His father did it with sitar, but Dhani Harrison proves EDM can heal, too
By Mike Mettler
Artists who have world-renowned and critically acclaimed musicians as parents have an especially hard time forging their own individualized creative identities. This is especially true if your father happens to be, say, the late George Harrison of The Beatles.
Yet his son Dhani Harrison has taken it all in stride, by both embracing and nurturing his father’s legacy with projects such as 2002’s Concert for George and 2014’s George Fest, while subsequently developing his own sound by composing movie and TV soundtracks (Beautiful Creatures, White Famous). He’s also creating electronic-influenced original music with thenewno2, the intriguingly experimental band named after a key rotating character on the cult 1960s TV show The Prisoner.
That EDM-tinged aura permeates all throughout Harrison’s first full-fledged solo album, IN///PARALLEL, out now in multiple formats via HOT Records. Much of the album stemmed from the expansion of musical snippets and cues Harrison and his creative partner Paul Hicks had come up with for their film and TV gigs.
“There were so many things I loved that I never got to use anywhere,” Harrison admitted to Digital Trends. “It got to the point where I’d think, ‘Oh, that’s great, but this scene is only one minute long, and I want this to go on forever.’ There was lots of stuff from my composing job where I said, ‘That’s too good for this film — I’m going to keep that for myself!’”
Digital Trends got on the line with Harrison while he took a break from preparing for an upcoming fall solo tour to discuss how he developed the electronic sonic template for IN///PARALLEL, his long-term battles with fake news, and how he’s embraced his role as “healer-in-chief.”
Digital Trends: IN///PARALLEL is a great headphones album. The sound design features a wide stereo path, which I feel stemmed from all the music you stockpiled from your compositional work.
Dhani Harrison: I was stockpiling, yeah — but not so much songs as I was instruments, pads, and things like stereo panning or weird granular synthesizers. Most of the time, it was things I had made and sampled and tuned to different keys, and then put into different samplers. I wanted to set a very trippy tone, and let the record tell the story without having to walk everyone through it.
I would say Poseidon (Keep Me Safe) is a great example of how you were able to manipulate your voice to suit your goals.
Yeah! Poseidon was definitely one of my favorites to work on. It’s always nice to hear your voice through a processor, because you can listen to your own songs but not hear your own voice, you know? When it gets to that point, I feel like a get a little break so I can listen to the record without actually listening to me. (chuckles)
I can understand that. You’ve said before that you literally have the same vocal chords as your father George, so I imagine that sometimes, you don’t want to sound like that and just be able to play with other characteristics of your voice.
Yeah, and on this record, my singing has changed a lot. I’ve changed a lot. My playing has changed a lot. Since the time of around George Fest [which was held at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on September 28, 2014], I changed the way I was approaching my life, really. I started meditating a lot and getting really deep — just being kind to myself, and trying to cut out all of the static from my life.
Did you feel you were starting to serve yourself more than serving others?
If you want to help anyone else, the best way to do that is to make sure you’re sorting yourself out first. Then you’re giving out the right frequency and you’re attracting the things you want, you know?
In a manner of speaking, you’re taking a cue from Within You Without You [his father George’s seminal spiritual contribution to 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band].
Yeah, and from all of his songs like The Inner Light [the B-side to The Beatles’ Lady Madonna single in 1968]. That’s our family philosophy, really. I’ve grown up meditating, and I’ve just gotten back to a really good place.
You go through stages in your life where you plateau, and you don’t really make progress. When I was starting to make progress again, I was writing this record, so I felt like I had unlocked another part of myself, and I was going really deep.
The more you listen to the record, the more the layers unfold. It’s almost like unpeeling an artichoke, something that has multiple layers to it.
And there are different bits in an artichoke as well. You go, “What’s this bit? This bit’s a bit prickly! Oh wait — this bit’s nice, yeah. Oh, I don’t want to eat this bit.”
And you can jump into it at different points. For example, I think Admiral of Upside Down is the perfect album-ending track. It fits that exact space just right.
Ah, thanks. That and Summertime Police were the ones that came later on. The record was done and fully formed in my mind, but it wasn’t letting itself be done. One day, I had to go back into the cloud and go, “OK, what isn’t happening that I’ve been trying to do with this record?” And then those two songs just kind of presented themselves.
And it was weird, because you work on something for ages and ages and ages, even for a year on tracks like Never Know and London Water, and then something like Admiral came along, and it was done — even the vocal on the end. That just happened in one take, so I guess that was how it was supposed to be.
