Thom Yorke reflects on the early days of Radiohead and his dystopian new solo album

Thom Yorke joined q's Tom Power to talk about the early days of Radiohead and how it feels when he steps out on stage now as a solo artist.
Musician Thom Yorke of Radiohead has embarked on a 15-date North American solo tour. (AFP/Getty Images)

For 30 years, Radiohead has given an entire generation of music fans a soundtrack for the existential dread and technological upheaval of modern life.

They've become one of the most enduring and consistently creative bands on the planet, reinventing themselves with every record.

This week, the band's frontman, Thom Yorke, landed in Canada to begin a North American tour in support of his new solo record, Anima. It's an album that sees him confronting a dystopic modern world as only he can.

Thom Yorke's new solo record, Anima, is out now. (XL Recordings)

Yorke joined q's Tom Power from Montreal to reflect on the early days of Radiohead, and on how it feels when he steps out on stage as a solo artist. 

Here is part of that conversation.

On how it feels to perform without his band

It's taken me a long time to get used to it, to be perfectly honest. I think it was one of those things that started as an experiment, originally. The main thing for me is not having a live band behind me, but I've got my head around it now. It's actually quite liberating in an odd sort of way. It's very different. I mean, people do this stuff all the time now. It's not a big deal. But for me, it was quite a leap. I came about it in a certain way and have enjoyed messing with the expectations of what the audience might expect me to be doing because I no longer have a guitar around my neck.

On the role of an artist today

Everybody's angry, you know? And everybody's polarising. My tendency is to get too angry, too vitriolic about these things, so I've tried to take a step back, and probably not very well.

I read a lot. There are forces moving around behind the scenes that, to me, are the same in America and the same in Britain. I can't help feeling that the reason we're being distracted with a couple of clowns on either side is directly because certain people want us to be focused on a concept of our own self-destruction, rather than looking outward and thinking there's a much bigger problem here. You know, we're arguing about who said what to whom while ice sheets are melting, while alarm bells are going off. And I can't help thinking that's deliberate. 

Thom Yorke in a CBC Montreal studio. (Susan McKenzie/CBC)

On returning to Toronto after the death of his friend and drum technician, Scott Johnson

I think we made our point. We feel we know who's responsible. They know who's responsible. There are people who haven't been held to account — we know that will happen at some point — and at the same time, the emotionally generous thing to do is to move on and register it. Believe me, words cannot describe the feelings that went along with it for us and our crew, but on the act of going and playing in Toronto, and standing in silence, I hope that our silence is our last word on the subject. I felt that our silence was a bell that sounded very loudly and I hope people heard it, for Scott's sake and for his family. We don't want to punish the people of Canada for this because it wasn't their fault. We know exactly whose fault it was and they'll be held accountable at some point. So it's all right.

On navigating nostalgia with Radiohead

I don't really feel that we've turned into a nostalgia outfit. There are things that I enjoy about it. We did three or four shows in a row at Madison Square Garden and we did pretty much a different set every night, and we still managed to keep everybody interested. That really was quite an amazing experience. It was really fun. It was really challenging because we're throwing songs at each other and we're looking at each other going, "OK, what happens now? Do we get to the bridge yet? Wait, what happens here?" You know, it's quite on edge because we had like 66 or 70 different tunes we were playing on that tour. So there are some elements of nostalgia that I really enjoy.

I'm also fascinated to look back on what we've done, and try and remember who the hell it was who wrote that, or who the hell it was who played it. Because oftentimes, we're halfway through the song, and I'm asking myself, "How on earth did we get to this point? How did we find this?" Because I don't remember it — I'm looking at it from so far away. I don't remember the process. I guess I'm still working and doing new things all the time, we all are, so it doesn't really bother me. If we were touring endlessly, playing the same stuff, then you'd be talking to a different person right now.

Yorke's new album, Anima, is out now. He's bringing his latest tour to Laval, Que. on Thursday, Toronto on Friday and Vancouver later this fall.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Thom Yorke, download our podcast or click 'Listen' near the top of this page.

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview with Thom Yorke produced by Mitch Pollock.

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