Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke

Yorke at the Latitude Festival, Suffolk, 2009.
Background information
Birth name Thomas Edward Yorke
Also known as Tchock,[1] Tchocky,[2][3] Dr. Tchock,[4][5]Zachariah Wildwood
Born 7 October 1968 (1968-10-07) (age 43)
Wellingborough, Northamptonshire
Genres Alternative rock, electronic music
Occupations Musician
Instruments Vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards
Years active 1985—present
Labels XL
Associated acts Radiohead, Atoms for Peace

Thomas "Thom" Edward Yorke is an English musician who is the lead vocalist and principal songwriter for Radiohead. He mainly plays guitar and piano, but he has also played drums and bass guitar (notably during the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions). In July 2006, he released his debut solo album, The Eraser.

Yorke has been cited among the most influential figures in the music industry; in 2002, Q Magazine named Yorke the 6th most powerful figure in music,[6] and Radiohead were ranked #73 in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" in 2005. Yorke has also been cited among the greatest singers in popular music; in 2005, a poll organised by Blender and MTV2 saw Yorke voted the 18th greatest singer of all time,[7] and in 2008, he was ranked 66th in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" list.[8]


Life and career

Early years

Yorke was born on 7 October, 1968, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. At birth, his left eye was fixed shut; the doctors determined that the eye was paralyzed and that the condition was permanent. Yorke's parents took him to an eye specialist, who suggested a muscle graft. Yorke underwent five eye operations before he was six years old.[9] Yorke's father, a chemical equipment salesman, was hired by a firm in Scotland shortly after his son's birth and the family lived there until Yorke was seven. During this time Yorke had to wear a patch over his eye.[10] He has stated that the last surgery was "botched," giving him a drooping eyelid.[11]

Yorke's family moved frequently; Yorke would move from school to school, where classmates teased him because of his eye problems.[12] The family finally settled in Oxfordshire in 1978.[12] Yorke received his first guitar when he was seven, inspired by guitarist Brian May in a live performance with his band Queen.[11] By age eleven, he had joined his first band and written his first song.[13] He attended the all boys public school Abingdon where he met future band members Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway, Colin Greenwood and Colin's younger brother, Jonny Greenwood.[14] Yorke and his friends formed a band named On A Friday, as Friday was the only day on which the members were allowed to rehearse.[11] Yorke, in this early line up, played guitar and provided vocals, and was already developing his songwriting and lyrical skills. Yorke, speaking about music's influence on him as a schoolboy, said, "School was bearable for me because the music department was separate from the rest of the school. It had pianos in tiny booths, and I used to spend a lot of time hanging around there after school."[15]

After leaving school, Yorke postponed going to university for a year. During that time he worked in a few jobs and was involved in a car accident that made him wary of any kind of mechanized transport.[16] Yorke left Oxford to study at the University of Exeter in late 1988, which as a result put On a Friday on hiatus aside from holiday break rehearsals.[17] While at Exeter, Yorke worked as a DJ at Guild nights in the Lemon Grove and played briefly with the band Headless Chickens.[18] Yorke also met Rachel Owen, whom he began dating.[19]


On A Friday resumed activity in 1991 as the members were finishing their degree courses. Now relocated to Oxford, they signed to Parlophone and changed their name to Radiohead. Around this time, Yorke said he "hit the self-destruct button pretty quickly"; he would drink alcohol heavily, which resulted in him randomly cutting his hair off and being unable to perform onstage due to intoxication.[20]

Radiohead first gained notice with the worldwide hit single "Creep," which later appeared on the band's 1993 debut album Pablo Honey. Yorke admitted later that the success had enlarged his ego; he tried to project himself as a rock star, which included bleaching his hair and wearing extensions. He said, "When I got back to Oxford I was unbearable . . . [A]s soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse and lost it forever."[21]

