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A Rock Royal Finds Himself In The Digital Age

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A Rock Royal Finds Himself In The Digital Age

A Rock Royal Finds Himself In The Digital Age

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(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DHANI HARRISON (Lead Singer, thenewno2): (Singing) You got away, got away for sure, you got away for sure, you got away for sure.

GUY RAZ, host:

That is Dhani Harrison on lead vocals with his band, thenewno2. He was on track to become a race car designer before his father's death in 2001. But when Dhani stepped in to help finish his dad's posthumous album, "Brainwashed," the life of a musician seemed like the way to go.

Dhani Harrison took an unorthodox route to making and distributing his music. He quietly built a solid and loyal following online and started releasing his music through iTunes and the video game, Rock Band.

Dhani Harrison looks exactly like his famous father, circa 1967 - the hollow cheeks, wisps of facial hair, deep brown eyes - but his sound is completely different. But back to why he chose the name thenewno2 for his band, it's a reference to the character from the British TV series, "The Prisoner."

Mr. HARRISON: I was looking for a name for a band that was, you know, faceless or

RAZ: Faceless in the sense because you thought, you know, otherwise people would

Mr. HARRISON: Just as a way of people being able to see the work that we were doing for what it was before they realized that there was any sort of attachment to any Beatles stigma or whatever you want to call it. Just as a way of getting the art scene without having to, you know, fess up instantly.

RAZ: Now, you're out touring this record in the U.S. And I want to ask about a song on the album, it's called "Back to You." And I think I imagine it has an interesting story behind it. It begins with clips from television newscasts.

(Soundbite of song, "Back to You")

Mr. JAMES MENENDEZ (Reporter, BBC News): With images of the bombings still so fresh in people's minds

Mr. HARRISON: This sound pull came from, I think it was a James Menendez, BBC news report that I'd recorded about the 7/7 bombings that had happened in

RAZ: In London.

Mr. HARRISON: in London.

RAZ: And then you sort of include this lyric: No progression from the situation, just oceans of misinformation.

Mr. HARRISON: Well, I think after September 11, there is so much information that everyone's been talking about. You know, there's too much being blasted at you and Twittered at you and texted at you. And, you know, I know a lot of people who just get anxiety even watching the news on their phone or anything these days. Hundreds of spam emails - and to find actually what is going on is all subjected to the opinion of whoever's telling it - you know, who wins that war and tells the story.

(Soundbite of song, "Back to You")

Mr. HARRISON: (Singing) Gonna bring it back to you, I never turned my back to you. I remember what you said and what I promised you. Took a while to learn what's true, always learning something new. I believed that I've been called, from my (unintelligible) immoral attitude.

RAZ: I wanted to ask you about the system, the approach you have taken to putting out this record is not based on a traditional way of releasing music.

Mr. HARRISON: It's true. I was fortunate enough to inherit my father's studio when he died. So, before I was lucky enough to find my band mates, I had already known how to use a studio and make a record.

RAZ: I mean, you wrote a lot of this record literally on your computer, right?

Mr. HARRISON: Oh yeah, just by myself on my laptop, yeah.

RAZ: And, you know, it's a lot better for those who don't necessarily fit into the pigeonhole that is the conventional record industry, which has seemingly collapsed on itself anyway. Being fortunate enough to have been in the position where I already had the studio, I was free enough to be able to do it the other way.

Thenewno2 is a nice little prototype band really and it's a good way of demoing different systems so that if anything does work we'll help the new model or at least shame the old one.

(Soundbite of song, "Idle Lover")

Mr. HARRISON: (Singing) Do you ever wonder about the way? Two paths to take, you can choose either.

Weve just launched a Web site the other day that's we teamed up with a Japanese company called Stick Camp(ph), and it's sort of free events, pay-per-view events, all different types of things, access to the band, and it can be used through your mobile phones. So, we can take our phones with us on the road and broadcast from the bus, or we can just play live from a venue that has the uplink and all you need is a laptop, and anyone in the world can join and interact.

RAZ: Dhani Harrison, you don't sound like the lead singer of a band, you sound more like the head of a digital media conglomerate, you know?

Mr. HARRISON: I've been trying, I've been trying. You know, sometimes I suddenly realize that in order to do what I wanted to do, I had to become that which I hated, which is the head of a record company or a digital media conglomerate, and then just do whatever you want.

(Soundbite of song, "So Vain")

Mr. HARRISON: (Singing) Electric frenzy flash at me. Chime in key to the music on my screen.

RAZ: My guest is Dhani Harrison. He is the man behind the band, thenewno2. He's also the son of George Harrison, of course, one of the great songwriters of all time.

Did you sort of pick up on the way that he thought about writing music?

Mr. HARRISON: He really never - I think part of his whole thing was to really never enforce, inflict any opinion on me other than, you know, the important stuff - of spirituality and self-realization and, you know, working out who you are, where am I going, what am I doing, who am I? You know, those were the important issues.

And he never really taught me how to play guitar. He just let me go and never really taught me how to write a song, but I was always there with him. And I think there's no way teaching someone how to do these sort of things. It's just - if, you know, if you're fortunate enough to be headed down that path, then you've got to find your own way. And

RAZ: Is that what he would say to you?

Mr. HARRISON: No. He'd say to me, never be famous and don't play music. But, you know, I didn't listen to that one.

RAZ: Yeah. I'm curious to hear the story about your involvement in the video game Rock Band. They put out a version called The Beatles Rock Band.

Mr. HARRISON: The quick story is I released a few tracks for thenewno2

RAZ: Through this video game.

Mr. HARRISON: through this video game, and again, my prototype sort of system for the whole thing. And I realized that it was a really great way of reaching people, you know?

RAZ: And you said, weve got to get a Beatles version.

Mr. HARRISON: We've got to do this and we got some demo levels made quickly, I used some files of my father's solo records. As soon as they saw the game functioning, it was all agreed on.

RAZ: Did you have to get agreement or buy-in from Paul McCartney, for example?

Mr. HARRISON: From everyone. Had a few demos of "Abbey Road," and then I think that Paul and Ringo saw it at their own houses. People had come and shown them and set up systems. And Yoko saw it in New York, and I had already shown my mother. So yeah, once we got that, it was very easy for them to agree on it.

RAZ: You said your dad told you don't be famous and don't become a musician.

Mr. HARRISON: I mean, not don't become a musician. I think he was just joking when he said that one. But the don't be famous thing is, I dont know. The way I always saw it was that he could say that. But being already born his son has already kind of ruined that one for me anyway because people, you know, the English press or whatever, they're always interested. And I think being famous for having done nothing, that's what you want to avoid.

RAZ: Dhani Harrison fronts the band thenewno2. Their latest recording is called "You Are Here." Dhani Harrison, thanks so much for coming in.

Mr. HARRISON: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of song, "Another John Doe")

Mr. HARRISON: (Singing) Another John Doe and another place to play in

RAZ: Thenewno2 plays tonight in Minneapolis and Monday in Denver. To hear full tracks from the band and other new artists, check out NPRMusic.org.

For today, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz. From all of us, have a great evening.

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