not that good. You know…"

JG: "I don’t know. I feel their band is better than ours."

TY: "A lot better than ours."

JG: "We always have a feeling that we can do better. There’s always acres and acres of room for improvement. Just about everything we do, from every interview to every song we record, every concert. But maybe that’s what keeps us going. Imagine being satisfied with something."

TY: "Satisfied is when you get fat, and like, go home."

JG: "And have so much confidence in yourself that you don’t worry…"

TY: "Try to find more satisfaction by eating more… that’s what I do. So that’s why I come on the road."

ATN: If you weren’t in Radiohead, what would you all be doing?

JG: "We’d be asking KD Lang, or Garbage, or R.E.M. for jobs. I don’t know, what would we do?"

TY: "I would be um… I’d be a politician!"

ATN: No really.

TY: "I would!"

JG: "I’d stick with college, really. And I’d be graduating this year, and have an honorary doctorate degree in something…"

ATN: Where did you all go to school? Thom, you went to Exeter, right?

TY: "Yes, I went to Exeter and I did English Literature and Fine Art."

ATN: (to Jonny) And you were in college when the band got signed?

JG: "Yes. I did four weeks or something like that."

TY: "Then your tutor said, ‘Leave!’"

JG: [laughing] "Then they turned up in a white van and dragged me up to some concert somewhere."

ATN: What about the others?

JG: "Colin went to Cambridge."

TY: "Cambridge! English Literature!"

JG: "Philip probably went to Liverpool…"

TY: "We can’t remember what he did!"

JG: "Edward did politics in Manchester." [laughing]

TY: "Politics and Economics… mostly politics! Northern Irish Politics!"

ATN: Then he can be your campaign manager.

TY: "Oh yes!"

ATN: Tell me about your songwriting process. How does it all come together?

JG: "It’s quite defecatory."

TY: "Yes, it’s very defecatory and it’s a friggen mess and, um, often you’ll have a song for a year, which you won’t know what to do with, and then Jonny will change one note and it’ll all fall into place. And some songs are completely automatic, like ‘Lucky’ where there was absolutely no thought process or anything involved. We just played it one day and that was it. I played the chords once around and everyone joined in and that was the song [laughs]. It was just frightening, frankly."

ATN: Tell me some interesting fan encounters.

TY: "Mostly people trying to convert me to God."

JG: "There’s some people who follow him around and say, ‘You should use that power you have to spread the word of our Lord Jesus Christ!’"

TY: "And I say, ‘I’ll spread something else instead.’ I had someone come knocking at my door in Oxford. And I was forced to slam it in her face. Because that was the line that was drawn and she went across it…" [laughing]

JG: "Someone grabbed me, when I was onstage at a Canadian show and said ‘Quick, write your name on my arm.’ Which wasn’t a first, but they showed up at the next show, which was like 300 miles away, which was quite strange. But stranger still was that my name, was sort of, very roughly… didn’t even look like my name… they had it tattooed on… permanently."

TY: "There’s a lesson there. Always write neatly."

JG: "Yes, that’s a good lesson."

ATN: Did that freak you out?

JG: "Nooo… I just wish they would’ve asked Thom to draw something. It’s better than an anchor, or a lion’s head."

ATN: So you just signed "Jonny?"

JG: "Well, it was more like Jeremy actually…" [laughing]

ATN: Do any of you have tattoos?

TY: "No. I get a transfer occasionally. I find [tattoos] very sexy. Hmmmm."

ATN: But you don’t want to get one?

TY: "Well, not on me."

JG: "Yeah, standing in the mirror admiring your own tattoo…"

TY: "And getting off on it. Anyway, ohhhhh… that could get really messy."

ATN: OK… I have some questions that have been emailed to me by the members of the Radiohead emailing list. Some of them are very strange.

TY: "Yes, let’s answer those."

