- 13 Mar 20
"A lot of people have written us off as a one-song band; we need to prove them wrong," Colin Greenwood told us as they prepared to unleash their masterpiece.
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To kick us off, we're celebrating Radiohead's The Bends turning twenty-five today by revisiting our rather chucklesome pre-release interview with Colin Greenwood.
Whinging, yak-herding and masturbating over the Sunday dinner are just three of the tenuously-related subjects that come up for discussion as Stuart Clark gets completely wireless with Radiohead plankspanker from hell Colin Greenwood.
Brian Wilson once tried to decapitate brother Dennis with a cymbal, Liam and Noel Gallagher exchange regular kung-fu kicks on stage and Colin and Jon Greenwood have been known to, er, occasionally shout at each other. Quite loudly.
Yuh, demon plankspankers from hell they may be with guitars in their hands but in the sibling rivalry department, the fraternal Radiohead pair are a dead loss.
"What, you never heard about the time I attached electrodes to Jon's testicles backstage at Glastonbury?" blatantly lies Colin who at a zimmer frame-necessitating 27 is the elder of the two. "I think there are a couple of people at EMI who wouldn't mind us going on a stress mis-management course because inter-band violence seems to be all the rage at the moment. It's a standard question we get asked and I always feel a bit guilty saying, 'Well, no actually, we haven't hospitalised each other recently.' The trouble I think is that beyond the normal brotherly thing, I respect him as a person and a musician. I mean, Jonny's a great fucking guitarist which makes up for a lot of his unsavoury personal habits."
Forget comedy, you only have to glance through your average Pearl Jam/Smashing Pumpkins/Hole interview to realise that incessant whingeing is the new rock 'n' roll. Radiohead, on the other hand, belong to that dreadfully un-hip bygone age where being in a successful band wasn't regarded as a life sentence in Sing Sing prison with no hope of parole.
"Again, there have been interviews – particularly in America – where I've felt guilty because we're not close to the point of self-destruction," reflects the bassist. "If someone genuinely feels that way, fair enough, they should say it but there are groups who use being fucked-up as a sales gimmick and I think that's unforgivably calculating and potentially damaging to the people who take their word as gospel. I never gave much thought to this 'responsibility to your fans' thing until we started getting letters in response to 'Creep'. some of them were really, really heavy and I know Thom, especially, found it hard to deal with. I suppose that's because he wrote the words."
Indeed, Radiohead's small-but-perfectly-formed frontman recently confessed that, "I don't want to set myself up like that again. I've had letters from death row, guys who have killed people, and they're responding to the lyrics on 'Creep'. That scared the fucking hell out of me."
If Yorke was phased by his innermost personal thoughts becoming public property, it doesn't show on Radiohead's latest opus The Bends -an album so full of self-loathing that you almost expect it to slag itself off in reviews.
"Most of the genuinely creative people I've come across thrive on conflict," Greenwood continues. "You mentioned Pearl Jam a moment ago – well, I don't think Eddie Vedder would be able to write the songs that he does if the tension was missing from his life. Obviously I can't speak for Thom but generally within Radiohead there's always been this lack of confidence and a desire to be seen as underdogs. As childish as it might be, we're never happier than when we're triumphing over adversity."
Between you, me and Hot Press' half-dozen readers, how does Thom score on the miserablegitometer?
"If you caught him while he was writing his lyrics, probably a '7' or an '8' but otherwise he's a reasonably upbeat sort of person. It's not easy – you put stuff in a song because it's too difficult to talk about straight out and then you're expected to discuss it in minute detail with total strangers. Like everyone else, Thom has things that he needs to get out of his system but that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to psychoanalyse them in public."
I risk ex-communication from the Boyzone Fan Club for uttering such heresy but there are moments on The Bends when the sheer gut-wrenching intensity of Yorke's lyrics shows most of today's pop music up for the hollow sham that it is. I use the word 'pop' advisedly because no matter how dark the subject, Radiohead never lose sight of the fact that you need a decent hook to hang it on in.
While their recent press has been almost embarrassingly fawning, there was a time when Greenwood and co. were subjected to the sort of gratuitous abuse that makes you want to chuck in rock 'n' roll and take up yak-herding in Tibet. Might this have had something to do with Radiohead being university graduates rather than cor-blimey-stone-the-crows-and-make-no-mistake-missus cockney wideboys?
"I don't think it was particularly that," proffers Colin. "Most guitar music in the UK is the product of bands who have the money to be able to afford the equipment and that points towards the middle-classes. The first guitar I had when I was 15 I bought myself but my mum helped Jonny out with his and there was always a couple of quid there if we needed new strings or an amp repaired. It would've been far more street cred if we'd 'done a Sex Pistols' and nicked it but we didn't need to.
