"We had goosebumps... it was a very cool thing to be a part of": DJ Shadow on how watching Thom Yorke in the studio blew him away

DJ Shadow and Thom Yorke
(Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

The electronic producer and samplist pioneer DJ Shadow was a huge influence on Radiohead as they got to work on their game-changing 1997 record OK Computer, the Oxford five-piece revealing that the stop-start grooves of opening track Airbag were them trying to ape some DJ Shadow-style rhythmics. It made sense then when Shadow, a Californian whose real name is Josh Davis, got to work on the debut album for his and James Lavelle’s collaborative UNKLE project and enlisted Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke to work on one of the tracks. The album, Psyence Ficition, was released in August 1998 and the Yorke-featuring Rabbit In Your Headlights, a plaintive ballad pockmarked with Davis’s trademark frenetic beats, was one of its standout tracks. It was released as the record’s lead single, and in a recent interview with The New Cue, Davis said watching Yorke work in the studio was one of the most impressive things he’d witnessed across a three-decade-plus career.

“This is somebody that I had a lot of respect for,” Davis said. “OK Computer had just come out and I had done some touring with them and knew their music quite well. He wrote Rabbit In Your Headlights in the studio and was very deliberate and serious about it. When he was ready to record, he just sort of went, ‘Okay, come on, let’s go’ and he did it all in one take. He held this really long note at the end and James Lavelle and I just looked at each other in the studio and just kind of went, ‘Wow, fuck, that’s it’. We had goosebumps because it was just a very cool thing to be in the studio and be a part of.”

At the time, Davis explained, the idea of someone from the indie-rock world working with a hip-hop artist was a novel idea. “Gorillaz weren’t around at that point, rock and everything else were very separated still,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect because I’d only ever worked with MCs - in those really early years, I can’t tell you how many sessions where it was like, ‘hang on, I’ve gotta smoke weed’ and I’d be like, ‘right, ok,’ and then I’d sit around for half an hour and if I wasn’t careful then when guys came back, it was like ‘ah man, I can’t tonight, I smoked too much weed’. So literally it was me trying to figure out a way to keep the session on track and keep people from being incapacitated to the point where they couldn’t do the song. That was the only thing I had going into the UNKLE record.”

Yorke was obviously pleased with the results too – the frontman has randomly dropped Rabbit In Your Headlights into live setlists over the years, repeatedly playing it with his 2013 side-project Atoms For Peace. Watch the video for the original below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.