Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love Interview Part 2

Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love Interview Part 2

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Last month, we presented Part 1 of our feature interview with Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Mike Love of the Beach Boys as part of our special theme issue.

Next up is Part 2 of the spirited interview, which, if you recall, was conducted with Wilson, Love and Jardine separately before being compiled into this piece.

Enjoy!

Rock Cellar Magazine: The Beach Boys recorded such a wealth of material, some of it finally being released from the vaults. Does it amaze you in today’s climate – where some artists put out one record every three years – the sheer volume of Beach Boys product that came out in the Sixties?

Al Jardine: Yeah, I know, tell me about it. I never slept. It was terrible. The pressure was awful. We were always waking up in the middle of the night and having to go down to the studio at one in the morning. We never had any private life. We were always out doing 150 shows on the road, a hundred days in the studio.

RCM: That’s one of the main reasons Brian stopped touring.

Al Jardine: Oh yeah. He couldn’t take the pace much longer. It was just too much. Brian was under a lot of pressure and he had no time to rest and he also never had a chance to enjoy his achievements. We were always being thrown out there on the road to support the next album. I don’t blame him for not wanting to go out on the road anymore. His dad insisted he stay out on the road and he just couldn’t do it. His Dad was mad at me for coming back into the group.

I was in the band at the inception and then I left and then David Marks joined. Brian stayed home and then David got fired and Brian came back. And then Brian got sick and Glen Campbell came out. Then Glen stopped and Bruce (Johnston) came out. That’s how it worked.

RCM: Brian, how did you come to work with lyricist Tony Asher on Pet Sounds?

Brian Wilson: Tony Asher worked for an advertising agency in Beverly Hills and someone told me he was really good with words. I love to create music but two people are better than one. With two people there can be heart and soul between them. One person can create a song but with two people there can be heart and soul between them, that’s why I’d rather write with a collaborator than write on my own – because a collaborator opens your heart up. A collaborator allows you to bring out something that you couldn’t bring out of yourself.

Lyrics and melody are a marriage. That’s why a collaboration is a marriage and lyrics and melody are a marriage.

Click the image for our interview with Tony Asher

RCM: Mike, Pet Sounds is an artistic triumph for the ages. But through the years, it’s been reported that you fought tooth and nail against the direction and that the band was veering into dangerous territory not wanting to screw with the formula.

Mike Love: That’s not true. It’s prevarication. There was a “them and us” kind of situation that evolved because of the drugs and I think that gave rise that that. Alan Jardine, myself and Bruce Johnston did not do drugs and the Wilson brothers got into all kinds of things. At one time on tour we had a smoker’s jet, which was a euphemism for who was smoking hash and pot—and a non-smokers jet.  We were still a group but there was definitely a schism there. I didn’t dislike the Pet Sounds material at all. I thought it was brilliant. We all worked on it very assiduously. We did close to 30 takes on one section of Wouldn’t It Be Nice and that’s when I started calling Brian “Dog Ears” because he heard things most humans couldn’t hear. Brian didn’t know what to call the album.

I was in the hallway listening to the train and the sound of a dog barking and said, “What about we call it ‘Pet Sounds’?” and it stuck.

So I named the album and went with Brian to play it for Karl Engemann, who was the A&R guy at Capitol. He was the one who listened to the album politely and said, “Hey gee guys, that’s great but what about you doing something more like California Girls or I Get Around?”

Nobody said, “Don’t f#*k with the formula!” That’s a complete fabrication.

Karl was a devout Mormon and total gentleman and that was the opinion he expressed but he didn’t put it in any salacious terms nor did I. I wouldn’t have gone to that meeting with Brian if I had disliked the album. Capitol didn’t know what to do with it. It was a departure and an evolution in terms of the production. You could hear it coming on California Girls in ’65 and here in ’66 is Pet Sounds. Then the SMiLE album was overlapping and that’s when it got a little crazy. I think there’s a lot of brilliant music on SMiLE. Brian, thankfully, has gone on record saying, “Mike had nothing to do with the shelving of SMiLE” although people have been saying that I didn’t want it to come out. I had nothing to do with that. Brian freaked out on L.S.D. and shelved it.

