Search The Line of Best Fit
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Dhani Harrison Press Photo Josh Giroux47
Nine Songs
Dhani Harrison

Ahead of the release of his new record, INNERSTANDING, the songwriter and composer Dhani Harrison talks Christina Almeida through the seminal songs in his life and music career, taking in traces of 1997, Blur, Blade Runner and Bristol.

20 October 2023, 10:00 | Words by Christina Almeida

Dhani Harrison moves forward at one with himself, his life and the music he creates.

The GRAMMY Award-winning musician and composer threads lightly: sonic memories are within reach as he talks about the pivotal songs that have shaped his life or the sound of his forthcoming album. The two elements are closely intertwined.

Harrison’s creative process isn’t built from an impending sense of nostalgia, but rather one of retrieving the past to re-signify the present and project possible futures. A future that arrives now, with his first solo album in six years, INNERSTANDING, released today on streaming platforms. “Here we are in a new world and here is the new album that has come forth from it”, is how he defines it.

INNERSTANDING was born with nothing but beats and a swift question on his mind – ‘What will make me want to move?’ Harrison’s Nine Songs selections take a guess: trip hop, Bristol, 1997 – Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky.

These are some of reference points he weaves together, and more than that, it was a movement that changed everything for him. “From that music to mine, the difference is that I like to add a bit more of guitar; mine has more guitar-based stuff in it, but that is it.”

INNERSTANDING features guest appearances from Harrison's wider musical family. Blur’s Graham Coxon lends his signature guitar playing on four songs, as well as saxophone on “Damn That Frequency”, Liela Moss from The Duke Spirit, Australian singer Mereki, and his old bandmate from Thenewno2, the award-winning producer Paul Hicks.

Harrison has been a dynamic presence in the music industry, moving from scoring film and TV projects to collaborating with an array of artists, including Wu-Tang Clan, Annie Lennox, Pearl Jam, Prince, Regina Spektor. “I started to play guitar when I was probably around eight or nine, and I was in a few little bands, but nothing really big. When you’re me, you just don’t really get to go and play a concert, because everyone’s looking.”

Physical appearance aside, it’s easy to forget he’s George Harrison’s son as soon as he starts to speak. He owns his history and music talent, and since his 2013 debut as a composer on Richard LaGravenese’s Beautiful Creatures, he’s gone on to score the Sundance Award-winning MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A., for which he and Hicks received an International Documentary Association (IDA) Award nomination for “Best Music Score.”

That’s not to say there’s not an enjoyment in asking if his parents were OK with him loving Wu-Tang Clan as a young boy, and hearing back the sweetest story about Bob Dylan easing George Harrison into hip hop, when he insisted on wearing a backward hat for a Traveling Wilburys recording session, because rappers were the only artists “saying anything”.

Dhani Harrison is an artist who doesn't fit neatly into a single category. With each step of his musical career, he continues to explore new musical ideas and being true to himself. Each time he creates something new, performs, or collaborates, it’s an invitation for an unique musical journey.

"The record is about self-discovery, self-love, self-healing," Harrison states. "You can’t be loved until you learn to love yourself. You can’t help others until you learn to help yourself. It’s an introspective trip from where I was, to where I am now. I had things happen during recording that changed my perspective on everything."

“Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael

It's obviously one of the greatest songs ever written. My father was obsessed with Hoagy Carmichael, my mother too, and this song was actually their special song; the one that they both loved the most together.

Hoagy was played continuously in the house when I was growing up. So was anyone involved with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra really, which at some point had people like Django Reinhardt, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman… It was a very, very incredible band; Hoagy played piano and sang.

My mother once gave me a Lichtenstein print called Reverie, where there's a girl singing, and in the speech bubble behind her, it says, 'The melody haunts my reverie' which is a line from “Stardust.” It stayed on my wall for years.

I chose these Nine Songs, thinking about tracks I can always come back to, listen to, and never get sick of. They are classics in whatever genre they are, and each of them will always take me back to a particular place in my life. Hoagy Carmichael reminds me of being around the fireplace at home with my parents when I was young. It's just one of these songs that brings me comfort; it's just beautiful.

My mother and father had a jukebox; this song was number 7806 in the jukebox. Don't quote me on that! But, yes, I think it was 7806.

