• From A Human On Earth

    Article by Ey@el

    Original en français

    It's been a long, long time waiting for it... Waiting for what? The release of EOB's (aka Ed O'Brien) first solo album, of course! Well, that's me and a bunch of other people who saw in him more than just a handsome soundscaper in the greatest band since the Beatles. A comparison could even be made with George Harrison, but I won't as it would be overly reductive. Also because, whether famous or not, we are all unique and therefore cannot be compared, whatever our contribution on Earth is. For some, it's just more obvious than for others, that's all.

    So, after a gestation period of seven years, with a long interruption for the recording of A Moon Shaped Pool in Southern France followed by a world tour, Ed O'Brien (temporarily) steps out at last of Radiohead's shadow to allow his own light to shine for the benefit of our weary ears, all tired of the insufferable soulless sonic mush we're overfed with, seemingly serving the sole purpose of filling the cash drawers of the music industry and, optionally, dumbing us down with hollow or even creepy (if not satanic) messages.

    For his record, Ed surrounded himself with his friend Flood (U2, Depeche Mode, Smashing Pumpkins, P.J. Harvey) on production and prestigious musicians such as David Okumu (Invisibles) and Adrian Utley (Portishead) on guitar, Glen Kotche (Wilco) and Omar Hakim on drums, Nathan East and even Colin Greenwood (Radiohead) on bass, and Laura Marling.

    Something Human

    So, in his own words, Earth (which happens to be the anagram of heart) is “an existential dance record” coming from the heart and largely inspired by nature in which he needed to immerse, first in a Brazilian farm, then in the Welsh mountains, so as to reconnect as an artist but also (and most importantly) as a human being.

    This is who I am; this is my truth... I don't want to be defined by being the guy in a successful band. I'm a human being who walks this planet.

    For 'human' is certainly the best suited term for Ed O'Brien, totally outdoing his 'rock star' label to which he definitely doesn't relate. And having had the luck and privilege of a brief encounter and a picture with him on a TV set in Paris after the shooting of Echoes — the new live and talk show on ARTE channel hosted by Jehnny Beth — just before the lockdown, I can confirm that it is not an overstatement nor a role play.

    There is such an unmistakable genuine humility and authenticity about him. And he has a way of looking at you atop his 6'5", his big blue eyes oozing of kindness and unfeigned interest (whether you're a celebrity, a TV host, a technician, or just a member of the audience) that immediately places you on the same level as him, which is quite unusual for someone in his position. And for most people in society in general. I've met a lot of musicians in my life, all of various fame, but never anyone like him. With possibly the exception of Mike Peters from The Alarm. And his vibration is so high it literally electrified me as it took me a week to absorb the shock — I'm more used to get drained by energy vampires than having my vibes boosted up like this!

     Photos © Walter Films/Sabrillena_b/lapensinemutine

    A Pale Blue Dot

    Earth is about loneliness and isolation, endings and beginnings. “That's a kind of a theme,” Ed says. “I feel like that's what's going on in the bigger picture. That's kind of the end of the system.” The Bigger picture. As intended by the initial working title, Pale Blue Dot in reference to the famous photograph of planet Earth taken by Voyager 1 space probe in 1990 — which was finally dismissed over copyright concerns.

    We've been given this incredible planet and she's such a gift and she's the most beautiful planet in our solar system. And in terms of life-giving properties, she's the only one we know of that at the moment. And yet we seem to go about our business as if we are this mighty species and the planet owes us a living and she's just to be drawn upon as an endless resource. The words of Carl Sagan, those were like, they implore us to get our shit together.

    “[And this pale blue dot] this is us. This is our home. On this tiny mote of dust, every dictator, every war that's been fought, every lover that's loved all on this tiny speck on this photo. And I felt again, you don't know why these things resonate, like, a lot of these things, but it resonated. I found things like that. The bigger picture, again, inspiring — so, that informed the music.

    Take Heart

    A direct, open-hearted record in which each song relates to personal experiences: “It has to be personal. I have to feel it otherwise I can't do it. No role play,” he says.

    © EOB Official

    What I was trying to do is get out of my head and into my heart. And you just intuitively feel your way through it. Coming from Oxford, it's a very sort of academic, cerebral place. And that's great. But the problem with that as well [is] you can slightly close your heart. And for me, I wanted — like, literally. That was a bit of a mantra — 'out of my head and into my heart'. Just feel your way through. Your head has to come in. Sometimes you have to edit stuff, etc. And that's my thing now. Musically, I'm completely guided by my intuition. I'm not forcing things, there's something, there's a spark. And it's great because it means you're present.

