Thom Yorke

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Thom Yorke
Thom Yorke.jpg
Yorke performing with Radiohead in 2006
Background information
Birth name Thomas Edward Yorke
Also known as The White Chocolate Farm, Tchock,[1] Sisi Bakbak[2]
Born (1968-10-07) 7 October 1968 (age 46)
Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England
Genres Alternative rock, electronic, experimental rock, art rock
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, musician, multi-instrumentalist, artist, activist, dancer, DJ
Instruments Vocals, guitar, keyboards
Years active 1985-present
Labels XL
Associated acts Radiohead, Atoms for Peace, Björk, MF Doom, Flying Lotus, Modeselektor, U.N.K.L.E., Burial, Four Tet
Notable instruments
Gibson SG
Fender Jazzmaster
Gibson Hummingbird
Fender Telecaster Deluxe
Gibson ES-330
Epiphone Casino
Rhodes piano
Fender Mustang Bass

Thomas Edward "Thom" Yorke (born 7 October 1968) is an English musician best known as the singer and principal songwriter of the alternative rock band Radiohead. In the 1990s, Yorke was known as a rock musician; the 2000 Radiohead album Kid A saw his work expand into electronic music. He is known for his falsetto; as a multi-instrumentalist, Yorke mainly plays guitar and piano, but also plays synthesiser, bass guitar and drums. With Stanley Donwood, he creates artwork for Radiohead's albums.

Yorke was born in 1968 in Northamptonshire. His family moved often before settling in Oxfordshire, where Yorke attended Abingdon School and founded Radiohead with schoolmates. After he finished his degree at the University of Exeter, Radiohead signed to Parlophone; their early hit single "Creep" made Yorke a celebrity, and Radiohead went on to achieve critical acclaim and multi-platinum sales.

Yorke released his debut solo album, The Eraser , in 2006. In 2009, Yorke formed Atoms for Peace to perform songs from The Eraser, and in 2013 released an original album with the band, Amok. In 2014, he released his second solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, via BitTorrent. He has collaborated with artists including Flea (with Atoms for Peace), DJ Shadow, Björk, Flying Lotus and PJ Harvey. Outside music, Yorke is a political activist on behalf of human rights, environmentalist and anti-war causes.

In 2002, Q named Yorke the sixth most powerful figure in music.[3] In 2005, readers of Blender and MTV2 voted Yorke the 18th greatest singer of all time. In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked Yorke the 66th greatest singer of all time.

Early life[edit]

Yorke was born on 7 October 1968, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. He was born with a paralysed left eye, and underwent five eye operations by the age of six.[4] During this time Yorke had to wear a patch over his eye.[5] According to Yorke, the last surgery was "botched", giving him a drooping eyelid.[6]

Yorke's family moved frequently. Yorke's father, a nuclear physicist and later a chemical equipment salesman, was hired by a firm in Scotland shortly after his son's birth; the family lived there until Yorke was seven. Yorke moved from school to school, where classmates teased him for his eye.[7] The family finally settled in Oxfordshire in 1978.[7]

Yorke received his first guitar when he was seven; his earliest musical inspiration was guitarist Brian May of Queen.[6][8] By 11, he had joined his first band and written his first song.[9] In Oxford he attended the all-boy public school Abingdon, where he met Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway, and brothers Colin and Jonny Greenwood[10] and formed On a Friday, named for the only day they were allowed to rehearse.[6] Yorke said: "School was bearable for me because the music department was separate from the rest of the school. It had pianos in tiny booths, and I used to spend a lot of time hanging around there after school."[11]

After leaving school, Yorke took a gap year, during which he worked in a few jobs and was involved in a car accident that made him wary of any kind of mechanised transport; this influenced the lyrics of several Radiohead songs, including the Bends B-side "Killer Cars" and "Airbag" from OK Computer.[12] In late 1988, Yorke left Oxford to study at the University of Exeter, which put On a Friday on hiatus aside from holiday break rehearsals.[13] Yorke said he "wanted to go to St John’s to read English, because that’s what everybody did. But I was told I couldn't even apply – I was too thick. Oxford University would have eaten me up and spat me out. It’s too rigorous."[14] At Exeter, Yorke worked as a DJ at Guild nights in the Lemon Grove and played with the band Headless Chickens.[15] He also met his partner Rachel Owen, and artist Stanley Donwood, with whom Yorke later collaborated to produce artwork for Radiohead albums and promotional material.[16]



Main article: Radiohead

On A Friday resumed activity in 1991 as the members were finishing their degrees. They signed to Parlophone and changed their name to Radiohead. Around this time, Yorke said he "hit the self-destruct button pretty quickly": he cut his hair and drank heavily, often becoming too drunk to perform.[17] Radiohead gained notice with the worldwide hit single "Creep", which later appeared on the band's 1993 debut album Pablo Honey. Yorke said that the success inflated his ego; he tried to project himself as a rock star, which included bleaching his hair and wearing extensions. He said: "When I got back to Oxford I was unbearable ... as soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse."[18]

