Thom Yorke gazes at the greasy, grey river slipping by outside. The afternoon has darkened, but he is brightening slightly. After an hour of nit-picking tension, he’s relaxing, opening up. Hell, even laughing. He talks about how the fall-out after OK Computer meant rewriting the ground rules, rebuilding Radiohead for a new millennium. But first, and perhaps more importantly, he had to learn to stop acting like a spoilt bastard.
By his own admission, Yorke had become an egomaniac dictator who ran Radiohead as his personal fiefdom. His power within the band was “absolutely unbalanced, and I chose to subvert everybody else’s power at all costs. But it’s not as bad as that any more. It’s actually a lot more healthy democracy-wise now than it used to be, partly because I was so paranoid and uptight about not getting my own way, and growing a beard and starting to bake your own bread and stuff has made me realise that maybe I’m not right all the time.”
That must have come as a shock. “It was a fucking nasty shock, man,” Yorke nods with a guilty grin. “I was terrible, awful. I created a climate of fear, the same way that Stalin did. Hurg hurg! I was very paranoid that things would get taken away from me. It was to do with being under massive amounts of pressure, as much as anything. You cannot make mistakes, you don’t have time, you have to get this right. And it takes its toll, so I had to sort of attack.”
In 1996, Yorke admitted, “I’m always losing my temper, and it’s very rarely justified.” In 1997, he told this writer, “You have to oscillate wildly between screaming megalomania and neurosis.” But the OK Computer period turned him into something of a tyrant. “We should have stopped earlier and we didn’t,” he says with the benefit of hindsight, “and in order to cope with things you build up all these fences, and there was part of me that was this horrible ego that was totally out of control. It was kind of just annoying, you know?”
How bad did it get? Did Yorke ever try and sack anyone in the band? “I don’t think so, no. The others wouldn’t let me do stupid things like that.”
Does he treat Radiohead as his personal kingdom? “Not any more.” And other people’s creative ideas are given breathing space? “Yes, and it’s more fun – it’s pointless otherwise, completely pointless. It was never really like that, but I kind of started thinking that it was… I started thinking that it was all my idea, and it wasn’t, it had never been my idea, but I started kidding myself that it was. In retrospect, I’m quite amazed that I got that bad, but I did.”
The last time we met, Yorke had just thrown a fit onstage and the rest of the band seemed to tiptoe around him carefully. “Yes, it’s something I used to do a lot,” he owns up. “I try and stop doing that, because it’s damaging and pointless.”