“Over (Roseland NYC)” by Portishead

In Beth Gibbons’s lyrics there is this creeping sense that something has gone desperately wrong somewhere else, and it's about to happen here. There’s uncertainty, there’s poison – it’s a bit like when you’re in a nightmare, and you feel that creeping fear.

“Over” is the perfect example of that; the chorus is even “This uncertainty is taking me over.” I think everyone feels unsure about themselves in a certain way, and she really hits that feeling in her music; the fragility in her voice, next to that whole James Bond, John Barry Orchestra kind of production, which sounds so familiar. The bass is played on this Gibson EB, which is the same bass that they used on all those famous James Bond tracks.

Gibbons is one my favourite vocalists of all time and Portishead are probably my favorite too – I think they're a genius band. “Over” feels like the encapsulation of all she poured on Portishead in one song.

“Black Milk” by Massive Attack

“Black Milk” is one of those songs that I would just leave on repeat; I think I've listened to probably more than anything else. One thing I love about this song is that the bassline doesn't change the entire way through the song. It just plays the same baseline and it's all within the root of the note.

It's the same as in “Teardrop”, which people seem to notice more. Liz Fraser’s voice on this record is just mind bending – and Mezzanine is one of the most incredible albums ever.

I remember when “Unfinished Sympathy” came out, it was at the time of the first Gulf War. Massive Attack had just released their record and were asked to change their name for Massive, because ‘massive attack’ was a term being used by the BBC and the national press. I've got a CD version of ‘Blue Lines’ that just says Massive. Then later they were allowed to print their name again, this was only for a month or something.

Funnily enough, today I'm wearing a Massive Attack sweater that I got at this show where they did the Mezzanine anniversary with Adam Curtis, the incredible videographer and documentarian. There’s a quote on the front of it that says “Conspiracies are a conspiracy” and continues at the back, “To make you feel powerless.”

“Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” by Wu Tang Clan

“Da Mystery Of Chessboxin'” is not necessarily my favorite Wu-Tang song, but I listened to it more than any other because of this verse from Ol' Dirty Bastard, “Here I go, deep type flow / Jacques Cousteau could never get this low."

A lot of rap groups were rapping about money, women, cars, bullshit, and fame, all these materialistic things, and then you get ODB rapping about Jacques Cousteau! He's some guy from Staten Island, rapping about a French marine biologist, like the godfather of marine biology. I thought that was so cool. It's not what you'd expect in this context, but at the same time, it's classic ODB.

“Da Mystery” was the first time I encountered his flow, and it was the first time something had been defined as raw for me, you know? And I got it, and I appreciated it.

My dad didn't really like rap music. But then I remember when he was doing the Traveling Wilburys, Bob Dylan used to like wearing his hat backwards, and my dad would be like, ‘Why? Why are you wearing your hat back?’ Until Dylan answered, ‘Because that's what rappers do, and they are the only ones saying anything!’ Bob Dylan was listening to NWA, Public Enemy.

Since then, my dad had more respect for it and left it alone. Later in life, RZA became a dear friend, and I think my dad would have gotten on really well with him. They're both very respectful people who embrace all cultures and are well versed in different forms of spirituality. They would have had a really good conversation.

“Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix

The first time I heard this song might have even been in the film Withnail and I, which my dad produced. It's a cult classic English film starring Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann.

It's about two out-of-work actors who are living in Camden Town in 1969, and there's a scene where one of them's driving, trying to get the other one back for an audition. He's drunk, he's on the motorway, he's driving terribly, but there's no one on the road, and it's the ‘60s.

The scene opens with the guy who has the driving license lying in the backseat because he's fallen asleep from exhaustion, and the guy who doesn't have the license is the one drunk driving. The intro is the wah-wah guitar of Jimi Hendrix that breaks into “Voodoo Child”, and you see the car swerving all over the road until Paul McGann says to Richard E. Grant, ‘You're full of scotch, you silly tool!’

It's a very influential song to me – it affected my guitar playing more than anything else. Louder, it made me play louder. Jimi Hendrix is like an alien from another planet; his rules are entirely different. It was just raw channeling rather than practicing scales and shredding.

I was always more of a Hendrix and less of a Van Halen fan, because I always felt it was coming out of his soul rather than something that was practiced.

