Just because Philip Selway has been content with his role in Radiohead for the past two decades doesn't mean that he wasn't ready to branch out on his own. Hell, his bandmate Thom Yorke already did. The British band's drummer fulfills his solo dreams today with the release of Familial, a warm, folk-ish record that's a definite departure from his group's previous catalog, while maintaining Radiohead's standard for quality. Selway seems at home singing (for the first time) and working with a new group of musicians while taking a break from his legendary day job, but of course, we asked about their next project, too. Keep reading to find out what he had to say...
Interview by Ernest Baker
Complex: When did you decide to do a solo record?
Philip Selway: It's something that's been in the back of my mind for a while, but the idea cemented itself about three or four years ago. I'd been working—not working, actually, that's too grand a term for it. I'd been, over the years, writing stuff under the radar. I had all of these fragments of songs which were building into something that felt a bit larger. It was a bit too distinctly me to be appropriate in Radiohead. So I wanted to see that through. In what form, I didn't know. I didn't know if I'd sing, play guitar, or just stick to drums. I started learning the skills I'd need to make a good solo record. Some of it I had to learn from the ground up. I also had to build the confidence to be able to play it and present it to people, and it took me a little while to get to that point.
Complex: Radiohead's In Rainbows was recorded and released three years ago, when you mentioned laying the groundwork for your solo project. Was there any conflict?
Philip Selway: No, I waited until I was completely finished with In Rainbows. Then I started working on my solo album the next day. The way we work as a band, we work in chunks of time, so it opens up all these periods in between to do stuff outside of that.
Complex: You said your solo album is "distinctly you." Conceptually and musically, how is it different from a Radiohead project?
Philip Selway: It's a different group of musicians on there. Sebastian Steinberg, Lisa Germano, and Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone from Wilco. So it's a different kind of collaboration for me. Going into recording, I knew I wanted to keep the space in there. I wanted to keep these delicate layers of parts all placed on top of each other. Anything that would lend itself to a warm, intimate record. The scope of Radiohead is much larger, musically.
Complex: Why the title Familial?
Philip Selway: It struck me as something about very significant relationships you have. Either immediate family, people you work with. People you just have that intense kind of relationship with. Complex, very rich relationships that come together through very formative experiences. Just looking at how people shape each other, and Familial described that for me.
Complex: How was it stepping from behind the drum kit to start singing on this album? Was it something you were anxious to do or a role you assumed out of necessity?
Philip Selway: More assumed. It's kind of like when you're a teenager in your bedroom, there's part of you that thinks you can be a frontman, a singer. I suppose part of me still wanted to try that out. Some of it was more out of necessity, but it happened as a byproduct of the other things I was doing.
Complex: Would you ever be on stage with the band, looking at Thom Yorke like, "I need to do that"?
Philip Selway: No, I've always been very happy with my role in Radiohead. You're very much a part of everything, but you're much more of a shadowy figure. I did know that I wanted to do songs of my own, and I wanted to see those songs through. It wasn't driven by the desire to be at the front of the stage, but by the desire to complete these certain records.
Complex: Now that you have your own project, is there some friendly competition between you and Thom? He's obviously done solo work, as well.
Philip Selway: Oh yeah, all of us are extremely competitive. We're kind of competitive with how we work on Radiohead stuff. Having said that, there's also a lot of support.
Complex: You released a single from Familial for free. Do you think the next Radiohead album will be released in a "pay what you want" format like In Rainbows was?
Philip Selway: I absolutely have no idea yet. With In Rainbows we didn't have an idea of how we were going to do it. You get to the end of the record and figure out what's the most appropriate for the music that you've made.
Complex: What is Radiohead working on right now? Are you guys in the studio?
Philip Selway: It's an ongoing thing. We've been working on material, but we haven't finished anything yet, so there's nothing to tell you in terms of when we'll be finished, or how it will sound, even. But we continue to work on it.
Complex: Well, just from these early stages, do you have the slightest idea of what direction the material is going in?
Philip Selway: You can't really speculate on that a good deal until you've actually finished it. Then you know what's happened. It's probably best not to think about what it is until you're done.