Ed O'Brien

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Ed O'Brien
Ed O'brien 2017.jpeg
Ed O'Brien performing with Radiohead in Glasgow, 2017
Background information
Birth nameEdward John O'Brien
Born (1968-04-15) 15 April 1968 (age 51)
Oxford, England
Genres Alternative rock, experimental rock, electronic
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years active1985–present
Labels XL, TBD
Associated acts Radiohead, 7 Worlds Collide, Kay

Edward John O'Brien (born 15 April 1968) is an English guitarist and member of the alternative rock band Radiohead. O'Brien attended Abingdon School in Oxford, England, where he met the other members of Radiohead. O'Brien makes extensive use of effects units to create atmospheric sounds and textures, and provides backing vocals. In 2010, Rolling Stone named O'Brien the 59th greatest guitarist of all time.

Alternative rock is a style of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular in the 1990s. In this instance, the word "alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream rock music. The term's original meaning was broader, referring to a generation of musicians unified by their collective debt to either the musical style or simply the independent, DIY ethos of punk rock, which in the late 1970s laid the groundwork for alternative music. At times, "alternative" has been used as a catch-all description for music from underground rock artists that receives mainstream recognition, or for any music, whether rock or not, that is seen to be descended from punk rock.

Radiohead are an English rock band formed in Abingdon-on-Thames in 1985. The band consists of Thom Yorke, brothers Jonny Greenwood and Colin Greenwood (bass), Ed O'Brien and Philip Selway. They have worked with producer Nigel Godrich and cover artist Stanley Donwood since 1994.

Abingdon School independent school for boys in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England

Abingdon School is a day and boarding independent school for boys in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England. The twentieth oldest independent British school, it celebrated its 750th anniversary in 2006.


Early life

O'Brien grew up listening to post-punk acts such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Depeche Mode, the Police and David Bowie. He said: "It was a very foetal [time] for music because people who went to art college or artists, or musicians, suddenly thought, 'Oh, I can be that'." [1]

Siouxsie and the Banshees English rock band

Siouxsie and the Banshees were an English rock band, formed in London in 1976 by vocalist Siouxsie Sioux and bass guitarist Steven Severin. They have been widely influential, both over their contemporaries and with later acts. Mojo rated guitarist John McGeoch in their list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" for his work on "Spellbound". The Times cited the group as "one of the most audacious and uncompromising musical adventurers of the post-punk era".

Adam and the Ants English rock band

Adam and the Ants were an English rock band active during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The group, which lasted from 1977 to 1982, existed in two incarnations, both fronted by Adam Ant. The first, founded in May 1977 and known simply as The Ants until November that year, achieved considerable cult popularity during the transition from the punk rock era to the post-punk and new wave era, and were noted for their high camp and overtly sexualised stage performances and songs. The final line-up of this first incarnation – Dave Barbarossa, Matthew Ashman and Leigh Gorman – left the band in January 1980 at the suggestion of then-de facto manager Malcolm McLaren, to form the instrumentalist personnel of the controversial Bow Wow Wow.

Depeche Mode English band

Depeche Mode are an English electronic band formed in Basildon, Essex, in 1980. The group currently consists of a trio of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, and Andy Fletcher (keyboards).

The members of Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, an independent school for boys in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. [2] O'Brien said of the first time he played with singer Thom Yorke, who asked to join him for a jam: "Before that, [life] was a bit confusing, a bit crap. And then suddenly ... I felt something very strong, almost like some kind of epiphany, almost like: 'This is it.'" [3] O'Brien, along with drummer Philip Selway, was in the year above Yorke and bassist Colin Greenwood, and three years above Colin's brother, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood. [4] In 1985, they formed On a Friday, the name referring to the band's usual rehearsal day in the school's music room. [4] O'Brien studied economics at the University of Manchester.[ citation needed ]

Thom Yorke English musician, philanthropist and singer-songwriter

Thomas Edward Yorke is an English musician best known as the lead singer and main songwriter of the alternative rock band Radiohead. A multi-instrumentalist, he mainly plays the guitar and piano. He is known for falsetto; in 2008, Rolling Stone ranked him the 66th greatest singer of all time.

Jam session

A jam session is a relatively informal musical event, process, or activity where musicians, typically instrumentalists, play improvised solos and vamp on tunes, songs and chord progressions. To "jam" is to improvise music without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements, except for when the group is playing well-known jazz standards or covers of existing popular songs. Original jam sessions, also 'free flow sessions', are often used by musicians to develop new material (music) and find suitable arrangements. Both styles can be used simply as a social gathering and communal practice session. Jam sessions may be based upon existing songs or forms, may be loosely based on an agreed chord progression or chart suggested by one participant, or may be wholly improvisational. Jam sessions can range from very loose gatherings of amateurs to evenings where a jam session coordinator or host acts as a "gatekeeper" to ensure that only appropriate-level performers take the stage, to sophisticated improvised recording sessions by professionals which are intended to be broadcast live on radio or TV or edited and released to the public.