RCM: After SMiLE was shelved, Brian, while still involved on some level with songwriting/recording, retreated and rest of band really had to step up. With albums like 20/20FriendsSunflower and Surf’s Up, was it scary or a welcome opportunity to carry the songwriting/production weight?

Mike Love: There wasn’t fear involved but there were a couple of things going on during the Sunflower period. We ended our deal with Capitol and went to Reprise. We weren’t having the big hit singles but what there was with Brian’s retreat—he was experiencing some serious paranoid-schizophrenic issues but that’s a whole saga in itself with Dr. Landy.

New Beach Boys box set 'Made in California', available now (click image)
New Beach Boys box set ‘Made in California’, available now
What that retreat allowed for was the maturity of the other guys in the band, Alan Jardine with California Saga,  Take Good Care of Your Feet, Carl with Long Promised Road and Feel Flows, Dennis with Forever, Bruce with Disney Girls.
The group became more of a democracy in a sense (laughs) where everybody had a voice, not only in terms of singing but also coming up with creative pieces.

RCM: In the ’60s as you were achieving heights of creativity with albums like Pet Sounds and Beach Boys Today, did you ever feel held back by The Beach Boys?

Did you ever think about branching out on your own?

Brian Wilson: No, I’ve never felt creatively stifled by the Beach Boys. I’ve always felt a carte blanche to write and carte blanche to record a song.

RCM: Brian, you’ve cited the Friends album as being a big favorite of yours, why?

Brian Wilson: I think it’s one of our best albums. It had a good folk song vibe.

 

The songs were written so well and the harmonies were great, especially the harmonies on the song Friends, which were fantastic.

I was in a mellow place when we did that album and writing those songs and recording that album took me to another level. I like the songs on it. It was a more relaxed album. I thought the songs were very creative and folky. I like Busy Doin’ Nothin’. It has those little clues how to get to my house. I really like Dennis’ songs on that album, Be Still and Little Bird. Those are very nice songs. It surprised me to see so much soul and inspiration in Dennis. I never motivated Dennis to write, he had his own motivation. I really like Little Bird because of the lyric.

RCM: What are some of your favorite songs Dennis wrote?

Brian Wilson: Oh wow…I think Little Bird was one of them. Forever was a really good song. San Miguel is another one I like of his. Dennis’ writing was very funky; he was a rock and roll kind of a writer. His roots he learned from The Beach Boys. He watched me produce records and he watched Carl produce and he watched Alan produce and he just got the knack and started producing records.

RCM: Speaking of the Friends album how about the song Transcendental Meditation?

Brian Wilson: Yeah, I also like Transcendental Meditation. I arranged five horns on that in a very very complex harmony, kind of a like a jazz feeling.

Al Jardine: I thought that was fun but it was a goofy song. There were different cadences in it; it was like a musical exercise. I would like to recut that. I’d go in the studio and do that one again and get it right and have some fun with it.

RCM: Did you get into TM?

Brian Wilson: Did I try meditating? Yeah, it worked for a while and then it stopped working for me.  When it worked it was a relaxing experience. It takes some of the stress off your chest.

RCM: Al, with your immersion into TM in 1967, how did that impact on your work as a songwriter and daily life?

Al Jardine: Oh absolutely. I started writing the California Saga trilogy from my practicing TM–going inward, taking the road less traveled by and mediating. It really opened my awareness and my musical chops.

RCM: Did TM help you handle the pressures of fame?

Al Jardine: Oh yeah. We were down on our luck at the time we started getting into TM. Brian had expressed himself completely for five or six years so it was up to the rest of us to pick up the slack. So thanks to that I was able to open up a little and contribute a little bit to our continuing success.

RCM: What are your memories of the Beach Boys tour with the Maharishi in the late ‘60s?

Al Jardine: Looking back, that’s a good example of a marketing failure. There’s a certain way to sell soap but you don’t sell soap with motor oil. But these two ingredients were not palatable to the public.

