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Dhani Harrison's groupthink

Though he might disdain being in a band, his Thenewno2 is proving a comfortable fit.

November 24, 2009|By Randy Lewis
(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles…)

It's easy to understand musician Dhani Harrison's antipathy toward the general concept of being in a rock band. After all, he got loads of priceless firsthand information from his father about the ups and downsides of making it to the absolute peak of pop music success during his tenure with the Beatles.


FOR THE RECORD:
Dhani Harrison: An article on musician Dhani Harrison in Tuesday's Calendar identified Activision as developer of The Beatles: Rock Band. The game was created by Harmonix, MTV Games and Apple Corps Ltd. —

It was George Harrison who famously said, "The biggest break in my career was getting into the Beatles in 1962. The second biggest break since then is getting out of them." He also once observed that "I wanted to be successful, not famous."

There's no question that Dhani (pronounced Danny) inherited his father's skepticism about the rewards that a life as a member of a rock band might promise, but he's one of a growing number of offspring of '60s and '70s pop music titans who are interested in establishing their own musical credentials.

It's a group that includes Julian and Sean Lennon, drummers Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) and Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham), singer-songwriters Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) and Ben Taylor (son of James Taylor and Carly Simon).

"I hate bands," Harrison, 31, said recently in the confines of the office he's setting up in a Santa Monica business park. "I'm never being in a band ever again."

So, what does he call Thenewno2, an ensemble of musicians he started with his friend Oli Hecks that will be the opening act tonight for Wolfmother's show at the Wiltern?

"It's a good hang," he said, flashing a smile uncannily like his father's. He's also got his dad's fine features, dark brown hair and quick sense of humor.

From the outside, though, Thenewno2 looks a lot like a band, in which guitarist, singer and songwriter Harrison and guitarist-keyboardist Jonathan Sadoff are joined by guitarist Jeremy Faccone, bassist Nick Fyffe and drummer Frank Zummo.

Harrison notes that Hecks, with whom he wrote most of the songs on the group's debut, "You Are Here," is sitting out this current tour to concentrate on film work. That's one indicator of the new model these creative partners are mapping out. Each has multiple talents and passions, none of which they're willing to set aside to focus full time on playing in a rock band.

"We're all studio nerds -- that's who I've surrounded myself with," Harrison said. "Every single person in the band is also a mix engineer or a soundtrack engineer or a composer or a filmmaker or some other kind of nerd. I design video games -- that's my nerdy side."

In fact, Harrison was instrumental in helping Activision develop “The Beatles: Rock Band” and contributed significantly to the look and content of the game.

Harrison looks at the groove-driven music he's making with Thenewno2 as just one manifestation of the creative community he's trying to nurture at the headquarters of the operation he's dubbed Hot Records West. The space was still being outfitted with equipment for the various studios, offices, rehearsal and performance areas on the day a reporter dropped in for a visit.

"My goal was to get everyone and all of the equipment in one room," he said. "Then we realized it would have to be a lot of different rooms. Jon said yesterday, 'I just went from a scoring session to a meeting to a rehearsal and I haven't left the building.' That's the object: To get minimum amount of having to be on the freeway and maximum amount of cool people in L.A. stopping by."

Harrison projects the sense that he prefers the cloistered environs of an artistic enclave to the glad-handing that characterizes nightclub life.

"I would just rather get holed up in a building, Capt. Nemo style, and take my work back underground to stop it falling into the wrong hands," he said.

A key part of that work is building the group's fully interactive website. It's still in beta-testing mode, but ultimately will allow the band to initiate webcasts or live video chats when they're in the mood to reach out beyond the walls of the studio, and to interact to a new degree with fans during the periods when they aren't touring in the traditional sense.

"Dhani is very into technology . . . and likes to be on the forefront of everything," said the band's manager, David Zonshine. "He wants fans to experience something new and fresh."

Harrison has one luxury most start-up enterprises don't: the fortune his father left to him and his mother, Olivia Harrison, which has been estimated by some British publications at more than $200 million.

Back in the real -- as opposed to the virtual -- world, Thenewno2 landed spots at both Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Chicago's Lollapalooza earlier this year, and with a lineup that continues to evolve, they're excited about getting in front of Wolfmother's crowd.

"I feel like a soccer team manager, putting out different teams for different things," Harrison said, "and this is definitely the team I'd field against Wolfmother. We have a new rhythm section and it's a funky, full-on rock version."

Which makes him sound a lot like the member of, well, a band. "As much as we say we don't like bands and stuff," Sadoff said, "it's kind of the most fun thing in the world, ever."

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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