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Interview:
Radiohead returning to Detroit after 15-year absence
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

It's been nearly 15 years -- since Aug. 15, 1997, exactly -- since Radiohead last performed in the Detroit area. Or in Michigan, for that matter.

So first things first; bassist Colin Greenwood says it's nothing personal, and that all the urban myths about the British quintet's animus towards the area -- including being dissed on air by a local rock radio DJ -- are "all rubbish."

"We would never want to pick on any city," assures Greenwood, 42. "We've played there three or four times -- Lansing, Ann Arbor at least twice, Saint Andrews (Hall), although load-out at Saint Andrews can be a bit scary, sometimes, at two in the morning.

"There's all those cliches when you're in a band and you're going to Detroit, that they eat people there or something. But, nah, there's no reason" that Radiohead hasn't played the city for so long.

A lot has certainly happened in the decade and a half interim, however.

Back in 1997 Radiohead was its zenith. The group -- founded in Oxford, England, by Greenwood and his younger brother, guitarist Jonny [cq] Greenwood, frontman Thom Yorke, guitarist Ed O'Brien and drummer Phil Selway -- was touring to promote its third album, "OK Computer," a Grammy Award winner, a Mercury Prize nominee, a consensus choice as one of the best albums of that year and a fixture on lists of greatest albums of all time (it ranks No. 162 on Rolling Stone magazine's most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time). "OK Computer" vaulted the group, to that point best-known for its 1992 hit "Creep," to an entirely different strata.

And in its wake, Greenwood notes, "There were bands appearing in England that were having big success with sort of diluted versions of what we were doing. There were a number of bands who, when journalists wrote about them, (they) use the R word to describe them -- though they've gone on to sell a lot more records than we have!"

But from its beginning, Radiohead's creative mantra has been "to show that anything is possible rather than everything is expected," according to Greenwood, and the group has spent the past 15 years being led by its collective muse, even when it led Radiohead in directions that eschewed both creative and commercial expectations.

"At the time, the media was building us up to be the next sort of U2 or R.E.M.," Greenwood recalls. "But some of our experiences on `OK Computer' made us very uncomfortable with that career trajectory, so we wanted...to work out how to do things a bit differently."

That was certainly the case with the one-two punch of 2000's "Kid A" and 2001's "Amnesiac," a pair of boldly experimental albums recorded during the same sessions that largely ditched the guitars and explored more spacious and textured musical landscape influenced by electronic music and artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre. "Our goal was really not to do what we've done before -- it's really as simple as that -- and not to go over old ground," explains guitarist O'Brien, 44. There wasn't mass amounts of thinking behind it; it was just 'We're not gonna go over old ground.' "

Fans, it turned out, welcomed the new approach. "Kid A" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, went platinum and won another Grammy, while "Amnesiac" bowed at No. 2 and went gold. That emboldened Radiohead to continue going its own way, releasing three more albums -- 2003's "Hail to the Thief," 2007's Grammy-winning "In Rainbows" and last year's "The King of Limbs" -- in addition to the 2011 remix collection "TKOL RMX 1234567."

Radiohead has sold more than 30 million albums to date, and it was ranked No. 73 on a Rolling Stone list of The Greatest Artists of All Time. The magazine's readers, meanwhile, ranked Radiohead No. 2 in a poll of best artists of the 00s.

"In a way we bought out of a lot of things that might make for a sort of successful career trajectory...and bought into something that made us a lot happier as a band and insured we carried on," Greenwood says. "We would have split up after 'OK Computer' if we hadn't done ('Kid A' and 'Amnesiac') and tried to do something different."

O'Brien adds that, "If you tend to do something that's different and new, it's not going to be easy because you're challenging your own preconceptions. But it's always like that -- it was like that on 'The Bends' and it was like that on 'OK Computer.' So it never really changes in that respect. If you're gonna do something new, it's going to be difficult. It [I]should[/I] be difficult, because the notion of doing something new implies that, really."

That, of course, means anything goes for the future. New music "is always being written," according to O'Brien, and frontman Yorke has periodically spoken about giving up the album format and releasing singles only. Greenwood says the group is open to all possibilities, but he's learned over the years not to make predictions.

"As a band, if you were to ask what we'd like to do in the future, you'd get a boring answer like the five of us want to do something people will find new and unusual and stimulating," Greenwood says. "The most important thing, I suppose, is to get to the stage where we enjoy what we're doing in front of an audience who enjoys it, too. That sounds really cheesy, but it's not meant to. It's really a challenge that we...truly welcome."

Radiohead and Caribou perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 11, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $69.50. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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