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. Along with the other members of Radiohead, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
Ed O'Brien performing with Radiohead in Glasgow, 2017
|Birth name||Edward John O'Brien|
|Born||15 April 1968|
|Genres||Alternative rock, experimental rock, electronic|
|Associated acts||Radiohead, 7 Worlds Collide, Kay|
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'."
The members of Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, an independent school for boys in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. 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.'" 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".
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.
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 2014, O'Brien 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.
In April 2019, O'Brien said he had completed his first solo album and hoped to release it in September or October that year. It was produced by Flood and Catherine Marks and features musicians including Omar Hakim, Nathan East and Dave Okumu. The music was inspired by O'Brien's time living in Brazil and attending Carnival.
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.'" He and his family briefly lived in Brazil.
- Casandra Scaroni and Samuel Dietz. “ You’ve got to find a voice”. Alltuntun. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2016
- McLean, Craig (14 July 2003). "Don't worry, be happy". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 December 2007.
- "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 8 October 2016.
- Randall, Mac (1 April 1998). "The Golden Age of Radiohead". Guitar World.
- Ross, Alex (20 August 2001). "The Searchers". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
- "Jonny Greenwood - 100 Greatest Guitarists". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
- "Q Magazine: The 100 Greatest British Albums of All Time - How many do you own? (Either on CD, Vinyl, Tape or Download)". List Challenges.
- "Radiohead's album best of all time - OK?".
- "Radiohead's OK Computer named best album of the past 25 years". Telegraph.co.uk. 22 December 2010.
- Michael Astley-Brown, Rob Laing (14 November 2017). "Radiohead's Ed O'Brien: "I was always drawn to sounds that didn't sound like the guitar". MusicRadar. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
- Reynolds, Simon (July 2001). "Walking on Thin Ice". The Wire. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2007.
- "The Best You Can Is Good Enough: Radiohead vs. The Corporate Machine < Features | PopMatters". www.popmatters.com. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
- Cavanagh, David (October 2000). "I Can See The Monsters". Q.
- "Radiohead's Guitarist Created His Own Instrument and Helped Change the Band's Music". Esquire. 14 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
- Jonathan, Emma. "BBC Worldwide takes exclusive Radiohead performance to the world". BBC. 3 May 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2011.
- Greene, Andy; Greene, Andy (30 March 2019). "Radiohead, Stevie Nicks, The Cure, Janet Jackson Enter Rock Hall at Epic Ceremony". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
- "ED MUSIC? - NME". NME. 24 April 2003. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
- "New 7 Worlds Collide (Ed O'Brien/Neil Finn/Jeff Tweedy/Johnny Marr) – "Bodhisattva Blues" (". Stereogum. 31 August 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
- Youngs, Ian (12 March 2009). "Music stars call for more power". BBC News.
- "Radio 5 live Programmes – Fighting Talk, Music Special". BBC. 16 April 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
- "Summer NAMM 2017: Fender launches Ed O'Brien Sustainer Stratocaster guitar". MusicRadar. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
- Grow, Kory; Grow, Kory (29 April 2014). "Radiohead and Pink Floyd Members Petition to Keep Guitars in Prisons". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
- "Ed O'Brien on the power of nature, his debut solo album, and what's next for Radiohead". www.nme.com. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- "Ed O'Brien eyes September release for debut solo album, plans to tour". Consequence of Sound. 9 April 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
- "Radiohead's Ed O'Brien: Hail to the Texturalist". Retrieved 29 November 2017.
- "Ed O'Brien – 100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks". Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Randall 2000, p. 224
- "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.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- "Ed O'Brien – 100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks". Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- "Pitchfork: Track Reviews". 16 March 2008. Archived from the original on 16 March 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Binelli, Mark. The Future According to Radiohead. Rolling Stone. 7 February 2008
- Craig McLean (10 December 2007). "Radiohead: Caught in the flash, part 1 | Music | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- Radiohead's interviews' archive (23 September 2016). "(2016/09/23) Virgin Radio, Edith Bowman, Ed" – via YouTube.
- "Radiohead's Ed O'Brien: "Cricket Was My Refuge"". Wisden. 31 August 2018. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
- Odell, Michael (July 2003). "Silence! Genius At Work". Q (204): 98.
- "A Conversation with Radiohead's Ed O'Brien | Fender Artist News". Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
- StringsReunited.com : Includes a regular blog by Plank giving technical information.