Interview with Philip Selway of Radiohead
Written by Rhiannon and Emma on April 16, 2015
I (Emma) got to sit down with Philip Selway, the drummer of Radiohead, before his solo show at The Old Church on April 16th. We chatted about his new record, Weatherhouse, touring alone versus with Radiohead, his experience in university and more!
E: How did the idea to do your own records originate?
PS: Well it was kind of all driven by the fact that I was writing songs. I hadn’t in my head set out to make records. It’s just it got to the point where I had this collection of songs, critical mass of material, and I was wondering what to do with it and it didn’t feel appropriate to do it in Radiohead, it felt very personal to me. So you know the next logical thing was to find out how to perform it myself and so that kind of then lead on to making the records, well to the first one and I enjoyed making the first one so the second one seemed like a good thing to do.
E: What are the biggest challenges in making a solo record?
PS: I think you can’t let the ball drop in any way, you know. I’m lucky I’ve been able to collaborate on both records with musicians, incredible musicians, whose music I really admire anyway but it’s kind of your name on the tin at the end of the day so you just have to be very attentive to every aspect of it which is great I mean, that’s partially why you do it because, you know, you want to have that level of involvement in it. But, yeah I suppose it’s ultimately, you know you are ultimately responsible for it then. It’s your name on it.
E: How was the process of writing Weatherhouse different from Familial?
PS: I suppose with Familial there was a lot of uncertainty about the process for me and I didn’t know if I would actually be able to see an album through. I hadn’t written lyrics for a long time, didn’t really have a singing voice as such and so I suppose going into Weatherhouse I knew I’d accomplished those elements so it was, you know, building on those elements and I don’t know. I think one of the other differences for me was I couldn’t hear drum parts at all cause there was so much else to learn that my, you know, head was full of those and on this one I was starting to hear drum parts.
E: What do you find is the best inspiration for songwriting?
PS: I’d say musically that seems to, kind of the melodies and the chord progressions and everything, they happen when you kind of zone out and you know you just play, basically. In terms of lyrics, I suppose it’s just, it’s not the bigger issues, it’s those smaller, equally as impactful, everyday kind of relationships.
E: How has your relationship with music changed by doing your solo work?
PS: I suppose it’s given vent to the kind of range of what I do with music. I think anything that you do that stretches yourself, you’re a better musician, it stretches your musicality. So, you know, how I would then approach, say coming back to write a drum part in Radiohead, I suppose it’ll be influences from me having done the whole process myself. I suppose you develop a better understanding of how to make your performance or how to make the part you’re writing or whole song sound convincing.
E: If you’d made a solo record at age eighteen what would it sound like and how would it be different from your records now?
PS: Oh, it’d probably sound very pop-y. Probably a lot more angsty. That’s a really good question. Nobody’s asked that one! Yeah, ‘cause in some ways with Familial I felt like I was picking up on where I’d left off around eighteen but going into that awareness that at the time I was very nearly, well I’d just turned forty, and so thinking well I can’t literally pick up where I left off because that would be so inappropriate! I don’t know it would probably have sounded far more naïve.
E: One of the interesting things to me about Radiohead is how you keep getting younger fans, some of whom weren’t even born when you started releasing records, including me. I think that’s a real testament to your songwriting. Does it inform your process in any way? Do you even think about it?
PS: Well actually when we’re writing, no, I don’t think we do think about that part of it. I think we’re always taken aback when we play shows, you know, kind of the age range in the audience and that’s the most flattering thing really as a band.
E: What is the most important thing you learned from being in a band with such talented musicians that informed your own songwriting for the album?
PS: You really have to guard your confidence in your own voice, I think. It’s brilliant working with very talented musicians. That stretches you. You have to be very conscious of what it is that you do and what’s good about what you do as well and keep on honing that.
E: How are your solo shows different from playing with Radiohead and what do you like about each?
PS: I suppose with Radiohead it taps into the last thirty years of my life. So, you know, very powerful moments throughout that. And I love drumming. Musically, that’s my first love and I always get a lot out of that. For my material, I suppose for me it’s allowing kind of like the bigger picture of me to come over a bit more I think.
E: So how was Coachella different since you’re used to the size of crowds, but with the different material, how was that experience?
PS: I enjoyed playing that. I think this year I was probably the act being drowned out by the other things rather than being the band that was drowning everybody else out. It’s funny ‘cause I can’t really, ‘cause they’re two very different things so it’s quite hard to equate it. I suppose it’s my first time over in the States as me. So I’m not sure people know what to expect. Hopefully they like it when they come to see it, but it’s not Radiohead, you know. There are elements of that because I’m part of that but it’s not that. I suppose I’m getting used it.
E: What was the adjustment like adding a second drummer on the last tour with Radiohead?
PS: That was great. I mean with Clive Deamer, I’ve always loved his drumming, what he did with Portishead, Roni Size, you know, he just, he defined a lot of what was going on rhythmically for the same time as Radiohead was starting to get more prominence, really. And I asked Clive specifically ‘cause I felt that our drumming styles would blend really well and nothing to do with the fact that we’re both bald and play the same drum kit. It had nothing to do with that at all. But it just opened up this, particularly with the material off the last Radiohead record, The King Of Limbs, ‘cause it was very layered in the studio rhythmically anyway and so to actually finding a way of achieving that live, that was really exciting.
E: Is there any possibility of a 7 Worlds Collide reunion? Or The Weird Sisters?
PS: Well, the first one you’d have to ask Neil Finn. It would be lovely if there was one but I think it’s a huge undertaking to organize one of those. The second one, you’d have to ask J.K. Rowling I suppose! [laughs].
E: You’re forming a charity football team?
PS: Well, I’m part of a charity football team. Next weekend.
E: Next weekend? Wow. How is that? Is that scary at all?
PS: Bear in mind I haven’t put on any football boots in about thirty years. Plus [laughs]. A little bit peculiar. It’s with Geoff Barrow from Portishead.
E: That’s awesome. What have you been listening to lately?
PS: Hm what have I been listening to…Holly Herndon, Melanie de Biasio, her album last year, No Deal, was fantastic, new Sleater-Kinney album, really like Ezra Furman’s stuff at the moment as well, great band from Oxford, Glass Animals, continuing that output from Oxford.
E: I’m seeing them next month yeah!
PS: Yeah a lot of good, new music around at the moment.
E: And since I represent a college radio station I think it’s important to ask how your university experiences affected your relationship with music?
PS: Music probably dominated my university time more than study did, so it was great. I mean I came out with my degree and then went on to do post-grad stuff in publishing as well, which was great. But actually, kind of the opportunities it gave me musically as well to be involved in. I was very involved in the drama department for my degree and so I became like the house drummer, if you like, for that and then bands up in Liverpool as well. So, you know, it allowed me to do that but at the same time if I’d gone back and actually gone from eighteen, just gone straight into music, I don’t know if I would have liked that. I’d have loved it at the time, it would have been very exciting but I’d have hit this point now and thought ‘I’ve never done anything else’. I do slightly feel that but at least I have done other things like I had a proper job for a while, done things like teaching a foreign language and done my degree and post-grad stuff. It gives you something to contextualize what you do as a musician, particularly on the days where you’re like ‘Oh I don’t like this’ [laughs]. Don’t be silly!
E: Okay, well that’s it.
PS: Brilliant. Thank you very much.
E: Thank you so much!