This year has been monumental for the London–based indie band thenewno2 (pronounced “the new number two”). Fronted by Dhani Harrison, the son of George Harrison, thenewno2 played well–reviewed gigs at Coachella and Lollapalooza, and in February appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Formed in 2006 by Harrison and friend Oliver Hecks, the band released its first full–length album You are Here in August 2008. Thenewno2 is currently on its first full North American tour with the Heartless Bastards and Wolfmother. All five band members talked to the Maroon backstage at the Riviera Theater on November 13 before the show, where the conversation ranged from the Wu Tang Clan to getting beer bottles in the face.
CHICAGO MAROON: Thenewno2 has been described as having an ever–changing lineup. When the band started out, there were just two of you, and now it has expanded into five members with a few lineup changes for the tour. Could you explain the motivation behind this?
Dhani Harrison (Lead Vocals, Guitar): I think that the whole concept behind thenewno2 has been something like Massive Attack or Wu Tang Clan where you have a key element, which has been me. I like to produce and I like to write. We have had some of the finest, and we will have some more of the finest, musicians I’ve ever known just swinging by. Hopefully we can compound the ones we have into a permanent, always–around band. This is the most heaviest, most professional version of thenewno2 that has been fielded so far. I like bringing old people back and bringing new people in so it’s always going to be like that. It is like the 15 MCs of the Wu Tang.
CM: I would say the band’s sound has evolved between You are Here and your performance at Lollapalooza in August. How would you explain that change?
Nick Fyffe (Bass Guitar): I was shipped out literally across the seas in my pirate ship to be here for this particular tour. I was fortunate enough to record the album with Dhani a while back and then got the carrier pigeon to come over and join this tour. From what I hear, because I never had heard the band before, it’s gotten a little heavier.
Fran Zummo (Drums): Basically we added energy. We played our first gig together like two weeks ago; Nick and I. Nick and I can morph into each other.
CM: The band started in London then moved its base to L.A., how have the two cities mixed and influenced your sound?
DH: Rain influences music a lot. We got rained on a lot before this record got made, which is why I think it has some darkness going on in there. But traffic can make you angry too. If you want to make apocalyptic music about how the world is going to end from a giant catastrophe of traffic, L.A. is a pretty good place to see that happening. But it is also good because it is 75 degrees and sunny everyday so you can’t get too bummed out. So I think L.A. is going to be the place to make the next record.
CM: This is your first full North American tour. How has it been seeing your fans and playing to large club audiences?
Jon Sadoff (Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals): I think it’s always a trip when you get to a city you’ve never been before and people know your name, have your record, and wear your t–shirts. It’s pretty awesome. But I think a lot of people have no idea who we are. So we’ve been going out and assuming we have to prove ourselves to like 98 percent of the crowd every night.
Jeremy Faccone (Guitar, Vocals): We’re getting a lot of surprised faces with wide eyes. It’s better than a beer bottle in the face, that’s for sure.
JS: The response has been amazing. The crowds have been incredible. A couple thousand people in Toronto¬–huge crowds.
FZ: When you open one time out of three, there’s going to be issues with traffic and people getting out of work but every night the place is half packed. We make a pact to kill every night and give it a 1000 percent. We got to earn it, this is new to everybody and you’ve got to make a good impression.
CM: Have you been recording on tour?
JS: We brought a lot of recording equipment on tour with us. We’ve been doing a little bit of writing. Bits and pieces here and there. Everyone had ideas. I think we’ve got 10 songs already and we’ll probably write about another 10 or 20, 30 more. We built these studios and are now under one roof. Jeremy has got his guitar set up. Dhani has got his studio set up. Our website is connected to our studio. We can flip a camera on, alert our fans via Twitter and tell them if they want to hear a new thenewno2 song, sign in. All our studios are wired together so we can play and hit record.
DH: It’s going to be good once we’ve gotten all our songs recorded and we go back at the end of the tour. It’ll be really happening.
CM: Lastly, who’s your biggest influence musically?
NF: Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Bob Marley
JF: Massive Attack, Bjork, Station
JS: Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Beatles
FZ: Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, James Brown
DH: Tricky, Chief Kamachi, Wu Tang Clan