Monday, 13 May 2013

Radiohead - An Interview with Author Evan Roskos

Today at ATWN, author Evan Roskos stops by to talk about his love of everything Radiohead, his critically acclaimed book Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, and Evan offers up some fantastic giveaways for our readers, and Radiohead fans. Let’s get started…

How did you get introduced to Radiohead?
A UFO descended from the stars and landed in my backyard. A small creature, looking basically like the stereotypical grey alien creature of popular culture, only with a more pallid face and the crackling voice of an English adolescent, placed a cassette tape in my hands. The creature left without a word. The tape contained no markings, but the music needed no words to tell me it was the glorious sounds of some far off land. Also, I borrowed a copy of Pablo Honey from my friend Valerie, dubbed it, and started saving up to buy a legit version after the first listen. I never looked back, but I yearn for that alien to return and apologize for knocking the limb off of our tree.

How many times have you seen Radiohead play live?
Five times, all post Kid A. (They only played one Philadelphia show when I was in college, but it was during the summer so I didn’t get there.) I have dozens and dozens of phenomenal bootlegs thanks to the internet. Even though you didn’t ask.

What is one song by Radiohead you couldn’t live without?
Oh, man. I don’t know. There’s so many. I mean, “Let Down” is pure and wonderful. “Bloom” is amazing. “Arpeggi” and “Street Spirit” and “There There” and “Paranoid Android” -- I can’t choose! I won’t choose! I’ll just say “Creep” or the cover of “Nobody Does it Better” to annoy people.

Are there lyrics to a Radiohead song you wish you had written?
Not really—writing is so particular to a person’s sensibilities that I’d never be able to match what someone like Yorke has written. I mean, I’ll always love my own writing best of all because it’s mine. But I’d rather have Yorke’s lyrics with the band’s phenomenal music.

Kid A or The Bends?
There’s this really obscure German import of the band jamming to some Miles Davis that’s better than both of them, but you probably haven’t heard it.* The Bends. But not by much. I mean, it’s like picking between two different but perfectly wonderful desserts. Some days I want chocolate pudding; other days I want mint chocolate chip ice cream. Either way, I win. With The Bends there’s a stronger nostalgia for me, though I introduced Kid A to my wife and that’s her preferred album. So maybe I should say Kid A to avoid marital strife. No! I’ll remain true to my inner Radiohead nerd, who will always be single and awkward around women! I felt that the live versions of Kid A had a better tempo than the record. A little more raw and aggressive. After listening to the concert bootlegs all summer in 2000, I was surprised that the album itself had a slower pace, despite how layered and beautiful it sounds. So, The Bends.
*This is a fabrication.

Atoms for Peace or Thom Yorke’s solo album?
Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser. But in this case it’s like picking room temperature tap water or room temperature bottled water. I have no issues with Yorke’s interest in his side projects and I do enjoy The Eraser. I have yet to really fall in love with anything related to Atoms for Peace.

Paranoid Android or Fake Plastic Trees?
PARANOID ANDROID. Paranoid Android is easily a top 3 Radiohead song. Fake Plastic Trees is the song I play on my acoustic guitar when I’m reminding my wife I’m sensitive and poetic. It’s basically the pale, British version of Colt 45.

Have you ever been caught dancing like Thom?

What did you think of the “pay what you want” formula Radiohead did with their album “In Rainbows”?
I actually bought the special edition with all the cool artwork and the bonus CD, which was a great deal since worldwide shipping was included. I remember talking to a guy I knew who worked in the music industry and he chalked the whole thing up to a publicity stunt that overcharged fans for the special edition to subsidize the people who were going to clearly pay nothing for the album.  That conversation...sickened me.
I thought it was a cool idea and certainly an idea that would work for a band with a huge, web-friendly following. It fit with Radiohead’s various online experiments (the TV station, the webcasts, the rabbit-hole website designs). I was disappointed that they didn’t release full information on the results, as they had claimed they would. The reports were that the average price paid was pretty low. I expected that, since there are plenty of people who don’t believe in paying for music, but hoped for full disclosure anyway.

What were you listening to when you wrote Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets?
It was 2010 when I wrote it and my son had been born that spring. So, lots of upbeat stuff: Los Campesinos!’s Romance is Boring, Jonsí’s self-titled debut; Murder by Death’s Good Morning, Magpie; and Menomena’s Mines. Also, obsessively and less upbeat in many ways, The National’s High Violet.

Would James, the MC in Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, like Radiohead? What about the imaginary pigeon therapist, Dr. Bird?
James actually has a moment where he puts on a Radiohead shirt but is hesitant to wear it to a party he’s attending that night for fear it’ll seem like he’s trying to be cool. (Though, I suspect RH doesn’t get teenager cool points. They seem like REM in the 90s: dad rock. YES, I SAID IT. LET’S ALL JUST ADMIT IT’S PROBABLY SOMEWHAT TRUE PERHAPS.) Anyway, James’s friend Derek sees the Radiohead shirt and makes a face. “I just find them boring,” he says to James, who replies: “Well, is the SHIRT boring? It doesn’t play music.” That exchange in the novel is 100% for my friends who know I’m a huge Radiohead nerd. Dr. Bird prefers the work of Andrew Bird not only because it’s an easy joke, but because the work is atmospheric and lyrically complex and most importantly: sounds great on sunny days. Have you ever see a sad pigeon on a sunny day? Hell no you haven’t.