By the time of Radiohead's second album, The Bends (1995), Radiohead had attracted a large fanbase and began to receive critical acclaim. After the album's release, the American rock band R.E.M., a major influence on Radiohead, picked them as their support act for their European tour.[19] Yorke and R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe became close friends; Stipe gave him advice on how to deal with the demands of being in a famous rock band.[20]

Yorke distributed a free newspaper promoting The King of Limbs (2011)

During the production of the band's third album, OK Computer (1997), all five members of Radiohead had differing opinions and equal production roles, with Yorke having "the loudest voice", according to O'Brien.[21] OK Computer achieved critical acclaim and strong sales, establishing Radiohead as one of the leading alternative rock acts of the 1990s, but Yorke was ambivalent about this success. Yorke stated that he dislikes the "mythology" of rock music and the media's obsession with celebrity.[22] Some of these concerns were voiced in the 1998 documentary film Meeting People Is Easy, which followed the band on their OK Computer tour that led to psychological burnout.

Following the tour, Yorke suffered a mental breakdown.[23] He suffered from writer's block, and said: "Every time I picked up a guitar I just got the horrors. I would start writing a song, stop after 16 bars, hide it away in a drawer, look at it again, tear it up, destroy it."[24] He began to listen almost exclusively to the electronic music of Warp artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, saying: "It was refreshing because the music was all structures and had no human voices in it. But I felt just as emotional about it as I'd ever felt about guitar music."[23] Yorke and Radiohead took these influences to their albums Kid A and 2001's Amnesiac, processing vocals, obscuring lyrics, and departing from rock for a more varied musical landscape encompassing electronic, jazz and avant-garde classical influences. The albums divided fans and critics, but were commercially successful and later attracted widespread critical acclaim; at the turn of the decade, Kid A was named the best album of the 2000s by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork.[25][26]

In 2003, Radiohead released their sixth album, Hail to the Thief, a blend of rock and electronic music that Yorke described as a reaction to the events of the early 2000s and newfound fears for his children's future. In 2005 they undertook recording sessions for a seventh album, In Rainbows, released as a digital DRM-free download in October 2007. In 2011, Radiohead released their eighth album, The King of Limbs, which Yorke described as "an expression of physical movements and wildness".


Thom Yorke performing live at Glastonbury Festival 2010

Yorke released his debut solo album The Eraser in 2006 on the independent label XL Recordings. It was produced by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and features cover art by Radiohead artist Stanley Donwood. Yorke said: "I've been in the band since we left school and never dared do anything on my own ... It was like, 'Man, I've got to find out what it feels like,' you know?"[27] He described The Eraser as "more beats and electronics" and denied that it meant he was leaving Radiohead, saying: "I want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah... this was all done with their blessing."[28] The Eraser received positive reviews and reached number 3 in the UK in its first week, number 2 in the United States, Canada and Australia, and number 9 in Ireland. It was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Prize[29] and the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.[30]

In July 2009, Yorke played a solo performance at the Latitude Festival in England, performing Eraser material.[31] On 21 September 2009, he released a double-A-side single, "Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses" / "The Hollow Earth".[32] In 2010, he performed a surprise set at Glastonbury Festival with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, performing Eraser and Radiohead songs.[33] In 2012, Yorke contributed music to a Rag & Bone fashion show.[34]

In September 2014, Yorke released his second solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, via BitTorrent.[35] It received positive reviews[36] and became the most torrented album of 2014 (excluding piracy),[37] with over a million downloads in its first six days.[38] On 26 December 2014, Yorke released the album via Bandcamp along with a new single, "Youwouldn'tlikemewhenI'mangry".[39]

Yorke contributed music to The UK Gold, a 2013 documentary about tax avoidance in the UK. The soundtrack also features work by Jonny Greenwood, Elbow's Guy Garvey and Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja. It was released free in February 2015 through the online audio distribution platform SoundCloud.[40]

Atoms for Peace[edit]

Yorke performing with Atoms for Peace in 2013.

