"It all got very surreal"
Radiohead embraces technology, both on
video and sonic side of things.
By IAN GILLESPIE London Free Press Sunday, August 17, 1997
George Orwell warned that Big
Brother was watching.
But during the recording of their newest album, OK Computer,
Radiohead discovered that Big Brother was actually also little
brother, big sister, mom, dad, neighbor Ned and cousin Chet. And
they weren't just watching Radiohead do what they do -- they
were doing it with them, simultaneously.
"It all got very surreal," says guitarist Jon Greenwood.
Radiohead -- who perform a sold-out show at Centennial Hall on
Monday -- know how technology is blurring boundaries between
people and places and ideas. Indeed, the band's new album OK
Computer is a fizzing, art-rock brew of feedback, noise and
synthesizer that acknowledges everything from computer chips to
But even Future Shock guru Alvin Toffler would have surely
been bewildered at how the band's fans helped create the very
album they were so eagerly anticipating. It started when
Radiohead rented a big country house in a secluded valley outside
Bath, England, to record their third album.
"We hired a house in the middle of nowhere," says Greenwood.
"It felt like the opposite of a traditional studio, where you feel like
you're the thousandth person to record in that studio, and you're
just making yet another record, and there's gold discs everywhere
from Status Quo to Whitesnake, and you don't feel like you're
doing anything particularly creative."
But in this bucolic setting, Radiohead did more than just churn out
three-note chords. The Oxford quintet spent hours surfing the
many Radiohead-related websites and discussion groups on the
Internet. And that, according to Greenwood, led to some strange,
"We'd go to all the chat rooms dedicated to Radiohead and we'd
say we were Radiohead and then say actually we weren't and
then pretend we were again," he says. "It all got very confusing.
"We had people coming in (online), pretending to be Colin, my
brother, even though Colin was sitting next to me and wasn't
But things got even stranger.
"Some of the websites had the lyrics for the album, even though
it hadn't been recorded yet," he says. "They'd taken bootlegs,
conceivably, and just written down what they thought Thom
(Yorke) was singing. So if Thom was ever stuck for lyrics, he'd
occasionally go to these sites and steal all this kind of garbled,
mistranslated singing he was doing."
It's clear that Radiohead embraces technology. On the visual
side, the band has put out some shockingly unique videos,
including the new animated video for the single Paranoid Android.
And on the sonic side of things, OK Computer evokes an
Orwellian, post-industrial wasteland filled with motorways, digital
voices and spiritual emptiness.
"I think we're the first generation to grow up having computers
as toys, not being scared at all," says Greenwood. "You could tie
two or three of the songs together with computers, but you could
equally link others with transport and speed. So it's kind of too
much of a mess to describe, really."
Critics are hardly calling it a mess. After their ode to
self-loathing, Creep, topped the charts in 1993, Radiohead
released their second album, The Bends.
"There's a general feeling that The Bends was kind of
under-reviewed and under-received in some places," says
Greenwood. "So the attention on the third album is very
heightened. People learned to like the second album about a year
after it came out, so everyone is very hungry and very eager to
get something out of the third album."
It seems to have hit the spot. Critics are hailing OK Computer as
one of the most influential albums of the year. Once dubbed the
"new U2," the Oxford quintet are being touted as the future of
rock 'n roll.
The success of OK Computer may have something to do with
the fact that it sounds like nothing else you've ever heard. And in
an era of lightning-fast change, anything new and different is
embraced. And that's something Radiohead understands.
"We're permanently bored and hungry for new things," says
Greenwood. "And touring and playing different shows every night
is a good cure, really.
"Radiohead has taken over my life. But it would be churlish to
complain. That's the way things are. And it's kind of a buzz."