Record Time is a recurring feature written by Flip Rushmore's Alex Smith. This week, he interviewed fellow Flip Rushmore member Adam Szczepaniak. Comment with your favorite memories of OK Computer at the bottom of the story, and check out Flip Rushmore's latest release on Spotify.
Alex: People our age were late to OK Computer, because we were only, you know, in kindergarten when it came out. But what was your full introduction to it?
Adam: It was on an episode of 'Cash Cab.' It was a question like, “What Radiohead album, you know, rocketed into the charts in 1997?” And the answer was OK Computer. And a few years went by, but I always had in the back of my head, "I should probably listen to that album." And I think what really kick-started it was a class that I took freshman year in college, History of Rock and Roll, and it specifically focused on 1970 to the present. There was a day where my teacher played "Paranoid Android." And he went through and analyzed it through the lens of his background, which was classical music. It was so fascinating to me. So that sparked me to get the album and actually listen to the whole thing.
Alex: I took a similar course freshman year college, and I'm jealous of you, because we only got through, like, the 1970s (RIP Professor Budds). We didn't do anything more recent than that. So it's cool that you were allowed to analyze OK Computer.
Adam: I actually went up to him afterwards saying, hey, I started listening to this album after you played "Paranoid Android." Again, he just went off the way he talked about the intricacies of how, you know, "Paranoid Android" itself has three movements, and very similar to how composers did it, you know, back in the day, that will last seven or eight minutes. It's not formulaic by any means.
Alex: It's probably the song people think about first. That's the one that grabbed certain people and pulled them into the rest of it. I mean, you had more listener-friendly songs like "Karma Police" ... If you had to zero in on a favorite moment from "Paranoid Android," is there something you're always waiting for when you turn it on?
Adam: Yeah. I think that really twangy, heavy riff, but halfway through and then towards the end is my favorite part. (*hums the part*)
Alex: That was my answer, too, when that kicks in (*hums the part*). And, yeah, toward the end when it comes back, and they do the solo on it, where it's (*hums the solo*) over the top.
Adam: Actually, funny enough about that particular part... six months prior to having come across this album, I was on a real big progressive kick. I was listening to Dream Theater and, you know, 20-minute songs, saying "songs in 4/4 suck." That was my mentality. So “Android” almost kind of helped me transition back into more of an alternative—I don't want to say mainstream—type of music palette, but I guess I kind of expanded my tunnel vision at that point, because it's like, oh, here's the song with some pop things going on. But they know how to do odd time signatures, too! And they're tasteful about it!
Alex: Looking at how this album fit between (1995 album) The Bends and (2000 album) Kid A... this was definitely a bridge toward something much, much different. But nobody had any idea because this was sort of like the peak of their mainstream success, I would say. And then once once they got into Kid A and beyond, they were making, you know, critical masterpieces. But fewer ears are gonna hear something that sounds like Kid A.
Guitars are still a pretty big part of OK Computer. Would you call it a guitar album? Or what would it be to you?
Adam: It's a good question. There are definitely prominent guitar parts. I feel like it's an instrument that's on their artistic palette for this album. But I feel like they're almost using, you know, weird noises, experimentation, guitar, even an orchestra in some areas. It's all kind of on the same playing field. They were trying to take a bunch of different things and make it one different thing as opposed to being on the fence. "We're influenced by guitars and rock. So we're going to have guitar solos everywhere, and it's going to be all angsty."
But this takes that and just screws around a bunch of other genres. There's an equal amount of flavors imported. To the point where you know, I even look at OK Computer compared to the other (Radiohead) albums as a whole. It just has that unique sound where it's like, I feel like I could even listen to some random B-side that was recorded during those sessions. And just know that that's where the band was at, sonically.
Alex: It's funny that you mentioned B-sides of that era. I don't know if you remember a few years ago, they released a “lost” song called called "Lift."
Alex: And their story a few years ago was that they felt like they were too famous and too big (back in 1997). That a song like "Lift," if they would have put it out, would have brought them to the point of no return in terms of their celebrity. Which... I think you have to have a lot of confidence in your ability to make us make a hit song to know that something you have in the can is going to blow people's minds and be on the radio. But what do you make of that, a band taking what might have been the biggest hit from an album and just sort of putting it away for 20 years?
Adam: My first instinct on that, from an artist perspective might be like, maybe at the time, they didn't know that was 100 percent the song. They just had so many other songs that it's like, yeah, I mean, we have this, but why release it now? Twenty years after the fact, it felt like almost hearing a part of OK Computer that I've never heard before. Have you ever had an album you love and you just wish you could listen to it for the first time again? That was kind of what happened to me listening to "Lift."
