Jonny Greenwood

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This article is about the British composer and rock musician. For other people with a similar name, see John Greenwood.
Jonny Greenwood
Radiohead 2008 Barcelona, Catalonia Daydream Festival.jpg
Jonny Greenwood in 2008
Background information
Birth name Jonathan Richard Guy Greenwood
Born (1971-11-05) 5 November 1971 (age 44)
Oxford, England
Genres Alternative rock, electronica, art rock, experimental rock, classical
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Guitar, piano, keyboards, ondes Martenot
Years active 1985–present
Labels XL, TBD, Sanctuary, Nonesuch
Associated acts Radiohead, London Contemporary Orchestra, Shye Ben Tzur, The Weird Sisters
Website www.radiohead.com
Notable instruments
Fender Telecaster Plus
Fender Starcaster
Gibson Les Paul
Ondes Martenot

Jonathan Richard Guy "Jonny" Greenwood (born 5 November 1971) is an English musician and composer best known as the lead guitarist and keyboardist of the alternative rock band Radiohead. A multi-instrumentalist, Greenwood also plays instruments including the bass guitar, piano, viola, and drums, and is a prominent player of the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument. He works with electronic techniques such as programming, sampling and looping, and writes music software used by Radiohead. He described his role in the band as an arranger, helping to transform singer Thom Yorke's demos into full songs. He has been named one of the greatest guitarists of all time by publications including the NME, Rolling Stone and Spin.

Greenwood was born in Oxford, England. As a boy he played in youth orchestras, and he is the only Radiohead member to have studied music theory. Along with his older brother, Radiohead bassist Colin, he attended Abingdon School, where he met the other members of Radiohead. The youngest of the group, Greenwood was the last to join, playing first keyboards and harmonica but soon becoming lead guitarist. He abandoned a degree in music when Radiohead signed to Parlophone; their debut single "Creep" was distinguished by Greenwood's aggressive guitar work, and Radiohead have gone on to achieve critical acclaim and sales of over 30 million albums.[1]

Greenwood first composed for orchestra during the recording of Radiohead's fourth album, Kid A (2000). Subsequent Radiohead albums have featured his string and brass arrangements, and he has since composed for orchestras including the London Contemporary Orchestra and the BBC Concert Orchestra. He released his first solo work, the soundtrack for the film Bodysong, in 2003, and has since scored the films There Will Be Blood (2007), Norwegian Wood (2010), We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011), The Master (2012) and Inherent Vice (2014), working with director Paul Thomas Anderson on several occasions. He has collaborated with musicians including Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, singer Bryan Ferry, rapper MF Doom, and singer Frank Ocean.

Early life[edit]

Jonny Greenwood was born on 5 November 1971 in Oxford, England.[2] He is the younger brother of Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood, who is two years older. His father served in the army as a bomb disposal expert.[3][4] When he was a child, Greenwood's family would listen to a small number of cassettes in their car, including Mozart’s horn concertos, the musicals Flower Drum Song and My Fair Lady, and cover versions of Simon and Garfunkel songs. When the cassettes were not playing, Greenwood would listen to the noise of the engine and try to recall every detail of the music.[5] He credited his sister, ten years his senior, and his brother Colin with exposing him to rock bands such as the Beat and New Order.[6] "I was never happier," he says, "than when I was in my bedroom as a kid, working on rubbishy computer games."[7]

Greenwood's first instrument was a recorder given to him at age four or five. He took the instrument seriously, playing it into adulthood,[8] and played baroque music in recorder groups as a teenager.[6] He also learnt the viola and joined the Thames Vale Youth Orchestra, which he described as a formative experience: "I'd been in school orchestras and never seen the point. But in Thames Vale I was suddenly with all these 18-year-olds who could actually play in tune. I remember thinking: 'Ah, that’s what an orchestra is supposed to sound like!'"[9] The first gig he attended was the Fall on their 1988 Frenz Experiment tour, which he found "overwhelming".[6]

