Ed O'Brien

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Ed O'Brien
Radiohead 2008 Barcelona, Catalonia Daydream Festival 04 cropped.png
Ed O'Brien in Barcelona, 2008
Background information
Birth name Edward John O'Brien
Born (1968-04-15) 15 April 1968 (age 49)
Oxford, England
Genres Alternative rock, experimental rock, electronic
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1985–present
Labels XL, TBD
Associated acts Radiohead, 7 Worlds Collide, Kay
Notable instruments
Fender Stratocaster
Plank ED-1/ED-2
Fender Telecaster
Rickenbacker 360
Gibson ES-335
Epiphone Casino
Fender Jaguar

Edward John O'Brien (born 15 April 1968) is an English guitarist best known as a member of the alternative rock band Radiohead, with whom he has recorded nine studio albums. He makes extensive use of effects units to create atmospheric sounds and textures. In 2015, Rolling Stone named O'Brien the 59th greatest guitarist of all time.

Early life[edit]

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,' so it was a great era of music." His early guitar influences included Peter Buck of R.E.M, Paul Weller of the Jam, Johnny Marr of the Smiths and Andy Summers of the Police, admiring how they created "space" rather than playing conventional guitar solos.[1]

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 Phil Selway, was in the year above Yorke and bassist Colin Greenwood and three years above multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, brother of Colin.[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]


In late 1991 the band signed a six-album recording contract with EMI and changed their name to Radiohead.[5] The band 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]

Radiohead's fourth and fifth albums, Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), marked a dramatic change in sound, incorporating influences from electronic music, classical music, jazz and krautrock.[10] O'Brien kept an online diary of Radiohead's progress on the albums, which were recorded simultaneously.[11] 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."[12]

Work outside Radiohead[edit]

O'Brien performing with 7 Worlds Collide, 2009

O'Brien contributed to a soundtrack for the BBC drama series Eureka Street before recording Kid A. His most recent collaboration outside Radiohead involved guitar work on an Asian Dub Foundation album; he played on "1000 Mirrors" (with Sinéad O'Connor), "Blowback" and "Enemy of the Enemy".[citation needed]

O'Brien has 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 reprised his role on their 2009 studio album, The Sun Came Out, where he also co-wrote two tracks.[citation needed]

O'Brien and bandmate Phil Selway had programming lessons with producer/engineer Phelan Kane at BIMM London (formerly Drumtech/Tech Music School) in 2001, and the same two band members also joined the 7 Worlds Collide project.[13]

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.[14] O'Brien appeared on 16 April 2011 episode of BBC Radio 5 Live's sports programme Fighting Talk in celebration of National Record Shop Day; also on the panel were Bob Mills, Dion Dublin, and Steve Lamacq.[citation needed]

In October 2016, O'Brien said in an interview with BBC Radio 6 Music that he is working on a solo album and hopes to release it in 2017.[15]


While Jonny Greenwood plays most of Radiohead's lead guitar parts, O'Brien often creates ambient effects, making extensive use of effects units. His contributions include the high-pitched chiming sound that introduces "Lucky" (achieved by strumming above the guitar nut) and the reverberating pops on the introduction of "2 + 2 = 5".[16] On "Karma Police", O'Brien distorts his guitar by driving a delay effect to self-oscillation, then turns the delay rate to a low frequency, creating a "melting" effect.[17] On "Dollars & Cents" he uses a pitch shifter pedal to shift his guitar chords from minor to major.[18] He often plays Fender Stratocasters.[19]

In a 2015 article for Rolling Stone, David Fricke named O'Brien the 59th greatest guitarist of all time.[16]

Personal life[edit]

O'Brien studied economics at the University of Manchester. O'Brien lives with his wife Susan Kobrin, who previously worked for Amnesty International, in London.[20][21] The couple have a son, Salvador, born in January 2004 and a daughter, Oona, born in 2006.[22] He and his family briefly lived in Brazil.[19]


  1. ^ Casandra Scaroni and Samuel Dietz. “ You’ve got to find a voice”. Alltuntun. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2016
  2. ^ McLean, Craig (14 July 2003). "Don't worry, be happy". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  3. ^ "Ed O'Brien from Radiohead talks about the first time he jammed with Thom., Ed O'Brien, The First Time With... - BBC Radio 6 Music". BBC. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  4. ^ a b Randall, Mac (1 April 1998). "The Golden Age of Radiohead". Guitar World. 
  5. ^ Ross, Alex (20 August 2001). "The Searchers". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2011. 
  6. ^ "Jonny Greenwood - 100 Greatest Guitarists". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2016-06-22. 
  7. ^ "Q Magazine: The 100 Greatest British Albums of All Time - How many do you own? (Either on CD, Vinyl, Tape or Download)". List Challenges. 
  8. ^ "Radiohead's album best of all time - OK?". 
  9. ^ "Radiohead's OK Computer named best album of the past 25 years". Telegraph.co.uk. 22 December 2010. 
  10. ^ Reynolds, Simon (July 2001). "Walking on Thin Ice". The Wire. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2007. 
  11. ^ "The Best You Can Is Good Enough: Radiohead vs. The Corporate Machine < Features | PopMatters". www.popmatters.com. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  12. ^ Cavanagh, David (October 2000). "I Can See The Monsters". Q. 
  13. ^ "New 7 Worlds Collide". Buzzmedia Music. Retrieved 5 September 2010.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  14. ^ Youngs, Ian (12 March 2009). "Music stars call for more power". BBC News. 
  15. ^ Gaca, Anna. "NEWS \ Radiohead's Ed O'Brien Says He's Making a Solo Album". www.spin.com. SPIN. Retrieved 9 October 2016. 
  16. ^ a b "Ed O'Brien – 100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks". Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  17. ^ Randall 2000, p. 224
  18. ^ "Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise: The Searchers: Radiohead's unquiet revolution". 14 February 2008. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 2016-08-02. 
  19. ^ a b "A Conversation with Radiohead's Ed O'Brien | Fender Artist News". Retrieved 2016-09-12. 
  20. ^ Binelli, Mark. The Future According to Radiohead. Rolling Stone. 7 February 2008
  21. ^ Craig McLean (10 December 2007). "Radiohead: Caught in the flash, part 1 | Music | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  22. ^ Radiohead's interviews' archive (23 September 2016). "(2016/09/23) Virgin Radio, Edith Bowman, Ed" – via YouTube. 


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