A surf rock band from the ‘60s touring with one of the great metaphysical heroes of our time. He was our guru. You don’t take your personal religion or that personal side of your life into the public marketplace.

We did a disservice to him and to our audience. The tour ended abruptly.

RCM: Speaking of taking over the creative reins, Carl stepped up in a producer’s role with 20/20Sunflower and Surf’s Up and delivered some quality work.

Al Jardine: He really came into his own. We had to pick up the slack and he was the most able of all of us to do that. Most of those albums that you mention were spearheaded by Carl leading the charge. Carl was a great musician and had all that talent. He was the whole package, real easy to work with. Never tried to impose himself on anyone and was always open to everybody’s suggestions.

RCM: With so many great harmony singers in the band, was there ever a song that had you stumped in terms of finding the right harmony parts?

Al Jardine: I don’t remember us having to struggle much with anything except back in the ‘60s with one song we never finished called Tom Dooley. Brian had come up with an amazing arrangement of that song—a Four Freshmen arrangement–and it was so complicated. Frankly, I think we just ran out of time.  We made up for it by recording Our Prayer, which was a nice little departure. In terms of harmonies, we never wrote anything down and just did head arrangements, things off the top of our head.

RCM: The Beach Boys were originally slated to play the Monterey Pop Festival but later dropped out. How would things have changed for the band had you played?

Mike Love: Had we caught that wave and played that festival it would have been a good thing for us. We sang the song Catch a Wave but we didn’t catch that wave. We let that one go by and that was a pretty significant wave. Carl had received his draft notice and that was freaking him out. Brian was doing drugs. Dennis was drinking and drugging and the band was really dysfunctional.

There were some real challenges going on intramurally. (laughs) We made the decisions that we didn’t have it together enough to go and play the Monterey Pop Festival.

RCM: Mike and Al, you ran into Elvis in the late ‘60s at an L.A. recording studio, what are your memories of that chance encounter?

Al Jardine: Bruce (Johnston) and I met Elvis in the late ‘60s. He was working in the studio across the hall from us at Western. Bruce and I went over and introduced ourselves and he was very delighted to see us. He was trim and great looking, just like his album covers. He hadn’t gone back out on the road yet. We encouraged him to get back to work and he took us up on it.

Mike Love: He was in the big room at Western and had his cape on at the time (laughs). He was preparing to go back out on tour and he was asking us, “Well, what’s it like?” He was a really kind gentleman. He couldn’t have been nicer. He definitely knew who The Beach Boys were.

You couldn’t not be aware of who The Beach Boys in the ‘60s.

We saw him play live in Vegas at The Hilton and he was darn good. I mean, what a voice, he was The King!

RCM: Brian, I understand you met Elvis in the ‘70s?

Brian Wilson: I was recording with Terry Melcher at RCA Victor Records in 1975. We were working on the song Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Terry said, “Hey, Elvis is in the next studio recording.” That was a big surprise to hear he was in the studio next to me. So I walked into the studio and said, “Hi, I’m Brian Wilson” and he goes, “Hello Duke.” I don’t know why he called me Duke.

I said, “Would you like to hear what I’m doing in the studio?” and he said yes. So we walked over to my studio and listened to what I was doing and then said he had to leave.

It was a thrill to meet him and he was real happy to meet me. I liked Elvis Presley’s songs. I never saw him live. I thought Elvis was a very underrated singer, he was a very good singer. He was more of a star. He was known more for his fame than his voice. I think he deserved more credit for his voice.

RCM: Brian, as a writer, can you recall any songs that you wrote after you were done where you felt “I can’t believe I wrote that!? Where did that come from?”

Brian Wilson: Yeah, when I wrote Good Vibrations, I said, “There’s no way I could have written that song!” Then I thought, maybe God wrote it through me. I was also surprised that I wrote a song like California Girls. The chord pattern was good and Michael and I wrote some really good lyrics together. The intro is really special. It’s almost like a different piece of the song. I wanted to try something different and it worked. I felt it was a really unique way to express a 12-string guitar that Carl played.