Along with Colin, Greenwood attended the private boys' school Abingdon School, where he met singer Thom Yorke, guitarist Ed O'Brien, and drummer Phil Selway and joined their band On a Friday.[10] He had previously been in a band called Illiterate Hands with Nigel Powell and Yorke's brother Andy Yorke.[11][12] The youngest member of On a Friday, Greenwood was two school years below Yorke and Colin[13] and the last to join. He first played harmonica and then keyboards, but soon became the lead guitarist.[13] Greenwood studied music at A-level, where he learnt how to harmonise Bach chorales, a skill he said he still uses.[9]

Career[edit]

Radiohead[edit]

Greenwood was three weeks into a degree in music and psychology at Oxford Brookes University when On a Friday signed a recording contract with EMI in 1991. He dropped out of university and On a Friday changed their name to Radiohead. The band found early success with their 1992 single "Creep". According to Rolling Stone, "it was Greenwood's gnashing noise blasts that marked Radiohead as more than just another mopey band ... [it was] an early indicator of his crucial role in pushing his band forward."[14] Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to international fame, and is often acclaimed as one of the best albums of all time;[15][16][17] it showcased Greenwood's lead guitar work on songs such as "Paranoid Android".[18] For the track "Climbing up the Walls", Greenwood wrote a part for 16 stringed instruments playing quarter-tones apart, inspired by the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.[19]

Greenwood performing with Radiohead in 2006

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.[20] Among the instruments used by Greenwood for the album were modular synthesisers (used it to build the drum machine rhythm of "Idioteque")[21][22] and the ondes Martenot, an early synthesiser similar to a theremin.[23] The album also gave Greenwood his first opportunity to work with an orchestra, the Orchestra of St John's.[24][25] The only Radiohead member trained in music theory, Greenwood composed a string arrangement for "How to Disappear Completely" by multitracking his ondes Martenot playing.[21] According to Nigel Godrich, Radiohead’s longtime producer, the first time the musicians saw Greenwood's score "they all just sort of burst into giggles, because they couldn’t do what he’d written, because it was impossible — or impossible for them, anyway."[26] Greenwood said that the orchestra leader, John Lubbock, encouraged the musicians to experiment and work with his "naive" ideas.[27]

In 2003, Radiohead released their sixth album, Hail to the Thief, a blend of rock and electronic music.[28] At the 2005 Ether Festival, Greenwood and Yorke performed "Arpeggi" with the London Sinfonietta orchestra and the Arab Orchestra of Nazareth; the song was later released in a new arrangement on Radiohead's seventh album, In Rainbows (2007), retitled "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi".[29][30] In February 2011, Radiohead self-released their eighth album, The King of Limbs, recorded using sampler software written by Greenwood.[7][31] Radiohead's ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool, released in May 2016,[32] heavily features strings and choral vocals arranged by Greenwood and performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra.[33]

Solo, soundtrack, and orchestral work[edit]

Greenwood performing with the London Contemporary Orchestra in Geneva, 2015

In 2003, Greenwood released his first solo work, Bodysong, the soundtrack for the documentary of the same name, featuring his brother and Radiohead bandmate Colin on bass. The soundtrack includes guitar, classical music, and jazz.[26] In March 2004, Greenwood's first work for orchestra, Smear, was premiered by the London Sinfonietta. In May, he was appointed composer-in-residence to the BBC Concert Orchestra, for whom he wrote "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" (2005), which won the Radio 3 Listeners' Award at the 2006 BBC British Composer Awards.[34] The piece was inspired by radio static and the elaborate, dissonant tone clusters of Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960). He wrote the piece by recording individual tones on viola, then manipulating and overdubbing them in Pro Tools.[26] As part of his prize Greenwood received £10,000 from the PRS Foundation towards a commission for a new orchestral work.[35]