Some songs are like that. Bob Dylan has spoken about this, and so has our mutual friend Mr. Tom Petty — there’s this wave that’s open, and sometimes you receive it and it comes through you, and you’re done in five minutes. Other times, it takes a little bit longer. You just have to be ready to receive it.
That’s it exactly, yeah. It’s, how strong is your connection to that source? If your connection is really strong with that source, things get written really quickly. And then maybe you go out of phase, or something. It’s like when you’re surfing, and you get a lull. You’re sitting there for five minutes and you’re like, “Oh, there are no waves.” Then suddenly a big set comes in and you’re like, “OK, there you go!”
Adding the hashtag to the song title for #WarOnFalse was quite deliberate on your part, wasn’t it?
That actually came from a quote I had about two years ago — and it’s funny, because the concept of fake news didn’t even exist then. Well, obviously, there’s been fake news the whole time, of course.
All of this was written before the election — even before the campaign! I meant it as a thing where I was watching the media and what they call celebrity and thinking, “Come on — everyone’s got 50 million Instagram followers, but what is anyone actually doing? Is anyone actually standing for anything?”
What do the major celebrities you see, all the main acts — what are they saying? What are they standing for? The concept of being famous for just being famous — I thought we had gotten through all of that with the Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan stuff where everyone wound up going to jail and then that was over, you know what I mean? And now, it’s ten times worse.
As you’ve said, it’s people going, “Where am I not at right now, and where should I be seen?”
That’s why I called my last thenewno2 record thefearofmissingout (2012). That concept was just coming into play, and now it’s the central, number one driving force of most people’s lives.
Why is that? Do people not want to participate firsthand in their own lives? Is it easier to follow than to lead?
It’s just that everyone’s happy. They’ve been given their television, their phone, their coffee, their digital radio, their Apple TV. Everyone’s been pacified, I think.
Consequently, the real issues people should be up in arms about, the media doesn’t cover them, because they don’t want you to talk about them. It’s like putting a ceiling on the level of excitement people can have — you’re only allowed to think thoughts up to a certain level of consciousness.
If you stop looking at the media and start looking more at nature, you can better guide yourself by looking at the leaves, the flowers, the trees, and the clouds. Then you start thinking more about your position in the world, and you start realizing you’re having thoughts that are really far out, compared to people who are just plodding along with everything.
I think it’s important to open your eyes, even just to notice something. For #WarOnFalse, whenever we saw something on the Internet that was something for something’s sake and just saying nothing — it wasn’t doing anything for anyone and it was just shameless bullshit — we just put #WOF next to it.
And when I saw the concept of fake news becoming a thing, I thought, “Goddammit, people are gonna think I just wrote this last week!” It’s funny how things come to pass, you know?
“All things must pass” as somebody once sang. And obviously, with the recent passing of your friend Tom Petty, I’m sure your thoughts have been with him and his family. [Petty passed away at age 66 as a result of cardiac arrest on October 2.]
Yeah, I mean, I’ve spent the last week with [Petty’s band] The Heartbreakers. We’re all really close, and it’s been a really sad week. (slight pause) They’re such lovely guys. They’ve gotten me through so much, and they’ve been supportive for me.
Recently, people have been talking a lot about that While My Guitar Gently Weeps performance at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony with you, Prince, Tom, and many others onstage together. Does that moment still feel real, or surreal, to you?
It’s just odd to see that Prince is no longer here, Tom is no longer here, and [Traffic drummer/vocalist] Jim Capaldi, who was standing there with us, is no longer here. I feel very privileged to have been standing alongside all those guys. They’re such legends, and I was enjoying myself and having a good time.
Everyone’s really come together as a community, and especially since Tom just left last week, I think everyone needs the healing. The world is so mental right now, everyone needs to look inside themselves, and be there for each other. The healing is a really important thing.
You’re kind of the healer-in-chief, in a lot of ways. You’ve carried that mantle through a lot of your life, and have been a conduit for a lot of people to get through tough times like these. Do you feel the weight of that, or is it just something that’s always been in your nature?
It’s weird, but it kind of just happened naturally. I think everyone looked to my dad when he was alive to try and make sense out of things. He had a very good way of breaking things down, and making them seem normal, and getting away from the bullshit.
I guessed that passed on to me, and when we did Concert for George [on November 29, 2002], everyone was looking to me to see if they were OK. I’ve just been present through all of this stuff, and it’s been an amazing 15, 16 years. I have a very charmed life.
This article was originally posted on Digital Trends