By the time of their second album, The Bends (1995), the band, through frequent touring and greater attention to detail in the recording studio, had picked up a large cult fan base and had begun to receive wider critical acclaim. After the album's release, the American group R.E.M. picked Radiohead as its opening act for the European leg of their tour.[22] Whilst on tour Yorke and R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe became close friends; in particular, Stipe gave him advice on how to deal with the demands of being in a rock band.[23] During the production of the band's third album, OK Computer (1997), all five members had differing opinions and equal production roles, with Yorke having "the loudest voice," according to guitarist Ed O'Brien.[24] After the album was finished, Yorke and Jonny Greenwood contributed to the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack along with other musicians under the moniker Venus in Furs.[25] Upon release, OK Computer was heralded as a landmark album by nearly every publication that reviewed it, establishing Radiohead as one of the leading alternative rock acts of the 1990s. But Yorke was ambivalent about this success. Some of these concerns were voiced in the documentary film Meeting People Is Easy, which focused on the period. Yorke has explained in various interviews that he dislikes the "mythology" within the rock genre, and hates the media's obsession with celebrities.[26]

Yorke and the band adopted a more radical approach on 2000's Kid A and 2001's Amnesiac, processing vocals, obscuring lyrics, and departing from rock for a more varied musical landscape including electronic, jazz and avant-garde classical influences. Expanding Radiohead's sales whilst earning acclaim for experimentation, the albums also divided fans and critics. In 2003, Radiohead released their sixth album, Hail to the Thief, a blend of rock and electronica that Yorke described as a reaction to the events of the early 2000s and newfound fears for his children's future, though he denied a specific political intent. The band has continued to tour, and in 2005 they undertook recording sessions for a seventh album, In Rainbows, released as a digital DRM-free download in October 2007. In 2011, The King of Limbs, the 8th studio album by Radiohead, was released.

Solo work

Yorke released his solo album The Eraser in 2006. Produced by Nigel Godrich and featuring cover art by Stanley Donwood, it was released on the independent label XL Recordings. Yorke described the album as "more beats and electronics" and denied that it meant he was leaving Radiohead, saying, "I want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah... this was all done with their blessing."[27] The Eraser reached number 3 in the UK in its first week and number 2 in the United States, Canada and Australia, as well as number 9 on the Irish charts. The album was on the prestigious Mercury Prize shortlist and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.

Yorke rarely plays as a solo act, having never embarked on a solo tour. He has sometimes played short acoustic sets of Radiohead songs in the band's webcasts and television appearances, and occasionally on his own at rallies. In 2006, he performed stripped-down versions of several songs from The Eraser ("Analyse", "The Clock", "Skip Divided" and "Cymbal Rush") on radio and TV programmes, and since then he has played and sung "Cymbal Rush" as an encore at some Radiohead concerts. In July 2009, Yorke played a rare solo performance at the Latitude Festival in England.[28]

On September 21, 2009, Yorke released a new double-A side single, "Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses / The Hollow Earth".[29] It was later announced that he has established an unnamed band with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joey Waronker of R.E.M. and Beck, Mauro Refosco of Forro in the Dark and producer Nigel Godrich.[30] They played two sold out shows at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles on October 4 and 5, 2009.[31] Two days before, Yorke also played a "warm-up" show at the Echoplex in Los Angeles.[32] On February 25, 2010, Yorke officially gave the band the name Atoms for Peace[33]


Aside from his own solo work, Yorke has collaborated with several artists. He sang backing vocals on PJ Harvey's Mercury Prize-winning 2000 album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and duetted with Harvey on one of its songs, "This Mess We're In". In the same year, he also appeared on Björk's soundtrack album Selmasongs, singing "I've Seen It All" with her. The Oscar-nominated song was written for Dancer in the Dark, a film starring Björk, and Yorke's part is sung in the film by an actor; due to time constraints Björk performed it alone at the 2001 Oscars. The two worked together again in 2008 on a charity single named "Náttúra".

Yorke also sang covers of the Roxy Music songs "2HB", "Ladytron" and "Bitter-Sweet" for the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, as part of Venus in Furs. The band existed solely for the film's soundtrack and also consisted of Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, Suede's Bernard Butler, and Roxy Music's Andy Mackay. Yorke was duplicating the original vocals of Bryan Ferry. Two other cover songs were performed by Venus in Furs, with vocals by an actor in the film. Yorke never appeared on screen.