Greenwood composed the score for the 2007 film There Will Be Blood by director Paul Thomas Anderson. The soundtrack won an award at the Critics' Choice Awards and the Best Film Score trophy in the Evening Standard British Film Awards for 2007.[36] As the soundtrack contains excerpts from "Popcorn Superhet Receiver", it was ineligible for an Academy Award nomination, which prohibits "scores diluted by the use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music."[37][38] Rolling Stone later named There Will Be Blood the best film of the decade and described the score as "a sonic explosion that reinvented what film music could be".[39]

Greenwood curated a compilation album of reggae tracks, Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller, released by Trojan Records in March 2007.[40] The album features mostly 70s roots and dub tracks from artists including Lee "Scratch" Perry, Joe Gibbs, and Linval Thompson; the title references Thompson's track "Dread Are the Controller".[41]

In 2008, Greenwood wrote the title music for Adam Buxton's sketch show pilot meeBOX.[42] In February 2010, he debuted a new composition, "Doghouse", at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios. Greenwood wrote the piece in hotels and dressing rooms while on tour with Radiohead.[43] He expanded "Doghouse" into the score for the Japanese film Norwegian Wood released later that year, based on the novel of the same name by Haruki Murakami.[43]

In 2011, Greenwood composed the score for We Need to Talk About Kevin, a film based on the novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver,[44] using instruments including a wire-strung harp.[30] In 2012, he worked with Anderson again, composing the score for The Master.[45] On 13 March 2012, Greenwood and Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki released an album comprising Penderecki's 1960s compositions Polymorphia and Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, Greenwood's "Popcorn Superhet Receiver", and a new work by Greenwood, "48 Responses to Polymorphia".[46] In 2012, Greenwood accepted a three-month residency with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in Sydney and composed a new piece, "Water".[47]

Greenwood collaborated with Anderson again on the soundtrack for the film Inherent Vice, released in October 2014; it features a new version of an unreleased Radiohead song, "Spooks", performed by Greenwood and two members of Supergrass.[48] In 2014, Greenwood performed with the London Contemporary Orchestra, performing selections from his soundtracks alongside new compositions.[49]

Collaborations[edit]

Greenwood played harmonica on Blind Mr. Jones's 1992 single "Crazy Jazz".[50] For the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, he formed Venus in Furs with Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Suede's Bernard Butler, and Roxy Music's Andy Mackay and recorded covers of the Roxy Music songs "2HB", "Ladytron" and "Bitter-Sweet". Greenwood played harmonica on the tracks "Platform Blues" and "Billie" on Pavement's final album, Terror Twilight (1999), produced by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich.[51] He played guitar on Bryan Ferry's albums and Frantic (2002)[52] and Olympia (2010).[53]

For the 2005 film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Greenwood appeared as part of the wizard rock band Weird Sisters with Radiohead drummer Phil Selway, former Pulp members Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey, electronica artist Jason Buckle and Add N to (X) member Steven Claydon.[54] In 2008, Greenwood collaborated with Israeli rock musician Dudu Tasa on the Hebrew-language single "What a Day".[55] In 2011, he and Yorke collaborated with rapper MF Doom on the track "Retarded Fren".[56] Greenwood contributed string orchestration to Frank Ocean's 2016 albums Endless[57] and Blonde.[58]

In 2014, Greenwood performed with Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and his band. Greenwood described Tzur's music as "quite celebratory, more like gospel music than anything — except that it’s all done to a backing of Indian harmoniums and percussion."[59] In 2015, Greenwood, Tzur and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich recorded an album, Junun, with a group of Indian musicians at the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort in the Indian state of Rajasthan.[60] The sessions were filmed by Paul Thomas Anderson for his documentary of the same name,[61] which premièred at the 2015 New York Film Festival.[62]

Influences[edit]

Greenwood is influenced by music genres including jazz, classical rock, reggae, hip-hop, and electronic music. His jazz favourites include Lee Morgan, Alice Coltrane and Miles Davis.[63] Along with the other members of Radiohead, he admires Scott Walker,[64] Krautrock band Can, and Sonic Youth.[65][66]

