Radiohead Are Staying Tuned In
By Gary Flockhart
THEY can laugh about it now, but when Radiohead’s angst-ridden Creep became an unexpected international hit, in 1993, many had the band pegged as one-hit wonders.
Look at them now, though. Arguably the most important band in the world, they have become one of the most valuable global products in the music business, able to fully operate without the backing of a record company.
And deservedly so, for this is the most creative band of its era – one of the few who have evolved artistically from album to album.
But it’s not just in the recording studio where the Oxford quintet are innovative.
Radiohead’s well-publicised pay-what-you-want gambit for latest album In Rainbows did not just set off debate in the music press and on the blogosphere, it revolutionised the way music gets from A to C by leapfrogging B.
In doing so, they are held to have turned the music industry on its head with the online release of their seventh album, as fans were able to pay whatever they wished for the record, many forking out nothing more than the mandatory 45p credit card charge.
But while the groundbreaking release drew praise and criticism in equal measure from the music industry, frontman Thom Yorke – whose band play Glasgow Green tonight, two summers after taking Meadowbank Stadium by storm during a three encore set – has said it was a one- off experiment and the band do not plan to tread a similar path in future.
“I think it was a one-off response to a particular situation,” he said recently. “It was a one-off in terms of a story. It was one of those things where we were in the position of everyone asking us what we were going to do.
“I don’t think it would have the same significance, if we chose to give something away again. It was a moment in time.”
After honouring their record contract in 2003 with their final album for the EMI label, Hail To The Thief, Radiohead turned down multi-million pound offers for a new major-label deal, preferring to stay independent.
“It was tough to do anything else,” Yorke said during his first in-depth interview since the release of In Rainbows. “The worst- case scenario would have been sign another deal, take a load of money, then have the machinery waiting semi-patiently for you to deliver your product, which they can add to the list of products that make up the myth, la-la-la-la.”
According to the 39-year-old singer, tying themselves to a new major-label record contract might have spelled the end of Radiohead.
Signing to another major label “would have killed us straight off,” he said.
“Money makes you numb, as MIA wrote. I mean, it’s tempting to have someone say to you, ‘You will never have to worry about money ever again’, but no matter how much money someone gives you – what, you’re not going to spend it? You’re not going to find stupid ways to get rid of it? Of course you are. It’s like building roads and expecting less traffic.”
Talking of money-making, the band’s former label EMI recently released a Best Of Radiohead CD, squeezing in 17 of the best songs from their seven critically acclaimed albums. The release, though, was not sanctioned by the band, and Yorke has even gone so far as to call it pointless.
“We’re not really bothered about it,” he said recently, though with a sigh that suggested the contrary. “If they spend a wedge of cash trying to get those songs heard again, then great, but our management tried to tell them that people don’t really buy greatest hits any more.
“Only in Britain, nowhere else,” he continued. “iTunes has seen to that. You might not make your money back. And we haven’t really had any hits, so what exactly is the purpose?”
So are the band over their bitter split with EMI yet?
“It wasn’t an unfortunate divorce,” Yorke countered. “I was quite happy to have an excuse not to get involved again.
“We wanted to be reasonable; we wanted to play along because, technically, they own all our work and if we walk away they can do what they want with it. So we thought, maybe we should keep talking to them.”
He added, “Personally, I just wanted to forget about it. It didn’t feel right. And now it’s like when you move house: you don’t want to peer through the window and see what they’ve done with the wallpaper because it will only upset you.”
Looking ahead, the band won’t rule out a return to a label in the future, and they’ve also re-examined other ways they conduct business.
Last year they commissioned a report from the company Best Foot Forward to judge the carbon and ecological footprint of their touring. They discovered that the largest impact came from how fans travel to the gigs, and they have posted messages on their website urging people to take public transport to gigs or to car-share.
“I guess it’s obvious – it’s the mass of people travelling to one place,” Yorke told Radio 4′s Today programme earlier this year. “That’s the really big impact overall.”
Of the band’s own behaviour, international travel was the biggest problem.
“Can we go around by ship?” the singer wondered. “Yes, technically speaking, if we were in freight containers and were prepared to be on the sea for two weeks, that would be more ecologically sound.
“It’s quite extraordinary, the rock and roll business,” he concluded. “At this stage the normal protocol would be to fly in every night, so to bumble about on a bus is going to be interesting.”
Radiohead, Glasgow Green, Greendyke Street, tonight, doors 4pm, GBP 38.50, 08444-999990
(c) 2008 Evening News; Edinburgh (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.