ATN: First question. Thom, why are there so many car references in your songs like ‘Killer Cars’, ‘An Airbag Saved My Life’, ‘Stupid Car’…

TY: "First of all, where did you get the title ‘An Airbag Saved My Life’?"

ATN: Everyone on the Radiohead e-mailing list is talking about it.

TY: "Oh fuck! Never mind."

JG: "That was quick!"

TY: "Yeah…"

JG: "It hasn’t been recorded or filmed live yet…"

TY: "Or done anything at all…"

ATN: Someone already has it on tape.

TY: "Ah fuck! London!"

JG: "How? When did we do it?"

TY: "We did it in London for XFM."

JG: "Oh yeah. We did it well, though, so that’s all right."

TY: "No, we did it dreadfully."

JG: "No it wasn’t."

TY: "Really?"

JG: "No, it was good."

TY: "Oh, OK. Why are there so many references to cars? Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because when I was younger, my parents moved to this house, which was a long long way from Oxford, and I was just at the age where I wanted to go out the whole time. I used to have this one car, and I very nearly killed myself in it one morning, and gave my girlfriend at the time really bad whiplash in an accident. I was 17. Hadn’t slept the night before. Anyway, eventually, my dad bought me another car, a Morris Minor, you know, and when you drove around corners in it, the driver door used to fly open. Um, and I’d only do 50 miles an hour, and on the road that went from my house to Oxford, there was fucking maniacs all the time, people who would drive 100 miles an hour to work, and I was in the Morris Minor, and it was like standing in the middle of the road with no protection at all. So I just gradually became emotionally tied up in this whole thing."

ATN: What are your feelings on vegetarianism?

TY: "I think we were right, and the rest of the world’s wrong. [referring to the Mad Cow disease] Yeah… we were right… nah, nah, nah… so there."

JG: "I find it increasingly hard to do, because you discover with horror that your favorite chocolate sweets have gelatin in them…"

TY: "And cheese, when they put the rennet in… that’s the most disgusting thing imaginable! I think basically, that it’s the responsibility of the supermarkets to fucking get themselves sorted out, you know. Because basically people rely on supermarket chains and they’re really the ones that should be endorsing vegetarianism. Cos if they don’t, then it’ll never happen, you know."

ATN: What do you want fans to see in your work?

TY: "The word of God!"

JG: "Yes."

TY: [notices my silence, waiting for him to finish] That was pretty good, I thought! [laughs] Um, if people get it, they wouldn’t think it’s depressing. When people sort of say, um… all that fucking annoying thing about ‘Oh your work’s so depressing, na, na, na…’ Well it’s not because those are just the words. The point is I put the words to music which I think is incredibly uplifting, otherwise, there would be no point to doing it at all."

ATN: Several people on the list want to know this: Jonny, do you have a girlfriend?

JG: "I have hundreds, yeah. A different one every day. No, no, I’m not interested in women or sex or anything…"

TY: "No. Messy, smelly…"

ATN: How do you feel about the whole promotion aspect of the US?

TY: "I sort of envision myself in a sort of a Billy Graham role, you know… shake hands, and spread the word of God and fuck off, and take the money and run…"

JG: "We have money?"

TY: "Apparently. Apparently it comes later. We haven’t seen any money yet."

ATN: What do you do on your off time?

TY: "Off time? Don’t have any. Try and sit still. Can’t do it."

JG: "We usually sit around and think about what we’re going to do with our on-time, sadly."

TY: "Yeah. It’s really really really pathetic. In fact, we all need to get hobbies."

ATN: You told me last time we talked that you were going to travel to Japan for vacation. Did you go?

TY: "No, I was going to. The reason I didn’t was because it’s so fucking expensive and we haven’t seen any money yet."

JG: "The Japanese are the most… I think the most stylish nation on the earth."

TY: "Yeah… it’s embarrassing. Makes the rest of us look like ill-dressed spazzes."

ATN: So I take it you like touring Japan?