Greenwood first heard Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony at the age of 15 and became "round-the-bend-obsessed with it".[3] Messiaen was Greenwood's "first connection" to classical music, and remains an influence; he said: "He was still alive when I was 15, and for whatever reason I felt I could equate him with my other favourite bands – there was no big posthumous reputation to put me off. So I'm still very fond of writing things in the same modes of limited transposition that he used."[30]

He is an admirer of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, and cited a concert of Penderecki's music in the early 90s as a "conversion experience".[26] He is also a fan of the minimalist composer Steve Reich. Having performed Reich's composition Electric Counterpoint on guitar,[26] he recorded a version for Reich's 2014 album Radio Rewrite.[67]

Greenwood is a fan of the 80s post-punk band Magazine. He declined an offer to fill in for guitarist John McGeoch, who died in 2004, during the band's 2012 reunion tour. According to Radiohead collaborator Adam Buxton, "I think Jonny was just overwhelmed, cause he's the biggest Magazine fan in the world. He was just too shy, I think. I'm sure he's got all those licks in his locker."[68]

Musicianship[edit]

Greenwood performing ondes Martenot

Greenwood is a multi-instrumentalist and plays instruments including guitar, piano, synthesisers (including modular synthesisers),[26] viola, glockenspiel, harmonica, recorder, organ, and banjo.[69] He said in 2014: "I'm always happiest trying new instruments - and honestly enjoy playing, say, the glockenspiel with Radiohead as much as I do the guitar ... I enjoy struggling with instruments I can't really play."[30]

Along with the other members of Radiohead, he often uses electronic instruments and techniques. He created the rhythm for "Idioteque" (from Kid A) with a modular synthesiser[22] and sampled the song's four-chord synthesiser phrase from a computer music piece by Paul Lansky.[21] He uses a Kaoss Pad to record, manipulate and play back Yorke's vocals during performances of "Everything in its Right Place".[63] He has also used found sounds, using a television and a radio transistor on "Climbing Up the Walls" (from OK Computer) and "The National Anthem" (from Kid A).[69]

Greenwood is a prominent player of the ondes Martenot, an early French electronic instrument played by moving a ring along a wire, creating sounds similar to a theremin.[23] The instrument appears on tracks such as "How to Disappear Completely" (from Kid A) and "Where I End and You Begin" (from Hail to the Thief).[30] Greenwood became interested in the instrument at the age of 15 after hearing Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony.[3] He is interviewed by Suzanne Binet-Audet about his affection for the instrument in the 2012 documentary Wavemakers.[70] As original production of the ondes Martenot ceased in 1988, Greenwood had a replica created to take on tour with Radiohead in 2001 for fear of damaging his original model.[23]

"You know, people from my background are made to feel that it’s wrong to have opinions about classical music ... So I found it quite healthy, particularly at school, to think about classical composers and rock bands in the same way. The reason I loved Messiaen, for instance, was that he was still alive and writing. To me that was as exciting as a great old rock band still being around. Same with Penderecki. His strange orchestral music was quite dark, but it felt similar to the strange electronic music coming out of Manchester."

Greenwood on his love of classical and rock music (2010)[9]

In 2014, Greenwood wrote of his fascination with Indian instruments, particularly the tanpura: "Supposedly they’re just drones to accompany singers but in fact they produce a compellingly complex wall of sound, with layer upon layer of drifting harmonics. I’ve started using some of these instruments in my music because I can’t think of any other way, electronics included, of making such sounds."[59]

For his film soundtracks, Greenwood attempts to keep the instrumentation contemporary with the period of the story; for example, he recorded the Norwegian Wood soundtrack using a 1960s Japanese nylon-strung guitar and recorded it with period home recording equipment, attempting to create a recording that one of the characters might have made.[30] Many of his compositions are microtonal.[30]

