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Jonny Greenwood earned his place in Radiohead by playing silently

By | Published on Wednesday 9 February 2022

Jonny Greenwood

Everywhere you look these days, there’s someone advising you on how you can make it as a musician. Little Simz gave an inspiring acceptance speech at the BRITs last night, the thrust of which was “work hard”. But is there another way? Yes, there is. Just pretend to be playing your instrument. Well, it worked for Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood.

Speaking to NPR, Greenwood revealed that when he first joined Radiohead – then called On A Friday – as a keyboard player, he spent months banging away at the keys without actually having his instrument turned on. The band liked what he was doing and he became a permanent member of the group.

“Thom [Yorke]’s band had a keyboard player – [whom] I think they didn’t get on with because he played his keyboard so loud”, says Greenwood. “And so when I got the chance to play with them, the first thing I did was make sure my keyboard was turned off … I must have done months of rehearsals with them with this keyboard, and they didn’t know that I’d already turned it off”.

How come they didn’t notice? Well, he goes on: “They made quite a racket, quite a noise. It was all guitars and distortion – and so I would pretend to play for weeks on end and Thom would say, ‘I can’t quite hear what you’re doing, but I think you’re adding a really interesting texture, because I can tell when you’re not playing’. And I’m thinking, ‘No, you can’t, because I’m really not playing’”.

“I’d go home in the evening and work out how to actually play chords”, he adds, “and cautiously over the next few months, I would start turning this keyboard up. And that’s how I started in with Radiohead”.

Of course, he later became the band’s lead guitarist and is now also a successful film soundtrack composer. So, if you’re just starting out, that’s what you can achieve by doing nothing. Give it a go today!