Interview Date: 03/16/2008
Run Date: 04/09/2009
Yes, he’s George’s son…like you couldn’t tell that just to look at the guy. Talk about a classic case of “like father, like son.” But while they clearly resemble each other, the similarity in their music isn’t always so obvious. Bullz-Eye had an opportunity to speak with Dhani Harrison about the latest record by his band, thenewno2, their experiences with the “Rock Band” franchise and how it led to the Beatles getting involved in the game, and his work in completing his father’s final album, Brainwashed. Obviously, we jumped at the chance. First, however, we had to actually get on the phone with each other for more than 60 seconds. Our first attempt fell apart due to some scheduling issues, though Dhani was kind enough to call me personally to tell me that we wouldn’t be able to talk as planned. Fortunately, we were able to work out a time to talk properly a few days later.
Dhani Harrison: Hello, it’s Dhani Harrison. Hi!
BE: Hey, how are you?
DH: Good. Very good.
BE: Good to talk to you…again. (Laughs)
DH: (Laughs) Yeah!
BE: It’s been a long several days of publicity, I would guess?
DH: Yes, exactly. Yeah, it’s been a long one.
BE: Well, I’ve checked out the album. It’s good, although as I said to Oli, I don’t think I would necessarily refer to it as being overtly pop.
DH: No, I wouldn’t say pop has anything really to do with it. When did you get the copy?
BE: Actually, I don’t have a hard copy. I listened to the stream that’s online.
DH: Oh, right. The stream.
BE: When you approached it, did you have a mindset for what kind of styles you would be pursuing?
DH: Yeah, the whole Bristol music scene from the 90’s was very influential to me. You know, Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, all those guys. That was sort of the most important music in my life. Tricky, at least. And just, really, our own sound kind of just developed. I mean, we did an album which never got released. Then we did an EP, which you may or may not have heard on the website. And then after that, we did the new album, and it’s still growing. I’m kind of interested…I’ve been writing a bunch more stuff, and it’s kind of changed again now, which is pretty funny.
BE: What’s it heading towards this time?
DH: I have no idea. Heading for oblivion.
BE: Oh, dear.
DH: But a good oblivion.
BE: Well, all right, then. So when did you kind of develop your own musical taste? I’m sure your father was probably filling you full of rockabilly from a relatively early age.
DH: Yeah, I mean, I’ve kind of listened to everything since the day I was born. But I did…I don’t know, when I first started buying records…I’m trying to think. It was probably Jimi Hendrix and Cream that I really got into first. Actually, Buddy Holly was extremely big, high up on my list. And, you know, it sort of went from there, really.
BE: Who were your musical influences?
DH: I would have to say the most…probably Jimi Hendrix. Robert Johnson, Leadbelly. Then moving onwards…obviously, Zeppelin. I love Led Zeppelin. Then going later on, I was a massive fan of the Wu Tang Clan, and I love Prodigy. The Prodigy, from England, were really my favorite band; I saw them play a lot when I was young. Jilted Generation, when that album came out, that was, like, my favorite thing in the entire world. And then I saw them play at Britain Academy when I, was, like 13. You don’t get gigs like that anymore.
BE: You mentioned Wu Tang. I know you were on “Heart Gently Weeps.” How did you get hooked up with them? I mean, did you approach them?
DH: “Heart Gently Weeps” is just something I did to let them…just to see what would happen. There’s actually a couple of other tracks that I played on as well. Actually, I’m on (RZA’s) Digi Snacks as well. There was a track called “No Matter How Hard I Try,” which was the single for the album. I played on that as well. I don’t know, RZA and I got hooked up through a mutual friend, and we actually had more in common than our mutual friend. (Laughs) I mean, he’s a very, very sweet guy and very, very well read. You know, he knows everything about…the missing bit of his education was kind of rock, and I’m kind of up on that. So he likes to hang out with people who can show him new music, you know what I mean?
DH: So we made a couple of tracks together in my bedroom, just on a laptop. Then I came in with him and did a bunch of stuff. I’ve got a side project, whose name shall remain nameless because it would offend everyone. But that’s what I was going for: to try and think of the most offensive name for a band that you could ever have. I think I did, but I’m not going to tell you, because then you’ll put it in a magazine.
BE: Actually, I’d put it online, which is even worse.