    Obviously, we're living in very challenging times and I wanted to make a record that acknowledged the darkness. But, also, I wanted to make a record that was hopeful... I think we need new stories at the moment, because a lot of time in the media, obviously, we're bombarded with how crap we are to one another. But, also, what's not reported are all the great things we do. I wanted to acknowledge the darkness, but also focus on the shards of light that's coming through.

    And in the light of what we're all currently going through, Ed remains amazingly optimistic: “So, I feel it's... we're in this big moment of change, aren't we? It's huge.

    Yes, I can feel it too. We can all feel it. Actually, the Schumann resonance (the Earth's frequency) keeps increasing. But how does he manage to be so positive coming from a band that owes its fame to a song initially banned from airplay in the UK for being 'too depressive' ("Creep")?

    I’ve worked hard at being positive!” Ed exclaims. “Meditation, going alcohol free, eating the right stuff... sorting my emotional shit out. I had an amazing personal trainer on the journey and he said to me, you don’t help anyone by being down. And I used to hide it. I always hid from the band. Finding peace of mind and happiness is as old as the hills and it’s a journey that has been told for thousands of years. It’s always internal. Just listen to footage of George Harrison and John Lennon talk about it.

    The Inner Light

    Ed says that, for a long time, he never felt the urge to embark into a solo project, his creativity within Radiohead and being a dad were enough to content him. But his kids grew up and so did he. From within. And so, as we go along our journey to self-development, our basic needs do change. He suddenly felt utterly compelled to write songs. In the early stages, he totally lacked confidence and felt confused about how to proceed, but he eventually gave into his unfulfilled desire without worrying about the rest. And the songs began to emerge. Naturally. It actually took him by surprise because it was not something he could imagine.

    © EOB Official

    He confesses his inability to multitask and that in order to be creative, he needs to get totally immersed in what he's doing, which partially explains why it took him so long to turn his dream into reality. But it's also been a long process of learning. A sort of coming out. Of his comfort zone. And that to find inspiration, he absolutely had to be in nature. So he rented a small isolated cottage in Mid-Wales which was actually very close to where Robert Plant and Jimmy Page wrote Led Zeppelin III et Led Zeppelin IV (my favourite album).

    “You hear like "The Battle Of Evermore" in that land. It's very, very fertile. It's an amazing place,” he says.

    And there's a discipline to it, a kind of ritual at the start of the day where he'd walk up to the top of the mountain, then down the river with some poetry by Blake or Whitman to charge up before getting back home where the music would sort of flow out naturally.

    Some kind of inherent inspiration. A bit like Aretha Franklin who claimed to be channelling God.

    If you ask me how I wrote the songs, I can't tell you either. I feel like I didn't write the songs. I've been reluctant to say, 'Well, I started writing these songs.' It's like these songs started to come out. That's what a lot of people say. That's what a lot of the writers say. It's not about them. It's about something you're channelling.

    Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix

    But the main uncertainty lied with his voice. A major challenge for him as transiting from backing vocals to lead vocals makes a whole world of difference and it was a huge step for him to take. As he puts it, the voice is the most important thing in a song as it carries all the emotion and intention. The voice can't lie, it's the soul's frequency. A good song can be ruined if the voice is not right (and Auto-tune won't be of much help as regards emotion). And if its vibe does resonate with yours... bam! You've got a love at first sight artistic experience.

    Ed was fully aware of that and for a long time, he had even thought of using someone else to sing his songs. We should be grateful that Flood eventually persuaded him to get at it. It would have been such a shame as his voice turns out to be so warm and pleasant, with a surprising extended singing range, gliding smoothly and with natural ease from the highest to the lowest tones.

    Listen again to early Radiohead stuff and you'll realise that Thom Yorke's voice hasn't always matched his actual standard of excellence. And Ed does acknowledge the fact.

    I’m in the early days of my voice. We’re going to be touring this year and the voice is like a muscle and I need to use it more and sing more and it’ll get stronger and I’ll have more control. But with this record, I got to a stage where I could hear myself back through the speakers and I wasn’t wincing uncontrollably or flinching every time I heard a syllable sung by myself. I’ve been out of my comfort zone supremely. And it’s a good place to be.

    Around The Earth In 9 Songs

    1. Shangri-La

    In order to be able to hear all tracks in full, you need to create a free account on Spotify.
    To listen/buy EARTH online: eob.lnk.to/EarthIB

    With its funky syncopated mantric chorus, "Shangri-La" — named after an artistic event at Glastonbury Festival in South-Eastern England where Ed turns up every year as a member of the audience (that is when he's not performing on the main stage with Radiohead) — was written in 2014 upon returning from his annual pilgrimage of reconnection to his 'tribe'.

