Get Dhani Harrison talking about thenewno2 — the musical collective he founded in 2006 that includes his long-time childhood friends, Paul Hicks and Nick Fyffe, plus American musicians Jonathan Sadoff, Jeremy Faccone, and Frank Zummo — and he’s off, weaving an elaborate story about how thenewno2 came to be, what it’s about, and why it works. “It feels more like a gang than a band,” he says.
The only thing that gets Harrison as excited is talking about “FOMO,” or “the fear of missing out” — the title and driving concept behind thenewno2’s upcoming album, which will be released on Hot Records Ltd. on July 31st. “We were out at a restaurant while on tour and the menu had all these different amazing things you could order,” Harrison recalls. “It said, ‘If you suffer from FOMO, try ordering the sampler platter, which gives you one of each thing.’ Then at the bottom it said, ‘FOMO = The Fear Of Missing Out.’ I was like, ‘FOMO. What a brilliant concept.’”
To Harrison, everything in life boils down to FOMO. “Everyone suffers from it in a different way,” he says. “We all have a fear of missing out on something. So when I sat down to write songs with Jonathan and Jeremy, we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do a record where every song is a different type of FOMO?’ We set out to identify every different type of FOMO as a way to deal with it, because it can lead to a lot of anxiety and despair.”
The result is an album with a multitude of themes, including avoiding change (“Station,” “Hanging On”), the disorientation of global travel (“Wide Awake,” “Timezone”), and of course fear: Fear of a day where everything goes wrong that could go wrong (“Hanging On”), fear of the consequences of not showing up at the right party (“I Won’t Go”), fear of not getting anything done (“thewaitaround”), fear of letting a relationship go, whether it’s a friend (“Make It Home”) or a lover (“Staring Out To Sea,” “The Number”). To Harrison, the songwriting process, which began right after thenewno2 released its debut album, You Are Here, in 2008, felt like therapy. “It’s a heavy album,” he says, “but I felt a lot lighter when we’d finished it.”
To conjure the spooky, ominous vibe that the themes called for (“that feeling when you’re up all night freaking out about something and the sun comes up and you realize everything’s going to be okay,” as Harrison puts it), the band members employed a combination of live and programmed instruments and obscure samples to create an intricate collage of hip-hop, trip-hop, blues, dub, reggae, and electronica that Harrison alternately refers to as “grunge ‘n’ bass” or “Hawaiian dub-hop” depending on his mood.
“Everyone in the band is a hard-core studio rat,” he says. “So we played around with all kinds of guitar effects, synthesizers, squelchy little groove boxes, crazy backwards vocals, weird grunge bass-y sounds, and different dub-step snares and kicks,” he says. “Plus, I love to sample the shit out of everything, like that crazy Cat Massage Lady,” he says referring to a much-viewed YouTube clip of a woman who croons “Who’s the best cat in the United States? It’s you Champer Damper!” while massaging her feline’s head. A manipulated version of that sample kicks off the album’s first track “Station.” Additional sonic textures are provided by guest vocalists RZA and The Black Knights, Thorunn Magnusottir (Fields), and Holly Marilyn (The Child), and lap-steel guitarist Ben Harper.
While Harrison made You Are Here largely on his own, he needed a band to perform it live when it was time to tour in 2008, which is how the current line-up — Grammy Award-winning mixer/engineer Hicks, accomplished composer Sadoff, former Jamiroquai/Hard-Fi bassist Fyffe, seasoned guitarist Faccone, and Street Drum Corps drummer Zummo — came to be. They have now played together for a few years, made a well-received Lollapalooza appearance, performed with Perry Farrell and Pearl Jam, and, in 2011, released a four-song EP002, featuring Regina Spektor, Sir Eyes, Crisis, and RZA. But thefearofmissingout is the first album they have made as an official band.
Harrison wrote the songs either alone or with Sadoff and Faccone, then Fyffe and Zummo came in and “we all put together the bones,” he says. “They helped make it more accessible,” Harrison says. “If it had been left to Paul and I, the record would have been a bunch of bleeps and bloops.” Thefearofmissingout was recorded at H.O.T. West in Santa Monica, Calif., and produced by Harrison and Hicks, under their pHd moniker, at F.P.S.H.O.T. in England. “We spent six months sitting in a room together playing bleeps and going, ‘That’s not the right kind of bleep,’” Harrison says of he and Hicks, whom he has known since they were both 11. The album’s cover was designed by noted London street artist Ben Eine.
“Thenewno2 feels like a band now,” Harrison says. “Everyone is so good at what they do that I don’t have to worry about anything anymore. Shit is handled. If you told us we had to hit the road next week and perform a bunch of Frank Zappa or Pink Floyd covers, I wouldn’t be worried. Because these guys are that mental. They just go in and break it down. It’s made my job a lot easier. It allows me to be myself.”