Trying to describe Radiohead's music feels a lot like plugging an underwater oil spill: how the heck are you meant to get your hands around the matter? There is, after all, invariably something fluid and oneiric about listening to their music, and an endless well in expressing how it actually makes you feel. We stand there befogged waiting for the lava, as it seems, to flow. Still, the most surprising thing is just how ageless it all feels really, the very notion that this five-piece band exists on the same plane as us rather than out there in some faraway parallel universe seems completely ludicrous. You're not listening to them in the past, you're not listening to them in the future, you are hearing them in an expanded present.

"How do you solve the problem of brimming the silver line, which is essentially what we do," says Philip Selway, on the phone from his home just outside of Oxford. He sounds unhurried, his voice tempered and kind carefully considering each word before it leaves his mind. The prolifically talented drummer is about to perform songs from his recently released second solo album, Weatherhouse, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London this week, and he's feeling particularly reflective about his approach to music. "...With that kind of history behind you there's a lot more musical tools to use." He muses, "If you go and completely deny yourself access to how you've made music before that would be silly."

Weatherhouse is the sound of him not only facing his truth, but having the guts to reveal it. When last has a drummer from one of the most influential rock bands of the 21st century written lyrics like "It's taken an age just to find a way but I made it through, I'm not alone"? By now he has enough momentum to pull creativity from the pyre that burns inside of him.

Here he explains the importance of trusting your instincts, and how doing so influenced his solo work, Radiohead's upcoming ninth album, and his world tour.

Are you well Philip? Where am I finding you at the moment?

Really well thank you we've been very been busy but so very good! Now I'm at home just outside Oxford, where are you?

I'm in Tel Aviv right now, have you been here before?

We have actually! It was the first place that Radiohead did any shows outside of the UK, so that was back in 1993.

When you released your first album, Pablo Honey?

That's right, but we haven't been back unfortunately.

There's still time! But now you're forging a solo career, so what have you been up to since the release last year?

Well, figuring out how to play the material which is brimming along the side of working out Radiohead material as well. It's been a busy time between the two and it's going to be a full year keeping both projects moving forward really. Lots of music though, that's what I want to do and to have all of those outlets for it makes me very fortunate.

Fortunate of course, but you're clearly channeling them in the right direction too. Do you think that writing and making music on your own helps you feel better understood as a person, or does it have the opposite effect where you detach from the experience and escape?

I think it's more of what you said initially. You just try to put something out there that you feel is authentic in you, something that genuinely stretches you musically at the same time. I know that over the time that Radiohead has been growing I've probably been one of the more shadowy figures in there. I think from a personal point of view going through the process of writing material for my solo stuff shines a light on aspects of yourself which give you a better understanding of that. It probably also gives a kind of fuller impression of who I am beyond that and what I do musically.

You've essentially been playing with the same people since you were 16 years old, so it's really wonderful that this process was self-reflective for you. I think it's crucial for an artist to get perspective by any means. Do you find you're still as passionate as you were back then?

It's thirty years this year! I am definitely. I think you find the projects and approaches to music, which keep that excitement for you. If you just going over the same territory time and time again I'm sure it would start to lose its appeal. I think it's the nature of the band that Radiohead is and everything that we do where we always feel as if we're stretching ourselves. Working outside of Radiohead gives you the chance to work with other musicians and establish different musical dialogues, which I think is very healthy. It gives you experience outside of Radiohead and makes you appreciate what we have with Radiohead as well. So if I feel that as a musician I'm still growing and developing then yes it holds that same excitement that it did thirty years ago.

It's such a substantial amount of time and even if you've made under ten albums, you've changed the landscape of music exponentially

Oh yes absolutely and some people would look at our band and at our output and say we've been quite thrown and we could have been more prolific! But you know we like to take our time with things.

But how do all of these reflections transfer to the way you approach music? There's always that thin line between that nostalgic facsimile and using your existing tools to forge something new - I suppose it takes guts to not dwell on the past and instead use it to fuel your creative output.

I think what you have with that kind of history behind you is a lot more musical tools to use. If you go and completely deny yourself access to how you've made music before that would be silly. It gives you a lot more in your palette in terms of; how do you solve the problem of brimming the silver line, which is essentially what we do.

Is there something that forces you to try new things and keep momentum?

I suppose you have to listen to your instincts. Your instincts will draw you to a particular type of music.

How loud are your instincts really?