In 2009, Yorke formed Atoms for Peace to perform songs from his first solo album The Eraser. Alongside Yorke on vocals, guitar and keyboards, the band comprises bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, drummer Joey Waronker of Beck and R.E.M., percussionist Mauro Refosco of Forro in the Dark and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards and guitar.[41]

In February 2013, Atoms for Peace released an album of original music, Amok.[42] Answering a fan question on Reddit, Yorke wrote that determining whether new songs were for Radiohead or Atoms for Peace was "a grey area. Getting greyer. Obviously depends on who is being sampled."[43]


Yorke has worked with producer Nigel Godrich on every Radiohead album since The Bends, as well as Yorke's solo work and Amok. Describing their collaborative process, Yorke said: "[The Eraser song] 'Black Swan', back in the day, was a six-minute load of crap. Except for this one juicy bit, and [Godrich] goes past and goes, 'That bit. Fuck the rest.' Usually it's something like that."[44]

Yorke has also worked with artist Stanley Donwood to create the cover art for every Radiohead album since The Bends, as well as Yorke's solo work and Amok. Yorke and Donwood met as art students at the University of Exeter.[45] Yorke wrote of their meeting: "He had a better hat and suit on than me. That pissed me off. So I figured I'd either end up really not liking this person at all, or working with him for the rest of my life."[43] Donwood said his first impression of Yorke was that he was "mouthy. Pissed off. Someone I could work with."[46] Yorke is credited for artwork alongside Donwood under the monikers "The White Chocolate Farm", "Dr. Tchock", "Tchocky" or similar abbreviations.

For the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, Yorke formed Venus in Furs with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, Suede's Bernard Butler, and Roxy Music's Andy Mackay and recorded covers of the Roxy Music songs "2HB", "Ladytron" and "Bitter-Sweet". In the same year, Yorke cowrote "Rabbit in Your Headlights" with DJ Shadow, which appears on the UNKLE album Psyence Fiction, and duetted on "El President" with Isabel Monteiro of Drugstore. In 2000, Yorke duetted with PJ Harvey on "This Mess We're In" and contributed backing vocals to her album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and appeared on Björk's soundtrack album Selmasongs, singing on the Oscar-nominated song "I've Seen It All". Yorke and Björk collaborated again in 2008 on the charity single "Náttúra". In 2009, Yorke recorded a cover of the Mark Mulcahy song "All for the Best" with his brother Andy for the compilation Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy.

Yorke provided vocals for the Flying Lotus tracks "...And the World Laughs with You" from Cosmogramma (2010) and "Electric Candyman" from Until the Quiet Comes (2012), and the Modeselektor tracks "The White Flash" from Happy Birthday (2007) and "Shipwreck" and "This" from Monkeytown (2011). He has also contributed music and production in collaborations with electronic and hip-hop artists including Modeselektor, Burial, Four Tet and MF DOOM. In February 2012, Yorke remixed "Hold On" by SBTRKT under the name Sisi BakBak; his identity was not confirmed until September 2014.[2]

Musical approach[edit]

Yorke with Radiohead in Barcelona (2008)

Yorke plays guitar, both acoustic and electric (usually rhythm, with band member Jonny Greenwood handling lead), piano, including Rhodes piano, and synthesiser. He has also played bass and drums in Radiohead performances.[47]

Unlike his bandmate Jonny Greenwood, Yorke has never learned how to read sheet music.[48] He said: "If someone lays the notes on a page in front of me, it's meaningless ... because to me you can't express the rhythms properly like that. It's a very ineffective way of doing it, so I've never really bothered picking it up."[49]

Despite his work in electronic music, Yorke said "really I just enjoy writing words sitting at a piano. I tend to lose interest in the drum machine, but doing that is quite a novelty at the moment." In the same interview, he said: "my weakness is having to have a vocal at the core of it ... Maybe ultimately I'm still a guitar strummer and I need three simple ideas and I'm off."[50]

Vocal style[edit]

Yorke is known for his falsetto singing. Rolling Stone described Yorke's voice as a "broad, emotive sweep" with a "high, keening sound".[51] Paste Magazine wrote that Yorke's falsetto on "High and Dry" (from 1994's The Bends) and "Reckoner" (2007's In Rainbows) is "sweet and cautious", whereas "Climbing Up the Walls" (1997's OK Computer) and "Lotus Flower" (2011's The King of Limbs) is "utterly haunting".[52] Based on his recorded works, Yorke has a vocal range spanning from E2 to E6.[53] Yorke said: "It annoys me how pretty my voice is ... how polite it can sound when perhaps what I'm singing is deeply acidic."[49] Starting with Radiohead's fourth album, Kid A, Yorke has often manipulated his vocals with effects, transforming his voice into a "disembodied instrument".[51]

In 2005, readers of Blender and MTV2 voted Yorke the 18th greatest singer of all time.[54] In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked Yorke the 66th greatest singer of all time.[51]

To begin with, writing songs was my way of dealing with shit. Early on it was all, 'Come inside my head and look at me', but that sort of thing doesn't seem appropriate now. Tortured often seems the only way to do things early on, but that in itself becomes tired. By the time we were doing Kid A I didn't feel I was writing about myself at all. I was chopping up lines and pulling them out of a hat. They were emotional but they weren't anything to do with me.

