Jonny Greenwood’s been hiding in plain sight.
He’s among the most innovative guitar players of his generation, plays with one of the music industry’s most celebrated and award-winning alternative bands, and came ever-so-close to landing an Academy Award nomination for scoring an Oscar-winning movie.
Greenwood even collaborated with the BBC Orchestra, earning the title of Composer in Residence.
Yet, even if some don’t readily know the Radiohead guitarist by name, they certainly know his music — or they should.
(photo courtesy of Getty Images)
“As the guitarist for Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood has helped push the boundaries of rock music by integrating electronics, unconventional song structures, and decidedly un-rock sounds,” WNYC Radio commented last year. “It’s a lesser-known fact, though, that Greenwood is a classically trained violinist and modern composer.”
In short, there’s more to Greenwood than meets the eye.
He first rose to prominence in the 1990’s as lead guitarist for Radiohead alongside frontman/songwriter Thom Yorke. Joined by his brother Colin, the band’s bassist, guitarist Ed O’Brien, drummer Phil Selway and Yorke, Greenwood crafted a raunchy and unique style that helped define Radiohead’s sound — and success.
He won critical acclaim for his performances on Radiohead’s “guitar albums” — Pablo Honey, released in 1993, The Bends, released in 1995, and OK Computer, released in 1997. His playing was unconventional: Melodic and haunting, at times chaotic, and always explosive. It was uniquely his own.
As Yorke and Greenwood evolved musically, so did Radiohead. By the time the band released it’s seventh album, 2007’s Grammy-winning In Rainbows, they had redefined rock and Greenwood had long been pushing the envelope on his own music as well.
In 2003, he wrote the score for director Simon Punnell’s movie, Bodysong, a film described by critics as “a collection of moving images of the human body set to music.” It was a precursor to Greenwood’s more successful musical score for 2007’s Academy Award-winning film, There Will Be Blood.
“The score resembles his rock compositions only in the level of daring and inventiveness, to be found throughout these tracks and in the unsettling atmosphere he is able to conjure at key moments,” amazon.com noted in its online description of the soundtrack.
Greenwood also released a solo effort in 2007 titled Jonny Greenwood is the Controller, a collection of reggae tunes. And his BBC-commissioned work, Popcorn Superhet Receiver, debuted in the U.S. early last year.
However, he remains entrenched in Radiohead’s lineup and is currently on tour with the band. He remains, at his core, a guitar player, even as he expands his horizons as an instrumentalist and composer.
Who knows what he’ll come up with next.
(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)