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, singer, and songwriter. He is the lead singer and principal songwriter of the bands Radiohead and Atoms for Peace, known for his wide vocal range. As a multi-instrumentalist, he mainly plays guitar and piano, but also plays synthesizer, bass guitar, and drums among other instruments, and makes use of electronic equipment such as samplers and drum machines; later Radiohead albums credit him with playing "laptop". In the 1990s, Yorke was known as a rock musician, but the 2000 Radiohead album Kid A saw his work expand into electronic music. He has released two solo albums: The Eraser (2006) and Tomorrow's Modern Boxes (2014). Outside music, Yorke is a political activist on behalf of human rights, environmentalist and anti-war causes.

Yorke was born in 1968 in Northamptonshire. His family moved often before settling in Oxfordshire, where Yorke attended Abingdon School and founded Radiohead, then called On a Friday, 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.

In 2002, Q magazine named Yorke the sixth most powerful figure in music,[3] and Radiohead were ranked number 73 in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" in 2005, and in 2010 VH1 ranked them the 29th greatest artist of all time.[4] A 2005 poll by Blender and MTV2 saw Yorke voted the 18th greatest singer of all time,[5] and in 2008, he was ranked 66th in Rolling Stone '​s "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" list.[6]

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.[7] During this time Yorke had to wear a patch over his eye.[8] Yorke stated that the last surgery was "botched", giving him a drooping eyelid.[9]

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.[10] The family finally settled in Oxfordshire in 1978.[10]

Yorke received his first guitar when he was seven; his earliest musical inspiration was guitarist Brian May of Queen.[9][11] By 11, he had joined his first band and written his first song.[12] He attended the all-boys public school Abingdon in Oxford, where he met future bandmates Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway, and brothers Colin and Jonny Greenwood.[13] They formed a band named On a Friday, named for the only day they were allowed to rehearse.[9] 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."[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] At Exeter, Yorke worked as a DJ at Guild nights in the Lemon Grove and played with the band Headless Chickens.[17] 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.[18]



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 off and drank heavily, often becoming too drunk to perform.[19] Radiohead gained notice with the worldwide hit single "Creep", which later appeared on the band's 1993 debut album Pablo Honey. Yorke admitted later 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."[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25] 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."[26] 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."[25] 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.[27][28]

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?"[29] He described the album 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."[30] 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[31] and the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.[32]

In July 2009, Yorke played a solo performance at the Latitude Festival in England, performing Eraser material.[33] On 21 September 2009, he released a double-A-side single, "Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses" / "The Hollow Earth".[34] On 25 February 2010, he performed at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in support of the British Green party,[35] and in June performed a surprise set at the 2010 Glastonbury Festival with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, performing Eraser and Radiohead songs.[36] In 2012, Yorke contributed music to a Rag & Bone fashion show.[37]

In September 2014, Yorke released his second solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, via BitTorrent.[38] It received positive reviews[39] and became the most torrented album of 2014 (excluding piracy),[40] with over a million downloads in its first six days.[41] On 26 December 2014, Yorke released the album via Bandcamp along with a new single, "Youwouldn'tlikemewhenI'mangry".[42]

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.[43]

Atoms for Peace[edit]

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.[44]

In February 2013, Atoms for Peace released their debut album, Amok, to positive reviews.[45][46] 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."[47]


Yorke has worked with producer Nigel Godrich on every Radiohead album since The Bends, as well as on his solo work and the Atoms for Peace album Amok. Beyond production and engineering roles, Godrich helps Yorke arrange and edit his songs. 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."[48]

Yorke has 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.[49] Yorke wrote: "I met him first day at art college and 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."[47] Donwood said his first impression of Yorke was that he was "mouthy. Pissed off. Someone I could work with."[50] Yorke is credited alongside Donwood under the monikers "The White Chocolate Farm", "Dr. Tchock", "Tchocky" or similar abbreviations.

Yorke has collaborated with several artists outside Radiohead and Atoms for Peace. 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 co-wrote "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 "One Line" and "Beautiful Feeling" for her Mercury Prize-winning album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. In the same year, he 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 wrote that the song 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." 

