Countless musicians over the years have influenced Thom Yorke. The Radiohead sound is just about as varied as it gets, so it’s interesting to see where the music icon gets his inspiration. One person that, without a doubt, has given much to Yorke is the great Neil Young.
The first time Yorke heard Young’s music, he sent a demo tape to a magazine. Yorke explained that the magazine enjoyed the tape and returned, saying: “This guy sounds like Neil Young”. At that point, Yorke was around 15 or 16 years old and could only respond, “Who’s Neil Young?”
Thankfully, that was Yorke’s introduction to the legendary musician, and he went out and bought a copy of Young’s 1970 album After the Gold Rush. From there, Yorke claimed that he “immediately fell in love with his voice”.
Discussing the nuances and uniqueness of Young’s vocals, Yorke said: “The idea of the vocal harmonies and so on, immediately, I identified with it straight on.” Young’s voice is defined by its frailty, especially on After the Gold Rush, which Yorke notes is “obviously appealing”.
“Especially during that period, he was going really high up, and he has this soft vibrato that nobody else does,” he added. However, it was not merely the way in which Young sings that drew Yorke closer to having a profound love for his music, but “the way he laid the songs down”.
“Everything was about capturing a particular moment and saying what’s on his mind,” Yorke said, “But putting it in a way that’s sort of semi-abstract.” Young’s approach to saying things how they are was obviously an enormous appeal to Yorke, although his own approach to songwriting is admittedly far more abstract than just “semi”.
“That semi-abstract thing I identified with Neil Young; it was a completely different technique,” Yorke continued. “But whatever era, it was just about laying down whatever’s in your head wherever you’re at, at the time. Staying completely true to that no matter what it is, you just stay true to that.”
Indeed, that is often the best way to write true art; to say it like it is, be true to your own feelings and capture it in any way you can. Young is a true master of songwriting in that light. Yorke then gave special credence to Young’s ‘Needle and the Damage Done’. He said: “The only possible way you can write a song like that is that it just comes out of you despite you. It’s like a force of nature, you know. I mean, all good songs are like that to some extent.”