Yorke's other collaborations include the 1998 single "Rabbit in Your Headlights", which he sang and co-wrote with DJ Shadow and which closes Psyence Fiction, the debut album by the group UNKLE; "El President", a 1998 duet with Isabel Monteiro of the band Drugstore, which was also released as a single, and vocals on the 2010 track "...And The World Laughs with You" by experimental musician and producer Flying Lotus of Warp Records. Thom paired up with his brother Andy in 2009 to record the track "All for the Best" for inclusion on the 2009 compilation CD Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy. He has also collaborated on several tracks with the electronic music group Modeselektor, providing vocals on the 2007 track "The White Flash" from the album Happy Birthday, as well as 2011 tracks "Shipwreck" and "This" from the album Monkeytown, in addition to production contributions on the album's b-side "Dull Hull". Yorke has also contributed music and remix/production skills in collaboration with various electronic artists including Burial, Four Tet, as well as hip-hop artists such as MF DOOM.

Yorke has also collaborated with Stanley Donwood on a picture book titled Dead Children Playing.

Atoms for Peace

On February 25th, 2010 Yorke revealed the name of his new band: "Atoms for Peace", and announced a series of U.S. tour dates. Yorke first introduced the band late in 2009, with a series of concerts in Los Angeles. It includes Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass, Beck, R.E.M., all-round session drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco of the musical collective Forro in the Dark and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and treatments. When the band officially debuted in Los Angeles last October, it was billed with question marks due to it being unnamed. In a note on Radiohead's web site, Yorke wrote; "It has been decided that we call ourselves Atoms For Peace. hope you like the name. it seemed bleedin' obvious." Atoms for Peace is a track on Yorke's 2006 solo album, The Eraser, its title taken in turn by the Eisenhower speech of the same name. The band toured briefly, playing eight dates across the USA including the three-day Coachella music festival in Indio, California on April 18, 2010. [34] Thom Yorke has also confirmed rumours that the band were recording material together, and has announced that an album is nearing completion, tentatively scheduled for release in 2012.

Personal life

Yorke currently lives in Oxford with his girlfriend, Rachel Owen, who studied fine art printmaking at Exeter and painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence. She completed a PhD at the University of London researching the illustrations to Dante's Divine Comedy.[35] They have two children, son Noah, born in 2001, and daughter Agnes, born 2004. He has one brother, Andy, ex-vocalist of the band Unbelievable Truth. Yorke is also very active in creating public awareness for cultural and political issues. In 2005, Yorke became a spokesman for Friends of the Earth and their campaign to reduce carbon emissions, The Big Ask. Yorke often pays tribute to his children whilst performing live; during songs at the 2003 Glastonbury Festival, he played with a photo of Noah resting on the top of the piano and at the 2006 Bonnaroo Music Festival, he used guitar picks that were marked with Agnes' fingerprints.

Musical approach

Vocal characteristics

Thom Yorke in 2006

As a singer, Yorke is recognisable by his distinctive tenor voice, vibrato, frequent use of falsetto and ability to reach, and sustain notes over a wide vocal range. In 1994, the band watched Jeff Buckley in concert; Yorke later said the concert had a direct effect on his vocal delivery on "Fake Plastic Trees."[36] However, Yorke has said, "It annoys me how pretty my voice is... how polite it can sound when perhaps what I'm singing is deeply acidic."[37] He has often adopted other styles of singing, such as an aggressive shouting style in the middle section of "Paranoid Android" and a semi-spoken style for 2003's "Myxomatosis" and "A Wolf at the Door."


Aside from vocal duties and writing lyrics, Yorke's musical contributions to Radiohead include guitar, both acoustic and electric (usually rhythm parts, with band member Jonny Greenwood handling lead), and piano (including Rhodes piano, especially on Kid A). He also plays bass guitar on occasion (the bass line for "The National Anthem" was recorded by him) as well as drums; during the 2006 and 2008 tours he performed percussion on stage in tandem with drummer Phil Selway on the track "Bangers + Mash".

