"For me I felt what was important as a drummer was to find that voice and that's what excites me, finding that musical voice out of necessity, out of limitations, out of being given the continuing opportunity to do it."
Photos by Olivia Cummings
Philip Selway, founding member of Radiohead, joins us for a very special shoplifting session. His newest album Strange Dance sees him using all the craft and learning he has gathered over the last decade of solo work. This rich sonic broadness is constructed with a blend of strings, brass and synthesized sounds backed by a handpicked group of musicians that include Hannah Peel, Adrian Utley, Quinta, Marta Salogni, Valentina Magaletti and Laura Moody.
Philip Selway - Strange Dance
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I came to Nick Drake's music quite late, mid 90s, like most people do I think. Musically I love all the textures and Robert Kirby's orchestrations. You strip everything away and right at the core of it you have his very intimate, well crafted songs. It’s something I aspired to myself when I was first starting to do my solo work, you know, it's quite a big leap doing that because there's a difference between being able to sing in tune and then actually being able to sing something that's got character to it and that connects with somebody. The singers I really related to when I first started were people like Bonnie Prince Billy, Beth Gibbons, Lisa Gemano and Nick Drake.
I don't generally fork out a lot of money on records but this one I actually managed to find the first pressing of it at one point. Well I was told it was the first pressing. I mean, how do you tell? But I did actually part with quite a bit of money for it because all three albums - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter, and Pink Moon - are very central to me and a lot of what I respond to in music.
I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of a project this year called The Endless Coloured Ways. I love the song “Fly” which is on this record but there's a demo version of the song that I connected very deeply with. You can hear bird songs, you can hear a tape machine clicking on and that kind of thing. You get that immediacy of him. So I chose “Fly” as I said and it's quite daunting if you're invited to do a version of an artist's song, something that means so much to you. The brief was to make it your own so I took that onboard fully and thought, “OK, well, if this is one of my songs and I was going to put it on my record released earlier this year, Strange Starts, if it was going to fit into that world what would I do?” So all the players who'd been on Strange Dance, Adrian Nutley, Quinta, Laura Moody and Valentina Magalati, came along and we spent a day and we got the version of “Fly” that's on that compilation. But actually doing something like that, it's just, I don't know, it felt like a bit of a milestone for me to be invited to do that.
I remember becoming aware of the Daptone scene and just being in awe of the levels of musicianship and the fact that it's based around this one studio in Brooklyn and this whole group of players grows up around it. Sharon Jones is just, you know, I mean I could never aspire to having a voice like that. No matter what she sang, it connected with you and I guess that's something I aspire to do. On my second album Weather House I was invited to go and play on the Jimmy Fallon show. I had just released a song called "It Will End in Tears" and I thought OK well let's chance my arm and see if The Dap Kings would do the song with me. I work with the drummer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Fattalaro who's originally from New York State and is part of the whole Daptone scene. He put me in touch with them and yeah, they agreed to do it. I had this incredible, incredible couple of days with them going to the studio rehearsal space out in Brooklyn. It's just the most incredible band. It's just like, you know, my dream musical scenario. I was back out on the flight very quickly afterwards, it was a bit surreal. I went to one of the Daptone reviews in Bristol and Sharon Jones was singing there and I had the chance to meet her afterwards, I mean she's so regal. And it was just this complete connection throughout and just so gracious and friendly and the most incredible performer as well.
So I guess this is kind of very much with my drummer head on. You know, you've got two of the greats in this record, Ginger Baker and Tony Allen who's kind of central to it all. Just in this record here, you've probably got everything you could ever want to know about drumming. Fela Kuti is an unbelievably powerful performer and unbelievably adept political communicator as well. I end up kind of thinking a lot on the Ginger Baker angle here. I went to London after he died to a tribute show and it was his son who was leading it, also an incredible player, and then Steve Gadd, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood and Steve Winwood. You have these key figures who bring together all these different kinds of musical personalities. Fela Kuti was definitely one of those. As a drummer I listen to this and it's incredibly inspiring.
For me, this is a record that informs quite a lot of what I've done in Radiohead. Jaki Liebezeit’s drumming has this quality where you can hear his playing before you know who it is. It's that fully developed personality in his playing and it feels very musically versatile. It has that drive, that Krautrock drive, but you get that sense of funk and that sense of jazz in there and it's just such a good lesson in finding your musical voice. The first musical voice I really felt I found was in my drumming. With Radiohead, we could play when we started as a band in high school, but, you know, we still had a long way to go. So in a way, we were learning to play in the context of each other, so we're responding to each other and that shapes how you play as well. And it's also a very good environment to find a distinctive voice. I have a huge admiration for anybody who can be a really good session player. Just to be able to pick something up and play in any style and work at that speed. I mean it's an awesome skill but that's not me.
For me I felt what was important as a drummer was to find that voice and that's what excites me, finding that musical voice out of necessity, out of limitations, out of being given the continuing opportunity to do it. I really feel like I've got there with my drumming. So you then translate that to what else you want to do musically. But it takes time so you have to be very patient with that process. I'm sure it's changed over the course of the years too. I mean I listen to my own playing and I think there is something that's still very intrinsically me that I can relate back to when I first started playing. Might be that I've not developed that much since I first started playing. I remember my first ever gig pre Radiohead. I hadn't actually played on a full drum kit before getting up to do the gig, but I got away with it. There was this sense of my musical instinct and my personality coming through in that. I think if you can hold on to that, and of course you want to become far more skilled in what you do and far more versatile, but I think that kind of essential character is so important to hold onto. That's what I've had the chance to to develop and that's what I've been trying to do with my solo stuff as well over the past 14 years now.