Many parents are filled with pride when their children go to college. But not, apparently, George Harrison, who seemed to find the idea of his son earning a degree in industrial design and physics at Brown University to be less than fab.
“My father always wanted me to drop out, or maybe he was just joking,” recalled Dhani, 39, who performs Monday at the Belly Up in support of “In//Parallel,” his arresting debut solo album. “Whatever he thought, I needed to get my degree.”
That was in 2001, a decade after Dhani made his concert debut playing guitar alongside his dad and Eric Clapton for an audience of 45,000 in Japan’s Tokyo Dome.
But Dhani — who was 6 when he began drumming on the set Ringo Starr gave him, then switched to guitar at 9 — was in no rush to start a music career after college. Instead, he worked as a race car designer for a Formula 1 team (racing being a passion Dhani’s famous father shared).
It was only after his after his dad died at the age of 58 in late 2001 that Dhani turned to music as more than an avid hobby. He and ELO leader Jeff Lynne — a bandmate of the elder Harrison in the Traveling Wilburys — oversaw the completion of 2002’s “Brainwashed,” the posthumously released final album of new music by George. The same year saw Dhani act as a driving force in the all-star “Concert for George” tribute show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Together with Paul Hicks, his partner in thenewo2 — which is both their band and their multimedia company — he oversaw the re-mastering and release of all of his dad’s solo albums. Dhani did the same with “The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1” and all of the albums that Indian music giant (and former San Diegan) Ravi Shankar made for George’s record label, Dark Horse. Dhani has released three albums with thenewo2 and scored the music for a variety of films and TV shows. Now, with his 40th birthday looming next year, he’s on tour to support his first solo album. Ten songs strong, “In//Parallel” is a lovingly crafted work that is simultaneously inviting and disorienting, as befits an album that draws from both psychedelia and trip-hop.
Yet, while “In//Parallel” may seem long overdue, Dhani believes it is perfectly timed.
“Creatively, I’ve worked tirelessly on my dad’s catalog, so I think I really wanted to get all my ducks in row with thenewno2 and his catalog first,” Dhani said, speaking from his Los Angeles headquarters. “So this is a new chapter for me and it’s quite liberating, to be honest. Because I spent so much time scoring other people’s films, I really approached this album very much like a soundtrack. “Not having to have to do new edits everyday — and not having to do another episode next week or corrections for the producer — its like having all your homework done and having fun after school!”
Dhani laughed when asked how much of an adjustment it is to go from being a member of thenewo2 to being billed as a solo artist under his own name.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me in terms of press and being on stage, because it’s very similar. The only thing I find weird is when people ask: ‘What band are you in? And then you have to say your name!’ ”
He laughed again when asked if he rebelled as a teenager — and how, exactly, would the son of a rock and roll icon rebel?
“My parents were pretty cool,” Dhani replied. “I never needed to get negative attention, as some kids do, and I always did very well in school. But I definitely spent a lot of time — I don’t know if you’d call it rebelling — but doing amateur sports, like rowing. “I was on the Great Britain rowing squad. For years, I’d get up early and go to the river to row. I think my parents always wondered why I did that! It was more about proving something to myself. Because you don’t get in a squad like that based on your name. It was hard to do and it was a hard-working squad.”
Because he was in no rush to finish his first solo album, Dhani spent an extended period of time working on it. While his musical influences are apparent — Radiohead, Can, Massive Attack, Peter Gabriel, The Beatles at their most heady — so is his ability to mix, match and craft something distinctive of his own.
“It took a really long time and it was a labor of love that I had to do,” he said. “I always wanted my first solo record under my name to be something really well thought out. … It’s like whittling. You whittle it down and then refine everything… So when it was done, it was exactly the way I wanted it.”
Dhani also got valuable feedback from some of his closest musical friends, most notably Traveling Wilbury alum Tom Petty, who died suddenly on Oct. 2 — just 15 days after performing with The Heartbreakers at KAABOO Del Mar.
“He heard the whole album and he was like the biggest cheerleader,” Dhani said.“He was so into music at any level and he supported young people making music. He was also was like a family member and I’ve known him my whole life. So it’s a tremendous loss and it’s very hard without him.”
Dhani Harrison, with Summer Moon (featuring Stephen Perkins) and Mereki
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Belly Up, 143 South Cedros Ave., Solana Beach
Tickets: $18 (must be 21 or older to attend)