DH: (Laughs) It would have to be censored, anyway. So he came and played on a bunch of my songs, along with Rev. Burke and Rugged Monk, who’s a member of the West Coast Wu Tang. They’re really, really nice guys. And when I did the Wu Tang stuff with them…I played with them in L.A. and New York, kind of all over the place. They’re good guys.
BE: You’re also on Rooney’s album too, is that right?
DH: Um, I don’t really remember.
BE: Fair enough. Well, you definitely turned up with Liam Lynch on his podcast.
DH: Oh yeah, yeah, Liam and I are great pals. Liam’s a really good guy. He’s probably one of my, you know, good friends in L.A. Complete lunatic.
BE: Yeah, to say the least.
DH: Mad as a nail, but so talented, you know.
BE: Oh, yeah, I’ve been a fan of his stuff…
DH: We did that song in about 20 minutes. It was one of those ones, you know? I never see him. I call him every single day, pretty much, and I haven’t seen him for a year, and he lives in Encino and I live in Venice. It’s pretty pathetic. We have a sort of virtual relationship, me and Liam. We usually talk between like 3:00 and 5:00 in the morning, when we’re both completely obsessive-compulsing in our own studios and there is no one else to talk to. But I know that if I pick up the phone at half past three in the morning, Liam Lynch will answer. If I call him right now, he would never answer, but he will answer at 3:30 in the morning. The guy is a genius and an insomniac.
BE: How did you hook up with him?
DH: How did I hook up with him? I actually met him through …funny you should say that, I actually met him through Ringo. Because Ringo signed him to his label (Pumkinhead Records).
BE: Oh, yeah, I’ve got the album, actually.
DH: Yeah, yeah. So Ringo signed him to his label. I was actually at Ringo’s birthday, funny enough, I went along to say “happy birthday” and I was in L.A. by myself, and I walked in and it was all family, family friends. I was looking for Ringo, I couldn’t find him, and then I saw him. Suddenly, a young sort of mouthy, punk-rock-looking dude came walking, holding a present and looking just as confused as I did about five minutes before. I sort of pointed him in the right direction, and then five minutes later Ringo came over with him and said, “Liam and Dhani, you’re best friends. You have never met before, but you’re best friends.” And he was right. Actually, Liam had been to Liverpool Institute as well.
BE: Oh, actually, I had forgotten that.
DH: Liam had actually studied under McCartney and then independently got signed by Ringo, and now he’s mates with me. Liam thinks he has some weird Beatle karma. We always end up hanging out with people from the group.
BE: If he could just work with Sean Lennon, he would be set.
DH: Yeah, exactly.
BE: Obviously, I don’t want to dwell on your father, but I was just kind of curious: how old were you when you began to realize who your dad was?
DH: How old were you when you realized that sandwiches tasted good? I don’t know. It’s one of those questions like…I don’t know, really. I knew he was my dad, and that’s usually enough for most kids. I think I do seem to remember a story about me coming home furious from school one day, saying, “Why didn’t you tell me you were in the Beatles?” So embarrassing. How embarrassing was that? So maybe like about six or something, but I don’t know. I started recording with him when I was around six, so I kind of got it, I guess, when I got in the studio. I never even got into the studio until then. As soon as he started letting me in the studio, I kind of worked it out.
BE: So you guys have a song on Rock Band 2.
DH: Actually, we have a couple of songs. We’ve got two on Rock Band, and then there’s a free download with the DLC, which comes with Rock Band 2, “Crazy Tuesday.”
BE: And I understand that you personally were very much in charge of kind of getting that ball rolling.
DH: Yeah, I mean, thenewno2 music, I kind of just prototyped that model. I basically did that for Apple, so that they could see it and say, “Oh, look, there’s Dhani, he’s a new media kind of person, and this is how he’s selling his stuff. Maybe we should consider doing that with the Beatles, seeing as we don’t have any digital deal or anything.” So I have ad several meetings with Alex Rigopulos, who’s a genius, who’s the loveliest, loveliest guy; the CEO of Harmonix. We were sitting around one day, and he just said to me, “Do you think they would ever go for a Beatle game?” And I was thinking the same thing to talk to him about! “It would be amazing, wouldn’t it?” I said to him. Actually, I think I said, “It would be amazing because I could kick your ass at ‘I Am the Walrus’ while dressed as a wizard in Shea Stadium.” Do you know what I mean? Or I could put on the ice skating outfit from ‘Help!’ and then beat you at ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ in the universe somewhere. I don’t know. Just make up whatever you can; ‘I Am the Walrus’ at the Cavern Club, even. Wouldn’t that be fun? And we both just started riffing on that kind of stuff until we both just were in hysterics, and it was obviously a brilliant idea, but I said, ‘Well, that’s never going to happen, is it?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s never going to happen.’ I said, ‘But I should talk to the guys from Apple, anyway. Because it is actually a no-brainer. It is the biggest no-brainer that I’ve ever, ever thought about, and if Apple don’t go for it, then they are shooting themselves in the foot, because someone else is going to do it. Someone else is going to get their own game. In the way the media works these days, in the way that music delivery systems work these days, I find it quite often best to be first. You know?
