Thomas Edward "Thom" Yorke (better known as Thom 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.
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 an electronic musician; The Eraser was heavily influenced by electronic music. He has been known to be a recluse, like rejecting to talk to Kanye West, Jack Black, and Miley Cyrus. While the 1997 release of their best-selling album OK Computer, he fell into a deep depression as shown in their documentary Meeting People is Easy. He was rated the 66th greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone, and the 18th greatest singer on Blender and MTV2's list. He has had a partnership with Rachel Owen and they have two children, Noah, born in 2001, and Agnes, born in 2004. He has a paralyzed left eye because of botched surgeries. He was teased about this in elementary school and became an outcast until he met future band members of Radiohead. They first formed as On A Friday. He stated that he has been heavily influenced by the Pixies and Brian May of Queen.
Yorke was born on 7 October 1968, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. He was born with a paralysed left eye, and underwent five eye operations by the age of six; according to Yorke, the last surgery was "botched", giving him a drooping eyelid. Yorke's family moved frequently. His father, a nuclear physicist and later a chemical equipment salesman, was hired by a firm in Scotland shortly after his son's birth; the family lived there until Yorke was seven, and he moved from school to school. The family settled in Oxfordshire in 1978.
Yorke received his first guitar when he was seven; his earliest musical inspiration was guitarist Brian May of Queen. At 10, he made his own guitar, inspired by May's Red Special. By 11, he had joined his first band and written his first song. In Oxford he attended the boys' public school Abingdon, where he met Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway, and brothers Colin and Jonny Greenwood; they formed a band named On a Friday, named for the only day they were allowed to rehearse. Yorke said: "School was bearable for me because the music department was separate from the rest of the school. It had pianos in tiny booths, and I used to spend a lot of time hanging around there after school." After leaving school, Yorke took a gap year, during which he held several jobs and was involved in a car accident that later influenced the lyrics of Radiohead songs, including the Bends B-side Killer Cars, and Airbag from OK Computer.
In late 1988, Yorke left Oxford to study at the University of Exeter, which put On a Friday on hiatus aside from holiday break rehearsals. Yorke said he had wanted to apply to St John's to read English at the University of Oxford "because that's what everybody did. But I was told I couldn't even apply – I was too thick. Oxford University would have eaten me up and spat me out. It's too rigorous." At Exeter, he worked as a DJ, performed experimental music with a classical ensemble, and played with the band Headless Chickens, performing songs including future Radiohead material. He also met artist Stanley Donwood, with whom he collaborates to produce artwork for Radiohead releases, and printmaker Rachel Owen, with whom he was in a relationship for over two decades.
On A Friday resumed activity in 1991 as most of the members were finishing their degrees. Ronan Munro, editor of the local music magazine Curfew (now Nightshift), gave the band their first interview while they were sharing a house in Oxford. He recalled: "Thom wasn't like anyone I'd interviewed before. He was so focused. He was like 'This is going to happen… failure is not an option.' I really took that away from it. He wasn't some ranting diva or a megalomaniac, but he was so focused on what he wanted to do."
In 1991, On a Friday signed to Parlophone and changed their name to Radiohead. According to Yorke, around this time he "hit the self-destruct button pretty quickly"; he cut his hair and drank heavily, often becoming too drunk to perform. Radiohead gained notice with the hit single "Creep", which appeared on the band's 1993 debut album Pablo Honey; the song rose to number two on the US modern rock chart, entered the lower reaches of the top 40 pop chart, and hit number seven in the UK Singles Chart when EMI rereleased it in the UK in September. Yorke said that the success inflated his ego; he tried to project himself as a rock star, which included bleaching his hair and wearing extensions. He said: "When I got back to Oxford I was unbearable ... as soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse."
By the time of the release of Radiohead's second album, The Bends (1995), Radiohead had attracted a large fanbase and began to receive critical acclaim. After the album's release, the American rock band R.E.M., a major influence on Radiohead, picked them as their support act for their European tour. Yorke and R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe became friends; Stipe gave him advice about how to deal with fame.
During the production of the band's third album, OK Computer (1997), all five members of Radiohead had differing opinions and equal production roles, with Yorke having "the loudest voice", according to O'Brien. OK Computer achieved critical acclaim and strong sales, establishing Radiohead as one of the leading alternative rock acts of the 1990s, but Yorke was ambivalent about their success. Following the OK Computer tour, he suffered a mental breakdown, and said: "Every time I picked up a guitar I just got the horrors. I would start writing a song, stop after 16 bars, hide it away in a drawer, look at it again, tear it up, destroy it." Years later, he recalled:
“When I was a kid, I always assumed that [fame] was going to answer something – fill a gap. And it does the absolute opposite. It happens with everybody. I was so driven for so long, like a fucking animal, and then I woke up one day and someone had given me a little gold plate for OK Computer and I couldn’t deal with it for ages. I moved down to Cornwall, went out to the cliffs and drew in a sketchbook, day in, day out. I was allowed to play the piano and that was it, because that was all we had in the house. I did that for a few months and I started to tune back into why I’d started doing it ... I remember having nothing in the house, except a Yamaha grand piano. Classic. And the first thing I wrote was 'Everything in Its Right Place'.”
Yorke began to listen almost exclusively to the electronic music of Warp artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, saying: "It was refreshing because the music was all structures and had no human voices in it. But I felt just as emotional about it as I'd ever felt about guitar music." Yorke and Radiohead took these influences to their albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), processing vocals, obscuring lyrics, and incorporating electronic, jazz and avant-garde classical influences. The albums divided fans and critics, but were commercially successful and later attracted widespread critical acclaim; at the turn of the decade, Kid A was named the best album of the 2000s by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork.
In 2003, Radiohead released their sixth album, Hail to the Thief, a blend of rock and electronic music; Yorke wrote many of its lyrics in response to the War on Terror and the resurgence of right-wing politics in the west after the turn of the millennium. It was the final album recorded under Radiohead's contract with EMI. In 2007, Radiohead independently released their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a pay-what-you-want download, the first for a major act; the release made headlines worldwide and sparked debate about the implications for the music industry. In 2011, Radiohead self-released their eighth album, The King of Limbs, which Yorke described as "an expression of physical movements and wildness". The album was promoted with a music video for the track "Lotus Flower" featuring Yorke's erratic dancing, which became an internet meme. Radiohead released their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, on 8 May 2016.
Yorke released his debut solo album The Eraser in 2006 on the independent label XL Recordings. Composed of mainly electronic music recorded during Radiohead's 2004 hiatus, the album was produced by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and features artwork by Donwood. Yorke said: "I've been in the band since we left school and never dared do anything on my own ... It was like, 'Man, I've got to find out what it feels like,' you know?" He emphasised that Radiohead were not splitting up and that the album was made "with their blessing". The Eraser reached number 3 in the UK in its first week, number 2 in the United States, Canada and Australia, and number 9 in Ireland. It was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Prize and the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. An album of remixes by various artists, The Eraser Rmxs, was released in 2009.