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Jonny Greenwood on early Radiohead rehearsals: “The first thing I did was make sure my keyboard was turned off. I must have done months of rehearsals, and they didn’t know that I’d already turned it off”

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In a recent interview with Terry Gross for NPR's Fresh Air podcast, Radiohead guitarist and film composer Jonny Greenwood shared some fascinating insights into his early experiences playing with the band. 

Speaking about forming the group as schoolmates in the mid-80s, Greenwood described playing a deliberately muted keyboard for several months so as not to disturb the band's dynamic. "Thom's band had a keyboard player — [whom] I think they didn't get on with because he played his keyboard so loud" he said. 

"And so when I got the chance to play with them, the first thing I did was make sure my keyboard was turned off ... I must have done months of rehearsals with them with this keyboard, and they didn't know that I'd already turned it off."

"They made quite a racket, quite a noise. 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." 

"And I'm thinking, "No, you can't, because I'm really not playing." 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."

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Elsewhere in the interview, Greenwood discussed his approach to scoring films such as Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza and Jane Campion's The Power of The Dog, which recently picked up 12 Oscar nominations, including Best Score. 

Recalling his experiences working with violinist Daniel Pioro to coax unconventional sounds from his instrument, he said: "Daniel is a very physical player indeed, and is interested in every possible color and texture. I love a recording where you can hear the physicality of what's happening, whether it's the breathing of the player or just the effort involved in making the music. 

"I know it drives some people crazy, but things like Glenn Gould singing along and all of that remind that there's all this muscle ... behind the making of the music. It just makes it more exciting to me. I think that stuff is, quite often, clinically stripped out in most people's consumption of music. Especially classical music."

Much like the music he writes with Radiohead, Greenwood's scores are highly experimental, featuring unorthodox harmonies, irregular time signatures, unconventional instruments and extended playing techniques.

"I always found acoustic instruments, certainly orchestral instruments, to be capable of much more variety and strangeness and complexity than nearly all of the software I've used in the past", he continued. 

"And I think that's maybe why, to me, music by people like [Krzysztof] Penderecki and [Gyorgy] Ligeti ... still sounds very strange and contemporary, and they still sound like the music of the future to me. Whereas lots of the electronic stuff that was done in the '60s and '70s, you hear it now, and it's just of its time."

Listen to the full interview over at NPR's website.

Jonny Greenwood's score for The Power of The Dog is available now.

I'm the Tech Features Editor for MusicRadar, working on everything from artist interviews to tech tutorials. I've been writing about (and making) electronic music for over a decade, and when I'm not behind my laptop keyboard, you'll find me behind a MIDI keyboard, or a synthesizer. 

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