Yorke, unlike the other members of Radiohead, has never learned how to read music.[38] He said, "If someone lays the notes on a page in front of me, it's meaningless... because to me you can't express the rhythms properly like that. It's a very ineffective way of doing it, so I've never really bothered picking it up."[37]

Since Kid A, Radiohead, and in particular Yorke, have incorporated many elements of electronic music into their work. As a result, Yorke has taken an increased role in programming beats and samples and has been credited with playing "laptop" on recent albums. On a radio show in 2003 to publicise the release of Hail to the Thief, Yorke remarked that he would rather make a record just with a computer than with only an acoustic guitar.[39] His solo effort The Eraser featured piano, bass and guitar, but was built primarily around electronics.

In interviews Yorke has cited a variety of personal musical heroes and influences, including jazz composer and bassist Charles Mingus, Neil Young, Miracle Legion, singer Scott Walker, electronic acts Aphex Twin and Autechre, and Krautrock band Can. Talking Heads, Queen, Joy Division, Magazine, Elvis Costello, The Smiths and Sonic Youth were early influences on Radiohead and Yorke. In 2004, at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Yorke mentioned to the crowd, "When I was in college, the Pixies and R.E.M. changed my life,"[40] and he has often mentioned both bands as influential examples.


Yorke has been outspoken on various contemporary political and social issues. Radiohead had read No Logo by Naomi Klein during the Kid A sessions ("No Logo" was also briefly considered as the album title) and all the members were reportedly heavily influenced by it, though Yorke said it "didn't teach him anything he didn't already know."[41] Yorke's activism in support of fair trade practices, with an anti-WTO and anti-globalisation stance, garnered significant attention in the early 2000s.[42] Yorke had previously referenced maquiladoras in the title of a Radiohead B-side in 1995, and decried the International Monetary Fund in 1997's "Electioneering." Yorke is also a professed fan of Noam Chomsky's political writings,[43] and is a vegan.[44]

Yorke is also notable as a political activist on behalf of other causes, including human rights and anti-war movements such as Jubilee 2000, Amnesty International and CND, and Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign.[45] Radiohead played at the Free Tibet concert in both 1998 and 1999, and at an Amnesty International concert in 1998.[46] In 2005, Yorke performed at an all-night vigil for the Trade Justice Movement.[47] In 2006, Jonny Greenwood and Yorke performed a special benefit concert for Friends of the Earth. Yorke made headlines the same year for refusing Prime Minister Tony Blair's request to meet with him to discuss climate change, declaring Blair had "no environmental credentials."[48] Yorke has subsequently been critical of his own energy use. He has said the music industry's use of air transport is dangerous and unsustainable, and that he would consider not touring if new carbon emissions standards do not force the situation to improve.[49] Radiohead commissioned a study by the group Best Foot Forward which the band claims helped them choose venues and transport methods that will greatly reduce the carbon expended on their 2008 tour. The band also made use of a new low-energy LED lighting system and encouraged festivals to offer reusable plastics.[50]

In December 2009, Yorke gained access to the COP 15 climate change talks in Copenhagen, posing as a member of the media.[51]

Relationship with celebrities and the media

Yorke has had an uneasy relationship with other celebrities and the media. Following Radiohead's 1993 Pablo Honey tour of America, Yorke became disenchanted at being "right at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle" he felt he was helping to sell to the world.[52] The 1998 documentary film Meeting People is Easy portrays Yorke's disaffection with the music industry and press during the 1997-8 "Against Demons" world tour.[53]

A number of celebrities have been upset by Yorke's alleged rudeness. In 2001, Kelly Jones, the lead singer of the Welsh band Stereophonics, referred to Thom Yorke as a "miserable twat"[54] (a comment he later retracted).[55] In 2002, Jack Black claimed to have approached Yorke to congratulate him on his solo show at the Bridge School benefit concert in San Francisco, only for Yorke to ignore him and walk away. Referring to the incident, Black stated in an interview: "I heard later that he's famously cold, and it wasn't just me that he despises, but the whole world."[56] After completing a trek of Kilimanjaro in 2009, Ronan Keating was asked by an interviewer which celebrity he would most like to throw off a mountain. Keating named Yorke, and referred to him as a "muppet," stating that Yorke was once rude to him, although he did admit to still liking his music.[57] In the same year, Miley Cyrus and Kanye West also complained about Yorke's alleged rudeness.[58]




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