Listen to Thenewno2 — pronounced, "The New Number Two" — and you'll hear a bluesy electro rock that is both simplistic and catchy. There's a bit of an English accent in there that you can't quite place — maybe the voice sounds a little familiar, too. Keep listening and you get sucked into the music itself — layered samples and drumbeats and the soothing vocals over the top. It's a bit like a modernized Portishead, perhaps.
If you check out the liner notes, you'll see a familiar name, "Harrison." Yep, as in George. As in The Beatles. But it's not George you're listening to. His son, Dhani, is creating his own footprint on the musical landscape, and if all goes right, you'll hear the music first and put the names together second.
"I'd like it to have the ability for it to be listened to and not just judged as being the son of George Harrison before people get to hear it," Harrison says from his Santa Monica home. "To be able to get people to listen to your music without people having a preconceived idea and being anonymous is exactly what I was trying to do with Thenewno2 -- a faceless entity -- rather than 'Dhani Harrison and the somethings.' It doesn't help the listener."
Harrison started Thenewno2 shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, while he was living on Staten Island, N.Y. He had recently graduated from Brown University after studying industrial design and physics. He was working with McLaren, the Formula One team, when the tragic events unfolded.
"My father was ill and you could smell the bodies from the Trade towers still burning," Harrison says. "I just thought about the idea of a company that does design, music and photography and something that -- it's better to get started now because it was depressing and hysterical and wondering about war. I was finishing off a lot of my father's stuff after he died and then we did our own record -- my father left me his studio."
The core of the group, Harrison and a childhood friend, Oliver Hecks, has remained constant though the band's players have changed. Harrison hopes the current touring band will remain intact. The group, after all, is about to embark on its inaugural tour -- though they have played festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza.
"I like to think of Thenewno2 as a company," Harrison says. "I don't limit myself. I try to do whatever I want, but under one canopy as a collective. We kind of incorporate it into everything we do -- all of our artwork, photography and videos are done by us or someone on our team. We like to be control freaks."
The band's name is taken from the English television show, The Prisoner. Harrison says it's one of those shows you'd watch late at night after going out -- when you're lying in bed and can't get to sleep.
"As a metaphor for life, I felt like it really summed up the way that I felt at the time, especially with the Sept. 11 thing," Harrison says of the show. "[The Prisoner] is trying to retain his name and get rid of his number and I was trying to get a number and get rid of my name. Every week it's a faceless entity and every week I could send a new person to a meeting and they could say, 'I'm the new number two.' I saw it as a way of prototyping everything. That way it stays fresh. We don't want to be number one; we just want to be right there and doing the right thing."
Some people may think this is a case of a celebrity's son using his name to get someplace, but Harrison has clearly avoided that as much as he could. As Harrison puts it, your name can get your foot into the door for a meeting, but once you're inside, you need to do something to stay there.
"I've made music on my own my whole life," he says. "I played a bunch of stuff with my father -- I appeared on numerous things of his under different names, sort of to not be noticed. I played on a lot of different things that he released over the last 20 years. I had a lot of other stuff to get out of my system before I got into music professionally. I always kind of knew I'd end up a musician, but I tried to get some qualifications before I did."
Harrison says his father often told him to avoid the music business completely, but, after all, when do children listen to the advice of their parents? As for his father's influence, a lot of it came from the work they did in the studio together.
"I always loved The Beatles and Floyd and the Stones, but everyone does," Harrison says. "I don't think it's anything special when it comes to an influence. I think it's more of the way we played a lot together and the instruments he showed me and techniques of recording and the way that we sing. We're similar people. It's kind of a family business, I guess."
Harrison describes his music as having a lot of influence from '90s grunge, but also a heavy influx of the sound of Bristol -- Massive Attack, Portishead, Prodigy and Tricky.
The group plans to head back into the studio after the tour and offer fans a glimpse into the process. They're launching a new Web site that will be a community -- "sort of a Facebook meets iChat, in coordination with Stickam." They'll have video inside the studio and notify fans when there's a live rehearsal or something else happening.
"I'm sure part of the writing process will be available for everyone to see on the Internet," Harrison says. "When the site comes out, you can get your profile and it's a way to stay up to date for everything. We played a few shows last year -- 700 people in the club and 30,000 people watching on the Internet. For bands that haven't toured much, it's a way you can reach a wider audience.
"It's very Newno2. I always like doing things first -- especially when they're good ideas. If they're bad ideas, I prefer to do them second. Hopefully, this won't be one of those ..."
Thenewno2, along with Heartless Bastards, will open for Wolfmother at The Fillmore Charlotte at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 on the day of the show. Four-pack tickets are available for $14.25 each.