Philip Selway of Radiohead on His New Solo Album “Strange Dance” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 29th, 2024  

Philip Selway of Radiohead on His New Solo Album “Strange Dance”

Following the Dance

Mar 27, 2023 Photography by Phil Sharp Web Exclusive
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When Philip Selway sat down to write the drum parts for his third solo album, Strange Dance, he knew he wanted to work with another drummer. Selway, whose reputation as Radiohead’s chief percussionist often precedes him, explains: “I realized [it] wasn’t happening within about a day and a half.”

The rhythm section that Selway envisioned for Strange Dance required an outside perspective. It just wouldn’t do to have him sit both at the showrunner’s seat and the drummer’s stool. So under the suggestion of producer Marta Salogni (Björk, black midi, Depeche Mode), Selway met with drummer Valentina Magaletti (Vanishing Twin, UUUU) to work on the drum beds.

“She works really quickly,” says Selway. “Within about seven or eight takes she’s built up these very detailed and expansive rhythm tracks, that because they come together so quickly have just got that immediacy about them, there’s a spontaneity about them as well.”

The album opens with the soft pianos of “Little Things”—a few chords that sound eerily similar to the opening track to Radiohead’s Kid A, “Everything In Its Right Place.” There’s more shared territory with the band’s 2000 album, which is embodied by the correspondence between acoustic and electronic instrumentation heard throughout Strange Dance. Selway has often found this correspondence compelling, but on Strange Dance, it became a focal point. He notes Carole King and electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram as inspirations for the album’s musical and atmospheric underbelly.

“I really like the concept of that imaginary collaboration, because they seem to come from two very different worlds, musically,” Selway explains. “You’ve got Carole King, who has come up through that classic singer/songwriter path, and she writes these very accessible, emotionally resonant songs. And then you go to the other end of the scale, where you have Daphne Oram, who’s this very pioneering electronic composer.” It’s that tension between the two, Selway says, that served as a useful jumping off point, a guide for Selway’s sessions with Salogni, Magaletti, and the accomplished band he’d assembled: Adrian Utley (Portishead) on guitar, frequent collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Quinta (Collectress), Laura Moody on cello, Hannah Peel on arrangements, and the Elysian Collective.

“[The recording process] was all about keying into these musical relationships that I’ve built up over my solo work,” says Selway, “and that blend of electronic and acoustic on top of the orchestral textures that I’ve been exploring in my soundtrack work.”

At the heart of Strange Dance is Selway’s softly whispered lyrics, which place the listener in the middle of the tracks. Selway explains this notion as “inhabiting the music.” Hand-in-hand with the lyrics, Selway has built incredibly layered soundscapes, equally expansive and narrow, where the listener gets to let the music wash over them. It’s in this “high ceiling of a soundscape,” which Selway describes as “wide screen, almost like you could walk around in it and look around in it,” that Strange Dance becomes a living, breathing record. Selway explains that he wanted to create an open source narrative in the lyrics, that develops across the album’s 10 tracks: “I wanted to take myself out of the equation, to provide this framework in the lyrics, if you like, where people could come to it, and hopefully see their own narratives, reflected there and projected back.”

Selway did take himself further out of the process, to some extent, by giving the other musicians in the room significant ownership of their parts. He’d built up some drafts of the songs over the lockdown in 2020, and then called on his collaborators to add their own touches. “It is that case of setting up a space where people can go into the studio, try out their ideas, [and] find their voice in the context of that song. You don’t invite all those musicians to come and work with you and then tell them what to do. It’s a privilege, and very inspiring watching them work,” he explains.

It’s obvious that Selway works in a very collaborative way, responding to the sounds he hears and not trying to overthink or over-analyze the songs’ structures. This is a way of working he learned from his over 30 years as a core member of Radiohead. Selway recalls the recording sessions for the Amnesiac track “Pyramid Song,” which is in 4/4 time but wobbles and wavers around that time signature. “When I was trying to analyze that [time signature], it just wasn’t happening,” Selway says. “And the moment that I surrendered to the pushes and pulls and stopped being analytical about it rather than just responding to what was going on, that’s when that all came together.”

Selway knows instinctively when the elements of a song click. He considers it a version of synesthesia, but with movement. “I know when something is hitting the right spot for me, because I start seeing movement in my head,” he says. Strange Dance, therefore, is an apt title. It combines that Selway synesthesia, the strange dance that emerged from the “imaginary collaboration” between King and Oram, and of course his background as a drummer. But more conceptually, Selway considers life itself a “strange dance.”

“It’s that sense that you have of trying to marry up these seemingly oppositional, irreconcilable elements in your life,” Selway says. “It’s that juggling act that you do, that you find through your contortions, and there are relationships around you that help you find that path through it. There can be quite an elegant choreography to it.”

At 55, Selway finds inspiration everywhere in life: in his work with Radiohead (which he describes as a “very restless way of working”) and his collaborators outside of the band. “I bet you could probably live to about 200 or so with all your faculties and still never feel that you’ve achieved everything that you’d want to.”

And the future of Radiohead? All of the band’s members are busy with what appears to be a mountain of other projects. Singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood are about to tour North America for a second time with their trio The Smile (also featuring Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner). The group released A Light for Attracting Attention last year and are rumored to be releasing more music this year, under the moniker. Bassist Colin Greenwood toured Australia with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis late last year. Guitarist Ed O’Brien’s first solo album Earth was released in 2020. This, in addition to the soundtrack work both Greenwoods, Yorke, and Selway do individually. But Selway is optimistic about the band’s future. “There is still that collective desire to make music again together, in one way or another,” he says. “But at the moment, we’re just finding the right context for that and the right projects. But it’s not going to be within the next year, probably. But it will happen because we want to and when you want to you’re doing it for the right reasons.”

www.philipselway.com
www.bellaunion.com/artists/philip-selway/
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