LORD OF THE DANCE
Radiohead’s Philip Selway Talks his favourite Canadians, falling asleep onstage and a 30-year-old bad review
IT’S BEEN NINE YEARS SINCE PHILIP SELWAY RELEASED A PROPER SOLO RECORD, so one might expect the follow-up to 2014’s Weatherhouse would find the legendary Radiohead drummer in his rightful place behind the kit, working his magic. Selway thought the same, but it turns out Strange Dance had other plans.
“I fully intended to drum on this one. But I got about a day into starting that process in the studio, and it kind of wasn’t happening for me as I wanted it to,” Selway tells Exclaim! from his residence in London.
That kind of drummer’s block might’ve thrown Selway for a loop, but he used it instead as an opportunity to lean further into the fluid, collaborative nature of Strange Dance; each sound is coloured by its creator’s individual flair, moving with unmistakable character.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational concert?
One of the most enjoyable ones I saw was at Osheaga in Montreal. I was doing a solo show there earlier in the afternoon and all my gear went down, actually, so that show wasn’t without its technical hitches — but, fantastic festival. I had my family there with me, and my sons were just at the age where they’re kind of really, really getting into music. And we went to see the Black Keys headline the festival, and they were incredible. It was just a really magical moment — they were on fire.
What has been the greatest moment of your career so far?
I think it’s the fact that with Radiohead, I can sit there on stage and think, “Oh my god, these are all people that I was at high school together with, and we basically learned to play our instruments together, been through these incredibly formative experiences and intense experiences together.” We’ve come a long way as a band, but I can still place myself back in those first rehearsals.
What advice should you have taken but did not?
This is another Radiohead-related thing: we were headlining a festival in Belgium, and it went on quite late. And somebody said to me at the time, because my bedtime isn’t too late, “Do you fancy a cup of coffee, Philip? Just to keep you in it?” And I said that I’d be fine. And we went out and did the show and, literally, my body started going into kind of sleep patterns, and I couldn’t play. It was awful! For about four or five songs, I think everybody was turning around and looking at me with utter shock on their faces. So yes, I should have had that cup of coffee.
What is the meanest thing that anyone has ever said about your art?
Just after we were signed, we did a show in London. It must have been around the time we released Pablo Honey, or just before that, and a journalist came along. And we read through the review afterwards and he called us a “lily-livered excuse for a rock band.” It’s one of those criticisms that really struck home at the time, and the fact is, I think you could probably ask any member of the band and that one is just kind of imprinted on us. It still stings now!
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
We’d been playing a show in Vancouver, and I went to the afterparty afterwards and I was talking to somebody. She was really nice, just talking and chewing the fat about the show, and she was talking about her day job and everything. And I just thought, “Oh, okay, that was a really pleasant conversation.” And we went our own separate ways, and I walked over to somebody else in the touring party and they said to me, “So what’s Gillian Anderson like?”
What would be your ideal dinner guest living or dead? And what would you serve them?
Joni Mitchell. You might notice that I’m going with some Canadian themes on this; some of the best people come from Canada. And what would I serve her… Do you know what? I’d want her to come back and see me again, so there’s no way I’m going to cook for her because I’m a bit of a disaster in that respect. So I think we’d have to go out somewhere, and I would do my homework ahead of time to find out what her favourite cuisine was. And I would do everything I could to ingratiate myself.
What is the greatest song of all time?
“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. Even beyond Shrek, that song kind of just connects with everybody, doesn’t it? And there’s so many incredible versions that have been recorded, and it’s a lyric you can lose yourself in. I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s like a great hymn, isn’t it?
“EVERYBODY WAS TURNING AROUND AND LOOKING AT ME WITH UTTER SHOCK ON THEIR FACES.”