Covering Radiohead's The King of Limbs in 24 Hours
It hasn’t even been a week since Radiohead released its eighth LP, The King of Limbs, but since then, the record has gotten its fair share of criticism from a variety of publications—not least amongst them, the Twitterverse. There is even an entire Tumblr blog already dedicated to mash-up videos using the music video for the lead single “Lotus Flower.”
Due to our accelerating culture, music moves faster than ever before. In this case, Radiohead skipped the middle man promotion and publicity in favor of announcing its album five days before its release…then put it out a day early. Over the course of the weekend following the release, L.A.-based group Robotanists devoured the new record and released a full-album cover of The King of Limbs by the following Monday. You can download or stream the album for free here.
Paste called up Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke (vocals, keys) and Daniel DeBlanke (guitar, keys) of Robotanists to discuss Radiohead’s new album, their cover version and the rapid speed of music consumption in the modern age.
Paste: How did the King of Limbs cover album project come about?
Daniel DeBlanke: I’m a huge Radiohead fan obviously, and when I got the announcement on Monday, they were talking about a new record. I just thought, out loud, “Let’s just cover it, whatever it is.” When I get a new record, as a really geeky musician, I usually just learn it and dissect it. I’m a studio guy in L.A.
On Friday, “Lotus Flower” came out on YouTube. We didn’t even know that the record had come out earlier than Saturday. I actually just dove right into “Lotus Flower,” and was super excited ’cause I was used to the kind of acoustic version that they were doing live or Thom was doing by himself. It was just so awesome. Then I got the rest of the tracks, and we just kept going, and the response to the “Lotus Flower” track was overwhelmingly good. So, we just kept going and kept going, and all of a sudden, it was Monday at four or five in the morning and we were finishing up “Feral.” We sent it to our fans and people who like us.
Paste: How long did it take from start to finish?
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: It took about 24 hours, in all honesty, in terms of our man hours, but we did it over the weekend. We had a show on Saturday. We went to a house party. We slept.
Daniel DeBlanke: I shot a video for another band.
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: [laughs] We had a really busy weekend. So, whenever we were home, we worked on it. It was kind of like the weekend project—from Friday night to Sunday night.
Paste: What was the process like for covering the songs?
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: Well, we knew that Radiohead, just based on their last few albums, have kind of done things in a more digital way, and the type of music that we do, we write in a digital kind of way, but we try to make things very organic and kind of emotive, even using synthetic beats and stuff like that. So, we kind of had the same starting point, the same idea going into this. When we heard it, we were like, “Okay, let’s make this something we could do live if we wanted to.” I mean, that’s the only reason we ever started covering anything anyways. Whenever we do a cover song, it’s like, “Can we do this live? Can we throw it into the set?” But then, obviously, when we got to it, Dan started working on it, and it was way more complex than we anticipated.
Daniel DeBlanke: I basically took a bunch of songs, and looked at the overall arc, the high point of each track and in terms of vocals we want—
The record is very dry in some ways. We wanted to make ours like lush, spacey, dreamier. There’s a lot more vocal harmony and swimming in reverb. For instrumentation, all the drum beats are playable live with…all that crazy nuance in that later half of the record. It’s all viable in a more organic way.
I especially loved “Codex,” and I wanted to be able to do it completely live. Right now, we could go to the show—we have a residency this month in L.A., so we have another show on Monday—and we could go there and potentially play “Codex.” It’s just so beautiful.
Paste: You guys recorded an album of covers before. What is it about covers that you guys are drawn to?
Daniel DeBlanke: Generally, in the past, for covers, we try to just completely change them. There’s this…song. It’s “Exile State of Mind.” It’s kind of our take of that Jay-Z track [“Empire State of Mind”] from the L.A. perspective, which people love that. It was on like the first round of balloting for the Grammys. So, that’s what we normally do. We just pick a song. What is inherently good about the song, or what people inherently love about it, is still there, but we’ve completely made it our own. With this, we just didn’t wanna do that actually. We wanted to have it be in our voice; obviously, in a short amount of time, you have to try to get the character of the record.
