Radiohead drummer Philip Selway’s second solo album is out. Duncan Seaman spoke to him ahead of his gig in Leeds next month.
On the cover of Philip Selway’s second solo album, Weatherhouse, is an enigmatic picture by the artist and children’s book illustrator Ted Dewan. It features a mechanical device with two revolving figures, one shaped like a skittle, the other seemingly female, in a dress.
For the Radiohead drummer, Dewan’s barometer-like artwork accurately gauges the “emotional weather” contained within the album’s ten songs.
“He had some of the earlier mixes of the songs so it was still a work in progress when he got them,” Selway says, “but the song that he really connected with initially was It Will End in Tears, where the Weatherhouse reference is from, so I think he just – very flatteringly – immersed himself in the record for a couple of days and that’s what’s coming back in terms of his images and his feedback.
“It just seemed to throw a really good light on the record and it made me see things in a slightly different way as well.
“It’s just one of those very affirming processes to go through because I’d hardly played it to anybody at that point. To get a good response from Ted was very good.”
The 47-year-old recently admitted there was an “awful lot” of himself in the songs. Today he explains: “I think when I said there was an awful lot of me in there it’s definitely my voice – whether it’s my specific experiences in there that’s another matter, really – some of them are, some of them aren’t. But you kind of set these situations up for yourself and think, ‘Well, how would I respond in that situation?’
“I just wanted it to feel like a genuine reflection of myself, really, and I wanted it to ring true and wanted it to be emotive in some way. That was a conscious decision from the outset. I think if you’re putting your name on the tin then I think you have to back it up with something of yourself in there.”
Before finding stardom with the multi-million selling Abingdon rock band Radiohead, Selway had toyed with becoming a singer-songwriter.
He’s self-effacing about his early work – “It sounds very flattering to think of me as a singer and songwriter before Radiohead; if you heard what I was doing I think you’d probably reconsider that one” – but does admit that after drumming on the band’s first couple of albums, song ideas of his own “started to take shape to the point that I suppose for one, I did not know what to do with the material, it didn’t feel appropriate as Radiohead material, and as I developed more and more my own voice, my own singing voice, it just felt that actually all these songs worked as a body of work and I felt that they needed me at the centre of it.
“That sounds incredibly egotistical, doesn’t it?” he jokes. “But that’s how it made sense to me. And I think it’s a really healthy thing for all of us in Radiohead to do, to make music outside of the band. It expands your musicality and I think you’ve got more to bring back into that collaboration when you get back together.”
He’s full of praise for his “exceptional” singing teacher, Christine Cairns, to whom he turned before embarking on his solo records.
“She’s fantastic, very encouraging, very good on helping you understand the whole kind of technique – not that I’ve probably listened to her as much as I should – but it’s just that kind of leg up as well, there’s somebody there saying, ‘Yes, you can do this’ then you believe it a bit more yourself as well.”
Unlike on his first solo album, Familial, which utilised the drumming talents of Glenn Kotche from Wilco, on Weatherhouse Selway played the drums himself.
This time, he says, rhythms were the “starting point for the arrangements once we got into the studio” – nowhere more so than on the heavily percussive Around Again.
He credits the “encouragement” of his live bandmates Adam Ilhan – the folktronica exponent and bass guitarist with the group Fridge – and Quinta – the keyboard player Katherine Mann, who’s played with Bat For Lashes – for persuading him to sit behind the kit.
“It was great, it brings a whole different dynamic immediately,” he says. “The first track that we recorded was the first track on the record – Coming Up For Air – and I’d gone in with a click just to start getting rhythmical ideas and to lay down a guide track to it, but actually that click is that kind of pulsing synth line that’s still there in the song and I thought, ‘OK, that’s taking it to a different place, you put the drums on top of that and it’s in a very different space from Familial.”
Around Again was “a drummer’s delight”, he says. “I played two kits on that one, lots of percussion, all kinds of electronic stuff going on in there as well and that was self-indulgent for a drummer, really.”
As well as taking Weatherhouse on the road this year, Selway will also return to work on the eagerly anticipated new Radiohead album. Songwriting sessions for it, which began last autumn, were, he reveals, very productive.
“We’ve been generating a lot of material. I don’t know where we are with it yet but it’s been a productive time.”
Unusually, “it’s flowed rather more quickly than it possibly has in the past”, he says, but adds: “I’m sure it will have its stickier patches, it always does – it’s not working until it’s had its sticky patches.”
As to when it’ll see the light of day, he says simply: “It’ll be done when it’s done.”
• Philip Selway plays at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on February 12.
• For ticket details visit www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/philip-selway/