Now that Radiohead have become the elder statesmen of indie rock virtuosity, it’s hard to imagine them as awkward young men, but Jonny Greenwood remembers their humble beginnings. In a new interview with NPR, the guitarist recalled joining Radiohead as a keyboardist in the ’80s, and admitted he would play with his instrument completely off to avoid disrupting the band’s dynamic.
“Thom’s band had a keyboard player — [whom] I think they didn’t get on with because he played his keyboard so loud,” Greenwood remembered (per Music Radar). “And so when I got the chance to play with them, the first thing I did was make sure my keyboard was turned off … I must have done months of rehearsals with them with this keyboard, and they didn’t know that I’d already turned it off.”
While Greenwood pretending to play keyboards is a funny visual on its own, the band’s reaction to his trick makes the anecdote even better. According to Greenwood, not only did the band not realize he was faking it, they acted as if they could hear his keyboards entirely. “They made quite a racket, quite a noise,” the guitarist said. “It was all guitars and distortion — and so I would pretend to play for weeks on end and Thom would say, ‘I can’t quite hear what you’re doing, but I think you’re adding a really interesting texture, because I can tell when you’re not playing.'”
“And I’m thinking, ‘No, you can’t, because I’m really not playing,'” Greenwood continued. “And I’d go home in the evening and work out how to actually play chords and cautiously over the next few months, I would start turning this keyboard up. And that’s how I started in with Radiohead.” Picture a young Thom Yorke praising illusionary texture and ask yourself: How are Radiohead ever going to escape accusations of being self-serious?
Greenwood has come a long way since pretending to play the keyboard. Now known for his film scores almost as much as his guitar theatrics, the composer earned his second Oscar nomination for his score for The Power of the Dog. Meanwhile, Greenwood and Yorke’s new band, The Smile, have shared the singles “The Smoke” and “You Will Never Work in Television Again.”