por Leonardo Ebel
[spanish version here]
Two months of joint work with Daniel, Italo and Mauricio (admins of the Colombian, Peruvian y Chilean websites, respectively) subtly collecting questions from fans on our social media platforms … about to go down the well due to our Internet service provider? Sounds very much like Argentina. Fortunately, this country is also full of good friends who answer the call to use their Internet service without asking many questions. The afternoon of February 21st will remain in our memories not only because the headquarters of ExitMusic were cut off from the Internet for several hours, but also because Philip Selway and Ed O’Brien joined us in a friendly chat over Skype (friendly and relaxed, once we got over the stress of the Internet access issues, of course)
As both of them are in the studio these days, our first questions had to be about their recent and current projects. As Philip has talked to the media about his latest project, the soundtrack to Let Me Go by Polly Steele, we decided to move away from the general questions to focus on more specific aspects. Selway worked on the soundtrack while working on A Moon Shaped Pool with Radiohead, in France. “Work with Radiohead didn’t start until midday,” he told us when we asked him to what degree did each album influence each other, “so they’re two different and separate projects.” Selway added that he thought it healthy to keep a clear line between both projects, as a means to continue developing musically. Maybe, then, the influence was much more subconscious as there is – or at least it happened to us – a return to the place we were when we listened to “Desert Island Disk” for the first time in May 2016 when “Wide Open” starts playing. Selway confessed that he had not connected the songs before.
A central element to the soundtrack is strings, and the arrangements are just exquisite. The composer told us that the majority of them are his own work, and when we asked if he got any tips or advice from Jonny Greenwood – whose orchestral work is extensive – he just laughed it off saying that Greenwood keeps himself to himself these days. “I got help from Laura Moody as well as from Adem [Ilhan], but it’s mostly my work.
I think my arranging skills are developing little by little”, was his final remark, thinking of the learning curve from Familial (2010) to Let Me Go (2017), through Weatherhouse (2014).
Something that caught our attention when flicking through the booklet of Let Me Go was that Ed O’Brien is the only Radiohead member mentioned there: “he lent me a guitar .. which I haven’t returned yet, by the way,” he confessed with a mischievous smile on his face just as he turned around and grabbed it to show it to us. Later on, when we chatted with Ed O’Brien, he revealed that the guitar was a gift to Selway and went on to compliment Selway’s fingerpicking style: “it’s very good and elegant,” he said.
Before moving onto the Radiohead territory, we asked Selway what side of his musical self he felt had developed most through the years. “Pablo Honey was a lot – mainly actually – about my drumming; The Bends was a little less about it,” and then the rest went the same way, he concluded.
O’Brien is also in the studio working on his first solo record – which was defined in his own words as “deep, emotional and aimed at making you dance” – with well known musicians, such as Omar Hakim (drums), Nathan East (bass), Dave Okumu (guitar, The Invisible) and Glenn Kotche (drums, Wilco). Unlike Selway’s project, not much is known about this project besides what we just mentioned. When we asked how did he feel about being the one in charge, he said he is loving it and “it’s one of the most challenging things” he’s done, since he’s doing it all by himself – despite having such talents as a backing band. “It’s frightening at times, and sometimes I feel it’s not good enough,” he confessed but his general perspective is that of a lovely journey which requires him to write not only the music but also lyrics and on top of that, sing. The final weeks of recording will take place just before the South American tour in April and after that, in May, the mixing process starts. “I would love to play it live in South America, in small and intimate venues,” he added before giving us a final insight on what to expect of it: “I always call it an existential dance record” … we’ll have to wait and see what’s that about.
When the musician mentioned his debut as a singer, we had to take a detour and ask him about the meme which circulates around the Internet, claiming that he only sings his name. “I didn’t know about that,” he confessed after a hearty laugh, “but I like it. It would be very strange it it was true, though.”
Going back to his solo record, O’Brien mentioned he’s working with several producers and one of them is Flood, a close friend of his and someone he admires profoundly. “He is very honest; when I started the project, I played a few songs to him and asked me if I wanted him to produce it (…) having him on the mixing desk is a wonderful experience,” he added and went on to say that, just like with Nigel Godrich, working with a friend is key to these projects as they get along very well because “they feel the music in the same way”.
The second half of the interview started by asking both of them what they remember about the first South American tour, back in 2009. “I remember it was a very special day [in Argentina]; a bank holiday with a very special meaning,” [*] he added before mentioning that “it was a very brief visit, so what I remember most was the show itself.” O’Brien, a self-confessed admirer of this part of the world, characterised the fans of each country: “in Brazil, people are beautiful, warm and full of love; Chilean people are intense and passionate, in a very deep way … Argentinians are the wildest in the world, I always say the same,” he told us, echoing his comments at an interview for the BBC in July 2017. “When we played in 2009 [at Club Ciudad de Buenos Aires] I just couldn’t believe it.
The continent’s history is full of violence – from the conquistadores to the military regimes in the late 20th century – and each country has its own features, but when you play there it is easy to see that music means so much for everyone,” he explained. “Music goes beyond … there’s spirituality there, which can be felt in the Andes and on the land itself. It’s a great honour [to play in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru] which is hard to beat”.
