Sunday Times, 3/5/1998
graduate with a brother in the most critically acclaimed
rock band of the 1990s releases his own stunning debut album. ANDREW SMITH
on the unlikely story of Andy Yorke
It runs in the family
The Unbelievable Truth's monkish singer, Andy Yorke, is one of the most
polite, soft-spoken and reflective men you could hope to meet. But you can
watch him turn into a cross between the Rev Ian Paisley and Travis Bickle
from the film Taxi Driver if you know just two ludicrously simple words. Try
it yourself if you ever bump into him, just as a dozy French record company
employee did earlier in the day. "Hello, Thom." Bang. Fireworks. Though the
unfortunate fellow swiftly corrected himself, Yorke is still fuming hours
Because "Thom" is Thom Yorke, Andy's elder brother and singer with one of
the most respected groups of the 1990s, Radiohead. There have been many
examples of siblings starting out in the same successful band, but few have
achieved fame separately, which is why, for the past six months, all anyone
has wanted to ask Yorke Jr about is the difficulty of trying to follow in
his brother's imposing footsteps. The good news is that, as of a week
tomorrow and the release of Unbelievable Truth's remarkably composed debut
album, Almost Here, this will change. The sanity of Andy Yorke's decision to
follow his brother into the music business is no longer at issue. Now, we
want to know how one family could have produced two such distinctive voices.
Had the brothers Yorke begun releasing albums a few years earlier than they
did, Oxford social services might well have been tempted to pay their
household a visit, expecting to find them confined to their bedrooms,
sustained only by a diet of gruel, Leonard Cohen records and girls who
disappear insultingly the moment you fall in love with them. Like the Hal
Hartley film after which Unbelievable Truth are named (they prefer Hartley's
Trust, but that was already taken), the dominant mood in both Yorkes' music
is melancholia, though Andy, with his rich, clear voice and uncluttered,
emotional lyrics, approaches his in a far more direct way. Only one of the
11 songs on Almost There is much more than four minutes long, and they range
in texture from the concise, fluttering rock of the ill-chosen singles
Solved and Higher Than Reason, to the beautiful acoustic carnage of Stone,
Same Mistakes and Forget About Me. The atypically gregarious Settle Down,
with its transcendent vocal harmonies (a group speciality), brings to mind
Neil Young, or even the Eagles at their best: indeed, it would be possible
to read Almost There as a brand of urban British country music, though Yorke
denies any explicit country influence.
Unsurprisingly, they're already catching on in France, where angst is much
admired (see the enormous popularity of The Cure). Even here, Yorke is not
out of his brother's shadow, though he may have taken satisfaction from the
fact that, when the host of the television show on which he is about to
appear demands to know whether there are any Radiohead fans in the audience,
only two sheepish hands are raised. Backstage, at close quarters, the
pleasing eccentricity of the trio becomes evident. With his radical haircut,
drummer Nigel Powell looks like a refugee from Sigue Sigue Sputnik. He talks
a lot, too, whereas the bassist, Jason Moulster, sits motionless, facing the
door of the small room, blinking occasionally, but saying absolutely
nothing. After a while, you begin to wonder whether he's mute, or is making
some strange situationist statement. In performance, though, he is riveting,
every note seeming to pass like an electric current through him.
Then there's Andy Yorke. On stage, without his specs, he looks nothing like
his brother, though up close the resemblance is plain. His round, fresh
features make him look younger than his 25 years. He is probably set to
become the first British pop star with a degree in Russian from Oxford
University. After the show, he talks animatedly about the time he's spent in
Russia and his passion for its culture. In 1996, on the day before he and
his partners were to sign a dream first publishing deal, it was to Russia
that he slipped away for six months, with nary a word to anyone.
"I basically left the band," he says, shifting slightly in his seat. "I
didn't tell the rest of the band that. I left because I started writing
songs quite late, when I was 20. Three years later, we were being offered a
publishing deal and I think it was too fast for my little brain to cope
with. Even three years on, I didn't really think of myself as being a
musician, and I wasn't sure I wanted to be, I guess. I wasn't very
comfortable, I felt that I hadn't done enough other things yet. So I left.
The day before we were to sign the deal, actually. Which was . . ." He looks
at the others and shrugs. "Sorry." They laugh.
"At the time, I don't think I thought I was going to come back. Everybody
was ringing me up and saying, 'It's really brave, what you're doing.' But it
wasn't that. It just felt like the only thing I could do to stay sane."
Anyone having trouble understanding this should bear in mind that Thom Yorke
once described standing on a deserted Asian beach, the most beautiful
stretch of coastline he'd ever seen, and having the whole spectacle ruined
for him by the knowledge that he owed it all to MTV. Andy Yorke, too, will
agonise over being signed to a multinational record company in a way that I
thought people had given up. As far as both Radiohead and Unbelievable Truth
are concerned, postmodernism might never have happened - this being one of
their very greatest attractions. Where does their intensity come from?
"Uhm. I don't know. It's not like we were abused as children or anything."
They had a "pretty normal" upbringing in the small market town of Abingdon,
near Oxford. He and Powell went to school togeth-er, playing in, of all
things, a glam-metal band that they refuse to name ("And me in this horrible
Morrissey cardigan and glasses - oh God"). At a loss, Yorke asks Powell if
he has any thoughts on the Yorke despond.
"Well, to me, it seems like an almost random genetic thing. There are
certainly traits that I've noticed that each of you seems to have inherited
from your parents. There doesn't seem to be any obvious reason for it in
terms of your life experience."
The issue is this: is living in a permanent state of existential crisis
merely a convenient way of ensuring a constant supply of fresh material?
Writers such as Adam Duritz of Counting Crows and Mark Eitzel have long had
to fend off such allegations. After all, both Yorkes appear to be effective
individuals with a lot of advantages in life.
"I don't know. Three years ago, when I started writing these songs, I didn't
feel like a very effective person at all. A lot of the songs come from that
time when you've left education and are thinking, 'S***, what can I do?' If
there's a sense of confusion and feeling slightly lost in the songs, that's
probably where it comes from. Someone like Nigel is lucky, because he only
has one thing in life that he wants to do - music. That's a real blessing.
Whereas with me, there are two things in my life that I feel passionate
about. There's music, but also a desire to go work in eastern Europe and get
really immersed in that. So when things get really weird - and I think this
is scary for the rest of the band - in the back of my mind, I'm thinking,
'Well, I don't actually need this. If I left, I could do the other thing
that I want to do.' "
Yorke admits to having feared that this ambivalence would hold him back,
stop him from "engaging in music properly". In the event, it gives this odd
misfit group an extra dimension that few others have. Good advice to both
Yorke and his expanding audience would be to enjoy it while we can.
(thanks to Benjamin Coombs)