- Yorke on his lyrics[55]


As a teenager, Yorke's favourite artists included Queen, Joy Division, R.E.M., Siousxie and the Banshees and Bob Dylan.[56] He has cited the Pixies,[57] Björk and PJ Harvey as artists who had "changed his life".[50] Yorke wrote that Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion had affected him "a great deal" as a teenager: "it was the voice of someone who was only truly happy when he was singing ... it changed the way I thought about songs and singing." He told the BBC that Neil Young had "absolutely inspired everything, the way I write lyrics, all the time."[58] He told The Guardian that Michael Stipe of R.E.M. is his favourite lyricist: "I loved the way he would take an emotion and then take a step back from it and in doing so make it so much more powerful."[55]

Yorke named Richard D James (Aphex Twin) as his biggest influence, saying: "He burns a heavy shadow ... Aphex opened up another world that didn't involve my fucking electric guitar ... I hated all the music that was around Radiohead at the time, it was completely fucking meaningless. I hated the Britpop thing and what was happening in America, but Aphex was totally beautiful, and he's kind of my age too."[50]

Politics and activism[edit]

Thom Yorke's interview during the 2008 Big Ask Campaign

Yorke is an activist on behalf of human rights, environmentalist, fair trade and anti-war causes, with an anti-WTO and anti-globalisation stance. In 1999 Yorke travelled to the G8 summit to support the Jubilee 2000 movement calling for cancellation of third-world debt.[59] He wrote in The Guardian:

The situation was so utterly ridiculous I didn't believe they would deny us. But they did. They found every excuse they could, but the only reason that I could find was that the west cannot shake its need to control the rest of the planet in any way it can. They cannot shake off this colonial attitude. In order to keep order they have to have fingers permanently wrapped around throats.[60]

In 2003 Yorke was a key speaker at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in Yorkshire, protesting the British government's support of the American "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative. Yorke said: "How dare Tony Blair sign us up to 'Star Wars' without even giving it a really serious thought … without even consulting us? It’s sickening ... We need to make it clear that we will not let America govern the world we live in."[61]

In 2000, Yorke became "obsessed" with the Worldwatch Institute website, "which was full of scary statistics about icecaps melting, and weather patterns changing".[62] Following the 2003 UN report on climate change, Yorke supported the Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign. He wrote:

At first I told Friends of the Earth that I was absolutely the wrong person to be associated with their campaign. I've based my life on touring, and the rock industry is a high energy-consuming industry. But they persuaded me that that was exactly why it was a good idea for me to be involved; that they didn't want to present a holier-than-thou message. Initially, I attracted some criticism, but you just have to accept it, drink some cold water and get on with your life.[62]

In 2005, Yorke joined an all-night vigil for the Trade Justice Movement.[63] In 2006, Friends of the Earth asked Yorke to meet prime minister Tony Blair to discuss climate change. Yorke wrote on Radiohead's site that "I have no intention of being used by spider spin doctors to make it look like we make progress when it is just words", and told the NME: "Blair has no environmental credentials as far as I'm concerned."[64] In 2008, Radiohead commissioned a study by Best Foot Forward to reduce the carbon expended on tour; based on the study, Radiohead chose to play at venues supported by public transport, made deals with trucking companies to reduce emissions, used new low-energy LED lighting and encouraged festivals to offer reusable plastics.[65][62]

In 2008, Yorke guest-edited a special climate change edition of Observer Magazine and wrote: "Unlike pessimists such as James Lovelock, I don't believe we are all doomed ... You should never give up hope."[62] In 2009, Yorke performed via Skype at the premier of the environmentalist documentary The Age of Stupid.[66] In December that year, he gained access to the COP 15 climate change talks in Copenhagen by posing as a journalist.[67] In 2010, Yorke performed a benefit concert at the Cambridge Corn Exchange for the British Green party,[68] and supported the 10:10 climate change mitigation campaign.[69]

Personal life[edit]

Yorke lives in Oxford with his partner, Rachel Owen, whom he met at university. Owen studied fine art printmaking at Exeter and painting at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Florence, and completed a PhD at the University of London researching the illustrations in Dante's Divine Comedy.[70] She and Yorke have a son, Noah, born in 2001, and a daughter, Agnes, born 2004. Yorke's only sibling, younger brother Andy, was the singer of the band Unbelievable Truth from 1993 until 2000.[71] Yorke is vegan[72] and practices yoga and meditation.[50]

Yorke has had an uneasy relationship with celebrity and the media. Following Radiohead's 1993 Pablo Honey tour of America, Yorke became disenchanted with being "right at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle" he felt he was helping sell.[73] The 1998 documentary film Meeting People Is Easy portrays Yorke's disaffection with the music industry and press during Radiohead's 1997-8 "Against Demons" world tour in support of OK Computer.[74]

Solo discography[edit]

With Atoms for Peace[edit]



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External links[edit]

  • Quotations related to Thom Yorke at Wikiquote
  • The Eraser: Official website for Yorke's solo album release