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Thom Yorke performs at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris France 08

Thom Yorke on finding his voice: "I always felt that my register was uncomfortably high or awkward"

11 September 2023, 17:42 | Written by Tyler Damara Kelly

In an excerpt from Jason Thomas Gordon’s book, The Singers Talk, Radiohead's Thom Yorke discussed how he learnt to work with his unique voice.

In an exclusive with Rolling Stone, an excerpt has been shared from Gordon's book, which sees many iconic vocalists spill the secrets on how they look after their most prized instruments, as well as anecdotes from their years on the road.

The excerpt features his interview with Yorke who reveals that it took him quite a long time to understand, and feel comfortable with, his voice. "The hardest lesson is to be yourself," he said, noting that he tried imitating Michael Stipe for a while until he realised that their voices were completely different. "There was no way I was gonna be Michael Stipe because my register wasn’t the same, I wasn’t from Georgia, but I really admired how he wrote lyrics. So I took a lot of that kind of thing from him. But I always felt that my register was uncomfortably high or awkward, or that my voice was too soft," he continued.

After sending a demo tape to a music magazine, and winning the title of "Demo of the Month", in which a reviewer compared him to Neil Young, Yorke began to accept his unique vocal register. "I’d never even heard Neil Young, so I went out and bought After the Gold Rush and was like, 'Wow! It’s OK to sound like that?' Because he’s slightly higher than me, but there was a softness and a naiveté in the voice which I was always trying to hide. Then, it was like, “Oh, maybe I don’t need to hide it."

He explains that seeing Jeff Buckley before he died, whilst Radiohead were recording The Bends was an additional confidence boost in embracing the softer side of his voice. "Again, that was one of those, “It’s OK to do that?” And it reminded me of this vulnerable part of me that I was choosing to hide," he said. "I remember I recorded “Fake Plastic Trees” on my own to begin with. Then, when we came together to listen to it, the others said, “We’ll use that!” and I was, “No, no, we can’t use that, it’s too vulnerable. That’s too much me.”

Likening recording vocal takes as an athlete preparing for sport, he continues: "I always get the feeling that the good takes from singers are the ones where they remove themselves identity-wise from what it is – Neil Young being a classic example. You have the sensation that on those records in the ’70s, that it was a moment [snaps his fingers] and then it’s passed.

Maybe they did five, and then they chose one. That’s how we used to work all the time — five, maybe six, seven, top whack. I wouldn’t be aware of what’s in there, but Nigel [Godrich, producer] would be. Usually, an emotion will come through despite itself, despite all the practicalities. “Is this in tune?” “Is that the right intonation?” Something else will come through."

After three decades in the music industry, Yorke no longer needs to live out the rockstar fantasy, and instead, is focused on keeping his voice in shape. Alongside pre-show rituals including running scales, a meditation session, and yoga, he also brings a chiropractor on tour with him to re-align his spine when his voice feels stiff. “It’s quite an amazing feeling when your voice just opens up like that,” he said. “It’s mental. But this is what happens when you’re touring a lot, you have to have someone fix you up if you throw yourself around like I do.”

The Singers Talk is out now via Simon & Schuster. Visit for more information.

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