Yorke has 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]

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.[51] She and Yorke have a son, Noah, born in 2001, and a daughter, Agnes, born 2004. Yorke's only sibling, brother Andy, is the singer of the band Unbelievable Truth.[52]

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 to sell to the world.[53] 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.[54]

Musical approach[edit]


Yorke with Radiohead in Barcelona (2008)

Yorke is known for his tenor voice, vibrato, frequent use of falsetto, and his ability to reach and sustain notes over a wide vocal range. In 1994, the band watched Jeff Buckley in concert; Yorke later said the concert had a direct effect on his vocal delivery on "Fake Plastic Trees".[55] However, Yorke has said, "It annoys me how pretty my voice is... how polite it can sound when perhaps what I'm singing is deeply acidic."[56] He has often adopted other styles of singing, such as an aggressive shouting style in the middle section of "Paranoid Android" and a semi-spoken style for 2003's "Myxomatosis" and "A Wolf at the Door".[citation needed]


Yorke is a multi-instrumentalist. His musical contributions to Radiohead include guitar, both acoustic and electric (usually rhythm, with band member Jonny Greenwood handling lead), piano, including Rhodes piano, and synthesiser. He also plays bass guitar on occasion (the bass lines for "The National Anthem", "Kid A" and "Pyramid Song" were recorded by him) and live with Radiohead he plays bass on the B-side "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy". At solo shows and with his band "Atoms for Peace", he would play bass for "Harrowdown Hill" from his album The Eraser. During the 2006 and 2008 tours, Yorke played drums in tandem with drummer Phil Selway on the song "Bangers + Mash".

Unlike other members of Radiohead, Yorke has never learned how to read sheet music.[57] 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."[56]

Since Kid A, Radiohead, and in particular Yorke, have incorporated many elements of electronic music into their work. As a result, Yorke has taken an increased role in programming beats and samples and has been credited with playing "laptop" on recent albums. On a radio show in 2003 to publicise the release of Hail to the Thief, Yorke remarked that he would rather make a record just with a computer than with only an acoustic guitar.[58] His solo effort The Eraser featured piano, bass and guitar, but was built primarily around electronics.

In interviews Yorke has cited a variety of personal musical heroes and influences, including jazz composer and bassist Charles Mingus, Neil Young, Miracle Legion, singer Scott Walker, electronic acts Aphex Twin and Autechre, and Krautrock band Can. Talking Heads, Queen, Joy Division, Magazine, Elvis Costello, the Smiths and Sonic Youth were early influences on Radiohead and Yorke. In 2004, at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Yorke mentioned to the crowd, "When I was in college, the Pixies and R.E.M. changed my life",[59] and he has often mentioned both bands as influential examples. He is also an admirer of Icelandic singer Björk.[60]


Thom Yorke's interview during the 2008 Big Ask Campaign

Yorke has been outspoken on various contemporary political and social issues. He and the other Radiohead members read the alter-globalisation book No Logo by Naomi Klein during the Kid A sessions, and were so influenced by it that No Logo was briefly considered as the album title, though Yorke said it "didn't teach him anything he didn't already know".[61]

Yorke's activism in support of fair trade practices, with an anti-WTO and anti-globalisation stance, garnered significant attention in the early 2000s.[62] Yorke had previously referenced maquiladoras in the title of a Radiohead B-side in 1995, and decried the International Monetary Fund in 1997's "Electioneering". Yorke is also a professed fan of Noam Chomsky's political writings,[63] and is a Vegan.[64]

Yorke is a political activist on behalf of human rights, environmentalist and anti-war causes including Jubilee 2000, Amnesty International and CND, the Green Party of England and Wales, and Friends of the Earth's Big Ask campaign.[65] Radiohead played at the Free Tibet concert in both 1998 and 1999, and at an Amnesty International concert in 1998.[66] In 2005, Yorke performed at an all-night vigil for the Trade Justice Movement.[67] In 2006, Jonny Greenwood and Yorke performed a special benefit concert for Friends of the Earth. Yorke made headlines the same year for refusing prime minister Tony Blair's request to meet with him to discuss climate change, saying that Blair had "no environmental credentials".[68]

Yorke has said the music industry's use of air transport is dangerous and unsustainable, and that he would consider not touring if new carbon emissions standards do not force the situation to improve.[69] For Radiohead's 2008 tour, the band commissioned a study by the group Best Foot Forward to reduce the carbon expended on their tour. The band also made use of a new low-energy LED lighting system and encouraged festivals to offer reusable plastics.[70] In December 2009, Yorke attended to the COP 15 climate change talks in Copenhagen,[71] and supported the 10:10 project, a movement encouraging people to take positive action on climate change by reducing their carbon emissions.[72]

Solo discography[edit]

With Atoms for Peace[edit]



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  64. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  72. ^ "Who's doing 10:10? | 10:10". Retrieved 10 December 2011. 

External links[edit]

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