We spoke with Dhani Harrison about his childhood in J.R.R. Tolkien country, feeling inner peace from seascape paintings, playing with the Traveling Wilburys as an eight-year-old and the tragic loss of a dear friend.
As you change, so does the very nature of the world because it’s really to do with how you’re integrating into it. You create the kind of reality that you want to go on.
As a child, did you ever create your own fictional or imaginative history of the world and the universe? Regardless of that, did you have your own understanding of a spiritual reality of how we came to be?
I grew up in the English countryside as an only child, so I was very connected with nature. My opinion of the world was informed by what we’re taught. I don’t think my opinion is necessarily the same now. I mean, I studied physics at university and had a lot of experience with different physical principles, but I think it’s more of a perception-based thing, to be honest. As you change, so does the very nature of the world because it’s really to do with how you’re integrating into it. You create the kind of reality that you want to go on.
His name was Woody Guthrie, after the great Woody Guthrie! He was a very interesting creature. I don’t think I’ve ever been so close with any other creature. You know, everyone has one dog or one cat or something in their life, but we were almost inseparable. He worked with me and sat next to me every single day while I would work, you know? He would sit at my feet. We were very, very close. Just a very noble guy and very intelligent.
That was a relationship of pure, unconditional love. I definitely miss that since I’ve lost him, every day at work when I don’t have a little wonderful creature that’s my buddy. If you haven’t had that, I highly recommend it. Having a little mini-wolf following me around was a really fun way to live.
I was expecting something kind of sparse with this new music, but it’s incredibly dense and layered, full of glorious sound! Are you attracted to art that feels kind of grand and colossal? What’s larger-than-life to you in the world?
That’s an interesting question. I’m a huge fan of art that actually has a message, you know? I really enjoy the work of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and D*Face. But I’m also into looking at seascapes, you know? They’re calm and peaceful to me. I spent a lot of time around artists and sculptors; my degree is in fine art as well. But I don’t really like that much grandiose stuff. I think I’m good without the gigantic sculptures, babies and things. Not that that’s not great art, I’m just saying in my world, something big should build up from something small.
I’m a huge fan of Nicholas Roerich, the painter. He did these sort of Tibetan mountain oil paintings if you haven’t seen him. It’s more like hillsides and seascapes. Again, the nature. I like being in the nature, so that’s why I’m more of a fan of natural landscapes.
Do you remember any specific locations where you liked to play as a child or where you felt most at peace?
Just definitely out in the woods. I come from a very Riverland-y part of England and we have great, beautiful rivers to be out on. It’s from where everything from Alice in Wonderland to The Wind in the Willows to The Lord of the Rings was influenced; all that stuff was written out there. The Shire is kind of based on that part, the characters from Alice in Wonderland are very local people that pop up. It’s very “storybook” where I come from. It’s a wonderful place to grow up. It’s one of the most beautiful places in England between London and Oxford.
I had a lovely dream that I was up a tower and I had these little miniature parrots. They were all about an inch tall and they were sitting on my shoulders, singing a song.
Would that be Friar Park or its surrounding area you’re referring to?
Yeah, well, just the whole countryside where Friar Park is. I mean, Friar Park is incredible, but I’m talking about the countryside around there, from Oxford all the way to Reading (where the festival is, kind of) and then back over to Edmonton. And then I spent a lot of time in Hawaii growing up, in the jungle. So again, I like forests. That’s my thing. I like having trees around.
Can you describe your last dream that you remember, in as much detail as possible?
I had a lovely dream that I was up a tower and I had these little miniature parrots. They were all about an inch tall and they were sitting on my shoulders, singing a song. And then I let them out the window.
Returning back to Tolkien and Carroll, are you a fan of high fantasy, science fiction or medieval history? Do you ever yearn for a world fought for by sword, on horseback, for the good of a kingdom?
I wouldn’t want to be living in those times. It seems more romantic or more honorable, but it’s very muddy growing up in the countryside! I don’t imagine the mess you’d get into living in those times. I think being out in the forest where I grew up is a good, clean kind of mind-space. It’s very healthy. Good for you. Good dirt.