"The main reason, I think, that certain journalists reacted to us in a hostile way is that we didn't fit in with what they were trying to push at the time. We weren't dancey, we weren't political and we didn't have particularly great cheekbones. We could've developed a persecution complex about it but, to be honest, all it did was make us more determined to prove them wrong!"
Too bloody damn reasonable by half, that's Radiohead's problem. Having by some mad aberration of the UK educational system fluked his way into Cambridge, Colin set about getting himself elected college Ents Officer so that he could book the band he was in at the time for exorbitant fees.
"Actually, we did a pretty nifty cover of Elvis Costello's 'Pump It Up'," laughs Greenwood, who's obviously overcome the shame of being associated with a combo called On A Friday. "At one gig we did we had couples shagging on the lawn which I like to think was down to the seductive qualities of our music but I'd say had more to do with the vast quantities of beer that'd been consumed."
what did his mum make of Colin turning his back on the professions to become one of those acid-smoking, cannabis-injecting rock 'n' rollers?
"She wasn't too concerned about me because I'd already got my degree but she thought our manager was the son of satan for taking Jonny away from the first year of his music studies course at Oxford. She still tells us off for swearing too much in interviews but otherwise she's well into the band and the music. Her favourite track on Pablo Honey was 'Thinking About You' which I never had the heart to tell her was about masturbation. Wanking's one of those subjects you can't really raise over Sunday dinner."
Not unless there's Cream Custard on the menu. Being a vindictive little sod, I have to admit that I derived great pleasure from the Mondays, Suede and the Wonder Stuff falling flat on their over-hyped faces in America while the runt of the Britpop litter, Radiohead, sailed effortlessly into the Billboard Top 20.
"No one was more surprised when that happened than we were," Colin reflects. "We genuinely thought Pablo Honey was a good album but you only have to look at The Smiths or The Jam to realise that quality isn't always what wins through in the States. In fact, what it all boils down to is having the one song - like 'Creep' - which is distinctive enough to capture people's imaginations and gets pumped out on MTV 24 hours a day. Another half-decent track's useful if you want to get played on album radio but beyond that, it doesn't matter if the rest of the record's crap."
Having sampled the financial rewards that being Big In America can bring, it's to Radiohead's considerable credit that The Bends doesn't contain a single moment that could be described as 'Son Of Creep'.
"Somebody said to me the other day, 'It must be great no longer having anything to prove', and I told them, 'you must be joking!' There are a lot of people who've already written us off as a one-song band and getting back to being the underdog, we need to prove them wrong. I've got to hand it to EMI, we feared they might be in and out the studio every five minutes asking where the next 'Creep' was but they pretty much left us to our own devices. We got quite a bit of stick when we originally signed to them because they were a major and therefore perceived as the enemy of all things alternative. They offered to set our own label up for us so we'd appear 'indie' but we felt that was a complete nonsense. Actually, I've got a mate in a band who're on Creation and he was saying to me, 'I wish we had the fucking distribution you do'. That's what's important – having your record in the shops so that people can buy it."
As a keen amateur rock 'n' roll psychologist, I've noticed that British bands who fail to crack the States always go into a state of denial – blaming everyone from Bill Clinton to Colonel Sanders for their inability to woo the baseball-capped masses when in fact it's their own arrogance that's the cause of them getting the bum's rush from Uncle Sam.
"The attitude that pisses Americans off is groups coming over and expecting the red carpet treatment because they were on the cover of the Melody Maker last week. That's certainly what happened to Suede in '93 although, in fairness, I don't think the record company helped by hyping them up to such an extent that whatever they did was going to be an anti-climax.
"There's also a different work ethic in the States. Bands are quite prepared to spend six months non-stop on the road which is not something we're used to in the UK where the circuit is a maximum of 20 or 30 gigs. You really have to gear yourself up psychologically for that sort of long haul because it's not only physically but mentally draining. Then again, we've had some brilliant experiences touring the States and going south of the border into Mexico rates as perhaps the best week of my life. It helps that I'm not married or seriously girlfriended whereas Phil, our drummer, has a wife and goes through severe withdrawal systems when he's not with her."
Excuse me while I surreptitiously dab a tear from my eye. What, when they're not being great big soppy girl's blouses, do Radiohead do for kicks?
"What, apart from our crocheting and flower-arranging?" Greenwood deadpans. "The same stuff as you probably."
And there I was thinking I was the only one who enjoyed the sheer animal thrill of philately!
Click through to read our original 1995 review of The Bends: