Radiohead aren't even making music at this point; they aren't playing songs. In the spring of 2012, Radiohead are hoisting grand canopies of sound into the air—pantheons of frequency and waves. Thom Yorke, at the core, has become a messianic troubadour, an orator-mandala. He's not here or now—he's elsewhere, enveloped in the natal mass of another dimension. A plain of pendulums, pathos, and saints, with the marrow of his skull's sounding chamber forming a poised voice for the ages.
Radiohead, however, are not just one man. For 27 years and eight full-lengths (with over 30 million copies sold worldwide), Yorke, Jonny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, and Phil Selway have chiseled themselves into a consummate unit. Onstage the arrangements become soaring vehicles, cathedrals of velocity. Radiohead shows are a participation in that free fall. Speakers emit doctrine, and between Yorke's lines rise great spaces in time.
There is a newcomer in the ranks. He is Clive Deamer, who also wields sticks for Portishead. His drumming is scrupulous and aware, taking on the beats that would otherwise be played by drum machine. Together, he and Selway double the percussed engine of Radiohead's hoisting. Their two bald heads gleam in tandem like radar dishes, arms pulling the syncopated levers of a clockwork canopy. Deamer spoke via cell, bypassing several radar satellites.
How did Radiohead decide they wanted a second drummer? And how was it decided that you would be that drummer?
I think they recorded The King of Limbs and decided later how they would perform it. Which meant either using a machine or a second drummer to generate the polyrhythmic aspect. In one sense, I'm the machine.
When Radiohead asks you to play with them, that's got to be hard to turn down. "Um, oh, Radiohead? Let me see if I can work you into my schedule..." Are there scheduling conflicts with Portishead?
I was actually planning world domination with my jazz rock band Get the Blessing with bassist Jim Barr from Portishead. We'd just finished a new album called OC DC. Portishead then asked me to go on tour, and suddenly Philip [Selway] phoned, asking if I'd get involved with Radiohead. So I did have a few schedule challenges. I was lucky because Portishead cooperated generously with Radiohead to combine the two projects.
Did Radiohead give you parameters or guidelines for drumming for them?
Not really. Philip and I quickly agreed it shouldn't become a macho double-drummer battle. There's enough of that rubbish on YouTube.
How is it playing with them so far? Besides macho? How would you describe it? Is it like flying? It has to be like flying, right? Or free-falling, in an aerodynamic cathedral?
It's amazing playing with them, and fun. They let me do my thing. I do my utmost to make my contribution relevant. We get along very well on- and offstage. They even put up with my endless anecdotes about Robert Plant. [Laughs] As for flying, I'll leave that to your psychotherapist.
What would you say is the trickiest part of playing with a band like Radiohead?
Learning to say no to the cake trolley.
What has surprised you the most?
That after 38 years playing drums, people like you want to interview me. [Laughs]
Radiohead is one of the few bands on earth right now where the shows are truly experiences, dumb as that sounds. People are so into the music, and the music is so heightened, and lucid, and multi-leveled. It's a holy thing. What's that like? Does it ever get old? Are there ever moments where you're like, "Oh my God, Thom Yorke is Mozart"?
It's true that there is something very moving when a large body of people come together with such heartfelt love of music, and when the music is this good it's impossible to not be moved by all those happy-spirited faces. However, Thom's always shaking his ass around the stage, so I soon remember where I am. I doubt Mozart did that, and Thom doesn't read music, so does that answer your question?
Who was it that called Radiohead freak monkeys?
That would be members of The Westboro Baptist Church protesting outside the gig in Kansas City. Yes, they described Radiohead as "freak monkeys with mediocre tunes." Assuming the statement was aimed at me, too, I have no problem being called a freak monkey. I suspect I have the greater chance of evolving. I've also heard their music, and it's as sour as their negative outlook.
I like "freak monkey" as a description. What are you and the Radioheads listening to on tour?
On tour I've been listening to Santigold's Creator, Rye Rye and M.I.A.'s "Bang," Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor." I had fun in KC playing the chaps some of my fave R&B and jazz clips on YouTube: Les McCann and Eddie Harris's "Compared to What" live in 1969; Aretha Franklin's "Don't Play that Song (You Lied)" from the Cliff Richard show in 1970; Big Joe Turner with the Hampton Hawes All-Stars. Thom and I discovered our mutual love for Howlin' Wolf—a no brainier, obviously!
What do you think about while you're playing? Give me a snapshot of your drumming brain while at work. There's the magnitude and experience of all that is Radiohead—that sonic temple that the sound builds, that's put out there. Where the songs elongate and fold into worlds. What runs through your mind as one of the engines that's hammering down the nuts and bolts of the grand canopy? Do you ever think about the book you are reading? Or the glass of orange juice you had for breakfast? Have you ever read H. G. Wells's The Time Machine? I imagine that while you're playing, in the throes of the Radiohead elongation, your mind might wander to the subterranean world of Wells's Morlocks. Or to that glass of orange juice you had for breakfast. But while you're playing, the glass turns into the Mediterranean Sea, made of orange juice, and you're piloting an ancient Greek trireme warship there. Please tell me this happens.
The contents of my mind come out best through a drum kit, not the spoken or written word.