Dhani Harrison’s previous experience scoring films and TV series—especially the 2016 film Seattle Road—inspired him to take a more sonically adventurous, cinematic course in sculpting his debut solo album. Photo by Josh Giroux
Dhani Harrison has recorded with Bob Dylan and Wu-Tang Clan, and is in the trio Fistful of Mercy with Ben Harper. He has created multiple film and TV scores. He’s produced live concert albums and accompanying documentary DVDs—most notably 2016’s George Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of George Harrison. He shared the stage with Prince (and Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne, and Steve Winwood) during one of the Purple One’s most iconic guitar performances: the 2004 tribute to his dad at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also graduated from the prestigious Brown University with a degree in industrial design. And he’s even been deeply involved with video game design for the popular Rock Band franchise. But right now, Harrison is focusing on the release of his long-awaited solo debut, In Parallel, an album that connects his musical history with his wide-eyed anticipation of his musical future.
From the day he was born, Harrison has been surrounded by a world of exceptional music. The house he was raised in was a bastion for iconic songwriting and songwriters, and through his father’s work and extremely close relationships with such legendary artists as Petty and Lynne, Harrison received a stellar education in timeless musical craftsmanship.
“My dad turned our whole house into a studio. So, it’s like you start as a tea boy, then you become a tape-op, then you become an engineer, and then you become the composer or the artist, I guess,” Harrison explains nonchalantly.
Today, like his father before him, Harrison is the insatiable composer. He has written and recorded albums with his bands Thenewno2 and Fistful of Mercy. He and Grammy-winning musician Paul Hicks, a regular collaborator, have scored 2013’s Beautiful Creatures and the TV series The Divide, as well as the 2016 Ryan David film, Seattle Road. Scoring Seattle Road turned out to be a serendipitous experience. “The director really just let us go to town on that one,” says Harrison. “I wanted to take that further, so the sound of this record is quite similar to the sound of the stuff that I did on Seattle Road.”
In Parallel paints film-like scenes while wrapping them in an accessible frame inspired by the great songs Harrison grew up around. As soon as the opening track, “Never Know,” hits your ears, the similarities to a breathtaking film score are apparent. Pulsating ambiance melds with expertly layered Middle Eastern instrumentation, creating a sonic environment more than a typical song arrangement.
That spacious experience continues throughout In Parallel, leading one to ask, “Why am I reading about this in a guitar magazine?” As Harrison explains, even in an album filled with mind-twisting sonics, his guitars are never far away. “A lot of what you would think would be synth programming is, in fact, just guitar parts that are really processed.” And so, like his father, Dhani Harrison is also a master of using the guitar to conjure gorgeous musicality, without resorting to the expected.
In our conversation, Harrison gave Premier Guitar readers a peek behind his creative curtain. He showed pride in being the son of a Beatle. He explained what it is to consider Tom Petty family. He dug into what drives him to conjure experimental guitar tones. He waxed about how his metal-at-heart band for In Parallel keeps him in touch with the rocker inside. And, most important, Harrison illustrated how he translated all of this into his debut solo album.
Being the son of a Beatle, your musical upbringing was unique. But what was it that initially attracted you to music?
I grew up in the studio. I always played music since I was a kid: piano, guitar, drums. And I sang a lot too. So I got my 10,000 hours early. Sometimes I’d come home from school and walk right into the middle of a tubular bells recording, and I’d be like, “Oops, I was just going in the kitchen.” I’m pretty sure I tried everything possible to not do music. But I knew I was going to come back to it at some point.
What led you to film scoring and media production?
It’s just the family business, really. I’ve always done design work. When it comes to my dad’s catalogue, I’ve always helped him with artwork. Then, obviously, after he passed away, I finished Brainwashed as a producer, kind of taking his place as the artist. Jeff [Lynne] and I were co-producing.
TIDBIT: No guitar amps were used in recording In Parallel. Instead, Harrison exclusively relied on amp plug-ins from the likes of Native Instruments and Universal Audio.
He needed someone to make the decisions that we knew were going to have to be made. And I studied industrial design at Brown University. It comes in handy, especially for all the packaging and all the custom stuff I’ve been doing. It was just trying to maintain the most amount of control over the quality of the products that we’re releasing.
What inspired you to release a solo album now?
I always write by myself. I very rarely write with people, even though I collaborate with people. So I had gone really far down the rabbit hole of making this record before anyone else came in. I tried to get Paul Hicks to collaborate with me, but he was like, “Wow, this is already a fully formed band. This needs to be what it is.” And I had Jon Bates from Big Black Delta say the same thing. He was like, “I don’t want to change this. I hope you put it out under your name.” And I was like, “Okay. Maybe that’s what I should do.” And the further along I went with it, the more I realized that was the answer.
The harmonies and the chorus on “All About Waiting” and “Admiral of Upside Down” definitely bring the Beatles to mind. Is that intentional or simply a product of who you are?
Purely a product of who I am. I love stacking vocals; I love harmonies. I really wanted to have great harmonies in this record. After doing Fistful of Mercy and having such great singers in the band with me—Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur—I was missing out on the vocals. I really wanted great singers on this record. Jonathan Bates—I came in to sing with him on his Big Black Delta record. So after we’d done that, I was like, “Jon, definitely!”
Female vocalists also play a prominent role throughout the album.
I’m trying to write a story about what’s happening right now. What’s happening to man and woman alike, and female perspective is so important in the story. They’ve got to be strong characters like Camila Grey [featured on “All About Waiting”] and Mereki [“London Water,” “Poseidon (Keep Me Safe)”]. Cami Grey was singing on [Bates’] record, so she was definitely in. And then the last person to come in was Mereki. She’s just got such an interesting sound and she’s such a great songwriter. I was playing guitar in her band, so that was a no-brainer. She really nailed it the first day, and it was like, “Oh, okay. We need to make a whole other record now.” [Laughs.] It was too quick. So, it’s me and Jon with the male characters and Cami and Mereki with the female characters. Everyone knew each other so well, and it was just really natural.