Fledgling indie rockers thenewno2 would be cool regardless of their blessed origins and rock royalty connections. Though founding member Dhani Harrison’s father George was a Beatle, the music of thenewno2 is refreshingly original, leaving comparisons between elder and younger Harrisons mostly to their looks (which are uncannily similar). Harrison and drummer Oli Hecks were responsible for the synths that permeate the band’s album You Are Here, and the talented Jonathan Sadoff was brought in to play those parts live. Keyboard met up with Sadoff during rehearsals in Los Angeles to find out how thenewno2 is doing on the path to no1.
Sadoff started out as a guitar player and messed around with keyboards a bit on the side, but when he studied at the University of Southern California, he began to take the keys more seriously. “I was a theoryhead when I was a kid,” he says. “I loved my modes! I started getting into a lot of jazz theory, and then went to study music at the USC Thornton School of Music. I was more in the classical world over there. Probably the most rewarding part of my education at USC was arranging for the school’s symphony orchestra. Sitting in front of 110 people playing something I arranged was such a trip. I was hooked at that point, and began working even harder as a composer and arranger.”
Growing up, Sadoff loved Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright, whom he credits as the reason he bought his first synth. “I wanted to make the sounds they were making, so I bought an old MicroMoog,” he says. “Then I got way into Radiohead and continued fueling my synth obsession. I love the control Johnny Greenwood has over what seems to be pure chaos. And the way he pulls everything off live is just humbling. I’m also a massive Billy Preston fan, for obvious reasons. He’s a god! Same said for Stevie Wonder. I’m also very influenced by Bruce Hornsby. He has such a wonderful touch.”
Sadoff’s early keyboards included “some really funny little Casios” and some old Roland gear lent by a neighbor. But it was the MicroMoog that started his obsession with synths. After that discovery, he got a Nord Electro 2 and bought as many software synths as he could find. “I love ’em because I can use them live through Logic MainStage,” he says. “I’ve mainly used Arturia Prophet V, WayOutWare TimewARP 2000, and GForce M-Tron. Last year I went out and bought an old ’60s Wurlitzer spinet piano to have around the house and realized it sounded so cool recorded. So I moved it into my studio and have been getting these really cool ‘Lady Madonna’ piano sounds, which make me really happy. Most excitingly, Dhani and I just bought a Minimoog Voyager Electric Blue from Moog, but to our advantage, they were out of stock and all they had was a custom one with purple lights on it, so we were like, ‘that’s the coolest thing ever!’ So we have the only ‘Electric Purple’ Moog!”
Sadoff started playing when he was six and recording when he was 11 years old. “Not in any sort of professional capacity,” he says. “But by the time I got some bigger opportunities, I was such a nerd that being in the studio or on stage didn’t scare me at all.” His first pro sessions were as keyboardist and guitar player for producer and engineer Paul McKenna. “I ended up doing loads of sessions for him and really learning how to make records,” he says. “We became very close, but when I was first introduced to him, it was as ‘16-time Grammy Award-winning producer-engineer Paul McKenna!’ I was 19 and considered running away!”
The RockBand Route
Beyond his burgeoning résumé, Sadoff credits the video game RockBand for his gig with thenewno2. “Dhani, Oli, and I had some mutual friends and one very good friend ambushed us by bringing me over to Dhani’s house to ‘hang out and play RockBand,’” he explains. “The guys were tired of auditioning people, and I was pretty busy scoring movies, writing songs, and producing records. I had no real interest in being back in bands and if our friend had told either of us why he brought me over, we would have all been weird about it. But that was what was so amazing. We all got on instantly and before we knew it, we were playing Radiohead’s In Rainbows downstairs. We all knew it backwards and forwards and it had only been out for five days! We realized at that point we would get along swimmingly.” The next day, Harrison offered him the keyboard slot and he accepted. “I went home, learned the record, and practiced my ass off,” says Sadoff. “It was a serendipitous moment, because in that same week, [guitarist] Jeremy Faccone and [bassist] Jason Hiller joined the band and were instantly like family too. The rest is history!”
At the time, the album had already been completed with Hecks and Harrison sharing synth credits on the recordings, though Paul Hicks, the mixer and engineer on the record, was a major force in some of the synth and electronic elements on the disc as well. As he learned his way around the music, Sadoff felt right at home in the keyboard chair. “I think I have a knack for adding decorations and manipulating sounds,” he says. “It was the perfect role for me in a band because a lot of the sounds aren’t necessarily technically busy, but there are tons of different ones. As I got comfortable with the band, I began adding my own touches to things. The live platform is always so different from the record. If there’s a keyboard part I think I could recreate better on guitar, I have that freedom. They call me the ‘Swiss Army knife!’ I guess it’s amusing for them to watch me run around with my hands full all the time. I enjoy it though.” The challenging gig increased Sadoff’s abilities to perform onstage. “At one point, I figured out how to play bass on the Moog with my left hand, synth lead with my right, and organ with the tuning peg of my guitar, whilst singing!” he beams.
