REISSUE & SOUNDTRACK OF THE YEAR
As Radiohead mark 20 years since OK Computer, the band’s Philip Selway looks back at the making of their seminal album – and talks about his just-released movie soundtrack. Words Ed Power.
Radiohead’s Philip Selway on his brilliant soundtrack for Let Me Go and the 20th anniversary of the classic OK Computer.
It has been a year of anniversaries for Radiohead. A quarter of a century ago they released ‘Creep’, the valentine to self-loathing that brought these laureates of glum their first serious success (and which they promptly disowned).
In 1997, meanwhile, the group put out OK Computer, a meditation on what it is to be human in the coming machine age. The apocryphal story is that they all went mildly mad recording the album at actress Jane Seymour’s sprawling mansion on the outskirts of Bath. Such was the creative fervour that gripped these five exceedingly serious young Englishmen, at one point singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood were separately convinced the house was haunted.
“You can look back on it fondly, with the safety of years,” says the band’s drummer Philip Selway of the tumultuous making of OK Computer, the 20th birthday of which Radiohead marked with a double-disc reissue of the LP.
“At every stage in the existence of Radiohead there has been an intensity in the process. That hasn’t changed really. It was interesting looking at how the intensity manifested itself at that point.”
Radiohead were keen to honour OK Computer when performing at Dublin’s 3Arena in June, with jettisoned out-take ‘I Promise’ prominent in the set.
“I enjoyed the process of going back to the archive to release songs that were important to the sessions but didn’t make the final cut – ‘I Promise’, ‘Man of War’…,” says Selway. “It was fantastic to be able to finally issue those tracks.”
Nostalgia isn’t a quality one associates with Radiohead. But OK Computer arguably remains the group’s defining LP – some will plead the case for for 2000’s Kid A – and the band were determined to do justice to its anniversary.
“When you’re in the middle of it you probably don’t appreciate the scope of what you are doing,” says
Selway. “To actually go back and think - ‘oh that’s a very
productive time for us’…. The shows we’ve performed recently… they feel like some of the best we’ve ever done. After 30 years, it’s as if our playing has reached another level.”
In attendance at Dublin was Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who watched from beside the soundboard and tweeted his appreciation immediately afterwards.
“I was delighted,” says Selway. “We actually came across him later in the week because we played Glastonbury. We really enjoyed Dublin – we’ve had some very significant shows in Ireland, at the Galway Festival… and those gigs at the Olympia. We were just setting off on albums and those concerts felt very much like landmarks.”
Selway is speaking to Hot Press as he prepares to release his third solo LP. After two agreeably proggy forays into confessional pop, the latest record is a feature film soundtrack, accompanying Polly Steele’s Let Me Go.
Radiohead have had their flirtations with the screen. OK
Computer favourite Exit Music (For A Film) began as a movie commission; later the quintet underwent something of a crisis when contracted to contribute to the soundtrack of the disastrous 1998 Hollywood remake of British spy caper The Avengers. Indeed, it was their inability to come up with a song they deemed up to their standards that prompted the group to switch gear and make the more avant-garde Kid A.
Let Me Go is a better fit for Selway and Radiohead’s magnificent moodiness. The film is based on the true story of a woman abandoned by her mother in Germany at the height of World War II (among the cast is Sing Street’s Lucy Boynton). The soundtrack is by turns understated and tumultuous, with Selway variously pairing his expressive voice with Sigur Ros-esque typhoons of string and minimalist guitar. In its way, it feels like a companion piece to Radiohead’s similarly stripped-down 2016 LP A Moon Shaped Pool and fans of that undertaking will find much here to appreciate (the movie, for its part, can be watched on video on demand).
“There were elements of all the music I had worked on through the years, “says Selway. “I could draw on all of that and then apply it to this much broader creative endeavour where you are working with a director and are inspired by the talents of the cinematographer and of the actors.”
Back on planet Radiohead, news has broken of the group’s nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – surely the least Radiohead-esque honour imaginable. Hot Press jokingly congratulates Selway, observing that he must have been up all night celebrating. “Eh..um… ,” he stammers and essentially pretends to know nothing of the accolade. It’s a heartening reminder that these awkward outsiders remain as determined as ever not to fit in.
The soundtrack to Let Me Go is out now.
“At every stage in the existence of Radiohead there has been an intensity in the process."