Thom Yorke on Why He Was Scared to Tackle the 'Suspiria' Soundtrack -- And Why He'll Never Stop Touring

Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs on the Coachella Stage during day 1 of the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (Weekend 2) at the Empire Polo Club on April 21, 2017 in Indio, Calif.
Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella

Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs on the Coachella Stage during day 1 of the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival (Weekend 2) at the Empire Polo Club on April 21, 2017 in Indio, Calif. 

Director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) desperately wanted Thom Yorke, one of his favorite artists, to write the music for his remake of 1977 horror film Suspiria. But Yorke, who had never done a score and worried about living up to Goblin’s cultishly beloved original, resisted. After months of pleading from Guadagnino, the Radiohead frontman finally relented, and the result is a double album dedicated to the film, out Oct. 26. Yorke, 49, plans to return to scoring movies eventually, but for now, he says, “I definitely need a break.”

When did you first watch the original Suspiria film? 

I knew about Goblin, the band that did [the original score], but I never watched the film. I’d heard about it. I watched it several times before I started doing anything so when they sent me the script, that was maybe three of four months before we started.

So you weren't really a fan of director Dario Argento before?

I didn't really know Argento’s stuff before, I just knew Goblin.

Were you a fan of Goblin’s music? 

Yeah, completely nuts. Band of its time.

Was it challenging to take on what many consider one of the greatest horror soundtracks of all time?

Yeah whoopdee do, great, let’s choose to pull that up. I just had to, it is such a different movie. I think that Luca could basically start from the same idea of the story but where they take it is somewhere really different. So initially I was intimidated about the fact that it doesn't matter what I do, that people are probably are going to react badly to it because it’s not the original. But at the same time, the more it carried on, the more I’m like, well, they are not hung up on that, so I’m not going to be hung up on that.

What influences went into the writing?

Krautrock, and modern electronic stuff like James Holden who I’m a massive fan of, and then going back to more like musique concrete, Pierre Henry, stuff like that. That’s kind of it, really. It was a license to spend a lot of time making noises in my studio rather than, “OK, I need to do this song now, or I need to do this song now.” I was doing that but a lot of Krautrock is very loose the way they approach things, and very free, and I was trying to approach everything like that, like an air of chaos, which I’m quite good at.

What about lyrically? The film opens and closes with you singing, but can we expect to hear more from your studio work? 

In the process of doing it, I ended up writing a lot of songs. The soundtrack is another thing in itself because that’s a double album of everything that I sort of generated. I chose to put a lot of it out, almost all of it, because it wouldn't have a home otherwise.

What were your thoughts lyrically, a reflection of the film?

Yeah absolutely. The whole thing is what I enjoyed about it, that it was a commission, essentially. To write songs for a film is a weird process of claiming it somehow for yourself but at the same time almost writing in character. Writing for the main song, “Suspirium,” which is on the piano at the beginning, is just written for what I saw in the script. It’s an interesting thing where it’s not personal, it’s not about me at all, it’s talking about the story, how I saw it at that moment -- it’s very odd. 

I mean, I guess I did that in the past. I did that with “Exit Music” for Baz Luhrmann, where he just sent me a segment which was a 10-minute segment [for 1996’s Romeo & Juliet]. That’s all I had. But I got enough of what it was from that.

Is there one song here that you feel particularly defines the film?

There is a song called “Open Again” which comes in a sort of pause in the film when they have this dance sequence. It’s completely simple and I wrote that literally from the script, and from that title. I thought, oh, “Open Again,” that’s really nice. And it just fell out, and I tracked it to the sequence that they had and it fitted exactly. That’s the most simple and pure statement in the film I think, lyrically.

Are you a fan of horror films? 

In the past, I was obsessed with The Exorcist. I used to watch it on tour on my own. It’s probably not healthy, right? 

What are you afraid of most in your life? 

Whoa, that’s a jump. Um, what do I fear most? Film premieres.

Do you still struggle a lot with anxiety? Would you say that’s still a big fear?

Generally in life? I’m a meditator. I do yoga. I run.

