thom yorke interview

2

Do you suffer from depression?

“This is why I get defensive,” he replies, sinking back into his chair. "People reflect this back onto the music we make as well and it makes me quite angry. Depression is a medical condition, and in this country especially it’s very badly stigmatised and it damages the people who suffer from it. If you suffered from dyslexia, for a long time that was stigmatised. And now it’s sort of encompassed and you can have treatment. If you suffer from depression, you are stigmatised. You’re a freak, you can’t get a job – things like that – if you’re medically depressed.”

He lurches forward, boring a hole in the table with his gaze. “For there to be a culture of antagonism towards music that involves depression or any form of self-expression where perhaps the artist suffers from depression, well, you know, the artist is a freak and will get attacked for it. And it will reflect back in the music. And I think that absolutely fucking stinks.”

People trivialise it? “Yes, and I have a problem with that. Because that shows utter irresponsibility and lack of respect for, not just me, but anybody who suffers at all from depression. It can be an illness – I’m not saying it’s an illness for me because I I’ve sort of dealt with it. But for a lot of people it really is an illness, and for the sake of them I think it’s highly offensive.”

Was there a single event or period which shaped his mental state?

“Depression’s not like that. When you say you suffer from depression it’s a condition, it’s something that’s there, that’s all. It’s not particularly strong, it’s not particularly destructive, it’s not particularly bad - I’ m very lucky. Lots of people are much, much worse – lots of people can’t leave the house. They’ve got no idea why, maybe they never will find out why. And all the drugs they get given don’t work, or whatever, and all the therapy is completely pointless. That’s kind of not the point.”

Uncut, august 2001

So, what is an iron lung?
Thom: it’s an artificial respirator. They were used on polio patients in the ‘50s. You’d be stuck in this huge steel box, and your head was the only thing that could move. You’d just live like that for the rest of your life.

Your new album is called The Bends. I’m afraid to ask…
Thom: The bends are what you get when you’re scuba diving and you come up too fast - you get too much nitrogen in your blood. You can die from it. I wonder if you implode or explode or what.

What happened to your long white hair?
Thom: it broke off. Honestly, I went to the hairdresser’s to get it dyed, and when they toweled it, my hair just fell out.

You met at an all-boys school in Oxford. What was that like?
Jonny: It was a bit like Alcatraz. My housemaster would measure the bottom width of our trousers - we wore drainpipes back then. Then he’d send us home to put on wider ones. It was that kind of place.

Did you get into a lot of trouble?
Thom: I was fond of missing lessons. I’d go into town, which just meant I’d wind up in fights. Well, they really weren’t fights, because the other guys’d hit me and I’d fall over.

Mademoiselle, 1994 

Yorke describes the terror he felt at the mike on Radiohead’s early tours, acting out the seething distress in “Creep” – their Top 40 breakthrough in 1993 – and “My Iron Lung.” “I was freaking out,” he says, “like ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ It was like I was driving a car or flying a plane with my eyes closed: 'I’ll hit something eventually.’

"I understand now what Michael was doing,” Yorke says. “The things he was choosing not to do, not to be, were even more powerful than what he did. There was this air of deliberately a little fucked up.” Yorke grins in admiration. “I liked that.”

Rolling Stone, 2011

2

Charlotte: “(laughs) Um, would you say your music is more like a reflection of you, or is it more like constructing a parallel world?”

Thom: “Definitely the latter. Good question.”

Charlotte: “Oh, thank you.”

Thom: “(into the camera) I like that question.”

Charlotte: “Well, you think it’s more constructing a parallel world?”

Thom: “Yeah, I, you know, I get beamed it. I mean, my bits are beamed to me. They have nothing to do with me. I’m, you know, tuned into a certain frequency some days and recieve the information I need. It’s got nothing to do with me, I tell you.”

Charlotte: “So it just drops into your brain somehow.”

Thom: “Yeah.”

Charlotte: “And you sit around waiting for it.”