It feels like a million years since I lost my dad. Time is a very funny thing. It’s just something that we made up.
Let’s talk about modern history from there. One of the most fascinating things about the latest American election cycle was kind of how the flotsam of Internet culture rose to the surface. Some say that our election was affected just as much by so-called bots and “fake news” than what you’d generally expect to influence the democratic process. Do you think we’re collectively being sunk by falsehood and misinformation?
Yes, completely. If anyone actually knows what’s going on then that’s no good to them, is it? The best way to keep people guessing is by destabilizing information. Clearly, that’s what happened in Russia with the tactics they used. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the BBC documentary by Adam Curtis, HyperNormalisation? There’s a spot in that about destabilization. It’s just clear that if people don’t know what’s going on and they can’t trust any news sources, they can be kept in the dark. I guess that’s the way it went after Vietnam. That war was lost in the press. We don’t do that anymore because we’ve started to see what happens.
Speaking of your childhood earlier, I’ve seen some of the home footage taken of the Traveling Wilburys’ recording sessions and was very struck by it. It was jarring to see a bunch of people that most would call music legends kind of hanging around a coffee table strumming acoustic guitars, like any collection of old buddies. Could you describe your experience performing with the Wilburys when you were very young?
I got to play with them when they did the overdubs for the first record, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. They did those and the final mix at Friar Park in a studio below my bedroom. So I would come downstairs every day, go to school, come back, go to bed, up again, and it was always going on and on and on.
One night, my dad wanted me to do a vocal part on the track “Margarita.” That was the first bit I’d done with the Wilburys. And then I just handled things here and there, turning the tape off, assisting. You know, I was just a kid.
When they did Wilburys Vol. 3, I had a bedroom again that was above the studio and all day and night I’d hear Wilburys stuff. On that record, I played a lot more stuff. Working with Jeff [Lynne] and Tom [Petty] over the years… it was the Heartbreakers and Wilburys together, really. There was a lot of Heartbreakers sound going into the Wilburys.
Those guys were amazing to watch. Very, very normal people, and yet very funny. There was a lot of laughing. And very different, all the people in the group.
I’m so sorry to hear about Tom. What a blow that must have been, to yourself and everybody else’s lives he touched. It’s really great that you got to have a special relationship with him.
He was a great guy. Jeff and I, we’re so close. It’s been so great having them. The Heartbreakers are all very close. Good group of guys, you know? Excellent people. I see Benmont [Tench] quite a lot and I saw Scott [Thurston] the other day. They’re all hanging in there. It’s been one week, and these things take time. It’s been sixteen years for me, this year, for my dad. Healing takes time. It’s as simple as that.
Absolutely. I recently lost my father a few months ago. We were very, very close. I was wondering, from your experience, what it was like as it turned into a decade and a half without your dad, or even in the first weeks since losing Tom. How have you processed loss in your experience?
I’m terribly sorry. It’s different every time, you know. It forms you. It’s like, the fire that you’re in makes you harder. You’re being tempered with pain and with loss and separation and all these things. It forges you into who you are. It can feel like it was yesterday or, at the same time, it can feel like it was a different lifetime ago when you had these people. It changes and evolves. Sometimes you feel really good about it, sometimes you get 10 years in and you’re like “This is worse than when it first started!” It evolves, and you learn from it. It forms who you are.
It feels like a million years since I lost my dad. Time is a very funny thing. It’s just something that we made up. The heart processes at different speeds, I guess.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: October 13, 2017
Total questions: 11
Word count: 1626
Reading time: Six minutes
Honorary Wilbury: Age 8
Adam Curtis, art, Banksy, BBC, Benmont Tench, countryside, D*Face, Dhani Harrison, dirt, dog, England, forest, Friar Park, HyperNormalisation, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jeff Lynne, Kenneth Grahame, loss, mountain, Nicholas Roerich, parrots, reality, Scott Thurston, sculpture, separation, Shepard Fairey, The Lord of the Rings, The Shire, The Wind in the Willows, Tom Petty, Traveling Wilburys, Woody Guthrie
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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