Jonny Greenwood says he had to “unlearn” elements of Western music theory during the making of new album Jarak Qaribak: “There’s times where you have to really step away and not impose what you think is a major or minor chord on something”

Jonny Greenwood
(Image credit: Jim Bennett/Redferns)

Jonny Greenwood has admitted that he had to “unlearn” certain elements of Western music theory during the making of Jarak Qaribak, the new album that he recently released with Israeli musician Dudu Tassa.

Each of the nine tracks on Jarak Qaribak - which roughly translates as ‘your neighbour is your friend’ - features a different singer from a different country in the Middle East. Each of them was asked to interpret a song from a Middle Eastern country other than their own.

Greenwood was already reasonably well-versed in Middle Eastern music, but admitted to Consequence Of Sound that, from a musical perspective, the project was not without its challenges. 

“It’s not something I’ve come to that late, but working on the style of music is a new thing, that’s true,” he says. “And I had to kind of unlearn lots of things about harmony that Western scales often don’t help or ruin what’s going on. So, there’s times where you have to really step away and not impose what you think is a major or minor chord on something, because there are no such things in Arabic music - or very often, anyway.”

One of Greenwood’s issues with some interpretations of music similar to that on Jarak Qaribak is that “rhythmically, it’s usually reduced to just four on the floor, kind of loud, not very good techno.” He says that he wanted to preserve “the delicacy of the rhythms and how subtle and complicated they are in the best way.”

He goes on to compare this to the evolution of blues music: “what started out as things that were subtle and varying all the way through a song became just, you know, kick-snare-hat. Everything on the one and the three. No variations.”

On the subject of a Radiohead reunion, Greenwood admitted that there’s nothing in the works, but did confirm that the band were planning to meet up soon. “It’s all a bit disparate at the moment, but we are getting together to talk,” he says. “Who knows? We’ll have to wait until everyone has time and inclination.”

In the meantime, Radiohead spinoff band The Smile, which features Greenwood, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and drummer Tom Skinner, have just released Bending Hectic, a new single.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.