    Super moon lighting up the sky,
    All of the swans
    Spread their wings and fly
    Again, again, again...

    You feel so happy and at peace at Glastonbury, so the song was about that as well as the journey of trying to find peace of mind in your own life and coming together to celebrate that.

    Celebration is gratitude.

    Glastonbury is also a special place notable for its myths and legends. During ancient times, its lowlands were covered by the sea, turning it into some sort of an island as shown by remains from this period. The site is famous for its hill (tor) assumed to be the location of the mythic Avalon in King Arthur's legend.

    2. Brasil

    As the key title (and first single) of the album, "Brasil" starts as a melancholic folk song and suddenly turns into some kind of electronic rave banger led by the pulsating bass work of Colin Greenwood and is truly the heart and soul of the record.

    It's inspired by Primal Scream's "Movin' On Up" which created a sort of eureka moment for him while he was living in Brazil and put on Screamadelica. “I got a spine tingle. And I thought, 'This is the kind of music I want to make.' So if that’s what you’re feeling coming through… That song is essentially gospel music with a dance groove. And that’s what I was drawing upon for my record, that moving from the darkness to the light.

    As above and so below,
    Falling like... I'm falling like...
    How much more of this to take
    To see you smile and laugh again?

    As above and so below” is a reference to the Emerald Tablet (one of the most famous texts of alchemic and hermetic philosophy) about the correlation between the macrocosm and the microcosm. Ed says he's fascinated by this old knowledge and Manly P. Hall's The Secret Teachings Of All Ages. “There's magic out there” he says.

    3. Deep Days

    A very sensual Latino track where Ed O'Brien turns into a soulman with a little something in his voice that gives you shivers. But it goes much deeper. Steaming hot, take the fans out!

    Deep down I’ve always felt there was a soul singer within me. I know, big statement, but I’m just being honest.

    We are the people on the edge of the night
    Drawn in together now and hold the light.
    We start this dance tonight, never to drop.
    Moving together now, we won't ever stop...

    4. Long Time Coming

    An acoustic folk song I'm particularly fond of as it deeply resonates with me, capturing the essence of what my own life has been so far. One long solitary waiting for something/someone that would come and shake up your life and put you back on tracks. That feeling of alienation in the midst of a crowd that never occurs in the wilderness.

    And all we ever needed
    Is someone who says
    "I believe in you"

    5. Mass

    What are we in the cosmic vastness, if only stardust?

    I'm nothing...
    I'm nothing...

    An ethereal track referring to space, which Ed dedicated on stage to his friend, the astronaut Michael Massimino, who helped fix the space Hubble telescope on the Space Shuttle's last voyage. It is inspired by the famous 'Pale Blue Dot' mentioned earlier on and maybe also by his favourite movie, Interstellar.

    6. Banksters

    Another favourite of mine as posted earlier on in its live version. The use of the F word has owned it an 'explicit' tag on streaming platforms which won't shock anyone here, in France, in a country governed by a one time bankster and his gang of f... how do you say, Ed? :D

    Where has all the money gone, you fuck?

    Incidentally, Ed recently told us (on the chat of a last-minute listening session on Spotify) that he struggled a lot with this track. Could be because of the anger in it which no longer resonates with his actual mindset and vibration? Or because he's not fully satisfied with the way the song sounds like?

    When I play that song on an acoustic guitar, it sounds like a bossa nova song. With the chorus, I was trying to create a White Stripes vs. Led Zeppelin meets Latin hybrid.

    7. Sail On

    Ed recalls how he really decided to learn how to play guitar after hearing the sound produced by Andy Summers on "Walking On The Moon" to convey sonic pictures of a lunar landscape. That's what happens with this song: every time I picture myself alone on a small boat in the midst of a calm sea under the open starry skies, rocked by the gentle lapping of the waves and a breeze barely felt. As a rule, I tend to imagine sounds and smells more easily than images. Which says a lot about the evocative power of his music. At least, it does it for me.

    "Sail On" is a heartfelt tribute to a cousin who passed away while the album was recorded. It is about life and what happens after the physical body dies: “Our soul lives on. So we do. It's just that our physical body dies.

    Well, it's time for me to say goodbye to everything I know,
    Just one more voyage we all must undergo.
    See the light reaching out to me,
    No question now, all that is will be.