Philip Selway English drummer

Philip James Selway is an English musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the drummer of English rock group Radiohead. In addition to drums, he provides backing vocals, synthesizers, along with occasional guitar and lead vocals, for 7 Worlds Collide. Selway is well known for his precision and proficiency in various styles and unusual time signatures, being named the 26th greatest drummer of all time by Gigwise in 2008. He has worked with Samaritans since 1991.


In 1991, On a Friday signed a six-album recording contract with EMI and changed their name to Radiohead. [5] They found early success with their 1992 single "Creep". [6] Their third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to international fame and is often acclaimed as one of the best albums of all time. [7] [8] [9] OK Computer saw O'Brien use less distortion and more delay and other effects, creating a sound that was, in his words, "more about textures". [10]

Creep (Radiohead song) 1992 single by Radiohead

"Creep" is a song by the English alternative rock band Radiohead, released as their debut single in 1992. It appeared on their first album, Pablo Honey (1993). "Creep" was not initially a chart success, but became a worldwide hit after being rereleased in 1993. Radiohead took elements from the 1972 song "The Air That I Breathe"; following legal action, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood are credited as cowriters. The members of Radiohead grew weary of "Creep" in later years, and refused to perform it for a period. It is included in Radiohead: The Best Of.

<i>OK Computer</i> 1997 studio album by Radiohead

OK Computer is the third studio album by English rock band Radiohead, released on 16 June 1997 on EMI subsidiaries Parlophone and Capitol Records. The members of Radiohead self-produced the album with Nigel Godrich, an arrangement they have used for their subsequent albums. Other than the song "Lucky", which was recorded in 1995, Radiohead recorded the album in Oxfordshire and Bath between 1996 and early 1997, mostly in the historic mansion St Catherine's Court. The band distanced themselves from the guitar-centred, lyrically introspective style of their previous album, The Bends. OK Computer's abstract lyrics, densely layered sound and eclectic range of influences laid the groundwork for Radiohead's later, more experimental work.

Distortion (music) form of audio signal processing giving "fuzzy" sound

Distortion and overdrive are forms of audio signal processing used to alter the sound of amplified electric musical instruments, usually by increasing their gain, producing a "fuzzy", "growling", or "gritty" tone. Distortion is most commonly used with the electric guitar, but may also be used with other electric instruments such as bass guitar, electric piano, and Hammond organ. Guitarists playing electric blues originally obtained an overdriven sound by turning up their vacuum tube-powered guitar amplifiers to high volumes, which caused the signal to distort. While overdriven tube amps are still used to obtain overdrive in the 2010s, especially in genres like blues and rockabilly, a number of other ways to produce distortion have been developed since the 1960s, such as distortion effect pedals. The growling tone of distorted electric guitar is a key part of many genres, including blues and many rock music genres, notably hard rock, punk rock, hardcore punk, acid rock, and heavy metal music.

Radiohead's next albums, Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), were recorded simultaneously, and marked a dramatic change in sound, incorporating influences from electronic music, classical music, jazz and krautrock. [11] O'Brien kept an online diary of Radiohead's progress during the recording. [12] He initially struggled with the band's change in direction, saying: "It's scary – everyone feels insecure. I'm a guitarist and suddenly it's like, well, there are no guitars on this track, or no drums." [13] At the suggestion of Michael Brook, creator of the Infinite Guitar, O'Brien began using sustain units, which allow guitar notes to be sustained infinitely. He combined these with looping and delay effects to create synthesiser-like sounds used on the records. [14]

<i>Kid A</i> 2000 studio album by Radiohead

Kid A is the fourth studio album by the English rock band Radiohead, released on 2 October 2000 by Parlophone. After the stress of promoting Radiohead's acclaimed 1997 album OK Computer, songwriter Thom Yorke envisioned a radical change in direction. The band replaced their guitar rock sound with synthesisers, drum machines, the ondes Martenot, string orchestras and brass instruments, drawing influence from electronic music, krautrock, jazz, and 20th-century classical music. They recorded Kid A with OK Computer producer Nigel Godrich in Paris, Copenhagen, Gloucestershire and their hometown Oxford, England. The sessions produced over 20 tracks, and Radiohead split the work into two albums: Kid A, and Amnesiac, released the following year.

<i>Amnesiac</i> (album) 2001 studio album by Radiohead

Amnesiac is the fifth studio album by the English rock band Radiohead, released in June 2001 by Parlophone. Recorded with producer Nigel Godrich during the same sessions as Radiohead's previous album Kid A (2000), Amnesiac incorporates similar influences of electronic music, 20th-century classical music, jazz and krautrock. Only one track was recorded after Kid A: "Life in a Glasshouse", a collaboration with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band.

Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments, digital instruments and circuitry-based music technology. In general, a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means, and that produced using electronics only. Electromechanical instruments include mechanical elements, such as strings, hammers, and so on, and electric elements, such as magnetic pickups, power amplifiers and loudspeakers. Examples of electromechanical sound producing devices include the telharmonium, Hammond organ, and the electric guitar, which are typically made loud enough for performers and audiences to hear with an instrument amplifier and speaker cabinet. Pure electronic instruments do not have vibrating strings, hammers, or other sound-producing mechanisms. Devices such as the theremin, synthesizer, and computer can produce electronic sounds.

By 2011, Radiohead had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. [15] They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2019. [16]

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Hall of fame located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, recognizes and archives the history of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures who have had some major influence on the development of rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established on April 20, 1983, by Ahmet Ertegun, founder and chairman of Atlantic Records. In 1986, Cleveland was chosen as the Hall of Fame's permanent home.

Other work

O'Brien performing with 7 Worlds Collide, 2009 7 Worlds Collide3.jpg
O'Brien performing with 7 Worlds Collide, 2009

O'Brien contributed to the soundtrack for the BBC drama series Eureka Street before recording Kid A.[ citation needed ] He played guitar on the 2003 Asian Dub Foundation album Enemy of the Enemy . [17] O'Brien and Selway toured and recorded with Neil Finn as part of the 7 Worlds Collide project; he provided guitar and backing vocals on their eponymous 2001 live album and 2009 studio album The Sun Came Out . [18]

O'Brien is a founding director of the Featured Artists Coalition, a nonprofit organisation set up to protect the rights of featured musical artists, particularly in the digital age. [19] He appeared on the 16 April 2011 episode of the BBC Radio 5 Live sports programme Fighting Talk in support of Record Shop Day. [20]

O'Brien worked with Fender to design a signature model guitar, the EOB Stratocaster, which went on sale in November 2017. It features a tremolo bridge and a sustainer neck pickup. [21]

In 2019, O'Brien joined the RSPB Let Nature Sing project, which aims to get birdsong into the UK charts to raise awareness of the decline in Britain's birdlife. [22] In April, O'Brien said he had completed his first solo album and hoped to release it in September or October that year. [22] It was produced by Flood and Catherine Marks and features musicians including Omar Hakim, Nathan East and Dave Okumu. [23] The music was inspired by O'Brien's time living in Brazil and attending Carnival. [23]


O'Brien's earliest guitar influence was Andy Summers of the Police, particularly his use of delay and chorus effects on "Walking On The Moon". [10] His other influences include Peter Buck of R.E.M, Paul Weller of the Jam, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Edge of U2. [10] O'Brien admired how these guitarists created "space" rather than playing conventional guitar solos. [1] He said: "They were great guitarists, but they weren’t lead guitarists ... My favourite guitarists know when not to play. Then you make more of it when you do play. Make it count." [10]

O'Brien usually plays Fender Stratocasters, including the Eric Clapton Stratocaster. [24] He also plays Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars, including a twelve-string Rickenbacker. [24] While Jonny Greenwood plays most of Radiohead's lead guitar parts, O'Brien often creates ambient effects, making extensive use of effects units. [25] He said of the technique: "It's a bit like you're creating a canvas. That would be in accompaniment with Thom playing chords on the piano — you're building up a cloud of effects behind." [10] O'Brien said in 2017 that his most used effects are distortion, an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man delay, and a DigiTech Whammy pitch shifter. [10]

To create the high-pitched chiming sound that introduces "Lucky", O'Brien strums above the guitar nut. [25] He also creates the reverberating pops on the introduction of "2 + 2 = 5". [25] On "Karma Police", O'Brien distorts his guitar by driving a delay effect to self-oscillation, then turning the delay rate to a low frequency, creating a "melting" effect. [26] "Treefingers" was created by processing O'Brien's guitar loops. [14] On "Dollars and Cents", O'Brien used a pitch shifter pedal to shift his guitar chords from minor to major. [27] For "All I Need", he used a sustain unit and a guitar strung with four bottom E strings, creating a "thicker" sound. [10]

O'Brien said of his playing: "I literally learned to play my instrument within the band, so I started off very limited — and I'm still very limited. But I've been lucky, because I've been in a band that has not required you to be a virtuoso." [24] In a 2015 Rolling Stone article, David Fricke named O'Brien the 59th greatest guitarist of all time. [28] O'Brien also sings backing vocals for Radiohead, which Pitchfork described in 2006 as "the band's most consistent secret weapon". [29]

Personal life

O'Brien lives in London with his wife Susan Kobrin, who worked for Amnesty International. [30] [31] The couple have a son, Salvador, born in January 2004, and a daughter, Oona, born in 2006. [32] O'Brien is a cricket fan [33] and supports Manchester United Football Club. [34] Around 2000, he gave up drinking alcohol and took up meditation; he said: "[Alcohol] was fucking me up. I thought, 'I can carry on, or I can be a better person.'" [33] He and his family briefly lived in Brazil. [35]

See also

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