Members: Thom Yorke
Thomas Edward Yorke (born October 7, 1968 in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England) is best known as the lead singer of the English alternative rock band Radiohead. He has also recorded as a solo musician: his debut album, The Eraser, debuted July 10th 2006 in the UK and July 11th in the US.
He mainly plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar and piano, but has also played drums and bass guitar (notably during the Kid A and Amnesiac Radiohead sessions). He has one brother, Andy, of the band the Unbelievable Truth. Yorke currently lives in central Oxford with his partner, Rachel Owen, a printmaker who holds a doctorate in art history, and their two children, Noah, born in 2001 (to whom the Radiohead album Amnesiac was dedicated) and Agnes, born 2004 (to whom Yorke dedicated The Eraser).
As a young child Yorke underwent surgical operations to correct a paralysed left eye he had had since birth. In his first five years he undertook as many operations, which he has claimed were "botched", leaving the eye mostly blind and giving him his trademark ptosis (drooping eyelid). This, coupled with the fact that the Yorke family would never stay rooted in one spot for long, meant that finding friends was to prove difficult throughout his childhood, creating an atmosphere of isolation. Yorke's father worked as a chemical engineering instruments salesman, which necessitated the family's frequent relocation.
The Yorke family finally settled in Oxfordshire and Yorke received his first guitar at the age of seven, having been inspired by a TV screened performance of Queen guitarist Brian May. His first song, "Mushroom Cloud" described a nuclear explosion, and by age ten he had joined his first band at the private Abingdon School for boys. It was at this school that he was to meet his future Radiohead bandmates Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway, Colin Greenwood and Colin's younger brother, Jonny.
The group was named On A Friday, as Friday was the only day on which the members were allowed to rehearse. The band would prove to have considerable longevity, surviving the members' attendance at different universities and eventually evolving into Radiohead. Yorke, in this early line up, played guitar and provided vocals, and was already developing his songwriting and lyrical skills.
While attending the University of Exeter, where he studied Fine Art and English, he worked as DJ at Guild nights and played with the band Headless Chickens. He also held a part time position as an orderly at a psychiatric hospital. Around this time he met Stanley Donwood, an artist who from 1994 on would become an important collaborator on single and album artwork for Radiohead, Yorke often working under an alias ('The White Chocolate Farm', 'Tchock') during such projects.
On A Friday reformed in 1991 as the members were finishing their degree courses. Now relocated to Oxford, they signed to EMI and changed their name to Radiohead, the name taken from the Talking Heads album True Stories.
Radiohead, with Yorke as a blonde-haired figurehead, first gained notice with the hit single "Creep" (allegedly written in the men's toilets of Exeter University's student club The Lemon Grove) although some speculated the band would only achieve status of one-hit wonders. The song appeared on the band's first album Pablo Honey, which received mixed reviews.
The band came to resent Creep and the expectation around it soon became a weight on their shoulders. Their feelings towards the song was clearly indicated on their second album, The Bends, particularly on "My Iron Lung". It has been argued that this is the album on which the qualities for which Radiohead is best known today first appear. Yorke himself, being chief songwriter, lyricist and vocalist, is attributed many of the same personal qualities as exist in Radiohead's music from this period to the present day - themes of isolation, hope, resignation, and urban-existentialism to name several.
How Yorke, as the driving influence of Radiohead, has dealt with his growing status and reverence has been arguably one of the more interesting aspects of the band's evolution. 1997's OK Computer, whilst heralded as a landmark album by virtually every publication that reviewed it, forced Yorke into a period of depression brought about by fear that the personalities behind Radiohead - chiefly, his own - were more prominent than the actual music. 2000's Kid A was again a musical departure from the band, Yorke in particular having struggled with the idea of a follow-up to the mammoth success of OK Computer.
Some of Yorke's songs have political undertones, most prominently on the album Hail to the Thief; the title is often seen, albeit contentiously, as a direct reference to the 2000 U.S. presidential election when George W. Bush was alleged by his critics to have stolen the election from Al Gore; but this has been repeatedly denied by the band. Post-Pablo Honey, Yorke's lyrics have become increasingly oblique, particularly on the band's more recent albums.
