NME caught up with Radiohead‘s Ed O’Brien, during his appearance at the launch of the RSPB’s new project ‘Let Nature Sing’, which aims to get birdsong into the UK charts and raise awareness of the sharp decline in Britain’s bird life – which has seen numbers drop by 40 million in the last 40 years.
As well as his love of nature, O’Brien told us more about his forthcoming debut solo record, slated for release in October this year, and why he’d consider it ‘inappropriate’ if he was to sing Radiohead songs while touring it. The as-yet-untitled album, which O’Brien has said previously was inspired by attending Carnival while he was living in Brazil, was also influenced by the natural world.
He also was at pains to be “particularly vague” about when Radiohead might reunite following the conclusion of their touring for ‘A Moon Shaped Pool‘ last summer. He did, however, reveal that the band met up in January, and that “We’ve got some stuff, possibly, that we were talking about,” when it comes to music.
NME spoke to O’Brien after his appearance on a panel on ‘the musicality of nature’ hosted by BBC 6Music’s Shaun Keaveny, which also included Eliza Doolittle, The Shires’ Chrissie Rhodes, and Mercury-nominated folk singer Sam Lee.
“As a musician, for me, there’s something I find completely inspiring about being in nature. It’s never really quiet,” O’Brien told the audience, before explaining how the natural world has influenced Radiohead over the course of their career.
“The first record we made solely in the countryside was ‘OK Computer’. It was [recorded] just outside Bath in a beautiful rolling valley surrounded by woodland. Very often we’d finish at midnight and go out.
“I remember one night there was a deep frost and it was a full moon and the whole countryside was lit up, those are my memories of that record, I’ve got very few memories of actually being at the coal face doing the takes.”
He continued: “One of the things we always used to do if it was getting too heavy in the studio, which was 99% of the time, was go for a walk. The city can be great, you can get inspiration from the city, but there’s something very primal and profound [about nature], it’s almost existential. What are you doing on this planet? Those are the questions you start asking.”
‘Let Nature Sing’ can be pre-ordered here, and is out officially on April 26.
After the talk, NME sat down with the musician to talk more about the project, as well as his solo album and the future of Radiohead.
How did you get to be involved with the Let Nature Sing project?
“I know Sam [Lee]. It sounded like a really interesting thing and nature, being in nature, climate change, it’s for all of us, whether we realise it or not. It’s the biggest thing we face in our lifetime. Having to change our ways as a population, it’s a no-brainer.”
When did you first become interested in wildlife and conservation?
“I grew up in the countryside so I was always aware of wildlife. My grandfather was an ornithologist; he knew all the birds and their birdsong. Being in the countryside is something that, whether I realise it or not, has always been important. In terms of how I feel, my happiness, my wellbeing, the wellbeing of my family, how I get inspired. I get a lot of inspiration being in the countryside. Conservation is something that I’ve become very interested in.”
‘The King Of Limbs‘ seems particularly inspired by the natural world, given that it was named after an ancient tree…
“Nature was big on that record. We recorded stuff in nature, but also being in nature was something from about 2007 onwards that we became aware of. I don’t want to go into too much detail because there are some very personal and private moments that had a massive effect on that record, but they’re our personal and private moments and I don’t feel at this stage comfortable with sharing them.”
Does nature influence your upcoming solo album?
“It’s massive. It’s been part of where I’ve done all of my writing, where it started. Being in the countryside, being inspired. Some of the recording happened in the countryside too. I know that one of the reasons it came about was going back to the country and having that clarity.”
When can we hear the album?
“I’m hopeful that it’s going to be out in September or October. It’s finished, Im just trying to finalise the record deal and find the right label. I’m excited. It feels like a very different but exciting experience.”
Are you planning to tour, and would you ever play Radiohead songs live?
“I’m definitely going to be touring, but no. I don’t sing Radiohead songs [on record] so it wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s a different energy, a different thing.”
Radiohead’s last gig was last August, has there been any talk of regrouping?
“We toured for two and half to three years. Everybody’s off doing their own touring. We all got together in January and just chatted. The nature of our band is that you have to have meetings sometime. Everyone seems to be really busy doing really interesting and great things.”
Chatting personally, or about music?
“We were just chatting personally. For a band like us you know when it’s right to come back and to work together.”
So how long do you feel it will it be until new Radiohead music is underway?
“We’ve got some stuff that we were talking about, but I’m going to be particularly vague. It could be next year; it could be ten years’ time. The important thing is that when we get together, we do it because we really want to. We don’t have to do it because we should or we ought to, but because we really want to.”