TY: "Yeah. Any opportunity to go back will be gladly received. [laughs] We keep trying but they say they don’t want us."

ATN: That’s not true. My sister just called from Tokyo this morning and asked when you’re coming.

JG: "The official line allegedly is that we’re going to go back when we can sort of…"

TY: "…sell something new."

JG: "No, when there are clubs that have room for about 1,000 people. And after that it’s like 15-20,000 people…"

TY: "Oh right. So we don’t go back ’til then? [sarcastic] Oh yeah. That really makes sense. I think someone’s lost the plot. [reaches up in the air as if trying to grasp Jonny’s meaning]

JG: "We hope we can play Budokan and we’ll go back when we can sort of…"

TY: "What is the Budokan?"

JG: "It’s a horribly big, scary place."

ATN: Didn’t the Beatles play there?

JG: "Blur played there too."

ATN: Well if Blur can sell it out, you should be able to…

JG: "Well this is what we’re vaguely trying to hope, yes."

TY: "How big is it?"

JG: "It’s like Wembley Arena."

TY: "Oh, fuck that. I’m sorry, but people are losing the plot here, thank you very much. That’s not my idea of a good night out. At all."

JG: "Hmmm. We’ll see."

TY: [Back to the previous question] "Um, as I said, trying to sit still, which was something I tried to do over Christmas. Sit in front of the television for more than 20 minutes without just shouting at it and getting up and moving out again. And I find it very, very, very, very difficult indeed. Other than that, I play with my Macintosh. All day long. Very sadly."

ATN: Games?

TY: "No, I don’t play games. I do sort of art work, but it’s actually usually related to the band, always find that I’ll do this image and put Radiohead above and I’ll go ‘Fuck, I’m doing it again! Shit!’ Yeah… so I think we all need to get hobbies."

JG: "Macrame. It was very big in the ’70s. It’s like crochet, I believe. It’s made of crochet material."

ATN: Do you weave them?

JG: "I think so. I’ll let you know next time I see you. I’ll take it up."

ATN: Are you going to make me a pot-holder?

JG: "I’ll make you a tea cosy."

TY: "How about shoelaces? And decorate my house."

ATN: In pot-holders and tea cosies.

JG: "Do you want to get married?"

ATN: Excuse me?

TY: [waving his hand in front of Jonny’s face] "No, that was my gag!"

JG: "Because I can legally marry you now."

ATN: What?

TY: "Well, I could actually…" [trying to cut in]

JG: [cutting Thom off] "No, we’re reverends…"

TY: [Cutting Jonny off] "Oh yeah, we’re reverends… we’re all reverends."

JG: "We started our own church."

TY: "The Holy Church of Waste."

JG: "Well, we can legally marry people and bury people in 13 American states, including California."

TY: "So if anybody needs, you know, to get married, we can do it for them now. (to Jonny) How much did it cost us? Twenty dollars?"

JG: "Ten dollars or something. So we are going to conduct a mass community-style wedding at our LA show, that’s tomorrow."

TY: "Waste packaging is going to be the next thing."

ATN: Your fan club and newsletter are called W.A.S.T.E… what’s the obsession with waste?

TY: "Waste? Well, um, just waste really. You know, everything about it. Waste, waste, you know… it really fucking does my head in, man! It does, honestly. I sound like a real idiot, but it’s true. Think about it, when you go to the supermarket, and you come home, and you have your vegetables, and they’re in cling-film… and what do you do with it? You put it in the bin, and where’s it go?"

ATN: Recycle.

TY: "Well, not in our country it doesn’t."

ATN: You guys don’t have a recycling program?

TY: "They do not have anything like that in Britain. Britain is so backward, it’s frightening."

JG: "They put a little curly thing [on packaging] where they sort of have a little recycle sign, and you think ‘great’ then you look at it a little closer and it says ‘recyclable’, instead of ‘recycle’."

ATN: But there’s nowhere to recycle?

