Now that Radiohead have become the elder statesmen of indie rock virtuosity, it's hard to imagine them as awkward young men, but Jonny Greenwood remembers their humble beginnings. In a new interview with NPR, the guitarist recalled joining Radiohead as a keyboardist in the '80s, and admitted he would play with his instrument completely off to avoid disrupting the band's dynamic.
"Thom's band had a keyboard player â [whom] I think they didn't get on with because he played his keyboard so loud," Greenwood remembered (per Music Radar). "And so when I got the chance to play with them, the first thing I did was make sure my keyboard was turned off â¦ I must have done months of rehearsals with them with this keyboard, and they didn't know that I'd already turned it off."
While Greenwood pretending to play keyboards is a funny visual on its own, the band's reaction to his trick makes the anecdote even better. According to Greenwood, not only did the band not realize he was faking it, they acted as if they could hear his keyboards entirely. "They made quite a racket, quite a noise," the guitarist said. "It was all guitars and distortion --- and so I would pretend to play for weeks on end and Thom would say, 'I can't quite hear what you're doing, but I think you're adding a really interesting texture, because I can tell when you're not playing.'"
â"And I'm thinking, 'No, you can't, because I'm really not playing,'" Greenwood continued. "And I'd go home in the evening and work out how to actually play chords and cautiously over the next few months, I would start turning this keyboard up. And that's how I started in with Radiohead." Picture a young Thom Yorke praising illusionary texture and ask yourself: How are Radiohead ever going to escape accusations of being self-serious?
Greenwood has come a long way since pretending to play the keyboard. Now known for his film scores almost as much as his guitar theatrics, the composer earned his second Oscar nomination for his score for The Power of the Dog. Meanwhile, Greenwood and Yorke's new band, The Smile, have shared the singles "The Smoke" and "You Will Never Work in Television Again."
I've re-read this story a few times just to make sure it wasn't The Onion or Hard Times, but I still can't believe it. At first I thought this dude got hired as a keyboardist without knowing how to play and sort of just figured it out, but in reality Jonny Greenwood was getting his pantomime on.
I never got into Radiohead. I mean, I like "Creep" and know that they don't, but after "High and Dry," Thom Yorke, Kid A, and OK Computer, that pretty much taps out my Radiohead knowledge. I know they meant a lot to the alternative scene in the '90s, but they were never my swag. I like plenty of bands who were successful before I was consciously alive, but they never made my cut. I can't even make a hacky joke about their music because I know next to nothing about it, but as they/them says, representation matters, and it just feels good to see someone like you making it big.
When I was in 5th and 6th grade, until I moved south like a goT damn carpet bagger, I was part of the middle school Jazz Band. I started on trombone but got moved to tuba in some sick joke against a chubby 11-year-old. I don't think about it that often, considering it was almost 20 years ago, but it's wild to me that that's who I was back then. I used to play the tuba. I even knew how to read music. E-very G-ood B-oy D-eserves F-udge in the F-A-C-E.
Before I moved, there was a big concert in front of the entire school and our families (not because I was moving, it just happened to be scheduled that way), and I straight up fake-played random notes while trying to make it seem like I was following along. Maaaaybe I didn't know how to read music that well, but I whaled on that thing as if I did, pressing buttons like a kid on the elevator. Nobody said a word to me about it. Now in their defense, they were probably trying to drown out a hundred 10 to 12-year-olds playing brass, woodwind, and percussion; it'd be tough to realize someone was fake-playing unless you were like right next to them. I can't tell the difference between six or seven tubas tubing and doubt anybody in the audience could either. I don't think it's the same with one vs. zero keyboard.
Now, I didn't parlay that into a music career, but this guy did, and that's inspiring. Jonny Greenwood truly faked it 'til he made it, and not even professional musicians realized right away. Incredible. Just more proof that nobody knows wtf they're talking about. I love music, but as someone with minimal self-confidence, I sometimes struggle writing about it because I don't know the technical terms and proper jargon, but does it matter if you use the correct term if you're dead wrong? Thom Yorke said this about a ghost keyboardist "I can't quite hear what you're doing, but I think you're adding a really interesting texture, because I can tell when you're not playing."
I guess it all worked out alright. Based on my wikipedia research for this blog, Jonny Greenwood is the lead guitarist of Radiohead and has been nominated for multiple "Best Score" Oscars. But man, I wish Thom Yorke caught on and said "What the hell are you doing here? You don't belong here." instead of some psuedo-intellectual line about texture.