RCM: Al, what inspired you to cover Cotton Fields and why did you think it would work with The Beach Boys? What producer you to recut as a single?

Al JardineCotton Fields was always one of my favorite songs going back to high school.  It was a number one song in the folk field back in the ‘60s. My instincts are to write things about going back home. I’m a going home kind of writer; I’m one of those nostalgic writers. Like with Sloop John B, (sings lyrics) “Let me go home, I wanna go home..” For some reason, that resonates with me.  So along comes Cotton Fields in my head. We’d just had Sloop which became a big hit. We went into the studio and cut a version of Cotton Fields that was so outside of my thinking.

It appeared on our 20/20 album. Brian was just goofing off. He doesn’t like folk music and never really has so it just wasn’t his thing and that’s not his fault. I said to him, I don’t like it.” (laughs) So I grabbed Dennis and Carl and said, “Let’s go into the studio and cut it live. I know this sucker is gonna be good.”

So we went back into the studio and took the whole darn band into the studio at Sunset Sound and we cut it live and added a steel guitar player. I thought that would give it that country feel. I love cutting live so it worked out as a performance song. You could feel the energy. Dennis was really drove that one home with his energy. He wanted it to work.

Whenever you get somebody on the team that wants it to succeed, it really helps. Brian always had great ideas but Carl would alas be the guy who delivered the message. He would vet it. If someone in the band vets something then you know it’s good. Dennis vetted Cotton Fields and said, “Let’s do this, this is good.” So that helps. It became a big hit and was number one in a lot of countries and top ten in many more and top zero here in America (laughs). It didn’t even come out a single here. Philosophically, it wasn’t happening here because the hippie movement was so strong at that time. Maybe the rest of the world was more in tune with that song and the hippie culture hadn’t made its way over to Europe and other parts of the world.

RCM: Mike, you’ve always cited Chuck Berry as a pivotal influence on your approach as a lyricist but with a song like Add Some Music to Your Day you’re on taking off from Chuck Berry territory and off on a different plain.

Mike Love: My appreciation for lyrics goers back to grade school. I wasn’t interested in mathematics but I was very much interested in literature. I was the most well read child in grade school, junior high and high school. In junior high I had crushes on a few different girls and wrote very romantic poems about them of unrequited love. (laughs) I’ve always had a fondness for lyrics, prose and poetry of various kinds. I would read Olde English going back to Chaucer and Coleridge and American stuff like Emerson so all that rubbed off on me when writing lyrics like The Warmth of The Sun wasn’t Chuck Berry. (laughs)

Chuck was so incredibly and beautifully descriptive with the little vignettes, word pictures that came alive and resonated so amazingly well with the masses. That’s what I always admired about that style of writing and always tried to emulate. There’s music that related on an emotional level and the lyrical part that related on the level of the intellect.

RCM: Working with Brian Wilson, one of the world’s greatest songwriters and producers, must have taught you a great deal.

Al Jardine: He taught me everything. People teach by deeds.

You can talk all about schooling and technical expertise and book learning but if you are lucky enough to be around someone who does things, you can learn so much by simply watching and listening.

If I can impart any wisdom from this conversation, it just rubbed off. I mean you just start learning stuff. His greatest talent as a producer was his lack of fear. He’d just go for it. He’d say, “Put fourteen violins on that. (laughs). Add harmonica and trombone.” I just wasn’t afraid to do anything after that. When I saw with a little courage and some ambition you can do it. You just do it.

RCM: By the end of the ‘60s, as Brian became less involved with the recording, the rest of the band really stepped it up creatively, especially on the albums Surf’s Up and Sunflower.

Al Jardine: We were basically his pillars. He was holding us up for all those years and now we were basically holding him up. We were forced to go into a creative hyper speed because Brian was retreating in the opposite direction as fast as we were in the other direction. Brian was retreating as we were accelerating. We were recording right underneath his bedroom and he’d be holed up there sometimes for days. He’d call down every once in a while and say, “Hey, that sounds great!” (laughs) and he’d pop in occasionally and do something or give us ideas.

