Secrets of Radiohead’s “Kid A” and “Amnesiac”
In early 1999, Radiohead began to assess what to do after the acclaimed 1997 film OK Computer. “It’s now quite difficult to explain this, but we were deeply suspicious of any level of success that we had had,” recalls Thom Yorke. “We had been following this trajectory, and then suddenly we were there with this huge, ridiculous expectation – but at the same time sort of frozen in place. When the flashes went off, we were just paralyzed.
The sessions for what would become Radiohead‘s fourth and fifth albums spanned over a year of stimulating work at studios in Paris, Copenhagen and their hometown of Oxford, England. “We were trying to chase each other and run as fast as possible in another direction,” Yorke adds. “Trying to get away from where we had been in a new place.”
As creative tension mounted, Yorke took refuge in the visual imagery he was developing with Dan Rickwood, aka Stanley Donwood, an old friend from their art studies together as undergraduates at the University of Exeter. They had created all the illustrations for Radiohead since 1994; now they have found themselves exploring new techniques in tandem with the group’s progress in the recording studio.
“What that meant was to embrace the artwork as a work of art for the first time,” says Yorke. “When we did OK Computer, we were working with a scanner, and it made no mess. We could be around and be polite, and we got something out of it. But suddenly we’re in our own space, and Dan could make a perfect studio with dust on the floor and rats and a cute little fireplace, and we could go skinny and listen to some music. There was suddenly an air of chaos, and it was really fun.
By the end of the process, Radiohead had jumped into a new universe beyond the rock horizon in the 2000s. Child A and 2001 Amnesiac – accompanied by a rich world of weird and dreamlike visual images that blend painting, drawing and digital design. Now, as they look back with a pair of art books (the hardcover catalog Kid A Mnesia and the chapbook style Fear invades the earth!) and a deluxe reissue of both albums, Yorke and Donwood hopped on Zoom to talk about those heady, experimental days.
“When we went through the multitrack tapes of Child A and Amnesic, music and artwork ended up becoming something a little more transcendent, ”Yorke says. “Trying to embrace some sort of future, even if it’s a nightmare. We were trying to erase hope from dirt somehow.