    I was reading a lot about near-death experiences and what happens when people talk about going to the light. When people have drowned and come back to life, they leave their body. But it's not the fear and terror. It seems like this warmth and this love and it sort of corresponds with a lot of the things that resonate with me like reincarnation and Buddhist philosophy. I'm not a Buddhist, but a lot of the philosophy makes a lot of sense to me.

    Same here.

    Just for the record, Ed recently confirmed on another chat online (yep, he's everywhere and I make the most of the opportunity to get as many questions answered) that "Sail On" had been recorded in 432 Hz (see Related articles): “It's really profound... The whole next album will be in 432 and 444.

    I didn't know about 444 Hz, but I incidentally found out that John Lennon's wonderful "Imagine" has been recorded in 444.

    8. Olympik

    "Olympik" is, in Ed's own words, the song that most represents who he is. “It's the mother song on the record” he says.

    And it truly delivers. Especially on stage where the sound is less compressed, allowing more space for the guitars. “I wanted a big Earth, Wind & Fire moment,” he explains. To me it actually sounds more like U2, but oh well.

    Give me your wine, give me your fire,
    And lift us up on the highest high.
    A love supreme is all I need
    To be waking up from the deepest sleep.

    No chance that anyone might fall asleep listening to this kaleidoscope of sounds, rhythms, lights, and colours. It's just like Rio Carnival it's inspired from. But there's more.

    I called it Olympik with a K after 808 State’s "808 State". It’s an homage to that. That’s the last song that was written for the album. It’s like, the rave: that’s what I’m after. That feeling. That’s what I want for the live gigs. I don’t know how it’s gonna go, but that’s what I’m aiming for.

    And given how the audience reacted to it during his private gig at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, earlier in March, I'd say it's shaping up. You got the groove, baby!

    9. Under The Cloak Of The Night

    Last but not least, the album ends up with this little gem of perfect vocal harmonies with Laura Marling of whom he claims to be a huge fan: “A female voice is very important I think. She came to the studio for an afternoon, it was fantastic. We sang together on ‘Cloak of the Night’, which was an extraordinary privilege, but I was nervous as hell. Uncertain of my ability. I actually wish I’d been more relaxed, maybe laughed a little bit more. Oh well.

    This is an acoustic folk song (also recorded in 432 Hz), so successful at conveying vivid pictures of the misty atmosphere of the Welsh sceneries it drew upon that it wouldn't go amiss on the original soundtrack for a screen adaptation of an Emily Brontë novel.

    In this night as the North wind blows.
    Trees crack, the earth does howl,
    Everything is falling away.
    And I know that this time entails
    No fear let love prevail.

    “'Cloak Of The Night' is a song about love. Love in a storm whether it's a meteorological storm or whether it's the storm of life outside or the storm of life within, but it's holding with that person, with those people.

    Such an understatement.

    Hail To The Minstrel

    I shall give him the last word on this as, in my opinion, it captures well the whole beauty and wisdom of the person he is. Which shows that all great wise men are not necessarily fat, bold and cross-eyed, neither are all rock musicians stupid, arrogant, and self-centred.

    I’m like any other human being — I don’t think there are any writers that have anything totally new to say. It’s just the way you frame it. There is a universality to human experiences... If you decide that you have to make music or art, then you’re looking for the truth, not perfection.

    I think the role of musicians is of service. We're serving people. I've always said that and when people say 'Oh guys, you're amazing' or' YOU are amazing', I say this: '100 or well 200 years ago, if I were a musician, I'd be travelling on donkey or horseback from town to town. It's only because of modern culture that there's a spotlight and we can be sort of be teleported into people's home or into their lives. Music is a really important part of people's lives. We're not frontline workers, it's not life and death, but we can help elevate people. Music can help people process stuff. Melancholic music allows you to be melancholic, allows you to be tearful, to cry — but that helps you to process. My initial role when writing and recording is to be of service to the song. And then when the music is done, it's of service to those people who want to hear it.


    P.S.: This article had already been online for hours when Ed joined a Q&A held by Fender on Twitter. On this occasion, I was able to ask him whether the inverted triangle on the cover of his album, which happens to be the symbol of the divine feminine, had been chosen on purpose and he did confirm that it was intentional indeed. He also added: “And that sign is also the sign for Earth.” (Well, it is actually the symbol of the earth element, the symbol of planet Earth is a totally different one, but there's no point quibbling over details!)

    NOTE: All the interview excerpts in this article come from various sources listed below.

    Reproduction of the above contents is strictly prohibited.
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