Alex: Right? Most of the time when that happens, the songs that get released later are not as good as what was originally on there. And "Lift" is kind of like a slice of... this could have definitely been a big single for them. Most '90s bands' promising leftovers landed on soundtracks the next year.
Alex: So let's go back to the actual first time you were experiencing the album. What was happening in your life?
Adam: When you're listening to a specific album, over and over again during a certain period of your life, you know, it's going to have an indelible effect on how you view that time in your life. You're going to always think of that music. And my grandfather died around that point. And I think that that was the first time that I had been old enough to consciously understand and experience a life event like losing family. With everything else, I had been super young, so I didn't really understand. So, you know, it was kind of a first for me. I don't feel like it's like I was totally broken and this album was the key to help me out of that rut.
When I listen to this album, I'll just remember, you know, scenes like sitting in my parents car as we drive around the Chicago area, going to a funeral. Going to grandpa's house and cleaning stuff out. I don't feel like it's necessarily good or bad, because, you know, there were still a lot of good memories that came from that experience. Family had to get together and go through the grieving process. It's not necessarily negative memories. But Radiohead, the music they make, it captures imagery so well that since it's not necessarily saying THIS IS WHAT IT'S ABOUT, you can just apply that music and that mood to whatever you're going through at the time.
Alex: How old were you at that point?
Adam: I would have been 18.
Alex: That's a pretty huge transition year for most people, anyway.
Adam: Yeah, that was my freshman year in college. My first time in a dorm, outside of home and stuff.
Alex: There was a lot happening at once. When your grandpa passed, had you already been listening to OK Computer? Or was it afterward?
Adam: It was kind of like a simultaneous thing. The events of talking to my professor and my grandpa's death were pretty close together, like within a few weeks. So I probably would have been listening to this obsessively, regardless.
Alex: Did any lyrics stick out to you or speak to you?
Adam: If anything provided solace for me or spoke to me, it was the moments that came about in the music. I think my absolute favorite moment on the album that just was able to provide almost an escape for me, where I'm not in the car, I am just imagining, like, you know, how epic this song would be live. In the end of the second chorus of "Climbing Up the Walls," there's the theremin solo going, and you have some crazy guitar from Greenwood going on.
Once I actually did see them play that live, it's exactly how I predicted, you know. There's strobes going everywhere, and Thom's messing around with whatever the heck makes the weird noises. I think for me, it was always about the moments as a whole. I never really thought about lyrics much.
Alex: You mentioned "Climbing Up the Walls." When we were working on one of our newer songs, "Gouda Bear," I remember you had referenced "Climbing Up the Walls" as an influence. Has this album played a part in the projects you've worked on over the years?
Adam: Oh, yeah, 100 percent. And I actually think that making songs like "Gouda Bear" and "Nine" is the first time I feel like that influence has really shown or manifested itself. A lot of the other bands have been in, I'm either letting somebody else dictate the sound, or I'm constantly fighting with somebody about the sound because they don't really have a good ear (laughs). And I'm just like, yo...
I feel like with Flip Rushmore, it's been amazing, this whole process. Nobody has the ego to where they're saying, “this is how we're doing it.” We've been able to put forth our suggestions, and then there's a bit of push/pull, but I think everybody has inserted their influence in these tracks to a degree.
Alex: A lot of ‘90s rock albums … you kinda grow out of them as you get older. You still like ‘em, but they’re not maybe as mind-blowing as they once were. But I’m going to assume OK Computer has not lost too much shine for you. You’d still listen to it today and agree with the rave review you gave it 10 years ago.
Adam: Not to be cheesy, but it’s a fine wine or scotch. It’s great. It’s the best of the best, in my opinion. But you might try a really nice whiskey, and it tastes one way, but as you take more sips, the taste evolves a bit. You get the subtle notes. And you start to appreciate it in a different way. I think that’s absolutely happened with OK Computer. Nineties rock albums… there’s very few where you appreciate them for different reasons. And I think that’s what makes something truly indelible. A song like “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump. You might love it for a second. You’ve got that blaze in you (laughs). It’s great. But it gets old. It fades into obscurity. OK Computer doesn’t do that.
Alex: How many whiskeys do you need to drink to feel the same way about Smash Mouth?
Adam: Maybe half a bottle.
Alex: That’s it, huh?
Adam: Give me half a bottle of whiskey, and I’d love to have this conversation with you about “All-Star.”
What was your favorite track on OK Computer? Let us know below, and check out Flip Rushmore's latest release on Bandcamp.
Other Record Time posts: 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' | The Killers' Hot Fuss | Regina Spektor's Begin to Hope
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