Clive Deamer on Radiohead’s jazz-inflected sound: ‘It’s not pop music, not rock’

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Drummer Clive Deamer, a Radiohead touring veteran, is no closer than anyone else to placing a label on their music. He says it’s not pop, but also that it’s not rock. Actually, he hears a lot of jazz in it.

Deamer should know. After all, and he his band Get The Blessing claimed the BBC Jazz Award for best new album in 2008. And he’s actually part of a dramatic influx of jazz musicians into popular music, as noted by The Independent: Deamer and bassist Jim Barr, his bandmate in Get the Blessing, also work with Portishead. Jazz pianist Neil Cowley was the principal musical force behind Adele’s wallpapering of radio over the last 18 months. Guitarist Nels Cline has been making important contributions with Wilco for some time now, too.

Deamer won’t go so far as to say Radiohead — in the midst of a 2012 North American tour — thinks of themselves as a jazz band, but “it figures in their thinking.”

“There’s a track on King of Limbs called ‘Bloom,'” Deamer tells The Independent. “That is the most complex, antagonistic, tangled rhythm. It’s certainly not pop music, certainly not rock. It’s got the same intensity as any Sun Ra, or drummer Elvin Jones bursts with Coltrane.”

He says, for Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, it’s more a matter of the uncompromising attitude associated with improvisational music.

“I don’t think they would call it anything they do jazz, but they’re keenly aware that there are obvious parallels — in the way that they deliberately try to avoid cliché and standard forms for the sake of the song, and of Radiohead as an idea,” Deamer says. “Rock bands don’t do that. It’s far more like a jazz mentality. Jonny certainly, there’s a jazz player in there, along with all the other things.”

That’s why, ultimately, Radiohead stands apart from many of its peers, Deamer says: “Having spent nearly a year with them, they don’t see themselves as a rock band — and they’re not trying to maintain that.”

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