We couldn’t let the opportunity go past us to ask – though quite frightened – about the infamous incident with the shoe during “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”. Selway’s face revealed that he didn’t know exactly what we were talking about and then told us this was probably the first he heard about that, nine years later. “I don’t remember us talking about it, so I don’t think Thom raised any grievances about it; this is not,” he stressed half-jokingly “an invitation to throw shoes at the stage this time”. O’Brien explained that many things can happen at shows but “when the experience is so positive, you focus on the love and energy which flows [from the audience]. We may have talked about it at the time, but I don’t remember it anymore”.
For Ed, to close the first leg of the 2018 tour in Bogotá [the band has announced more dates in the USA for July and August] is a huge honour and they hope that “as a band, we can do the shows justice, maybe playing longer sets” as they did in Tel Aviv last August, where they played 27 songs.
Neither of them was aware that the gig in Argentina sold out about two months after going on sale. “Wow, that makes it more special,” said Selway who also added that the chances of adding a second show are slim to none (something which O’Brien also stated) due to production issues. “I would love to play there as a solo artist,” revealed Selway, “but I don’t think it will be possible now” he added when we asked if there were chances of at least adding a solo show. Ed was both surprised at and happy with the news and added that regardless of how long you have been in the music industry, “selling out is always the aim.” However, he was worried about ticket scalpers and asked us if prices had been exorbitant compared to similar shows. “It’s the same production [as the European tour] and unfortunately we’ve had to hire planes [which makes it more expensive]” but “this won’t be the last time we’ll visit you,” he promised.
Pablo Honey turned 25 a few weeks ago so we took the chance to ask them what advice they would give to those five youngsters recording their debut album. “Back then, we were trying to be another band,” admitted Selway, “so my advice would be to trust more in their own sound and themselves.” On the other hand, O’Brien didn’t really think he could give them any advice because as it was their first album “we didn’t know exactly what we were doing back then” and they still felt like a school band. “It was something we had to go through. There are parts of it which we really like, others that we really don’t, but in general terms, we’re satisfied with it …” he remarked.
The shift between OK Computer and Kid A/Amnesiac has been thoroughly documented in extensive interviews through the years so we chose to put them in a different scenario. If OK Computer hadn’t received the praise it did, Selway said, jokingly, that he would probably be “an embittered old man, telling everyone his work had not been understood” but then added that he “would still feel proud of having done something which felt like the right thing to do at the time”. If things had been different, he added, he would probably still be in the music business – maybe launched his solo career before – as “once you begin in this field, it’s hard to go back to a regular desk job.”
O’Brien explained that OK Computer is a very emotional album for the band and full of magic because their desire to go forward and expand, keeping it natural. “We still enjoy [playing the songs from that period] a lot (…) we still consider it a great album to play live.”
Throughout the last few years, Radiohead reconnected with many old songs – such as “Creep” back in 2009, or “Let Down” and “The Tourist” in 2017 – so we asked about their approach to playing them live so long after they were released. To Ed, “‘Creep has a life of its own and it’s hard to go back to that moment in our lives [and play the same way] .. we were very young … but with ‘Let Down’, ‘The Tourist’ or ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’, there is a return to that moment in our lives; it doesn’t happen every night, but when it does, you can feel the same way you felt back then.”.
When we moved to the recent reissue of OK Computer, O’Brien mentioned that there are talks of doing something similar with Kid A and Amnesiac: “there is a lot of material from those albums, but you have to be careful when you do something like that.” He then added that Kid A/Amnesiac, In Rainbows and The Bends are probably the albums which could turn out the most interesting if they did a similar release to OKNOTOK. “There are different versions of songs from The Bends and that could be interesting,” he added.
For the last bit, we asked about more precise aspects. Both Selway and O’Brien confirmed that there are no plans of taping a “From the Basement” version of A Moon Shaped Pool – a recurrent question on our social media platforms. “We tried to do it, but it didn’t come through,” said Selway while O’Brien added that there is a chance of them doing something with that format but not only with A Moon Shaped Pool songs, but something more comprehensive. However, Selway’s conclusion was “you never know”, which left everything up in the air again.
Fans also asked about the chances of resurrecting “We Suck Young Blood” or “Polyethylene” live. Both said that the first one is not a band favourite so there are no chances at all but left the door open to the second one: “there are songs from that era that we would like to play again,” admitted Selway.
As regards the Brazilian vibes in both “Present Tense” and “Ill Wind” – the bonus track on A Moon Shaped Pool – Ed stated that it was not his doing. “The band knows how much I love that music” but he had no influence over the final sound of them.
The last few records Radiohead released brought back songs which had been around for years, so we took the chance to ask about “Follow me Around”, a song Jonny and Thom played live in Italy last year. Selway said jokingly that “they have run out of songs to play live on their own” and then both confirmed that it’s not a song they’re working on in the studio currently.
Ed O’Brien also praised the quality of some fan footage of shows – like the one above – stating that “the quality in some of them is amazing and very professional. “Good work guys, well done!,” were his words for all the people who spent hours working with different sources for the viewing pleasure of millions of fans around the world.
And thus, after 30 minutes filled with laughter and jokes which felt like a chat with old friends, we went back to reality, looking forward to April and to having in front of us again a band which hasn’t let 30 years in the industry go to their heads and still finds it necessary to thank fans for their time to talk to them.
Huge thanks to Ed O’Brien, Philip Selway and Courtyard Management for making this possible.
* the show in Argentina in 2009 took place on the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice.