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Tuesday 26 May 2020

Interview: Ed O'Brien Steps Out From Radiohead To Release A Solo Album That Defies Category & Musical Boundaries

Ed O'Brien never planned to make a solo record. As a guitarist with Radiohead, who over almost three decades and nine albums have established themselves as one of the most innovative and influential musical forces of our time, he thought his artistic side had its outlet and was happy to spend any downtime from Radiohead with his family.

Plus, Ed wondered, would it really be necessary? "Thom, Jonny and Phillip are making music," he says, "and I'm like, "The last thing the world needs is a shit album by me.""

But suddenly a switch was flicked and the songs came pouring out of him. 

That creative surge resulted in Earth, an album of rediscovery and adventure by O'Brien under the moniker EOB that deftly veers from moments of delicate folk to euphoric house, its songs seamlessly pinned together by unswerving melodic hooks and candid lyricism. 

Being part of global stadium-filling rock outfit Radiohead has left guitarist Ed O'Brien with plenty of tales to tell on his freshly released debut album, as Neill Barston reports.

Facing up to life in lockdown is proving eventful in more ways than one for Ed. 

The guitarist is just about over having contracted coronavirus and is recovering at the family home in Mid Wales, which happens to coincide with promotion of his long-awaited debut solo album that's now gained its release.  

He seems notably calm about his brush with the condition that has brought the world to a near standstill and placing all touring prospects on hold.

"People have had different experiences with coronavirus, but for me, it was like flu and though I felt I was getting better, it's something that lingers.

"But we're very lucky that we're out in the countryside. I am very aware there are a lot of families out there that don't have a lot of access to nature, which especially resonates with me," says Ed, feeling somewhat fortunate.

Sounding in chipper mood, he says it's been many years since he upped sticks from his native Oxfordshire, and seems more than content with his present surroundings alongside his wife, two fast-growing children and their pet dog.

Reflecting on present events, he notes the Covid-19 crisis is already having a "huge impact" with many younger acts in particular reliant on live gig revenues.

As someone who has spent the past three decades chasing the horizon as part of a stadium-filling band that has so far shifted over 30 million records, you might wonder if devoting time to a sideline is feasible. 

However, as the 52-year-old explains, having spent more than seven years finalising his album's material, it was a mission he felt had to be completed. 

But with the group's frontman, Thom Yorke, and fellow bandmates Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway having all conjured their own respective solo projects, he grappled with whether to pursue his own venture. 

"Making a record isn't easy, it takes a lot of work and a lot of soul searching. But doing this was something I felt compelled to do. If I didn't do it then a creative part of me might have died. 

"It was one of those 'what if" moments, you just have to follow your instincts," he reveals of the long process behind his debut, titled Earth. 

Featuring the production talents of Flood, who has worked with the likes of a-ha, New Order, The Killers and U2, through to Foals, it offers up an eclectic mix of sounds that reflects its complex journey. 

Its inspiration straddles everything from early Primal Scream rave anthems, as witnessed with the opener, Shangri-La, bolstered by an appearance from Portishead's guitarist Adrian Utley, which contrasts with the smart touches of samba on the hypnotic sounding Brasil. 

Later, there's a dose of angst-ridden grooves on Banksters, which would not sound out of place on OK Computer, through to its closing track, Cloak of the Night, an elegant duet with Laura Marling, which demonstrates it is certainly not lacking in ambition or scope.

"For me, doing this was about becoming a better singer and making better albums. 

"The inspiration for Shangri-La, came while I was out with my family living over in Brazil. 

"I'd just been noodling around making some electronic music, and I took my morning tea break and was listening to Primal Scream's Screamadelica. 

"That first track, Movin' On Up is just spine tingling, and there was something about it that I wanted for my album. 

"My debut has elements of soul, rock and ambient music, but lyrically it's a gospel album, about having been through the dark and moving towards the light," adds Ed, on his family's major decision to spend time in rural Brazil back in 2012 with the blessing of the band.

He says there's a sense of vindication in finally completing the album, released under the moniker of EOB. 

Clearly, surviving amid an industry where so many musical peers have fallen by the wayside is no mean feat. 

After nine studio albums, Radiohead proved their resilience many times over, and last year entered the acclaimed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Though Ed admits he's not yet at the nostalgic "book writing stage of my life," he appears happy to speak about the band's eventful past.

Recalling his own inspiration, he acknowledges that growing up in a particularly musical household has served him extremely well in his career.

"Both my mum and dad loved their music, getting me into the Beatles, as well as bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival," enthuses Ed, who adds he was also exposed to a lot of classical music, singing soprano as a youngster. 

In his teens, he eagerly lapped up all that punk, New Wave and bands such as the Smiths, The Jam and The Police had to offer in an age when the BBC's Top of The Pops served as a musical bible.

As for Radiohead, or On a Friday as they were originally named (after their rehearsal day), they met at Abingdon School in the mid 80s. 

Their path was set in motion when Ed, playing Lysander in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, encountered the young Thom, who was arranging the show"s musical score.

"I don't know if it was a case of knowing we were going to be special, but it felt instinctively the right place to be as part of the band, right from the very first moment. 

"We became thick as thieves and it was like a brotherhood, which I have always thought has been really important. 

"For us, it's never been just being all about the music, though we are all very different characters.

As for where the band are right now, it"s been four years since their last album, A Moon Shaped Pool, which saw them return to the limelight once again. 

While Ed says they've had conversations about their next potential move, it seems this year offers a welcome pause for focusing on their respective projects. 

"I feel really happy about where I am now that my album is done, after all that has been put into it. 

"It has just made me want to carry on writing the next one," adds Ed with a sense of positivity that suggests there"s plenty more in the pipeline for his own work, as well as with the band that has seen him enjoy the grandest of global adventures.

EOB's Earth is out now. To purchase the album CLICK HERE.

by: Mike Cobley & Neill Barston

Related links

EOB Purchase 'Earth'


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