Radiohead's Thom Yorke Has Some Excellent Advice For His OK Computer Era Self
Radiohead's Thom Yorke had a rare moment on stage at Coachella in April: He told a an offhand joke. It's something unexpected from the very serious, very calculated frontman, who has been making some of the most transcendent music for the last three decades. It came in a moment of chaos when sound issues derailed the band's first weekend headlining set. "I'd love to tell you a joke, lighten the mood, something like that," he said on stage. "But this is Radiohead, so fuck it."
It's a reputation Radiohead has spent its entire career cultivating. The band's music is important—a descriptor that's at once accurate and annoying. Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Collin Greenwood, and Phillip Selway have remained together since the late '80s, working relentlessly to reinvent their own sound and the entire trajectory of rock, pop, and electronic music.
The most defining moment came in 1997 with the release of OK Computer. A modern masterpiece, the album rejected the alt-rock sound that had made them famous. It basically defied every trend of the time, setting a new standard for innovation in music. But this music came during a dark time for Yorke and the rest of the band. They were isolated, overwhelmed by fame, and dealing with the lasting pressures of success.
In a rare interview with Rolling Stone, Yorke and the rest of the band revisit where they were at in 1997.
"I was getting into the sense of information overload," Yorke told Rolling Stone. "Which is ironic, really, since it's so much worse now ... Back then the person I saw in the mirror kept saying, 'You're shit. Everything you do is shit. Don't do that. It's shit.'"
Now, Yorke said, he'd tell his younger self to "Lighten the fuck up."
At one point during the OK Computer tour, Yorke said "I walked out of soundcheck, disappeared, lost the security and then was trying to get out of the building." He ended up, of all places, on a train full of Radiohead fans going to his show. "There was nowhere to go, so I hid on the train. And that was the nearest I came to trying to escape."
But possibly the funniest aspect of this interview is how Radiohead looks back on their band's image. It's almost like they're wrestling with rewriting this narrative of themselves as gloomy geniuses. Take this moment for example:
"The whole album is really fucking geeky," [Yorke] says. "I was kind of a geek when I was a kid, unashamedly so. Then I'm in this rock band famous for drinking tea and never socializing, where the truth is somewhat different." Yorke doesn't elaborate, though he certainly was doing some drinking in those days. But Selway argues that their reputation was well-earned. "The image of Radiohead on the road is a monastery on wheels," he says. "For the most part, it was."
Regardless, even though the band is going through a tough time at the moment, it's nice to see them relax a bit. If there's any consolation, times of great conflict, at least for Radiohead, are times of great creation.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.