Photo Credit: Radiohead
Favorite album cover by Radiohead?
OK Computer. That album cover is carved into my eyeballs. I have a print of the artwork from that era on my wall. I also once made a Windows 98 theme based on Radiohead artwork from The Bends and OK Computer. It even had sounds. Spent a week perfecting it. What a horrendously awesome waste of time. I could’ve been talking to girls!

What other bands/artists do you like?
I have a weird collection -- it’s not deep or hipster-obscure. It’s somewhat commercial and random. I can listen to any of these bands in the same week: Andrew Bird, Neutral Milk Hotel, System of a Down, Björk, Murder By Death, Menomena, PJ Harvey, The Mars Volta, Talking Heads, DEVO, David Bowie, Beck, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Los Campesinos!, Jónsi…. Nevermind the 90s standards (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains) and other classics (REM, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin).
So. Yeah.

Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation
We couldn’t have an interview with you and not bring up Walt Whitman. Tell our readers, who may be unfamiliar with his poetry, why they should read his work.
Simply for this line: “Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice” More seriously, though: Walt Whitman is a tough sell -- he doesn’t write short, compact poetry, so it’s not like a Robert Frost poem where there’s a clear point in a compact number of lines. Whitman uses archaic language and the structures of his poems don’t make themselves apparent immediately. He writes about America in all its variety -- the good, the bad, the true, the gory. He celebrates everything. He’s in love with the human body, its strength, its sexiness, its vigor. He never really gets pessimistic, even when he starts writing about the Civil War. He celebrates the passion of soldiers, the bravery. He says it is lucky to die just as it is lucky to be born. The universe is a vast, fascinating thing just as a blade of grass is a vast and fascinating thing. He believes we should learn from experience not from books. And yet he writes a book to tell us this. “Do I contradict myself?” he asks. “Well, I contain multitudes.” There’s something so vital and exciting about his poetry, especially when digested in snippets as James does in the novel. Whitman has little mantras, nearly perfect life-affirming, glorious statements that don’t require that you decode. He’s often smashing you in the brain with these truths. He’s not for everyone, but he’s one of the most positive poets I’ve ever read, constantly looking to the world and celebrating something. The perfect poet to read on difficult days or bright sunny days. I highly recommend the site Especially to read the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass which is, in my opinion, the superior version (Whitman revised the book a number of times in his lifetime, but the poetry gets a little stodgy as he ages). Also, Walt Whitman’s America by David S. Reynolds is a great book about 19th century America and how it influenced the poet.
Thanks to Evan Roskos for taking the time to stop by All The Write Notes, and now it's time for the giveaway! Evan has graciously offered our North American readers two chances to win...
First: The Mega winner will receive a signed copy of Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets + Radiohead postcard from Amnesiac promotion + 1 copy of a high quality Radiohead bootleg from the winner's preferred era (Bends/OK Computer OR Kid A/Amnesiac OR In Rainbows).
Second: Our second place winner will receive a signed copy of Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets and a journal featuring a Walt Whitman quote on the cover.
Amazing!!! Now,  if you aren't one of the lucky two to win, or you just can't wait to read Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, it can be purchased at any local indie-book store, or through Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Now if Evan has you craving more Radiohead, then check out the amazing fan-site At Ease on the web, or on Twitter.

Jay Spencer is a MG/YA writer, Visual Art teacher, music and book blogger, an extremely tall husband, and father to two amazing kids. If not at the rink or on the court with his young kids, he would gladly talk to you about any genre or decade of music, and anything Marvel or Star Wars.

a Rafflecopter giveaway *The Giveaway is for North American addresses only. Sorry.

Do you have a band like Radiohead is to Evan? If so, we at ATWN would love to hear about it. Leave us a comment below...


  1. It's embarrassing to admit that I don't know most of the bands you guys are talking about (though I do know Radiohead). I grew up listening to "alternative music" that's now on oldies radio. (Gah!) Love the Violent Femmes, the Cure, REM, U2, etc. BUT the real reason I'm posting is that a friend told me that Dr. Bird's Advice to Sad Poets is phenomenal and I'm dying to read it! Thanks for the chance to win!

    1. Advice FOR Sad Poets. Sorry!!!!

    2. Not embarrassing at all. We all have our own musical tastes, and influences. But now, I'm off to listen to some Violent Femmes... :) Good luck and thanks for stopping by.

  2. What's "my band"? How can you ask such a question. It's like asking what's my favorite book. I could give you an answer, but it would be only part of the truth.

    In high school, I guess it would be Sloan, though Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Radiohead and later Stereophonics were really important to me. Now, I still like all those bands, but I don't necessarily listen to them as much as I used to. Probably the band that defines my teens and early adulthood most is Hayden. Now, you can also find me listening to Tegan & Sara, Of Monsters and Men, Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service and The Flaming Lips all the time.

    1. I could comment on your selections all day. That secret track about making Kraft Dinner by Hayden, wasn't that hilarious! Stereophonics!!! They are one of my favorite bands of all time. I've seen them at least 10 times live, and I have 1,000s of tracks by them. I had a bit of a live bootleg collecting addiction for awhile... :)

      Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!

  3. I have a very special relationship with Pearl Jam. Of late though, some of that love has shifted over to My Morning Jacket. I will always love PJ but there's something about Jim James and his band of ruffians...and the crazy loud and ethereal places they go with their music. Damn. I'm going to go listen to Okonokos right now.

  4. On another note, Evan is awesome. He sent a box-load of books to my school (including his own). I owe him one. Sadly, I'm not giving up my Thom Yorke action figure.

  5. Great post!! :)