Dakota [Johnson, who stars in the Suspiria remake] talked about going to therapy after the film. Has therapy played a role in your life?

No, I don’t need that. Not like that. I certainly don’t need it from the film. I found the film a form of therapy as working on it, as a really good channel for things. So I would say the opposite.

Do you find work a form of therapy?

Always. That’s how I move across life, move through period of life, is finding reasons, or even if it’s just musically, finding a sound, or once I find it I’m moving on. I’m still alive. The process is still going on. I struggle when I can’t work. That’s when things go weird.

Do you have a lot of writer’s block or dry spells?

I’ve had one, and that was after OK Computer. Even then, I suffered from the sort of public side of it like the endless interviews, and the scrutiny, and it paralyzed me for a long time. But then what I did instead is I just started drawing and writing, so I didn't really stop, I just stopped the music.

Was it just the fame or the idea of fame? 

It was the scrutiny. And the way people talked to me during that period I just found a bit too much. I hadn't found my place with it yet, hadn't found a peace with what had happened at that point. That took quite a while to sort of come to terms with it, where you say to yourself, OK, this is what I’ve been given, this is who I am, you know, it took a while.

People are talking already about Oscar buzz, it’s such a beautiful score.

I think there is probably some rule about, guy does first score, can’t get Oscar.

Oscar campaigning, that’s a whole other beast. How would you feel about that?

I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know. I can’t answer that.

Do you believe in the supernatural?

Well in terms of the film, I think there is a collective thing that can happen between people where they create an energy through performance or dance or art or theatre which is perhaps more powerful than we think, sometimes. And then there is a form of madness that goes with it. A lot of the things that [Suspiria character] Lutz [Ebersdorf] was saying, is that. And that’s stuff I definitely agree with. And I think after years and years of making records and so on, I think when you make a record, what you are looking for is not the nuts and bolts in it. There is something extra when you record that goes on to the tape, or onto the computer, there is something more going on. And you spend your time looking for that. And I think you are trying to go beyond your everyday moment, your everyday thing, you are going beyond it.

For example if you work in a dance troupe, you are trying to create, I assume, you are trying to go beyond your physical body, beyond these things. I think that’s valid, where believing in ghosts, that’s another thing completely.

So it's more about the power of the collective? 

You can find yourself in a different place simply choosing to work with other human beings, you know. When things work well, for example when I’m playing with Radiohead, is when you lock into each other in a certain way, but then something else happens on top. Which doesn't happen all the time, but that’s kind of the reason you go on stage.

You don’t need to believe in the supernatural to believe we are able, when we work collectively, to be more than the sum of our parts.

Do you think you'll always be touring? Do you want to always tour?

I would imagine so, yeah. Until such time as I can’t stand up. 

With Radiohead?

Yeah. With whatever, yeah.

And what about the idea of the power of women Suspiria? Has that ever been something important in your life? 

I don’t know how to answer that. 

What about the #MeToo movement in music? Do you think there are going to be more people uncovered by the movement in music?

I mean, the same abuse of power happens in music, yeah. I’ve seen it in the past. Basically, whether it be in the corporate world or music or film, men have a tendency to abuse their power and think it’s OK. And I’m happy that is starting to be revealed because that kind of culture, when we first started in the music business, was everywhere. But abuse of power is abuse of power. I’ve always hated it. I’ve always hated people who feel that because they have a certain position in an organization, power to make certain decisions, then they can use people as objects. They then cease to be human beings with their own lives; they just become objects; they objectify a woman and she becomes something to be used and dispensed with; this whole concept. And to think that’s OK, is really out of date now.

Was there any incident where you remember being really upset and putting an end to it? 

No, just people I know of in the early days of the industry when I was…I saw them doing it and there was nothing I could do about it because of who they were. People knew about it and said nothing, and that bit I thought was like, wow.

Why do you think it exists more in music?

I don’t think it exists necessarily more in music. I think it exists just as much in the corporate world as it does in film. I mean, in film it’s more of an obvious abuse but I was, you know, it’s about time it was just revealed and then hopefully these men can no longer behave like that.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 15 issue of Billboard.


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