Interview: Dhani Harrison on Writing the Score for ‘Seattle Road’

Maximillian Roeg and Julia Voth in "Seattle Road"
Maximillian Roeg and Julia Voth in “Seattle Road”

Dhani Harrison, son of the late George Harrison of the Beatles, has become a film composer. As you’ll discover in this interview, his own band has taken a bit of a backseat to his interest in scoring films, which started with a short film and then the feature “Beautiful Creatures” in 2013, followed by some TV music and last year’s “Learning to Drive,” starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley.

Harrison’s latest work is for an indie film called “Seattle Road,” written and directed by Ryan David. The film stars Julia Voth, Maximillian Roeg (the son of actress Theresa Russell and director Nicholas Roeg), and Kelly Lynch.

“Seattle Road” deconstructs a relationship between a couple named Adam and Eve. In the notes about the film, it says, “Exploring the ideas of serendipity and predestination, Adam and Eve are on a romantic collision course that’s part of a larger design – that they’re fated to be partners and to go through stages in their relationship that mirror their archetypal story from Genesis.”

Harrison wrote the movie’s score with his long-time partner and bandmate, Paul Hicks, the son of the Hollies’ Tony Hicks. “Seattle Road” will be available on VOD platforms on June 24, 2016.

Below is an interview with Harrison that was conducted via email.

Did you aspire to score films, or did you simply fall into it when someone asked you to write music for the short in 2002 and the songs for “Beautiful Creatures”?

We were always looking to do soundscapes, and I was looking for syncs. I was always looking to try and compose an original score. “Beautiful Creatures” came off the back of one my albums that was featured on KCRW. We were hired as composers by [music supervisor] Mary Ramos and [music editor] Carlton Kaller, which was great; then, we got to write all of the songs in the movie as well.

I wrote the songs for “Beautiful Creatures” around the time we were creating the original score, which was a big Bernard Herrmann-style orchestral score. [Bernard Herrmann wrote the score for such films as “Citizen Kane” and “Psycho.”]

Maximillian Roeg in "Seattle Road"
Maximillian Roeg in “Seattle Road”

How do you and Paul Hicks work together? Do you collaborate on everything, or do you each work on portions or aspects of the music?

We tend to start off working together to get a vibe, and then we divvy up the soundtrack to see which bits suit him most and which suit me. Sometimes, we swap if they don’t fit, but between us, we usually have everything covered. At the end, I’ll play on Paul’s cues, and he’ll play on mine. We mix and produce them together to make a cohesive sound.

It’s funny how much stuff we work on separately that already works together. We have a similar sensibility, which is why we work quickly.

What did you find most gratifying about working on the score for “Seattle Road”?

“Seattle Road” was the most fun project I’ve ever had because we had carte blanche from [writer/director] Ryan David. I really enjoyed the way he was storytelling – the use of color in the film, and the temp was bang on. When we had our first conversation, he sent us loads of his musical references, which we loved, and it was easy to jump off from there.

We started with one of the craziest cues in the film, and he loved it! From then, we knew it was going to be an easy partnership. The most gratifying thing was that we got to try whatever we wanted, and Ryan pushed us to go further, which is rare. We didn’t have any notes on pulling back; we were told to keep going and make it more and more far out.

What did you find most challenging about it?

I found the particular period in my life that I was in, and the way the system I was working on had changed – it allowed me to move to a different software and different perspective in my life, and I had absolutely no idea of anything holding back. Being a human and being myself was the most challenging at the time, but that’s what made the music sound different.

Did you use unusual distorted sounds in the “Seattle Road” score? It sounded like it. If so, are you willing to share some of the sounds used?

Usually, I like to play around with guitar. There’s always low rez stuff we use in programming, but we try not to make our programming sound like typical programming. There’s a lot of synthesizers out there that everyone has. You can hear every TV show kind of sounds the same – [the] same with movies, so many cliché sounds and synthesizers that are on the band list.

If it’s a distorted sound or something processed in a funny way, we try to make it something that’s original to us – an instrument we’ve messed with that is probably not going to sound like anything else.

While scoring a film is not the same as writing music for yourself, I would imagine that it stretches you and opens you up to new possibilities that you might not have explored with your own music. Is that true, and if so, can you recall a specific instance where you surprised yourself while scoring “Seattle Road”?

Yes. “Seattle Road” kind of started the ball rolling on my new record. There were certain time signatures. I was playing a lot more drums myself. I was playing a lot less guitar and a lot of strange new synths. There had been a big bunch of our stuff recently out, so it was a good time to be doing this kind of a soundtrack.

A lot of what I was making was harkening back to some of my favorite old electronic music, at the same time sounding timeless. There was a lot stuck in my head from the old Metalheadz era, (Goldie’s record label), Prodigy, or Burial. I’m obsessed with Aphex Twin. We got to explore less guitar-based music, and because I was programming more drums, those are the sort of the programmers that really influenced me: Liam Howlett, Richard D. James.

The first test we did for “Seattle Road” was a big meltdown scene at the end. It was the first piece we scored, and it got us the job. I feel like when I came up with it, I was in a strange place mentally, and it just worked. Paul and I were not sure if they were going to like it, and when Ryan really loved that piece of music, we were both very surprised. We both thought, “OK, now we can have some fun with this.”

Do you hope to continue to work on film scores and make it a large part of your musical career?

Yes, I’ve pretty much become a composer. I haven’t released a record in 4 years. It’s been all soundtracks. I am releasing a record later this year, a very filmic record that I am actually making the movie to right now. So, it has become a permanent thing.

It always was, but I like to think of it like “The RZA as Bobby Digital,” which was the soundtrack to a film that hadn’t been made. I like to approach records that way anyway. I hope to see a lot more strange films and lot more strange albums.


2 responses to “Interview: Dhani Harrison on Writing the Score for ‘Seattle Road’”

  1. Spike Wilbury Avatar
    Spike Wilbury

    Is that Dhani? It really doesn’t look like him!

    1. Melanie Votaw Avatar
      Melanie Votaw

      There’s a new photo now. Initially, the PR firm sent us the wrong photo. The director of the film looks a lot like Dhani, so we didn’t question it at first.

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