Jonny Greenwood

Born 1971

Jonny Greenwood



Johnny Greenwood is a multi-instrumentalist, arranger and composer. As a multi-instrumentalist he plays the bass guitar, piano, viola, ondes Martenot and guitar. He tends to incorporate electronic influences into his music and uses techniques such as sampling, programming and looping. He has even been deemed one of the greatest guitarists of all time by NME, Rolling Stone and Spin. He was a member and a key character in the music from the popular band Radiohead. As a solo composer he has worked on several soundtracks and scores for films likeBodysong, There will be Blood and Norwegian Wood.

Greenwood was born Jonathan Richard Guy Greenwood in Oxford, England. He was the youngest of three children: his brother Colin is two years older and his sister is ten years older. Greenwood was fascinated by music from a young age, which was nurtured by his siblings who exposed him to rock music. Greenwood started playing music on a recorder and played it seriously into adulthood. He even played in baroque groups as a teenager. However, several instruments came along that Greenwood could easily master. He also learned how to play the viola.

His brother was playing in a band and Johnny wanted to play along, but the band members found him too young. After a few years, he was finally invited to play along on the harmonica, which proved a major turning point. He would stick with the band, take over the role as keyboard player, eventually becoming lead guitarist. Greenwood studied music at Oxford, but only for a year – dropping out so he could commit himself to the band on a full-time basis. The band became a success and signed a record deal with EMI. The band decided to drop its old name, On a Friday, in favour of the name Radiohead. Their debut single Creep was a major success and Greenwood’s guitar playing was widely praised. Greenwood developed a style of playing the guitar that was rather aggressive and percussive filled with muted guitar bursts. Although the music proved popular, after a while the manner of playing the guitar would take its toll on Greenwood’s right wrist. He had to use a brace on his right wrist to relieve the pain and deter the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome. This brace became one of Greenwood’s trademarks and he continued to wear it even after the threat of his injury had gone. Greenwood kept developing his guitar skills and kept searching for new ways to make the guitar sound fresh, even experimenting with a violin bow.

However, Greenwood also developed other musical skills. For the fourth and fifth album(Kid A and Amnesiac) he made a dramatic change in sound and incorporated electronic music, classical jazz and krautrock. He used instruments based on modular synthesis and the ondes Martenot. He also had the opportunity to work with an orchestra. For this he had to train his music theory and came up with some string arrangements. This was his first encounter with compositions for orchestras.

In 2003 Greenwood released his first solo album, entitled ‘Bodysong’. It was a mostly guitarless affair. This led to new projects: he was hired by the BBC as composer-in-residence the following year, resulting in a handful of compositions includingPiano for Children’ and ‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’. The critically acclaimed soundtrack he composed for director Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘There will be blood’,also arose during this period. This was the first in a series of film compositions. After this he worked on‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’.He reunited with director Paul Thomas Anderson in 2012 for the score of the movie ‘The Master’. That year he also worked with one of his biggest inspirations,Krzysztof Penderecki. Their collaboration included Greendwood’s homage to the composer,48 Responses to Polymorphia. The Australian Chamber Orchestra commissioned Greenwood to compose the pieceWater. This premiered in 2014, during a three-month residency in Sydney. Later that year his score to Anderson’s adaption of the Thomas Pynchon novel‘Inherent Vice’ was completed.

More recently Greenwood collaborated with the Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, the Indian ensemble ‘The Rajasthan Express’ and producer Nigel Godrich. For this collaboration they travelled to the Mehrangarth Fort in the state of Rajasthan. The recordings were released as a film titled‘Junun’. There was also an album released by the same name.

Greenwood is a multi-talented musician and composer who always seems to be searching for the edges of creativity in music and technology. The reputatuon of Greenwood seems to be rising still and he is always on the lookout for new sounds and interesting projects.