written by Chris Familton
Stepping out of the shadows of Radiohead has been a major event and a long time coming for Philip Selway. He has been the solid backbone of the English quartet for 25 years so the release of his debut Familial at this point comes as a pleasant surprise. Also surprising is the lack of focus on traditional drumming – instead Selway brings his delicate guitar playing and a plaintive folk pop voice to the fore.
The impetus for Familial coming to life was Selway’s involvement in Neil Finn’s 7 Worlds Collide project in 2007. It was there, along with other musicians like Johnny Marr, Lisa Germano, members of Wilco, Bic Runga and various Finns, that Selway found the confidence to try out some of the songs he had been quietly cultivating. “The initial idea started coming together around seven years ago but it was three years ago when I realised that it worked as a collection of songs .They seemed to be fully formed rather than sketches which is what they had been up to that point. Going into 7 Worlds Collide and doing things I would not have envisaged doing with all these musicians, just having the confidence to just play my songs to people and getting up and performing them at a show as well – I’m not sure I would have covered so much ground in such a short space of time in another context. Also having someone like Neil there giving you the confidence to do it – telling you to just get up and do it, give it a go, see what happens,” says Selway.
The other bonus of working on a project like that was being able to draw on the talents of some of those musicians when it came to record his new songs. “You have somebody like Lisa who had been one of my reference points before working on the album. She writes these amazingly beautiful songs but she scuffs them up, she twists them in some way and that is what I feel she brought to this record. She throws herself wholeheartedly into whatever she does. With Glen [Kotche – Wilco], I didn’t initially hear drum parts when I was writing the songs and so it was fascinating to watch how Glen worked towards creating the drum parts for the record. He kind of worked at a very delicate level but had a real richness to what he was doing as well,” compliments Selway.
With the album released, Selway has also taken it out on tour, something that has been a totally new angle on live performance for him. “That’s been great actually, there’s been a lot to learn, We did 13 shows over the summer and its just that whole process of stepping up to the front of the stage for me and learning how to do that. Doing shows, getting yourself into the right frame of mind to do that is all very familiar to me but that whole process of feeling very vulnerable at the front of the stage – what do you do with that? – you come across what’s in the music and what’s in yourself and it has been fascinating to learn that,” Selway enthuses.
With the intimate and understated feel of Familial it begs the question whether it is a reaction of sorts to his musical life in Radiohead. “I suppose what I’ve done is not a reaction so much but a conscious decision that if I’m doing something out of Radiohead it has to be something quite different from that. Also, I think with all these things it can’t be defined by that thing. It has to come from something that is quite deep-seated in you, out of that context. Just wanting that sense of space, that sense of calm in the record. That was what I wanted emotionally from the record,” imparts Selway.
Looking ahead, Selway is keen to play some more dates with his live band and already has ideas for a 2nd album. “If the opportunity arises I would love to make another one. I feel like I’ve learned so much from making this one and the ideas are still coming through so I’d like to make another one at some point. Although it has been great just jumping back into Radiohead and focusing on that a lot more at the moment.”
As Radiohead continue work on their followup to In Rainbows Selway hopes they will get back to Australia when and if they tour to promote the next album. “We haven’t got as far as talking about touring yet. We’ll finish the record and think about how we’ll get out and play live. we haven’t been to Australia since 2003 I think so yes we haven’t been there for a while.” he hints.
this interview first appeared on FasterLouder