Yorke has explained in various interviews that he dislikes the "mythology" he feels is endemic within the rock genre, and hates the media's obsession with celebrity. In interviews, he does not seem to be particularly taken with the idea of being famous, or even show that he feels it is necessary that he is asked questions about his music.
In terms of talent and ability, Yorke is known for his distinctive falsetto ("Fake Plastic Trees", "How To Disappear Completely") and ability to reach, and sustain, high notes ("Creep", "Exit Music (For a Film), Let Down"). His singing voice has been directly compared, and indeed partially attributed to, that of Jeff Buckley. During the recording sessions for The Bends in 1994, the band watched Buckley in concert; Yorke later said the concert had a direct effect on his vocal delivery on "Fake Plastic Trees." . Aside from vocal duties, Yorke's musical contributions to Radiohead include piano (including Rhodes piano, especially on Kid A) and especially guitar, both acoustic and electric. He also plays bass guitar (The bass line for "The National Anthem" was recorded by him) as well as drums on occasion; in concerts performed in 2006 he performed drums on stage in tandem with drummer Phil Selway. Since Kid A, however, Radiohead, and in particular Yorke, have moved away from using solely these "rock" instruments for creating music, and have often seen fit to incorporate elements of electronic music in Radiohead's work.
While appearing on Jo Whiley's Radio 1 show in 2003 to publicise the release of Hail to the Thief, Yorke remarked that he would rather make an album just with a computer rather than with only an acoustic guitar. He also said that his ultimate achievement as a musician would be if he could work the "Mexican Hat Dance" theme into a song and have it taken seriously. Additionally, Yorke has stated that he thinks that computer programs such as Pro Tools give the musician more power over the direction of one's music than traditional instruments . The Eraser, his first solo album, indeed stayed true to this notion.
Radiohead are currently recording their new album. Though it was originally expected to be released sometime in 2006, a recent press release has stated that a new album should not be expected until 2007. Yorke has said that recordings for the new album have been difficult, yet well enough to play some new material on tour in 2006. Radiohead will be playing several more dates later in the year, particularly the V Festival in England in August.
Yorke has claimed never to listen to Radiohead records after they are released, and it appears this will be the case for the forthcoming album. "I will dread listening to it all after we have left in the real world. I always dread that. I'd much rather start something new and forget," Yorke recently wrote in Radiohead's blog.
It is important to note that the band has fulfilled its contract with EMI, and as such has no label or deal. Recently the band have spoken about the pressures of working with no set deadline; Yorke has stated he prefers this freedom, yet bandmember Jonny Greenwood does not.
Yorke said that the band will sign a new contract with a new label, on their own terms and not before the new album is finished and ready to release.
Yorke released The Eraser, an album of solo material, on July 10, 2006 in the UK and July 11, 2006 in the U.S. Produced and arranged by Nigel Godrich, featuring cover art by Stanley Donwood, it was released on the independent label XL Recordings. Yorke has said that this album is "more beats & electronics" and has denied that it means he is leaving Radiohead stating "I want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah... this was all done with their blessing, and I don't wanna hear that word solo. It doesn't sound right" .It reached number 9 on the Irish charts in its first week. The album is nominated for the prestigous Mercury Music Prize.
Yorke's enigmatic persona has made him a cult figure, but he has also been outspoken on various contemporary political and social issues. Radiohead had read No Logo by Naomi Klein during the Kid A sessions ("No Logo" was also briefly considered as the album title) and all the members were reportedly heavily influenced by it. Yorke is also a professed fan of Noam Chomsky's work.
He is friends with the environmentalist writer, academic and journalist George Monbiot; Yorke lent a quote to feature on the front cover of Monbiot's book Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain. He has garnered attention as a political activist campaigning for causes including fair trade, anti-war movements such as CND, Amnesty International, and most recently the Friends of the Earth campaign "The Big Ask".He played at the Free Tibet concert in 1999.
Asked about his activism, Yorke said that "the difference between me and Bono is that he's quite happy to go and flatter people to get what he wants and he's very good at it, but I just can't do it. I'd probably end up punching them in the face rather than shaking their hand, so it's best that I stay out of their way. I can't engage with that level of bullshit. Which is a shame, really, and in a way it would help if I could, but I just can't. I admire the fact that Bono can, and can walk away from it smelling of roses."
2006 - The Eraser