While today’s context gives us a very negative view on isolation, sometimes it has proven useful and interesting to some artists out there who willingly chose to distance themselves from the rest of the people in order to work on music and record an album like that.
Radiohead – Ok Computer (Made in Isolation)
Radiohead was a band that had inmense success after their second album “The Bends” and when thinking about recording a third one, the band made the desition of going far away to a Mansion near Bath
Radiohead spent six weeks living and making music at St. Catherine’s Court, where they became interested and touched by some of the lore about the property, which was the fact that t may be haunted by King Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter Ethelreda Malte who supposedly died in one of the bedrooms in 1599, and never left. Jonny ended up sleeping in the nursery, “surrounded by creepy broken dolls and rocking horses,” he says. “People were always hearing sounds.”
“It was the first time we did anything like that,” “Just us in the studio, and a forerunner of a lot of things to come, good and bad.”
“The paranoia I felt at the time was much more related to how people related to each other,” he said. “But I was using the terminology of technology to express it. Everything I was writing was actually a way of trying to reconnect with other human beings when you’re always in transit. That’s what I had to write about because that’s what was going on, which in itself instilled a kind of loneliness and disconnection.”
In the end, Ok Computer, manages to be the result of the limited social contact, and cleansing of the band members demons in a very personal and dark, yet beautiful album.
Thom Yorke has actually compared the acoustic guitar opening of the song Exit Music (For a Film), to Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison which is somthing that has an interesting story surrounding the same topic.
Johnny Cash and Glen Sherley
This story might be a bit more adecuate to our times in the sense that Glen Sherley was imprisioned, and this is a very different case than choosing to be isolated.
Glen Sherley was at Folsom Prison for armed robbery around 1968 just before Cash was going to perform there.
In a 1994 interview Johnny Cash said:
“The night before I was going to record at Folsom Prison, I got to the motel and a preacher friend of mine brought me a tape of a song called Greystone Chapel. He said a convict had written it about the chapel at Folsom.
“I listened to it one time and I said: ‘I’ve got to do this in the show tomorrow.’ So I stayed up and learned it, and the next day the preacher had him in the front row. I announced: ‘This song was written by Glen Sherley.’ It was a terrible, terrible thing to point him out among all those cons, but I didn’t think about that then. Everybody just had a fit, screaming and carrying on.”
It may be an exageration to compare being in prison to being at home in isolation, however both are imposed on us as a measure of safety and the only thing we can do is wait.
As human beings we need that connection with other people, but as these legendary musicians have shown us, sometimes music can come from isolation and even the darkest places of our minds.
These two stories come from very different people, at a different time and diferent places, however they both share two big things, music and isolation, and the fact that both of these things can be the cause of amazing art. This doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy by any means, sometimes our worst fears lie withing ourselves, but if we as musicians fight that with creativity, our voices and our instruments as weapons, we will be able to listen to something beautiful from all the chaos.