Radiohead with Stephen Malkmus at the Molson Amphitheatre (909 Lakeshore West), Saturday (August 16). Sold out. as the architect behind some of Rating: NNNNN
Radiohead's most experimental, outward-leaning moments, Johnny Greenwood's frustration with people wanting OK Computer Part 2 is understandable. For all vocalist Thom Yorke moans about being tired of rock 'n' roll and the sound of his own voice, it was the guitarist and his trunk of analog synths and mysterious noisemakers that pushed the band into new, exciting directions on their last two records.
When the group's new Hail To The Thief record was, uh, hailed in advance as a return to form, or at least to proper pop songs, conservative Mojo magazine readers were no doubt thrilled. Greenwood, meanwhile, seemed more enthusiastic about Yorke's boast that Radiohead would be "unrecognizable" in two years' time.
"My gut instinct is to say that that kind of opinion of us, the whole 'Give us another OK Computer' thing, is mainly held by people who don't really buy records any more," Greenwood offers from Boston. "They're into their one kind of music, and I suppose that's fair enough. We're still buying records and absorbing other sounds.
"If you've made a good record in a good style, then you've done it. To repeat it just wouldn't make sense. There are records that have come out by other people that sound like OK Computer or The Bends. We're just happy that we're not still making records like that because that kind of music isn't enough for us."
For all its straight-ahead pop hooks, Hail To The Thief still has an impressively wide reach, just as Kid A was a pop record despite its electronic dabbling.
In describing how the new record was made - with bandmates playing each other's instruments - the guitarist talks excitedly about how they're opening Radiohead's sound, from something rigid and defined to "just a band name."
"In these sessions, we let go of the idea of having a defined role," he explains. "The only role you have is being a member of the band Radiohead. When we learned to play the Kid A album live, we had to learn a whole set of instruments and methods of making music. That, in turn, informed how we would make the next record. We're just trying to keep things loose and interesting.
"It's the same thing with our quote-unquote sound. We've arrived at a place where we have the freedom to adapt that sound as we see fit. It's a very healthy thing and we're lucky to have the resources to do it."
Being a massively successful band with absolute creative freedom might allow you to dabble, but it doesn't protect you from the usual perils of the music industry.
Radiohead learned that first-hand when an unmastered though largely unchanged version of Hail To The Thief leaked onto the Internet more than three months before its scheduled release.
Greenwood was, in turn, bemused, horrified and annoyed by the leak. More troubling than the fact that thousands of fans heard an unmixed version of his new record is that he still has no idea how the tracks got out.
"These were recordings that we didn't even have, and they were really early. I think (producer) Nigel (Godrich) has narrowed down the day they were stolen, but I couldn't tell you how they were lifted.
"It was weird. It came at a really intense time within the band, and we didn't need the extra stress because we were paranoid anyway. The label was terrified, telling us that no one was going to buy the record. I was just amazed at how quickly they spread.
"We learned about it quite early on and within hours it was everywhere. I'll probably get in trouble for saying it, but I thought it was quite liberating, watching your unfinished album hop from in-box to in-box." firstname.lastname@example.org