Spotlight: Radiohead’s Philip Selway
Photo by Kevin Westerberg
The decor of the $500-per-night downtown Manhattan hotel is a vaguely international kind of hip and on this summer morning includes a member of Radiohead, who resembles a piece of modern design. Philip Selway, the veteran superstars’ 43-year-old drummer, is dressed in a bright pink shirt, with a neatly matching iPhone case. His socks radiate a bright design of parallel, horizontal lines. His head is shaved—sleek, stylish—as it has been since around the time of OK Computer in 1997, receding hairline just visible in the sweat of an 85-degree day.
The neighborhood has changed in the 17 years since Radiohead first visited New York, playing just a few blocks south of the hotel, at the departed CBGB. “We were told, ‘Stay near the club, don’t wander,’” Selway laughs, surveying the view from the rooftop VIP nook where he’s ensconced. Music has changed, too. What was once noisy and confined to clubs like CBGB can now provide soundtracks to the hip comfort of expensive, vaguely international hotels.
Familial, Selway’s debut as a singer/songwriter is not playing in the background, which would be gauche, but later—after Selway’s departure—it surely could: hushed guitars, uneasy arrangements, catchy melodies, songs that are both personal and somehow about modern angst. “Above the noises and the fights, can you hear me?” Selway asks on “A Simple Life.”
“It’s my late-at-night bedtime album,” he says. “There’s sort of a flat, underlying warmth to it, but when you start scratching away, there are scuffed-up elements, in the music and the lyrics.”
The songs sound, for lack of a better word, Radiohead-y. Which is to say that they sound like 21st century guitar pop, whose own changes over the past decade owe largely to Radiohead. The music’s own vague internationalism a result of its process and players.
For starters, there are Selway’s collaborators, anchored by two members of Radiohead’s American brethren, Wilco—drummer Glenn Kotche and keyboardist/guitarist Pat Sansone. Selway confesses that he “just didn’t hear drum parts” for the delicate songs, and was astonished at Kotche’s ability to work in such delicate spaces.
He first encountered the pair in New Zealand, where they’d been recruited (along with the rest of Wilco, Radiohead mate Ed O’Brien, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr and others) for Neil Finn’s Seven Worlds Collide project.
With everyone contributing songs, Selway found himself with a guitar in hand. “I never really left the guitar alone,” he says about his playing throughout the years, which began around the time he began drumming in his mid-teens, along with some rudimentary songwriting, and tailed off as Radiohead ascended. “The ambition of making the record seemed very doable at that point,” observes Selway, whose two children accompanied him to New Zealand.
“When you’re out touring, you have two hours of work in the evening, and the rest is sort of just hanging out,” he chuckles, describing his songwriting process. “The hang-out bits are good for writing lyrics.”
Recording for Familial commenced at Radiohead’s studio outside of the band’s native Oxford, England, in September 2009. Selway didn’t even tell his Radiohead bandmates about the recording process. “I just wanted to make sure I was happy with it before I put it out there for that kind of scrutiny,” he shrugs when asked if he felt like he was keeping it a secret from his bandmates, the accumulation of 20 years of relationships hanging in his word choice.
“It’s a different view of a familiar place,” Selway says of putting himself up front, but this could also refer to writing songs, doing interviews, the content of the album itself, or being inside the rarified air and timeless space of the hotel. He’s got another interview next. Or maybe a photo shoot. The hang-out bits will come later.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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