At Apogee's Berkeley Street Studio in Santa Monica, Dhani Harrison brushes his lanky black hair back from his cheeks and reinserts his orange in-ear monitors. The only child of George Harrison, he's also lead singer and ringleader for a group called thenewno2, who now gear up for the second half of a set they're taping for KCRW.
“I'm going back into my own little world now,” he says to the small, invite-only audience with a shy smile. “See you later.” Then he straps on a guitar, triggers one of his samplers, and the band launches into “Make It Home” off of the group's recently released second album, thefearofmissingout.
Growing up at Friar Park, his father's massive estate in Henley-on-Thames, England, he would spend hours alone in his room, cranking his favorite music: Zeppelin, Hendrix, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Wu-Tang and Public Enemy. “I never really saw my dad around when the Iron Maiden and the AC/DC were playing,” Harrison says now, alluding to the fact that George didn't always approve of his son's playlist. “But he knew what I was doing. I was just absorbing music. So he just kind of left me to my own devices.”
As an adult, the younger Harrison has managed to maintain his own-little-world lifestyle to a remarkable degree. He splits his time between the splendid isolation of Friar Park and the relative anonymity he enjoys in Venice Beach, where he blends in with the beach hippies as he walks his dogs or cycles along the bike path. He runs his own record label and maintains two recording studios — his father's at Friar Park, and one called H.O.T. West in Santa Monica. (The H.O.T. stands for Henley-on-Thames.)
Then there's thenewno2, which he started in the mid-'00s with his friends Oli Hecks, a drummer and visual artist, and Paul Hicks, a Grammy-winning producer-engineer from Abbey Road Studios. From the get-go, Harrison envisioned the project less like a traditional band and more “like a gang,” creating music, film and graphic design, all modeled loosely on his heroes, the Wu-Tang Clan.
“I kind of liked that idea,” he says of the Wu's collective approach, speaking by phone from his home in Venice. “You don't have to worry about your band breaking up because it's constantly breaking up and reforming.”
The music of thenewno2 exists in its own world, too, layering unlikely combinations of sounds into an electro/dub/hip-hop/art-rock attack Harrison playfully refers to as “electro-blues,” “grunge 'n' bass,” and “Hawaiian dub-hop.” It's a sound in which friends and guest artists as diverse as Ben Harper, Regina Spektor and the Wu-Tang's RZA can comfortably co-exist.
thefearofmissingout (FOMO for short) comes out today on his H.O.T. Records. Following the group's more insular 2008 debut album, You Are Here, Harrison is thrilled with the new record's “massive” sound and the six-piece lineup that will tour in support of it.
“Every time I say this…[but] it's my favorite version of thenewno2,” he says.
With everything he has going on these days, you would think Harrison would be pretty immune to “the fear of missing out” (FOMO) which he describes as that vaguely anxious feeling you get when you wish you could be in several places at once. (Which is greatly exacerbated by modern technology and social media, of course.) But as he gets ready to “drag my ass off the couch and go to rehearsal” at H.O.T. West, he does admit to suffering from one major FOMO most Angelenos can relate to.
“The weather's just too nice,” he says of his adopted home. “You end up in the studio thinking, 'God…'” He lets out a groan. “And then you've got sun FOMO.”
Maybe Dhani Harrison, the self-described “studio rat,” who spent the last seven years establishing his own musical identity and scrupulously avoided trading on his father's fame, is finally stepping out of his own little world and into the sunlight.