We were keeping the wheels oiled. What helped a lot was Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker from Warner Brothers Records were so impressed with what we were doing. They were blown away by Cool, Cool Water from Sunflower and told us we were onto something.

RCM: Sunflower is cited by many next to Pet Sounds as the band’s greatest achievement. Indeed, it was a major triumph for the band sans Brian – who was involved on a much lesser scale.

Al Jardine: We started to take over the production. Brian simply wouldn’t come down from his tower anymore. We had to finish a lot of work. It’s About Time was Carl, Dennis and I. That’s a good one, I like that production. That was mostly Dennis and I just helped with the lyrics. Dennis and Carl did the track. It was a very powerful track, it was very well done. Our Sweet Love was one we finished with Brian; he just didn’t want to finish it. So we kind of helped. We became completers of ideas.

We all worked on his songs from time to time and then we’d put them on the shelf. You start a song and put it away, start a song and put it away. It is a very good album. Again, we had some sonic problems but on that album I think we overcame some of the sonic problems. That album was a smattering of different studios, that’s probably why it had an interesting texture.

RCM: How did the band tap into technology as it evolved?

Al Jardine: Basically, what we did was what most other fellow musicians would do, technology would dictate our direction. Every time a new medium developed, for instance, tape recording machines. We’d go and get the latest 8-track or 16-track or 24-track deck and that would give us more latitude with our music to accomplish more things.  As for keyboards, there was a lot of stuff being invented—the monophonic keyboards, the Moog synthesizers. Bob Moog invented his big bank of computers that generated one sound and we called that monophonic. The mini-moog became our instrument of choice right around 1970. That was our bass sound for a while during the Sunflower and Surf’s Up era, the moog starts to appear. It’s also used a lot of the Beach Boys Love You album.

Electronic keyboards began to develop a little keyboard called a DX-7 and that was a fascinating little thing. We just thought that was an absolute  miracle of technology. In fact, on my latest album, we use a DX-7 on my song Don’t Fight the Sea. I like this particular setting called a “wood block.” All of those sounds are so important. In many ways we’ve discovered them and then we’ve lost them. So we’d try and use all those things in our music as well.

RCM: Don’t Go Near the Water, a song you co-wrote with Mike Love, was an early example of artists using their art form to educate about ecological concerns.

Al Jardine: I always thought that was a beautiful tune. Daryl Dragon, later best known as part of The Captain and Tennille, was a big part of that song. He assisted me on piano and we worked out kind of a kooky arrangement for it. The lyrics came about due to the concern about using phosphates from detergents that were being introduced into the water systems.  So I was thinking, (recites lyrics) “toothpaste and soap make the ocean a bubble bath so let’s avoid an ecological aftermath…” It was a little over the top but it was kind of fun.

Those exact lyrics are quoted in Time magazine during that period to exemplify the concerns about those kinds of things. Shortly thereafter, phosphates were taken out of detergents. It might have been coincidental but it was an amazing thing to happen at that time.

RCM: The idea behind All This is That, an underrated studio track from the box set, came from you, what inspired it?

Al Jardine: That was inspired by a Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” It’s a real moving poem about choices, taking gambles rather than going the safe route. Someone turned me onto that poem so I went up on a little road in Big Sur right above my house by the Big Sur River, read it and I really got inspired. Then a lecture by Maharishi infused in me the wisdom of the ancient Veda scriptures, in particular the saying that we are all one.

He put it in the term of the Vedas meaning, “I am that, thou is that, all this is that.” I thought it was amusing at first and then realized how profound it was in its simplicity. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. I thought, ‘What a great chorus that would make.”

Carl really took it to heart and added his own vibration to it at the end with that beautiful, soaring melodic mantra that he sings at the end.  Unfortunately, not a lot of people heard the song because it wasn’t the kind of vehicle the Beach Boys are known for. It’s kind of like going into the Pet Sounds or SMiLE territory. No one really understood it was just too ahead of its time but now people are starting to recognize, as they have with Pet Sounds and SMiLE, some of the more esoteric things we’ve done.

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