BE: Oh, definitely.
DH: If you were the first person ever to design an application for the iPhone and you patented it, you would be very, very better off than we are right now, you know? But you’ve got to be the first one to do it. So I figured that Led Zeppelin or The Stones were going to do it unless we just got on to it. So I got cracking with the guys from Apple. I kind of almost bullied them into believing how amazing it was. They really didn’t need much convincing if you looked to the fourth quarter, the month of December 2007, I think they sold something like 10,000,000 units of ‘Guitar Hero 2′ in just one month, and they are $50.00 each. I said, ‘If you do the math, if you go 50/50 with ‘Rock Band’ and you sell a Beatles ‘Rock Band’ game, that’s a big deal’ you know. And not to mention that, once the game is made, you can just keep adding songs to it. You could do the Bangladesh pack, you could do the ‘Live and Let Die’ pack, you could do the ‘Imagine’ pack…
BE: You’ve pretty much got me salivating at this point.
DH: I mean, don’t get me started on Led Zeppelin. That’s what I’ve been fighting for for months. I’ve been really trying to get them to do Zeppelin, because Zeppelin…and Radiohead, because Radiohead don’t really like giving out their master stems, you know. I mean I don’t blame them, but at the same time, they are Radiohead, and they should just get over it, you know what I mean? Just give us the stems, so we can all enjoy it.
BE: Yeah, I’m actually waiting on my copy of the reissues of the first three albums to get here right now.
DH: What, Radiohead?
BE: Yeah, EMI reissued them, re-mastered and with bonus tracks.
DH: No way. I’m going to go download that right now.
BE: I don’t think they’re in stores yet. My editor said his advance copies just got in, so I’m supposed to be getting my Pablo Honey any minute.
DH: Oh, bully for you. Nice one!
BE: I’m so proud.
DH: I’m very jealous now. Actually, you’ve made me jealous. I’ll have to do a jealous interview now.
BE: Oh, dear. Suddenly, it’s all gone horribly wrong.
DH: Suddenly, it’s all gone terribly wrong now that I can’t download Pablo Honey re-mastered. Nigel Godrich is doing some good stuff, I think, out here. I would love to get on his show. He’s, like, my favorite producer, but I also think he’s got a good idea, you know?
BE: I was a fan of his pretty much from when he did Jason Falkner’s album.
DH: Jason Falkner. See, him I don’t really know that well.
BE: Actually, he worked with Paul on Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard, I think it was. Which, come to think of it, was produced by Godrich.
DH: Oh, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BE: But Falkner used to be in Jellyfish, also.
DH: Jellyfish, that was the one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I forgot what I was going to say. Oh, right, Chaos and Creation and Godrich. I was about to say I’m the biggest fan of Godrich, but I never actually listened to Chaos and Creation.
BE: That’s all right, I don’t think Paul reads our site, anyway.
DH: But, you know, Godrich is pretty much…I don’t think he’s made a bad album, really, has he?
BE: No. Not to my knowledge.
DH: Nor to my knowledge. Did he do Odelay. He did everything ever Radiohead by Radiohead, but…no, he did Sea Change. Didn’t he do Sea Change?
BE: I think he did.
DH: Odelay was the Dust Brothers, but he did Mutations and Sea Change. Either way, genius. True genius.
BE: I wanted to ask some more about the thenewno2. When I talked to Oli the other day, I asked him about his expectations for the first album, because of the market being what it is. Do you have specific hopes for how much it will sell?
DH: My hope is to release music and, God willing, you can actually affect someone with your music and maybe make them feel happy, or make them not kill themselves. I don’t know, something positive. I mean, it would sort of be nice to sell a lot of records, but I don’t really see that happening anytime soon.