Both: "Yeah."

TY: "I think the most important thing for anyone to do at the moment is that, really. That’s why I’m becoming a politician, so I can find a way to get rid of my rubbish."

JG: "I think if you drive far enough, you can get your paper recycled. That’s about it, you know."

TY: "[But] you cannot recycle plastic in Oxford or London. So where the fuck does it go? And it’s not like it even costs that much to do it! Anyway, that’s far more important than Radiohead. That’s why we formed a company called Waste."

ATN: Can’t you just bring your own bags and put produce in that?

TY: "Can’t do that in Britain. You can do this thing where there’s this farm, and you get a big hamper of food every weekend, and they come deliver it, and that’s your food for the week. And that’s what we’re going to be doing when we get back. But I mean if you need to dash out and stuff, you come back with bananas in clingfilm… and you put them in a bin, and it’s like… and that’s why we formed the Holy Church of Waste."

ATN: To start the recycling program going on in Britain?

TY: "Yeah."

JG: "And marry people."

TY: "And marry people."

JG: "And bury people."

TY: "We can christen people…"

JG: "…into the Church of Waste. I mean, there’s nothing derogatory about the idea. There are a lot of people in the public in England, like the Reverend Ian Paisley, who actually have no qualification…"

TY: "Yeah. He woke up one morning and decided that he wanted to be a reverend."

JG: "And people tend to use titles like that to get people to throw their money. It’s quite easy to get masters degrees and doctorates…"

ATN: It is?

TY: "Oh yeah. It’s a piece of piss! I actually got one for being mad from Oxford!"

ATN: Oh, like the honorary ones?

JG: "No, no, actual ones. Where they send you booklets, and you have to answer…"

ATN: Oh, mail order ones.

JG: "Yeah, but they’re all legal. You can get mail order anything. You can be a rabbi if you wanted to. It’s very very disrespectful."

TY: "Never leave your house. It’ll all turn up in big packaging and bits of foam and cardboard, which you’ll then put in the attic…"

TY: "Sorry, we’re not behaving. I’m sorry about the KOME thing… I’m really sorry about the KOME…"

ATN: It’s OK, don’t worry about it. Any last thoughts?

JG: "Yes, lots. Why do Americans express the word say with the word like? Like, he’s like let’s do this, and he’s like let’s do that…"

ATN: [try to explain] I don’t know where it started… maybe with the whole Valley Girl thing in the 80s…

TY: "Valley Girl? Valley girl? That’s an interesting phrase."

ATN: I can’t get out of it either, and English isn’t even my first language…

JG: "What is your first language?"

ATN: Japanese.

JG: "All right!"

ATN: But I’ve forgotten it all…

JG: "Noooo! I know pidgin Japanese… Phil-san wa, doco desu ka."

ATN: You’re better at speaking Japanese than I am.

JG: "Nooo! Jonny no Radiohead desu. Can you remember how to count?" [Jonny and I count in Japanese together]

TY: [waves disc player] "All the new songs are on this. It’s a mini-disc-walkman-recording-thing."

ATN: You can record onto a disk?

TY: "Yeah. And you can name them as well, which is the cool bit. So when every track comes up, it’s got a different name on it… £300 it cost me, but it’s amazing. You can make records on that. It’s like a DAT, you know… but it’s easier to use. You can use it as a data input and output thing using the optical line in… so it can be like a hard disk if you want it. It’s got like instant access to each track as well… just go [pushes the button] and it’s there… it’s not like rewinding a tape or anything… So, I’m giving it the hard sell."

ATN: Well, that’s all for now.

JG: "Domo arigato." [Thank you very much]

ATN: Doitashimaste. [You’re welcome]

JG: "Hai. Dewa mata." [See you again]

To read more from Rock’s Backpages and find out subscription details, visit the Rock’s Backpages website. Barney Hoskyns’ new book Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits is published on March 5th

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