“Blade Runner Blues” by Vangelis

I was obsessed with Metalheadz, Goldie's record label in London, and many artists were heavily influenced by the Blade Runner soundtrack. Drum'n'bass, jungle, dance: this is a seminal track to them. It inspired the sound of many songs, and at the same time, it was also very sampled.

It's also the perfect soundtrack for a perfect movie. This was one of the most inspirational things when I worked as a movie composer later on in my life. It doesn't get better than this, you know, it doesn't get better than Vangelis' Chariots of Fire or “Blade Runner Blues”; it just doesn't.

Whenever it comes on, I'm just like, ‘Yes!’ This is my favorite point in the score. You couldn't make a better soundtrack for Blade Runner than this one.

“Open Up” by Leftfield

I'm not really into house music, and this is one of the first times that I ever got into it because Leftfield were very intelligent about how they did it. There's actually something very Blade Runner about it. To have Sex Pistols' John Lydon as a guest vocal is a crossover of genres that I'd never seen or heard before.

I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles driving through Hollywood listening to it, thinking that no one in the city was probably listening to that track. Leftism was such an underground English album. It still stands as one of the best electronic music records that has ever been made.

I'm a huge fan of Leftfield, but that first record particularly has got to be one of my top records, because when you can play it on from start to finish, there’s so much to it. They sampled things like a Bulgarian ladies choir, native flutes, Indian instruments… it had like a world music vibe, at the same time it had Lydon.

It's quite a heady concept for what the rest of the people that were making music like that at the time were doing. Leftfield, The Prodigy and Chemical were constantly pushing it forward.

“Death Of A Party” by Blur

I recently went to see that Blur gig at Wembley and it was one of the best concerts I've ever seen in my entire life. Honestly, top three concert of all time. It was just hit after hit, after hit after, no production, no bullshit, just Blur being Blur. It was the happiest I've ever seen England!

“Death of a Party” is the perfect example of Damon bringing this fairground organ, carousel music and Graham the dirty, raw guitar. It's a brilliant contrast between beautiful vocals, beautiful backing vocals and this acid meltdown in a messed-up, crunchy guitar. I had never heard that sound from a band before.

I had the pleasure of playing with Graham Coxon on this last record, he’s one my favorite guitar players. We did it during lockdown, sneaking in the studio, just us the two of us, when we both had just moved back from Los Angeles. Watching his take on the guitar, watching him play is such a privilege. It’s a huge influence for me.

When I got into Blur, I must have been 13 or 14, it was around the time of Modern Life is Rubbish – a sentiment with which I really concur! At that time there was that thing it was Blur vs. Oasis, but was never a real thing, because there was no comparison. Oasis were great and everything, but Blur is like psychedelic music. That was just some newspaper story that they did to sell.

This song is from another record from 1997, I’m stuck in that year basically! (laughs). I was actually talking about this with some friends and musicians, and we were all commenting on how that was an incredible year for music. Air, Blur, Beck, Radiohead, Portishead, Massive Attack… everyone did the best album in that year.

“Black Steel” by Tricky

Tricky leaves Massive Attack – as if Massive Attack wasn't the coolest thing in the world – and makes Maxinquaye, which is even cooler. That didn’t seem to be possible, but he did it.

“Black Steel” is Tricky and Martina’s cover of “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” by Public Enemy. I already knew that song, but to hear it with this young girl from Bristol - I think she was like 18 or 19 when she did that - rapping and singing the lyrics to “Black Steel” over and over, with that weird production… I became obsessed with it.

I love that kind of dirty, almost hip hop sound mixed with clean sugary, sweet, female vocals. It was hard and dangerous, because they were Public Enemy lyrics, but sung by a young girl from Bristol.

Maxinquaye is another one of those records I just wore out of listening, I bought it so many times. It’s absolutely brilliant. It had “Hell Is Around The Corner”, with lyrics from the previous Massive Attack record, and also that same sample that Portishead used in “Glory Box.”

Two completely different songs that came from the same place (Bristol) and used that same sample, which had obviously gone round, and it was confusing at the time. I remember being a kid and wondering ‘What’s going on, is this the same guy?’, until I realised it was a scene, it was a movement. And it was a movement that changed everything for me; all my music is influenced by that, it’s in everything I do.

INNERSTANDING, is available digitally on 20 October. A Neon Yellow colour vinyl edition is released 9 February 2024 via H.O.T. Records/BMG

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