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: There’s a lot of impromptu stuff going on with the Radiohead covers that, if we had given ourselves a week, it would have been a completely different record. You know? Or a month or whatever. Doing something in such a short amount of time and deciding that that’s all your giving yourself kind of limits you and makes you kind of just work on the fly and make something come out of you. We’ve thought about doing the same kind of thing in our own music, maybe doing a 24-hour album—writing the songs, doing it all and seeing what comes out in the actual amount of time. It’s an interesting test of a musician to see what you’re capable of.
Daniel DeBlanke: I don’t know why I love covers. I come from a classical background, and I spent a lot youth trying to be an artist and interpreting other people’s music. That’s another thing about Radiohead is they’ve turned into: They’re like composers. This record especially. You’re not gonna see a lot of versions of this done by children or girls with an acoustic guitar on YouTube. It’s really heavy stuff.
Paste: Why Radiohead?
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: Like Dan was saying, they’ve kind of evolved from a pop band, essentially, into composers. Both of us coming from classical music backgrounds before we played in rock bands can appreciate that and appreciate the complexity and the lack of inherent songwriting-ness about the sounds they’re putting out now. We knew that, whatever they put out, we would be interested in, on just a musician level. We like where they’re going. We wanted to see what it was like to put those kind of things together.
Daniel DeBlanke: And for me, Kid A is just one of those records that made me essentially walk away from a future raised in classical music. I was just so inspired that a rock band could push those sounds and push the words, listeners. That’s what great artists do. They make people expand their ears and their minds and listen more intently and appreciate bigger and better things. There are tons of great bands in the world, but Radiohead is the best at doing that.
Paste:: What do you think about how fast music is moving nowadays?
Daniel DeBlanke: As musicians, that’s the world we live in. I appreciate everything [Radiohead] do in that fact because we’re our own company. We’re our own label. We do all our own designs. And we do that, and the way we do it, because of a band like Radiohead.
The world is moving so fast. I couldn’t have made this record on a laptop in my home studio five years ago. It’s just the beauty of technology with hard work and diligence. I think anyone can do anything. No one needs the big label. Look at Arcade Fire; they didn’t try to make it big with a big label. They love their music. They love their fans. You just do what you do and hope someone notices.
Paste: What do you think of The King of Limbs?
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: That’s dangerous.
Daniel DeBlanke: You go first.
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: You know what? On the first listen, I was a little bit surprised at it, actually. I was expecting…I don’t know. I don’t know what I was expecting, but not what I heard. But after transcribing the lyrics and everything all weekend, sometimes you hate something after you’ve listened to it a thousand times, and with every track that we would start, we would love the record more. We were kind of both ready to hate Radiohead after this weekend. Like, “This is gonna be it. We’re done with the album.” There were a few “Fuck you, Radiohead”s when Dan was trying to figure out BPMs, but after that were pretty happy about the record. It’s super subtle, and there’s some really really crazy interesting vocal sampling and stuff that’s going on that, I think the more and more you listen to it, the more people will appreciate it. It’s definitely not a first listen for most ears.
Daniel DeBlanke: When I heard, I actually didn’t listen to it in one sitting. I just went track by track. Part of the project was just—
Sarah Ellquist DeBlanke: Virgin ears.
Daniel DeBlanke: Get your gut reaction to the song. Get the idea and track it. Bam! It’s kind of like a chance piece… But as a music fan, I love, I love, love, love composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Those are composers who are just heavily inspired the record Plans in Progress we just put out on Tuesday, and to hear that stuff being used [on The King of Limbs…I’m not sure the 15-year-old listeners are going to appreciate those things, but if they love the record and they get into that kind of music, they’re expanding their ears. I love the record. I think it’s great. I wish people would stop saying it’s b-sides.