Ed O'Brien performing with Radiohead in Glasgow, 2017
|Birth name||Edward John O'Brien|
|Also known as||EOB|
|Born||15 April 1968|
|Genres||Alternative rock, experimental rock, electronic|
|Labels||XL, TBD, Capitol|
|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 Oxfordshire, 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. His first solo album, Earth, was released in 2020, under the name EOB.
As a child, O'Brien enjoyed cricket and theatre. His parents split when he was 10; O'Brien said "I think that's when music became my refuge". He 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'."
The members of Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, an independent school for boys in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. While O'Brien was playing Lysander in a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, he met future Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, who was scoring the production. Yorke asked him to join him for a jam. According to O'Brien, "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.'"
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. In 1985, they formed On a Friday, the name referring to the band's usual rehearsal day in the school's music room. O'Brien studied economics at the University of Manchester.
In 1991, On a Friday signed a six-album record contract with EMI and changed their name to Radiohead. They found early success with their 1992 single "Creep". Their third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to international fame and is often acclaimed as one of the best albums of all time. 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".
O'Brien became depressed during the extensive OK Computer tour, but focused on supporting Yorke. After the tour, he returned to Oxford and fell further into depression. He said: "I was single, on my own, World Cup ’98 summer… I was the lowest I’ve ever been. It was the irony as well – you’re at the top, that old cliché. Did loads of drugs [and] went full on into all the wrong things."
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. O'Brien kept an online diary of Radiohead's progress during the recording. 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." 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.
By 2011, Radiohead had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2019. Whereas Yorke is the main songwriter, O'Brien said his role was to "service the songs" and act as "the mum ... My job was to always put my arm around [Thom], and his job was to be Thom."
O'Brien releases solo music under the name EOB. His first solo track, the ambient composition "Santa Teresa", was released on 4 October 2019. His first solo album, Earth, was released on 17 April 2020 on Capitol Records to positive reviews. It was produced by Flood, Catherine Marks, and Adam "Cecil" Bartlett and was mixed by Alan Moulder, with contributions from drummer Omar Hakim, Invisible members Nathan East and Dave Okumu, folk singer Laura Marling, Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood.
Recording for Earth began in late 2017 and ended in early 2019. The music was inspired by O'Brien's time living in Brazil and attending Carnival, which he described as a "musical eureka moment". The first track, "Brasil", was released on 5 December 2019, with a video directed by Andrew Donoho. The second, "Shangri-La", was released on 6 February, alongside the album title, release date and tracklist. O'Brien began a North American tour in February 2020.
O'Brien contributed to the soundtrack for the BBC drama series Eureka Street before recording Kid A. He played guitar on the 2003 Asian Dub Foundation album Enemy of the Enemy. 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.
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. He appeared on the 16 April 2011 episode of the BBC Radio 5 Live sports programme Fighting Talk in support of Record Shop Day.
In 2013, O'Brien cofounded the Laundry, a workspace, restaurant and nightclub converted from a laundry in London Fields. The following year, he and Selway signed an open letter protesting a ban on guitars in British prisons. 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.
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". 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. O'Brien admired how these guitarists created "space" rather than playing conventional guitar solos. 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."
O'Brien usually plays Fender Stratocasters, including the Eric Clapton Stratocaster. He also plays Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars, including a twelve-string Rickenbacker. While Jonny Greenwood plays most of Radiohead's lead guitar parts, O'Brien often creates ambient effects, making extensive use of effects units. 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." O'Brien said in 2017 that his most used effects are distortion, an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man delay, and a DigiTech Whammy pitch shifter.
To create the high-pitched chiming sound that introduces "Lucky", O'Brien strums above the guitar nut. He also creates the reverberating pops on the introduction of "2 + 2 = 5". 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. "Treefingers" was created by processing O'Brien's guitar loops. On "Dollars and Cents", O'Brien used a pitch shifter pedal to shift his guitar chords from minor to major. For "All I Need", he used a sustain unit and a guitar strung with four bottom E strings, creating a "thicker" sound.
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." In a 2015 Rolling Stone article, David Fricke named O'Brien the 59th greatest guitarist of all time. O'Brien also sings backing vocals for Radiohead, which Pitchfork described in 2006 as "the band's most consistent secret weapon".
O'Brien lives in London with his wife Susan Kobrin, who worked for Amnesty International. The couple have a son, Salvador, born in January 2004, and a daughter, Oona, born in 2006. O'Brien is a cricket fan and supports Manchester United Football Club. Around 2000, he gave up 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.'" In 2011, he and his family moved to Brazil and lived for a year on a farm near Ubatuba. In March 2020, O'Brien announced that he believed he had contracted Covid-19 and was recovering in isolation.
- Earth (2020)
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