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Nigel Godrich is a Grammy Award-winning producer. He’s sometimes informally called the “sixth member” of Radiohead due to his years of work with the band, helping establish the act’s distinctive sound, producing every album since ‘OK Computer’, itself last year voted the number one ‘Greatest album of all time’ in a Channel 4 poll.
Godrich has also worked with Paul McCartney, U2, R.E.M., Travis, Beck, Ride and Pavement, and is currently working on Radiohead’s next album. He recently launched a new artist-focused online-only TV show, called ‘From The Basement’. Filmed in HD at Maida Vaile studios in London by acclaimed director, Sophie Miller, Godrich produces the live sound. He’s inspired by ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ to make the show into an intimate experience artists actually want to appear on. Only available online, the first edition of ‘From The Basement’ featured exclusive performances from the White Stripes, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and an improvised session featuring Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden and drummer Steve Reid. Yorke sang two tracks, ‘Videotape’ and ‘Down is the new up’.
Q: What’s your most memorable in-studio moment?
Nigel: The first time I was left alone with Radiohead as a young, inexperienced and hungry person, while we recorded ‘The Bends’.
Q: Was there a moment when you decided to get into music?
Nigel: When I was maybe eight or nine I was a big fan of The Police. I had ‘Reggatta de Blanc’. I used to love it. At the back it said, “produced By Nigel Grey”. His name was Nigel, it told me, ‘it’s possible to do a job in music’. It’s one of those things that don’t seem to make sense at the time…
Q: Tell us about getting that first break…
Nigel: I got a job at Audio One and sat there with my pager waiting for people to order tea or coffee. It was the really famous Trident studio once, Hey Jude, Transformer and Hunky Dory were recorded there. When I got there we were making advertising jingles. It got me in and I moved to Mickie Most’s studio. Suddenly I was around people making records all the time, it took off from there.
Q: What’s your advice for people wanting to get into music?
Nigel: You have to be doing it because you want to do it, rather than thinking it’s going to lead you to wealth, fame and fortune. The fact I can make a living doing what I do is a byproduct of something I wanted to do anyway. If I’d listened to people who told me not to bother because so-and-so tried and failed, then I wouldn’t have bothered.
Q: What was the last album you bought?
Nigel: The Kinks: Greatest Hits: It was an impulse buy. You can look at the track listing and a title makes you reach in your pocket and buy it, which is rarity these days I would say.
I think the emphasis was different back in the day. Damon Albarn got it right when he said, “Modern life is rubbish, because it’s just getting cheaper and flimsier and less profound.” I mean no disrespect to anyone making music now, it’s still possible to create wonderful things, but there’ll never be another Beatles because of so many factors which aren’t connected to music. They were a product of a post-war technological boon and cultural fusion when music was suddenly available to anyone who could afford a record player.
Q: Why ‘From The Basement’?
Nigel: I find myself thinking “who is recording archive footage today for the future?” You know, it’s just not being made anymore, and I think that has a very big long-term effect on the next generation, who are going to look to see what is inspiring and exciting. Some terrible youth TV programme where you can’t really see what’s going on because the camera’s cut in too quickly and there’s a wobbly cam and some stupid presenter – that’s just not culture – do you know what I mean? You just don’t feel that connection to the artist. That’s basically the impetus behind “From The Basement”, a TV show without an audience that forces artists to connect to the camera that is connected to you the audience.
Q: So it’s a reaction to mass market commercialisation?
Nigel: I find there’s a good analogy between the art and the politics of the day. Today’s politics is very middle of the road and uninteresting, because it is trying to emcompass everyone. The same thing’s happening in art and the mass media – trying to appeal to as many people as possible, so what you get is whatever appeals to the lowest common denominator.
Q: So it’s a creative show?
Nigel: It’s all about the artist. They don’t usually enjoy going on television and have bad experiences. They walk into an atmosphere surrounded by people who don’t really understand what it’s like to be them, or what they’re used to, and they don’t really have a chance. “From The Basement” puts the sound first and gives artists the chance to play what they want. It’s not part of some promo circuit where artists must play their latest single. It’s like the Old Grey Whistle Test, where artists were encouraged to play album tracks. It’s all about the artist, not the director or cameraman.
I want to get that feeling of intimacy – most live music on TV is filmed before a hyped-up audience to make it seem more exciting, but that makes me less excited. I get a buzz out of that personal connection.
Q: It’s available on iTunes?
Nigel: Yes, we wanted people to be able to play it on their iPods, which are very much of the time. I feel like that’s the point, really, to generate something of the artists of their time for the technology of the time, just like the record player was the technology of the Beatles’ time.
Q: What are your thoughts on file-sharing?
Nigel: I’m kind of conflicted. I do look for things I can’t buy elsewhere on Limewire, but generally anything I do find there that I can buy later, I will buy. I want to support artists.
YouTube is incredible. It’s had a political impact. It destroyed the career of a racist senator and recently showed the truth of Saddam Hussein’s hanging. It’s a great way for people to disseminate media.
The only bugger online is occasionally your album leaks early. That’s only a problem if your album’s bad. If it’s good, people who care about the artist will always buy it, I think.
Q: What do you think about iTunes?
Nigel: I think Apple sees iTunes content as software and doesn’t give it enough respect. You are dictated the terms of how you sell things, which is a little weird. And when you buy all your music through this small door, suddenly you’re no longer going to a record shop and hearing things and looking at the artwork.
Q: Tony Marks of Banco De Gaia once told me how frustrated he is that iTunes doesn’t differentiate between music that is just magnificent and the rest…
Nigel: Yes. You’re just presented with a bunch of stuff. I think the music’s undervalued – but music’s so intangible, no one really knows how it works. It will always have a life of its own and inspire people to keep working and searching for it. But it’s certainly becoming a more bland universe, isn’t it?
Q: Do you expect new music business models?
Nigel: In future I think any artist that has the profile will start selling their own music directly, and that will take the power from iTunes. I do agree that iTunes helped bring the labels online – part of the reason labels had such problems was, well, it it were any other business they would not have been considered as functioning very well.
Q: Do you have an iPod?
Nigel: I’ve had three iPods, one nano and two shuffles. I follow the whole thing. I’ve been playing a lot of James Brown on it recently.