Thom: “Yeah. ”

Charlotte: “Really…”

Thom: “I wait like this.” (sits motionless for a few seconds, then laughs)

VIVA ‘Fast Forward’, june 20th or 22nd 2003

3

It’s 1:30pm and the gig (undoubtedly one of the best gigs I and, by the looks of it, Wolverhampton, have ever seen) finished hours ago.
Thom says he should talk to me now before he loses his voice, or consciousness, or both. Not only is Thom exhausted, he is also, as it turns out, deflated. (…)

Does the generally quite pensive Mr Yorke find it easier to write sad songs or happy songs?
“I don’t write happy songs,” he says. “Besides, emotions aren’t defined as happy and sad, are they? Unless you’re in advertising. There’s a whole range of emotions and the ones I don’t tend to write about are the ones that go: ‘I love my job/I love my life/I love my wife’. It’s like, you’re f***ing sad, then, aren’t you?”
Thom is not a happy man right now, it must be said.
“I’m a fucking wreck at the moment.” He proves the point by putting his head in his hands. “I’ve got no idea if I’m gonna be able to sing. I’ve no idea whether my foot will be all right, or anything. I’m constantly going "Aaaaagh!”

(…) 
“I don’t understand what I’m moaning about,” he says. “I’m constantly saying, 'Why is this a problem? You’re doing this, this is great. You’re playing in front of 2,000 people at the Astoria tomorrow.’”
“Why is it a problem?” he repeats my question.
“It’s a problem because I’m f***ing ill and physically I’m completely f***ed, and mentally I’ve had enough. It may be great because of that but it may be awful, and it all just rests on me, and I’ve never been in that position before, not in Britain. I don’t care about anywhere else." 


Phew.
Me thinks it’s time to cheer things up with a couple of quickfire opinions on contemporary pop issues.
The New Wave Of New Wave, Thom?
"Cak.”
Kurt Cobain?
“Dead.”
I thank you.

Melody Maker, june 11th 1994

What was the best thing that happened to you this year, besides going to Number One?
Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. I have a house by the sea, and I spent three weeks there this summer. I just went swimming every day. It was the best feeling in the whole wide world, being turned around by the ocean.

What was the oddest thing you bought this year?
I bought a book about standing stones in southern England.

Like the ones at Stonehenge?
Yeah. There’s a lot of these stones around my way. I got quite heavy into it. I’ve also been reading this book about Egyptian pyramids and temples and their relation to the stars – which is very unlike me, to read about that sort of thing. But I’ve been getting heavily into ancient cultures.

What is the thing you would most like to see change in the coming year?
I think the music corporations should stop f***ing with the way people listen to music, stop trying to fit everything in a f***ing box, start taking some f***ing risks.

That’s a lot of f***ing.
Yeah. You can edit those out if you like. I get into trouble with my mum.

Rolling Stone, circa 2000

Yorke and I have a seat on some plastic lawn furniture next to the pool. His hair is a blinding orange today, contrasting sharply with the oversized black-black sunglasses on his face. Seems he is nursing quite a hangover, but is in good spirits nonetheless. Jonny bounds over, shakes my hand and slides into a chair. The reluctant girl-magnet of the group, he’s got “cheekbones that could start a war,” (according to my friend Cat) and a bob of shiny black hair that hangs carelessly into his eyes. Noticing a painful-looking shaving cut on his chin, I inform him that he is bleeding.

“Oh, I know. I enjoy it though,” he says, pressing his hand against the cut. Staring at the splotch of blood on his hand, he looks surprised. “Cool! Should I go and mop?”

“No. Bleed on the table,” says Thom, sarcastically.

The two of them could be brothers. They don’t look anything alike, but they do weird things like finish each other’s sentences and repeat every other word the other is saying. Jonny’s real-life brother is Colin, but after hanging out with these two, I’m beginning to wonder if they were related in a previous life. They even play-fight over who will answer what question, constantly cutting each other off, competing to see who can be more clever. But it is all in fun. No Liam/Noel-esque punch-outs here in Camp Radiohead.

—  Radiohead Interview, 1996.