The members of Radiohead, one of Britain’s more visible recent rock exports, say they’re not afraid of the hard work it may take to get their music heard throughout the United States.
“We’ve always realized you have to work hard in America,” said guitarist Ed O’Brien. “Why are the biggest bands in the world American bands? Because they’ve toured constantly to get that way. British bands haven’t been willing to do that kind of work, and there’s an arrogance that goes along with their refusal.”
Radiohead isn’t exactly unknown on this side of the pond. Currently in the midst of their third tour, the five-member Oxfordbased band scored a new-rock radio hit with the angst-anthem “Creep” a few years ago.
“Nobody knew at the time it would be a hit,” O’Brien, 27, said. “It was the first thing we ever recorded. We’ve since tried to escape from that song, but it was the reason a lot of people came to see us in the first place.”
Radiohead - Thom Yorke (vocals), Phil Selway (drums), O’Brien, Colin Greenwood (bass) and Jonny Greenwood (guitarkeyboards) - appears Thursday at the Palace in Hollywood in support of their sophomore album “The Bends” (Capitol). “Fake Plastic Trees,” a standout track from that disc, is getting regular airplay on new-rock radio stations across the country.
The band’s sound involves some strikingly distorted guitar from O’Brien and Greenwood that underpins Yorke’s languid, world-weary vocals. The band often employs the whisperto-a-scream dynamics of Nirvana and the guitar grunge of Soundgarden.
“We spent so long on the road after ‘Creep’ that we felt like we were digging ourselves into a rut,” the guitarist said. “We worried we may not have anything left to say, but eventually we came up with the new songs. We’re stronger as a unit now than we’ve ever been.”
The members of Radiohead met as students at an all-male high school near their hometown of Oxford in the mid-‘80s.
“We started at a time when the shoe-gazing bands were big,” O’Brien said during an interview at the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood. “They’d just stand there on stage looking at their shoes. Electronic dance music was also big then. The British rock scene had become sedate and apathetic. We began out of sheer boredom.”
Radiohead’s early gigs sparked positive reviews in England’s influential rock weekly Melody Maker, but the band didn’t land a cover story until years later.
“We were never flavor-of-the-week at home,” O’Brien said. “Which is a good thing, I think. I mean, we used to care what was said about us in the pop papers, but as somebody once said, ‘Don’t read your press, weigh your press.’ “
Since “Creep” was discovered as an obscure import single by a San Francisco radio station in 1992, the quintet hasn’t had to worry about press attention. Most critics, however, focus on Yorke’s sometimes obtuse and selfdeprecating lyrics.
“Probably our biggest criticism of ourselves is we think too much,” O’Brien said. “We all went to university and have never thought there was anything wrong with thinking too much.”
O’Brien, who first visited the U.S. as a teenager in 1987, said he especially enjoys the touring aspect of life in a band.
“America is a fantastic place to play,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful country in terms of landscape. Some of the cities are the ugliest in the world, but as far as the country itself goes, it’s incredibly diverse. The first time I came over, I was backpacking and taking Greyhound buses. This is so much better.”