TAS Interview: Radiohead's Phil Selway
Radiohead drummer Phil Selway might have spent part of the year recording an eighth album with his bandmates, but in August he also released his dreamy, contemplative solo debut, Familial, on Nonesuch Records in the States and Bella Union in the UK.
The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali caught up with Selway on the phone not long ago and discovered that even a member of one of the most influential rock bands of all time can't tear his kids away from "The X Factor."
While Selway had an intriguing answer regarding his tour dates next year (could they be with and without Radiohead?), if you're lucky enough to be in London on December 16, you can catch Selway's Bella Union Christmas Show at Union Chapel with Peter Broderick (occasional Efterklang member), Alessi's Ark and Lanterns on the Lake. Mince pies are promised:
Alisa: I understand that the groundwork for your solo album came from Neil Finn’s Seven Worlds Collide project where you did some drumming, guitarwork and lead vocals and you even penned two of the songs for the album.
Phil Selway: That’s right. That really set me on my way, doing that. It also introduced me to the musicians playing on the record, like Lisa Germano and Sebastian Steinberg and Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone. from Wilco. But I think what I came away with, having been in Seven Worlds Collide, was confidence. A belief I’d actually be able to make a record.
Alisa: The two songs you penned for that record made it onto your solo record, right?
Phil: That’s right. A song called “The Ties That Bind Us” which is actually the version that I recorded in New Zealand. The final song on Familial is called “The Witching Hour” and I recorded a different version for Seven Worlds Collide. This version is actually my original demo which I came back to.
Alisa: How is the other one different?
Phil: It has other musicians on there. Lisa Germano and Jeff Tweedy are playing on it. And KT Tunstall and Bic Runga do the backing vocals on the Seven Worlds version so it’s essentially the same song but it’s interesting when you play with different musicians how they can take the song off in a different direction.
Alisa: I imagine that you’ve encountered many talented musicians, but what is it about these group of people that appealed to you?
Phil: They’ve all got very distinct musical voices in their own right and a lot of experience as well. It all fell in quite naturally over the song “The Ties That Bind Us.” These musicians gravitated towards that and without actually going through lots of different options, there is something that happened very easily there. There’s seems to have been a natural rapport and it was a good, appropriate blend for the kind of music I was writing.
Alisa: You named the album Familial so there’s a family theme here. In “Ties” there’s a line where you say that you say, “I want to shield you from my mistakes.” Is that for your child?
Phil: Yes. That line is, actually (laughs). It’s the sense that every family has its quirks which gets passed on through the generations. That line is pretty self-explanatory: “I want to shield you from my mistakes.” It’s that sense that you have as a parent that you see certain aspects of your own personality, the capacity for that, in your children. And you want to steer them in a different way.
Alisa: There’s a funny New Yorker cartoon of a child going off to college and saying to his parents, “Don’t worry. I promise to only make mistakes you’ve never made.”
Phil: Oh, I’m sure.
Alisa: As a touring musician, I’m sure there are difficulties balancing your career with your family. How do you deal with that? Do you take your family on the road?
Phil: Yes, actually. The last big chunk of Radiohead touring, my family did come out with me for the whole of the U.S. tour. It was fantastic. Great for me. We had our own bus (laughs). I had the experience of coming off stage when we’d done a show and suddenly I’d be home in about five minutes of leaving the stage! (laughs). It was great. Lovely, really.
Alisa: What do your kids think of your music. Are they big Radiohead fans? Do they realize that a lot of the songs on Familial are aimed at them?
Phil: Well, I actually wouldn’t say that a lot of the songs are aimed at them. They’ve got some awareness of Radiohead and my own stuff, but their music tastes take them other places which I think is quite right. Your dad’s music is your dad’s music! You want to find your own identity.
Alisa: So you don’t try to introduce them to music that you feel is more substantial?
Phil: Well, there’s always music being played around the house. Hopefully that’s kind of seeping into them. But it’s such a personal thing, music. And hopefully when you’re a kid or teenager, that’s really where you start to get a sense of your own personality. It’s a very important area of where you start to establish your own independence. I’d like to leave them to that one.
Alisa: What have they been listening to?
Phil: Has JLS made it over to the States? (laughs).
Phil: They came from one of these reality show, “The X Factor” sort of things. Who else do they like? Blur, Black-Eyed Peas, that kind of thing. Left to their own devices, they’ll come up with something good.
Alisa: So they don’t try to rebel against Dad’s music? How old are they? Could they get into something like Kid A?
Phil: Maybe eventually. They’re still only 11, 9 and 7. A little young. But there’s plenty of time.
Alisa: Are you doing any tours in the US?
Phil: There’s nothing concrete yet. Just talking about the possibility of dates. So hopefully I’ll be in the States, in one guise or another, next year.