Why Recording OK Computer Spooked Radiohead’s Thom Yorke

Radiohead has been rocking hard for the past 35 years. The UK-based alternative rock band first formed in 1985 with frontman (also guitarist, as well as pianist) Thom Yorke at the helm, but they didn’t start to see much fame until the hit single “Creep” was released in 1992, a precursor to their 1993 album Pablo Honey and 1994’s The Bends, which of course gave the world “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” Since then, Radiohead has made some serious waves in the music industry, and they’ve often been credited for being a major player in the advancement of the alternative rock genre due to their innovative and creative musical stylings.

The band’s few early albums got them noticed far and wide, but they wouldn’t bring the band the serious international fame they’d see a decade later. Sure, they’ve been famous in the UK since their first couple of albums dropped, but, according to The Guardian, they reached their height in the U.S. around the turn of the millennium, after the 2001 release of Kid A. The band wouldn’t have made it that far if their third album, OK Computer, hadn’t turned into the massive critical cultural staple that it did. The album, according to Udiscovermusic, sold over 4.5 million copies and influenced an entire generation. Recording OK Computer wasn’t easy, though, since Yorke was creeped out through the whole thing. But that’s what you get when you record an album in a haunted mansion.

Recording in Jane Seymour's mansion

To record OK Computer, according to Louder, all the Radiohead guys decided to bunk up in St. Catherine’s Court, an English mansion constructed in the 10th century. The mansion was owned by actress Jane Seymour at the time, which probably has nothing to do with the haunting, but it’s entirely possible she knew about it from the start. And, a little forewarning may have made things easier on frontman Yorke.

When Rolling Stone interviewed the band in 2017, the band’s producer, Nigel Godrich, admits they chose Seymour’s mansion for the luxury. Up until that point, they’d been recording tracks for OK Computer in a tiny shack out in the middle of the country. Seymour rented out the mansion more often than she stayed there. As an English citizen, she couldn’t spend more than a few months in England each year without incurring significant taxes, and the property was expensive. Letting others stay at the mansion helped her investment.

“It was this incredibly beautiful, peaceful place before we ruined the silence with the music,” bassist Colin Greenwood says about the mansion. The mansion’s ballroom had been converted into a soundproof recording space, and other than eating, recording took up the majority of their time. The wooden floor of the room and the medieval tapestries on the wall provided a rich sound. Besides the cat that liked to empty its bladder on the carpet, most everything was going great. That is, until the whispers started.

Yorke hears whispers in the night

Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood told Rolling Stone in 2017 that he spent his nights sleeping in St. Catherine’s Court’s nursery, where he was “surrounded by creepy broken dolls,” which is creepy enough. Oh, but there’s more. Greenwood admits that hearing voices in the mansion was common, and Yorke got it the worst. His account of the haunting could easily be turned into a horror movie.

“The ghosts would talk to me while I was asleep,” Yorke said. He could hear the voices, but he says it was impossible to figure out what they were saying with everything that was going on in the house. The voices messed him up pretty badly at times. At one point, which he says was after a long night of ghosts whispering in his ear, he was compelled to cut his hair with the scissors on his pocket knife. He cut himself a few times and had to have his head shaved, but nothing too dangerous happened.

Yorke told Rolling Stone in another interview that he freaked out while recording “Exit Music” because he felt like some sort of entity was standing right next to him. Between an invisible figure and ghosts whispering their ears, it’s amazing they were able to get anything recorded at all during their stay, but they did, and OK Computer would turn out to be an alt-rock staple. And so maybe we have a ghost or three to thank for that one.

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