Following in the footsteps of Ringo Starr, Dave Grohl and Phil Collins, Radiohead's Philip Selway is the latest big-name drummer to step out from behind his kit and make a solo record, trading in his drums for a guitar and a mic. His debut album, "Familial" -- set for release Aug. 31 on Nonesuch Records in the United States and a day earlier in the United Kingdom on Bella Union -- features collaborations with Lisa Germano, Soul Coughing's Sebastian Steinberg and Wilco's Glenn Kotche and Patrick Sansone.
"It's a world apart from what I do in Radiohead," Selway says of the album's pared-down, acoustic sound. As he prepared for solo dates in August and September, he spoke with Billboard about the record -- and Radiohead's future.
Why record a solo album now?
It's had a very long gestation period. It's something that grew out of stuff I was writing on the road and in my own bedroom, going back about seven or eight years. These fragments of music gained a head of steam, and I reached a point where I came to see their potential as a collection of songs that I couldn't see working for Radiohead.
How did you get Lisa Germano and your other collaborators onboard?
Both me and [Radiohead bandmate Ed O'Brien] were invited to be part of Neil Finn's project, 7 Worlds Collide, in 2001. In 2008, he invited loads of songwriters and musicians to put together a show as a fund- and awareness-raiser for Oxfam, so I got to know Lisa through that, and Sebastian and Glenn.
Did you enjoy collaborating?
It was brilliant actually. Left to my own devices, I wouldn't have taken the album where it is. I wanted to keep that intimacy and space but keep it from being sentimental or twee -- one of the worst crimes in music. Working with Lisa and Seb and Glenn and Pat brought these very distinctive voices but kept the delicacy of the music.
Was there anything you found problematic about solo songwriting?
My first attempts at singing didn't marry up with what I thought I was doing. There was a lot of trial and error, finding something that was musical and conversational at the same time. Also, when I was writing the tunes, I didn't hear drum parts. It was a bit worrying; it made me question my credentials as a drummer -- "Why can't I think of drum parts?!" But Glenn had ideas and that freed me up to concentrate on the songwriting side of things.
Radiohead famously fell out with EMI, so why put your solo record out on a major in the United States?
My overriding sense of signing with Nonesuch is that they're music lovers and they have an amazing roster -- it felt like a very good home for the music. When we released "In Rainbows" on our own as a download, we went in with the intention of doing something that had a very fast turnaround, and that felt exactly like the music we'd produced. In no way could we have foreseen the way the idea took off.
It's been almost three years since "In Rainbows" was released. What is Radiohead up to at the moment?
We're working on new material, but we're not rushing and not sure when it will be finished. We work for fairly intense chunks of time, then step away from it in order to come back with fresh ears. Those times away from each other definitely help the process. For so many years, our reference points were just each other, which is the nature of being in a band, really. But it's good to go and have the experience of playing with other musicians; it opens your eyes to different techniques and approaches to music.