“Absolutely, horribly gutted, p***ed off, self-righteous”: A pre-fame Thom Yorke on the early days of Radiohead

British rock group Radiohead play cards during a portrait session circa March, 1993 in New York
(Image credit: Bob Berg/Getty Images)

Radiohead have long been established as trailblazers for where guitar and rock music can go – basically setting out a path where it doesn’t have to have guitar in it and it definitely doesn’t have to rock. But back in 1992, they were nothing but the next crew of ambitious hopefuls chasing a big breakthrough.

Whilst the Oxford quintet were on a UK tour in support of indie trio Kingmaker, frontman Thom Yorke gave Classic Rock’s Ian Fortnam an update on their state of play at that point. Their label Parlophone had lofty aspirations for the group, but none of it had come to fruition yet: early releases the Drill EP and a single called Creep had both failed to get any traction. Yorke was understandably miffed at the quite literal radio silence. “Absolutely, horribly gutted, pissed off, self-righteous,” was his answer to Fortnam’s question about how Creep’s lack of success made him feel. “There are good and bad things to it,” he continued. “A lot of people are asking, ‘why isn’t it a hit?’. That’s a good thing. It stands us in good stead.”

Radiohead had already recorded their debut album Pablo Honey with producers Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie, but its release had been shelved until the label could be sure success was a possibility. In the meantime, Yorke had more questions about Creep to answer. Like: was there an actual person who made him feel like he was a creep, or like he was a weirdo, that made him ask himself ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ because he didn’t belong there? “I’ll now just say yes to that, because I’ll get into trouble,” Yorke told Fortnam. “It was a pretty strange period in my life. When I was at college and I was really fucked up, I wanted to leave and do proper things with my life like be in a rock band,” he laughed. 

Soon after, Creep was re-released, became a huge hit, Thom Yorke resented being in a rock band and he certainly didn’t do much laughing. Laughing became a big no-no in Radiohead world for an extended spell there. But they would emerge from that period with some of the most masterful records of the era, and perhaps none of it would’ve happened without that pre-fame slump to put a fire in their bellies.

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.