Gear and Scoring
Sadoff centers his live rig around Apple Logic Studio, particularly the MainStage live hosting app. “We had a bunch of the sounds from the record stored in Logic, which is the platform that I use mostly in my studio,” he says. “So I decided to start with MainStage as my live platform. I then loaded in any other soft synths that I needed. I use an M-Audio Axiom to control that, because I like the MIDI faders, pots, and trigger pads. It’s a nice combo of knobs and buttons. I’ve also been using Nord keyboards for a long time, and I had an Electro 2 that I use for the basic keyboard sounds like Rhodes, Wurly, piano, and organ. I’m just very comfortable with their interface and I think their samples are the best on the market. I run the Electro through a Boss reverb pedal.”
As time went by, Sadoff felt he was missing a key piece to his rig. “A month or so into rehearsals, I added my Minimoog Voyager because there were some subbass parts that I felt I could enhance beyond what was even on the record for the live show,” he says. “I have been obsessed with Moogs since I was a teenager so they’re like second nature to me. Even my guitar parts in the band are much like synth parts. They’re mostly filterbased and I get to create cool pads and noises, using EBows, envelope filters, and really nasty overdrives.”
As a long time film scorer, Sadoff has logged tons of time in the studio using a variety of real and virtual sounds. “I use EastWest sample libraries religiously for orchestral sounds, and recently I’ve been digging the Arturia Prophet V,” he says. “It’s so authentic! At heart, I am really a nerd for toy pianos, glockenspiels, xylophones, pump organs, old Casios, harmoniums, Celeste, harpsichords — you name it. If it makes a quirky sound, I’ll find a way to use it!”
When it comes to film scoring, Sadoff’s passion is undeniable. “I love it,” he says. “It’s labor-intensive and at times very grueling, but the reward of hearing your music through massive theater speakers with a few hundred people sitting around you is totally worth it!” Sadoff has also written music for the HBO series Tell Me You Love Me and worked under blockbuster composers Trevor Rabin, Marco Beltrami, and Christopher Lennertz. “Working for guys like that is like going to grad school,” he says. “They are so seasoned that you’re always just learning new ways to do things.”
Beyond the Big Screen
Sadoff’s advice to up-and-coming musicians stems from his work both in front of and behind the mixing board. “Be as diverse as you possibly can!” he says. “Your path will choose you one day and you won’t have any say in it. Never turn down an opportunity to develop a skill, because one day that skill set may be your ‘thing.’ And get out there! Work two jobs: one as a musician or student of music, and the other as an entrepreneur. You have to be both if you really want to make it. The business is tough these days, so you have to be a juggernaut and keep plugging away.”
On the road, Sadoff also advises, be sure to get some solo time worked into your schedule. “What I’ve gathered from the traveling I have done is you should get time alone whenever you can. Recharge and only keep the people around you who share your vibe. Don’t let people get under your skin if you don’t agree. Just block that stuff out. Don’t let a bad apple spoil it for ya!”
Hopefully, Sadoff and company won’t find too many bad apples as they continue to tour. Once off the road, the band heads to England to make another record, this time with Sadoff on board from conception. After hearing their live set, anticipation for thenewno2’s album no2 should propel it to no1!
Band webpage: thenewno2.com
Favorite inspirational records: Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, the Beatles’ Let It Be, Radiohead’s Kid A, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, and Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
Selected production and songwriting credits: Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears, the Outline, Taryn Manning, Kiev, Kelly Sweet, Kandice Melonakos; members of Maroon 5, Bright Eyes, and Rooney.
Selected film scoring credits: Good Time Max, written and directed by and starring James Franco; The King of Central Park, written and directed by Max Winkler and David Gelb and featured at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival; The Merry Gentleman, starring and directed by Michael Keaton and Kelly MacDonald and featured at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
Origin of band name: Groundbreaking ’60s TV series The Prisoner, in which creator Patrick McGoohan played a British spy who angrily resigns, only to wake in an idyllic-but-sinister “Village” from which there is no escape. Every resident had a number, even the Village mayor, known as Number Two. In each episode, a new Number Two played by a new actor would try to coerce or trick McGoohan into revealing why he resigned.