BE: You were talking about being influenced by the Bristol sound. Would you say, even subconsciously, was there any attempt to avoid possibly sounding too much like your dad? Because on “Crazy Tuesday,” it was, like, “Oh, my God, he sounds like his father,” but otherwise there’s not really any touchstones. Which is fine, obviously, but…
DH: Interesting. Well, you know, guitars made by the same people tend to sound the same. It’s the pipes, I guess. And I’ve got the same sort of bummed-up nose that he used to have, so sometimes when I say “girls,” it sounds a lot like “gulls.” That’s just by accident, I can assure you. It’s not intentional.
BE: You worked behind the scenes but also in the studio on Brainwashed, insofar as completing the album. Was it tough to adapt your style to match your father’s?
DH: No, no, no. We started that record together, and, you know, unfortunately, I finished it alone with Jeff (Lynne). That worked because Jeff sort of took over the production role, I took over the sort of artist role. So Jeff would try stuff, and he would give me a couple of options, then I would have to say yes or no. But Jeff didn’t do a single thing on the record without asking me my opinion, because my dad and I are very, very close, and I could instantly tell what wouldn’t make the cut, you know? So it was just…every day would get a bit emotional, you know. There was always just a point in every day when someone asked to leave the room, and we all kind of stared at our feet a bit, you know?
BE: Yeah, sure.
DH: Which is only normal.
DH: It’s just very hard to have to complete a record when you’ve got someone’s voice so close and intimate in your ear. And then, you need to know a lot of things about the song, and they’re not there to ask. You know, it took a while.
BE: You teamed up with Jakob Dylan for a cover of "Gimme Some Truth".
DH: Yeah, I was hanging out a lot with Tony Berg, the producer who signed Beck. He use to do A&R, he produced Emiliana Torrini’s records, a lot of her records. He produced a lot of Phantom Planet and stuff like that. His daughter is in that band The Like. So he’s a producer and he’s around in L.A. So I was hanging out over at his house a lot, just because it’s a nice family environment, and, yeah, we were supposed to be recording my record, actually! Then “Gimme Some Truth” came along, and Jakob had done it, and I kind of had to sort of stop doing my record, because he did that. Then Tony was going to go on and do the record that Jakob ended up finishing with Rick Rubin, but I was there every day, so Tony said, “Why don’t you get Dhani to do the harmony part?” And we just did it in five minutes. I mean, it was a very, very quick job, but it sounded alright. I liked the sound of that record, and I love Jakob. He’s a really, really nice guy.
BE: I’ll let you go after this, but just out of curiosity, how on earth did you end up at Brown University?
DH: How did I end up at Brown?
DH: Well, I looked through some magazines, and then I saw one that I liked, and then… (Laughs) I don’t know. I was actually very into crew, the rowing team, and I was actually quite good at it when I was younger. I was a cox, and I used to steer. A lot of amazing oarsmen from the clubs that I rowed at had gone to Brown and said how amazingly cool and fun it was, and they were all artists, too. So I was thinking, “Oh, that’s good, maybe I could go and continue my rowing, do art,” and I was thinking it would be all, like…you know, like, an American university, like cheerleaders and fun! (Laughs) It wasn’t. It was just…Brown. I was thinking like Florida State or something, you know what I mean? But it was great fun, and I still have some of the most bestest friends from Brown. I love it. I haven’t been back since I graduated, but… (Trails off)
BE: Okay. So are you guys going to be touring behind this album? I know you’ve done some live dates…
DH: We are. I can’t actually say who we are going to be touring with right now, because I think I’m going to get in trouble if I do, because it’s not 100% confirmed. But if it is confirmed, it’s, like, a big one. It’s really only a short tour, but we’re going out with someone pretty big, so…I was quite impressed when I heard.
BE: So if it’s a short tour, can I at least deduce that it’s a stadium-sized tour?
DH: It will be, like, some 8,000 seat kind of arenas. Which will be great, because we’re used to playing small places. I like playing bigger places, to be honest. It sounds better.
BE: Excellent. Well, I will let you go, but it’s been great talking to you, man.
DH: Thanks, and keep an eye out, because there’s new videos, there’s new albums, there’s new internet stuff coming out all this month. Coachella. We’re doing a limited run of art work. It’s, like, 300 limited pre-order vinyls for this thing, and we’ve got Futura, the artist, to do one painting over 300. So they are all going to be numbered and sold as Futura pieces, and we will have a big art exhibition. So keep a look out. There is going to be lots of cool stuff happening.
BE: Excellent. I will definitely add a link to the site.DH: Brilliant. Thanks very much. Take it easy!