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Thomas Edward Yorke, born October 7, 1968 in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England, is an English musician, best known as the lead singer of the English rock band Radiohead. He has also recorded as a solo artist: he released his debut album, The Eraser, in July 2006. The album received a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize.
Yorke mainly plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar and piano, but he has also played drums and bass guitar (notably during the Kid A and Amnesiac Radiohead sessions). Yorke is also interested in electronic music. He is credited with playing "laptop" on his solo album, The Eraser.
In 2005, Yorke became a spokesman for Friends of the Earth and their campaign to reduce carbon emissions. He has one brother, Andy, ex-vocalist of the band the Unbelievable Truth. Yorke currently lives in central Oxford with his girlfriend, Rachel Owen, a printmaker who holds a doctorate in art history, and their two children, Noah, born in 2001 (to whom the Radiohead album Amnesiac was dedicated) and Agnes Mair, born 2004 (to whom Yorke dedicated The Eraser).
Radiohead, with Yorke as a blonde-haired figurehead, first gained notice with the hit single "Creep" (allegedly written in the men's toilets of Exeter University's student club The Lemon Grove) although some speculated the band would only achieve status of one-hit wonders. The song appeared on the band's first album Pablo Honey, which received mixed reviews.
The band came to resent Creep and the expectation around it soon became a weight on their shoulders. Their feelings towards the song were clearly indicated on their second album, The Bends, particularly on "My Iron Lung". It has been argued that this is the album on which the qualities for which Radiohead is best known today first appear. Yorke himself, being chief songwriter, lyricist and vocalist, is attributed many of the same personal qualities as exist in Radiohead's music from this period to the present day — themes of isolation, hope, resignation, and urban existentialism to name several.
How Yorke, as the driving influence of Radiohead, has dealt with his growing status and reverence has been arguably one of the more interesting aspects of the band's evolution. 1997's OK Computer, whilst heralded as a landmark album by virtually every publication that reviewed it, forced Yorke into a period of depression brought about by fear that the personalities behind Radiohead — chiefly, his own — were more prominent than the actual music. 2000's Kid A was again a musical departure for the band, Yorke in particular having struggled with the idea of a follow-up to the mammoth success of OK Computer.
Yorke has explained in various interviews that he dislikes the "mythology" he feels is endemic within the rock genre, and hates the media's obsession with celebrity. In interviews, he does not seem to be particularly taken with the idea of being famous, or even show that he feels it is necessary that he is asked questions about his music. Despite his efforts to downplay his status, he is still looked upon as one of the most important musicians of his time.
In terms of talent and ability, Yorke is known for his distinctive falsetto ("Fake Plastic Trees", "How To Disappear Completely") and ability to reach, and sustain, high notes ("Creep", "Exit Music (For a Film), Let Down"). During the recording sessions for The Bends 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." Aside from vocal duties, Yorke's musical contributions to Radiohead include piano (including Rhodes piano, especially on Kid A) and especially guitar, both acoustic and electric. He also plays bass guitar (The bass line for "The National Anthem" was recorded by him) as well as drums on occasion; in concerts performed in 2006 he performed on drums on stage in tandem with drummer Phil Selway. Since Kid A, however, Radiohead, and in particular Yorke, have moved away from using solely these "rock" instruments for creating music, and have often seen fit to incorporate elements of electronic music in Radiohead's work.
While appearing on Jo Whiley's Radio 1 show in 2003 to publicise the release of Hail to the Thief, Yorke remarked that he would rather make an album just with a computer rather than with only an acoustic guitar. Additionally, Yorke has stated that he thinks that computer programs such as Pro Tools give the musician more power over the direction of one's music than traditional instruments . The Eraser, his first solo album, indeed stayed true to this notion.
Radiohead are currently recording their new album. Though it was originally expected to be released sometime in 2006, it is now expected sometime in 2007. Yorke has said that recordings for the new album have been difficult, yet satisfying enough to play some new material on tour in 2006. Radiohead played several more dates later in the year including the V Festival in England in August. Once the album is finished and released, the band plans to release a DVD of their performance at Bonnaroo, where they played a 28 song set that lasted two and a half hours and included six unreleased new songs.
Yorke has claimed to have never listened to Radiohead records after they are released, and it appears this will be the case for the forthcoming album. "I will dread listening to it all after we have left in the real world. I always dread that. I'd much rather start something new and forget," Yorke recently wrote in Radiohead's blog Dead Air Space.
The band has fulfilled its contract with EMI, and as such has no label or deal. Recently the band have spoken about the pressures of working with no set deadline; Yorke has stated he prefers this freedom, yet bandmember Jonny Greenwood does not.
Yorke said that the band will sign a new contract with a new label, on their own terms and not before the new album is finished and ready to release.
Yorke released The Eraser, an album of solo material, on July 10, 2006 in the UK and July 11, 2006 in the U.S. Produced by Nigel Godrich, featuring cover art by Stanley Donwood, it was released on the independent label XL Recordings. Yorke has said that this album is "more beats & electronics" and has denied that it means he is leaving Radiohead, stating, "I want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah... this was all done with their blessing, and I don't wanna hear that word solo. It doesn't sound right" . It reached number 9 on the Irish charts in its first week, number 2 in the US, Canada and Australia, as well as number 3 in the UK. The album was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, losing to the Arctic Monkeys, and was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album.
Yorke's enigmatic persona has made him a cult figure, but he has also been outspoken on various contemporary political and social issues. Radiohead had read No Logo by Naomi Klein during the Kid A sessions ("No Logo" was also briefly considered as the album title) and all the members were reportedly heavily influenced by it. Yorke is also a professed fan of Noam Chomsky's work .
He is friends with the environmentalist writer, academic and journalist George Monbiot; Yorke lent a quote to feature on the front cover of Monbiot's book Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain. He has garnered attention as a political activist campaigning for causes including fair trade, human rights and anti-war movements such as CND, Amnesty International, Jubilee 2000 and most recently the Friends of the Earth campaign "The Big Ask". He played at the Free Tibet concert in both 1998 and 1999.
He has also appeared in Animal Aid's "Eat This!" film and condemned factory farming. He is a long-time vegan .
In 2006, Yorke received publicity for his apparent refusal to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss environmental issues. Asked about his activism, Yorke said that "the difference between me and Bono is that he's quite happy to go and flatter people to get what he wants and he's very good at it, but I just can't do it. I'd probably end up punching them in the face rather than shaking their hand, so it's best that I stay out of their way. I can't engage with that level of bullshit. Which is a shame, really, and in a way it would help if I could, but I just can't. I admire the fact that Bono can, and can walk away from it smelling of roses."
In 2004 and 2006, Yorke wrote a letter to the Oxford Student newspaper in his home town of Oxford, expressing support for the Green Party candidate for the Carfax ward in that year's council elections.