Having a legendary musician for a father would be a major obstacle for many players, but Dhani Harrison has always defied expectations. After dabbling in everything from Formula One racing to physics and industrial design, Harrison finally committed to his first love, music, after helping Jeff Lynne finish father George's final album, Brainwashed. Four years later, Harrison began recording with his own group, thenewno2, which started as a duo with drummer/keyboardist Oli Hecks. With the release of their debut album You Are Here in 2008, the band established a sound bearing a greater resemblance to Radiohead than the Fab Four. Or as Harrison describes it: "Selfish music. Imagine if somewhere in Bristol, Jimi Hendrix and Massive Attack had a baby and it liked listening to soft rock."
That baby picked up momentum with high-profile gigs at Coachella and Lollapalooza, appearances on American late-night TV and prominent placement in the Rock Band video game series. Last year, thenewno2 (with its membership having swollen to seven) released their second album, thefearofmissingout. Featuring appearances by Ben Harper (Harrison's co-conspirator in the side-project band, Fistful of Mercy), Wu-Tang Clan legend Guitar Center Interviews and others, the album is a further melding of the atmospheric guitars and beat-laden electronica that have made thenewno2 one of the most exciting young bands in indie rock.
Hanging out at Guitar Center's world-famous Hollywood store, Harrison talked about the revolving door approach the band has taken in the studio. "I kind of approach it from sort of a Wu-Tang Clan or a Massive Attack kind of way, which is, just do as much with as many people as you can, and just make as many records as you can and get as many people in to do whatever jobs that you need them to do. Then people don't pigeonhole you as much and they have to kind of listen to the music."
As for gear, Harrison brings a fairly large rig on the road, though his guitar lineup is reasonably streamlined, alternating between a handful of Eric Clapton model Stratocasters and a Gretsch Silver Jet.
"I like that Eric Clapton Strat. I mean, call me a wuss, but it's easy to play and those pickups are really loud. It just is. I like the neck. The satin-finish neck is really what does it for me."
As for the Gretsch, Harrison admitted to originally being drawn to the axe because of the eye-catching finish.
"I saw that-what I like to refer to as the â€˜Disco Jet,'" he said, recalling the first time he laid eyes on the shimmering member of Gretsch's Jet series, "but its (proper name is) the Silver Jet. I saw that one and it was just massively offensive and really cool looking. I brought it out, actually, to Alpine Valley when I played with Pearl Jam, and I remember walking down to go and play. We were playing â€˜State of Love and Trust.' I got to go and join them. Very cool. I was very, very happy with that. And McCready comes out and he's got the gold-slightly gold-original version of it. And he's like, â€˜Aah! We can't both go onstage with the Silver Jets!'"
Pearl Jam standoffs aside, Harrison feeds his guitars into an impressive array of effects.
"I use a volume pedal, tuner-the standard ones. I use a tremolo. My distortions are a Blues Driver, standard one. I'm going to get a Keeley Mod one. My guitar player, Jeremy, he uses one and his does sound (great). Then I've got a Hussey. That thing is just loud. That's the one that makes everyone look around like, â€˜What just blew up?' when I turn it on. I have a Z.Vex gated distortion, which I like to use for certain things. It sounds kind of laser-y, kind of like a saw. I like that. That's fun. And it's good, because it's got a gate."
For a live amp, Harrison always turns to the same trusty model. "Fender Twin Reverb. For recording, I've got some smaller heads for my Marshall. I've got a Mullard head. I've got a small Marshall head. Mullard's like 18 watt, with just an old Marshall speaker. So there's some good stuff that comes out of that. The Les Paul sounds really good through that. It's that classic sort of Les Paul-through-a-Marshall sound."
To create thenewno2's swirling wall of sound onstage, Harrison often sets the guitar aside or augments it with an array of synth effects.
"MicroKORGs are good. Still don't know how to use them properly," he laughed. "They're very complicated, but once you get into them, they're really good ... I just use it for the decimator. I really like that. You can turn the sample rate and the bit rate right down, so if you've got any sample that's playing, you can just decimate it into just khhhhhhkkk-turn it into like the Mario Brothers version of (the sound)."
He also employs the Korg Kaossilator. "No, I haven't got the new Kaossilator 2," he laughed. "I've got the old, little
yellow one. I use that just for certain beeps and bloops because that's about all it does, really, is beep and boop. Occasionally, get a good arpeggio out of it, but I use that through a Kaoss Pad and then do my playing with it and then â€˜effect' it with the Kaoss Pad."
As for the rich family musical heritage that surrounds him, Harrison does allow himself the luxury of playing the historic guitars in his father's vault-as he did recently, during the recording sessions for the Beautiful Creatures motion picture soundtrack. He opened up the case for the famous Les Paul known as "Lucy," which was originally owned by Eric Clapton, given as a gift to George Harrison and played on several key Beatles tracks, including "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
"I have to (play them)," he said, "because otherwise I couldn't live with myself. These things have to be played. They have to constantly be set up. The necks need adjusting and fixing and polishing. Because if you have, say, a nice bit of kit from the '60s and you use it all the time and you keep it maintained, it'll last you another hundred years. And if you leave it in the damp garage for five years, it'll be broken forever. You know what I mean? A lot of this equipment needs to run all the time."
"It's so funny," he mused. "Yes, I'm spoiled. What can I say? I'm spoiled for choice and I appreciate how it is to use these guitars. Funny thing is, when you let, like, guys in my band play them, they don't want to play them. I'm like, â€˜Go for it. Use this and go nuts on it.' They're like, â€˜No, I don't even want to look at it.' It's Spinal Tap."
As for up-and-coming musicians, Harrison advised:
"Record as much as you can, because you can get really good little digital (recorders) and now-memory card-every time you press play, it puts a track marking in it. It's stuff like that. Get a good condenser mic or something you can just demo onto or a little four-track digital demo machine. I mean, you can do it on your phone now if you want to, but I don't recommend it. Learn how to use Pro Tools and Logic. It really does come in handy. GarageBand's not enough, because you don't know if you're going to make it into a record one day.
"And play with as many people as you can," he added. "And learn how to play songs in front of other people. The rest of it is, just make good songs and keep playing them until someone finally listens. Eventually someone will hear them."
Written by Michael Wright / Photography by Ryan Hunter