You go through phases with it you know, when you first start off making music you're very analytical about it. You jump into it with enthusiasm and rely on your instincts and when you become a professional musician you question what you're doing. Quite rightly so! You doubt it, which can stole your instincts a lot more. When you get to this stage when you have lots of musical experience behind you, I've become much more aware of my musical voice, and you get more confident in following your instincts.

I suppose there are fewer margins for error when you're playing alone too? What is your game plan for playing your solo album live?

I've got a really brilliant band, Adem Ilhan and Quinta who I made the record with. So the sound of the record is very particular to the musical dialogue between the three of us, and we've also got a great drummer called Chris Vatalaro, which really fleshed out the rhythmical side of things for us. For me it allows me to concentrate on being at the front, well in better terms, the frontman? But mistakes are going to happen and those are sometimes what make a show. You have to throw yourself whole-heartedly into what you're doing, that's what makes it an enjoyable experience for a musician, and is what counts later to the audience; that they leave the show having an experience and feeling better for it.

So now there's someone else playing drums behind you, which is extraordinary considering that's like your extra limb. How does it feel to detach from it for a while?

[Laughs] You're so right but you know I've had no qualms with handing over drumming duties to Chris, I'm in awe of his drumming abilities. I get to do all the best stuff in Radiohead and that's great, but I can leave that behind me for now. I suppose I've just exchanged one fairly central role for a more central role, really. Oh gee the ego is growing and I'm becoming much more of a megalomaniac although I can let go of the drumming.

Oh that ego is welcome to expand even larger please, you're allowed. I do quite like how direct your lyrics are on Weatherhouse. It brings the listener in closer when they know exactly who the speaker is. So do you find it an easier process to sing your own personal material?

Same as in Radiohead where we've always played our own material in the band I've never been comfortable doing other people's material -- cover versions and stuff -- it's always felt much more appropriate to do your own. With my solo stuff I feel that's the material I can approach with real conviction.

Do you feel more comfortable and safe performing for a more intimate audience then?

Both experiences for me are exhilarating. The scale of a Radiohead show brings along its challenges in itself. For me when I'm playing smaller shows and I'm at the front of the stage there's that immediacy to what you're doing.

How does it feel to be writing the new Radiohead record at the same time as going out and playing these particular sets of songs live?

Well when I first started doing solo material I found it difficult to get back into the mindset of being in Radiohead and doing my stuff. I find that a much easier switch now. I know what my role is musically and I can juggle those now. I'm going to be playing songs from Familial and I also did an EP in between the two records. What I've done is to revisit the older material and rearrange it so that it becomes much more into the expansive world of Weatherhouse.

I can imagine that all the music you've made operates as these tiny memory pockets of musical experiences, so it must be therapeutic to make something new with the band you've been involved with for so long - and revisit your personal work too.

Yeah it all sounds a bit narcissistic doesn't it. I'll work on that one!

But when you feel all over the place from it, how do you find that sweet little spot in the middle to ground yourself?

The life outside my music is what I find the most grounding really, and that's my family. Also coming back to what we were talking about earlier on, musical instincts; you focus back on those instincts and that's what's grounding. Just really trying to understand and listen to that voice. If there are doubts about what you're doing musically listen to those doubts you know? Even if other people are saying it's a really good idea. If you're not feeling it, then you're not going to do a convincing version of that and so it's just really developing that confidence in listening to that voice I think.

I think a lot of people are deathly afraid to have the confidence to allow self-doubt to even enter into it! And you're playing to all these different audiences too, how have they related to your solo work in the past?

Gosh it's so different but I've got my head around it now. Maybe it's harder for some people when they come along because they think I'm Radiohead. That's inevitable though, that's the context that people have come across me before on. But I think that aspect is becoming known more in its own right rather than in relation to Radiohead. And that from my point of view makes the shows easier to do as well.

Yeah, I remember reading Thom talk about his solo work saying; "It's sort of like putting on a brand-new face and still expecting people to recognize you."

[Laughs] Absolutely! You know I've really enjoyed this interview though I have to tell you it's been so nice to just talk.

I couldn't agree more. So now you're going to take a break from writing the Radiohead album, focus on your upcoming gigs, and then you'll resume that?

We're getting back together in March actually; so we've got a big session booked then we'll review what we've done so far, so it's all there. We are scheduled up to the eyeballs at the moment!


Philip Selway's album Weatherhouse is out now and he will be playing the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 11 February with support from Eaves. For tickets and further information, please see www.southbankcentre.co.uk.