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Brian Wilson Interview: Beach Boys Icon Talks "Pet Sounds" and "Playback"

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Image attributed to Brian Bowen Smith

Brian Wilson

Singer, songwriter, musician and record producer Brian Wilson is best known for being the co-founder of the rock band the Beach Boys that formed in 1961. The two-time Grammy Award winner was inducted in the 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was ranked #12 in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time” in 2015. The British magazine NME ranked Wilson #8 in its “50 Greatest Producers Ever” list, elaborating “few consider quite how groundbreaking Brian Wilson’s studio techniques were in the mid-60s.” He is often depicted in media as a “genius.”

On September 22, 2017, Wilson released Playback, his first ever solo career-spanning anthology. This is an 18-song collection that spans nearly 30 years, touches on nine of his solo albums and includes two previously unreleased tracks. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of Pet Sounds, the 11th studio album by the Beach Boys, Wilson embarked on the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour beginning in March 2016. The tour will conclude in October 2017.

“We were just very inspired. We heard Rubber Soul by the Beatles, and it inspired us to do Pet Sounds.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Brian, why was now the time to release an anthology of songs from your solo career?

Brian Wilson: Well, we thought it was time for people to hear my music that I’ve done over the years.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The song “Soul Searchin’” appeared on your solo album Gettin’ In Over My Head?

Brian Wilson: Yeah. I wrote it with Andy Paley. We wanted to capture the harmonies from the sessions back in the 60s.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): A previously unreleased song is “Some Sweet Day.” A love song?

Brian Wilson: It’s a love song about a guy who’s waiting for his girl.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your story?

Brian Wilson: Yeah. Next question.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) A true story about you and a girl?

Brian Wilson: Right.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You are on tour now celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds. Do you perform the entire album?

Brian Wilson: Yeah, we do. We do the whole album.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What were you and the band going through at the time of writing and recording Pet Sounds back in the 1960s?

Brian Wilson: We weren’t going through anything. We were just very inspired. We heard Rubber Soul by the Beatles, and it inspired us to do Pet Sounds.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): During the Pet Sounds recording sessions, Mike Love referred to you as “Dog Ears.” What did that mean?

Brian Wilson: He said I have such good ears that I have ears like dogs, and dogs have good ears.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was Mike complimenting you on your extraordinary musical talent?

Brian Wilson: Yeah.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): But you are deaf in one ear?

Brian Wilson: I can’t hear out of my right ear. I hear music only monophonically.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When did you first know that you had such a special gift for creating songs?

Brian Wilson: When I was 14, I started learning to play piano. I taught myself how to play the piano.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you play other instruments as well?

Brian Wilson: No. I was a piano player. I always played the piano. I learned to make the song arrangements on my piano, and then I would give it to the musicians, and they played the music as I wrote it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who were your first music heroes?

Brian Wilson: Chuck Berry was one of my heroes. The Four Freshman taught me harmony, and Phil Spector taught me production.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s your favorite record of all time?

Brian Wilson: One of my favorite records is “Gimme Some Lovin’” by Spencer Davis.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you still enjoy performing live even today?

Brian Wilson: Actually, I like it more today than in the past because I get to do a lot more singing than I did with the Beach Boys. I get to sing a lot more, so I enjoy the concerts.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you perform any rituals before heading out on stage?

Brian Wilson: I have my dinner meal that I have prior to the concert. I go through a little bit of pre-concert nerves.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you calm your nerves?

Brian Wilson: I just use my mind to calm myself. I have a great chair that I sit in before I go out.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What does Al Jardine’s son Matt bring to this particular tour?

Brian Wilson: He brings the high notes, the parts that I used to sing when I was younger. He sings the high notes.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you and Al Jardine remained close over the years?

Brian Wilson: Yeah, we have. There are times when I haven’t seen him for a couple of years, but I always saw him.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We recently lost Glen Campbell to Alzheimer’s disease. Did you ever work with him?

Brian Wilson: I did work with Glen Campbell. I produced him on a song one time in the early 60s.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What kind of relationship did you two have?

Brian Wilson: I can’t remember. All I know is I produced this song called “Guess I’m Dumb” for him. I was sad to see him die.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you still suffering from any back pain?

Brian Wilson: My back’s okay. I had a little trouble for a while, but I had an operation on my back, and that fixed it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You hit a birthday milestone this past June, so happy 75th! Did you do anything special to celebrate?

Brian Wilson: Thank you. Not much, no. We just had a little birthday cake.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you still be touring at 80?

Brian Wilson: I don’t know. I don’t know when I’m going to retire.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you miss your family while on the road?

Brian Wilson: Well, yeah. I miss our family, but I keep busy, you know.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will there be any future Beach Boys reunions?

Brian Wilson: I don’t know. You know, I don’t really know.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you writing any new songs these days?

Brian Wilson: I haven’t written any songs in about four years. But I’m going to write a rock and roll album in a couple of months.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Brian, what’s the secret to your success in the music business?

Brian Wilson: It has been my group the Beach Boys. They have helped me with their good singing.

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