Quick Q&A with Phil Selway

He shares with us his views on the endless pursuit of excellence and provides insight into the challenges and successes, showing us that no matter what industry you are in, be it for Doctors, Business owners or students the pursuit is similar.


Q&A Phil Selway


1. Attaining excellence in a song must be an endless quest. When do know you’ve done enough to a song to release it?


Left to my own devices, I’m sure I would endlessly tinker with a song and never get anywhere. However, that’s where deadlines come into play. Deadlines force you to make decisions and they can really foster creativity and productivity.


In Radiohead, we generally know when a song is finished if all five of us and our producer, Nigel Godrich, are in agreement; that’s enough checks and balances.


However, when I’m working on my own material, a fresh set of ears can be really useful in determining when a song is finished. When you’ve been working up close on something for a while, you can sometimes lose perspective on it. Somebody, whose opinion you trust, can listen to the song without the baggage of all the musical possibilities; they can just respond to what they’re hearing. The feedback may not always be what you want to hear though, so it’s a brave person who agrees to be your sounding board.


2. In a band you have others to lean on- just like a team sport- but what are the challenges in working and performing on your own?


I’ve encountered a number of challenges in working and performing on my own. First, there is nowhere to hide and the buck definitely stops with you when you’re on your own. This can be scary but also invigorating.


Secondly, you have to be very conscious of your own levels of motivation and self-discipline when you don’t have the spur of other musicians around you. It’s all too easy to keep putting things off when you’re not answerable to anyone else, so you just have to be very honest with yourself about what you’re achieving and be mindful of your quality control.


Thirdly, even though I’m comfortable in my own company, it can sometimes be lonely working on my own. However, that solitude is what I need to muster my initial ideas and make them sound genuinely like me.


I enjoy being part of a team, so when I’m recording and performing my own material, I like to work with other musicians. I feel I do my best work in that context. However, the writing process is definitely a solitary one for me.


3. Being on any stage and performing is a buzz, how do you get away from it when your mind has been focused on your craft so intensely?


For me, time away from music and performing is family time, and that is actually my top priority. That’s what everything grows out of, and if that’s out of balance, then everything else tends to be too. Hopefully I’ve become better over the years at just getting stuck back into family life when I’m home from touring, and not be too much of a diva.


4. You know and honor your craft intimately- do you think this is one of the keys to success?


If your measure of success is being as good a musician as you can possibly be, then yes, dedication to your craft is key. Other measures of success such as meaningful recognition for what you do, can require other more arbitrary factors though. However, if you do get that recognition, then, once again, it’s the dedication that will bring you longevity in your musical career and satisfaction in what you’re doing.


5. Who are the Kiwis you feel warrant a mention as legends in the music space?


Definitely Neil Finn. He’s the Don! I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to work with him twice in New Zealand in 2001 and 2008 as part of his Seven Worlds Collide projects. He’s an amazing song writer and musical leader. Actually, the whole Finn family are sickeningly talented; Tim, Sharon, Liam and Elroy.


Working in the Seven Worlds Collide projects also allowed me to work with other great Kiwi musicians like Don McGlashan and Bic Runga. New Zealand packs a mighty musical punch!


6. In the lead-up to a big performance, do you feel pressure and have to prepare meticulously or do you just rely on your talent?


I try to find the balance between feeling pressure and being relaxed in the lead-up to big shows. Nerves are good if you channel them properly, however you don’t want them to take over as you’ll just choke. Preparation is key to the relaxation side of the equation and talent alone is actually a small part of it all. As the adage goes, 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.


7. Do musicians suffer the same confidence issues as sportsmen and other high achievers?


Without a doubt. I think any field where you’re pitting yourself against the best around, you’re going to go through periods of self-doubt. There’ll always be someone who is better and more experienced than you and that is enough to induce the occasional bout of imposter syndrome. However that’s missing the point. You have to remind yourself that what you bring to the table is your uniqueness and commitment to quality.


As a musician, one trick I try to use at moments when it’s just not happening for me, is to remind myself to simply listen to the music. That usually diverts my attention away from any co-ordination or tuning issues I may be having, and places me back in the flow again.


8. Do high expectations hinder or help you?


There’ve definitely been points when I haven’t felt equipped to deal with them and they’ve hindered me. However, high expectations coupled with the correct support have really helped me at other times and taken me far beyond what I thought was possible. I like the quote from Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool football manager, on this subject:


“Aim for the sky and you’ll reach the ceiling. Aim for the ceiling and you stay on the floor”


9. Are you coming to watch the Lions get beaten by the All Blacks this year?


I’ll be touring with Radiohead at that point so unfortunately won’t be able to make it to New Zealand for those matches. However I’ll enjoy watching the Lions ace the series wherever I may be in the world……
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