Greenwood is a computer programmer and writes software used in Radiohead's music. He became interested in programming when he was young, experimenting with BASIC and simple machine code, and said: "The closer I got to the bare bones of the computer, the more exciting I found it." At the suggestion of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Greenwood began using the music programming language Max. He said: "I got to reconnect properly with computers ... I didn't have to use someone else's idea of what a delay, or a reverb, or a sequencer should do, or should sound like – I could start from the ground, and think in terms of sound and maths. It was like coming off the rails."[71] Greenwood wrote the software Radiohead used to sample their playing for their eighth album, The King of Limbs (2011).[7]

Greenwood's major writing contributions to Radiohead's early records include "Just" (which Yorke described as "a competition by me and Jonny to get as many chords as possible into a song") and "My Iron Lung" (which Yorke co-wrote with Greenwood[72]) from The Bends (1995), "The Tourist" and the "rain down" bridge of "Paranoid Android" from OK Computer (1997),[13] and the vocal melody of "Kid A" from "Kid A" (2000).[73] The New York Times described Greenwood role as "the guy who can take an abstract Thom Yorke notion and master the tools required to execute it in the real world."[26] Greenwood described his role in the band as arranger: "It's not really about can I do my guitar part now, it's more ... what will serve this song best? How do we not mess up this really good song? Part of the problem is Thom will sit at the piano and play a song like 'Pyramid Song' and we're going to record it and how do we not make it worse, how do we make it better than him just playing it by himself, which is already usually quite great."[8] Asked about working with Greenwood, Yorke said: "Whenever I am tired, he is there and awake."[30]

Guitar work[edit]

Greenwood playing bowed guitar

Greenwood has long used a rewired Fender Telecaster Plus with Lace Sensor pickups; his other guitars include a mid-seventies Fender Starcaster and a Gibson Les Paul.[13][69] He is known for his aggressive playing style; in the 1990s, his playing gave him repetitive stress injury, necessitating a brace on his right arm, which he likened to "taping up your fingers before a boxing match."[74] He often uses effect pedals[14] and sometimes plays with a violin bow.[14] He dislikes the reputation of guitars as something to be "admired or worshipped", saying he sees them as a tool like a typewriter or a vacuum cleaner.[30][69]

In 2010, the NME named Greenwood one of the greatest living guitarists.[75] In the same year, he was voted the seventh greatest guitarist of all time in a poll of more than 30,000 BBC Radio 6 Music listeners.[75] In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked him the 48th greatest guitarist of all time,[14] and in 2012 Spin ranked him the 29th.[76] In 2008, Greenwood's guitar solo in "Paranoid Android" was named the 34th best guitar solo of all time by Guitar World.[18] Three of his solos ("Paranoid Android", "Just" and "The Bends") appeared in the NME's 2012 list of the best guitar solos of all time.[77]

Personal life[edit]

In 1995 Greenwood married Israeli-born Sharona Katan, a visual artist whose work (credited as Shin Katan) appears on the covers of Greenwood's Bodysong and There Will be Blood soundtracks.[citation needed] Their first son, Tamir, was born in 2002 and the 2003 Radiohead album Hail to the Thief was dedicated to him. They also have a daughter, Omri, born in 2005, and a second son, Zohar, born in February 2008.[citation needed]

Greenwood is red-green colour blind.[4] He listed his favourite video games on Radiohead's website in 2010, including Ico, Elite and Red Dead Redemption.[78]

Soundtracks[edit]

Concert works[edit]

  • 2004 - smear for two ondes Martenots and chamber ensemble of nine players[79]
  • 2004 - Piano for Children for piano and orchestra[80] (withdrawn)
  • 2005 - Popcorn Superhet Receiver for string orchestra[5]
  • 2007 - There Will Be Blood live film version[81]
  • 2010 - Doghouse for string trio and orchestra[82]
  • 2011 - Suite from 'Noruwei no Mori' (Norwegian Wood) for orchestra[83]
  • 2011 - 48 Responses to Polymorphia for 48 solo strings, all doubling optional pacay bean shakers[84]
  • 2012 - Suite from 'There Will Be Blood' for string orchestra[85]
  • 2014 - Water for two flutes, upright piano, chamber organ, two tanpura & string orchestra[86]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

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