Interview: Brian Wilson 2019

With a songbook that includes the likes of “Good Vibrations”, “California Girls”, “God Only Knows”, “I Get Around”, “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “Surfin’ Safari”, and “Help Me, Rhonda”, there can be no dispute that Brian Wilson is a musical genius.

This interview was done for for Brian’s Wilson’s concert at the Arlington Theatre on 9/8/19, for which he’ll be highlighting songs off two Beach Boys albums – 1968’s Friends and 1971’s Surf’s Up.

And although these albums don’t get the accolades of 1966’s Pet Sounds (which Rolling Stone Magazine ranks as the second best album of all time) or the aborted follow-up album Smile which finally saw the light of day in 2011, there are a lot of great songs on Friends and Surf’s Up, and it will be a rare treat to hear these songs performed live. Selected Beach Boys hits will also be on the program. The openers for the show are The Zombies, who will play their album Odessey and Oracle.

While Wilson’s answers to the questions may be short, they still reveal some insight into the life and mind of one of music’s all-time greatest songwriters. This interview was done by phone on 9/5/19.

Jeff Moehlis: How are the Something Great From ’68 shows going so far?

Brian Wilson: It’s pretty good. The Surf’s Up and the Friends album are both very good.

JM: I’m excited that you’ll be performing some songs off of the Friends album. What is special to you about that album?

BW: Well, it’s a collection of very good, mellow songs. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll. It’s very mellow.

JM: The Zombies are with you on this tour, and they released their album Odessey and Oracle in 1968, the same year as the Friends album. Were you a fan of The Zombies back in the 1960’s?

BW: I liked their music.

BW: “She’s Not There”.

JM: Do you have a favorite song by The Zombies?

JM: This tour got me thinking about all the great music that came out in 1968. You’ve talked in the past about how much you enjoyed the Beatles’ albums Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper. The Beatles released The White Album in 1968. What did you think of The White Album?

BW: I don’t remember what songs were on it, but I know I liked it.

JM: One of the songs is “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, which has a very strong Beach Boys influence. Was it cool for you to hear The Beatles paying tribute to your style?

BW: Well, I don’t know if it’s tribute. I think that they just learned falsetto from us.

JM: [laughs] Why do you think that the music from that era, from late-60’s, still resonates so much with people today?

BW: I think it’s the mood of the songs.

JM: You’re also revisiting the Surf’s Up album on this tour. What is special to you about that album?

BW: The songs on that are also very mellow. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll. The songs are very mellow.

JM: The song “Surf’s Up” had a long history. Can you tell us about how that song evolved? There was a version from the Smile Sessions, and then a different version came out on the Surf’s Up album.

BW: It came from me and Van Dyke Parks.

JM: Do you feel that you pretty stuck with the same spirit in the version that came out on the Surf’s Up album?

BW: Yes.

JM: This is for a preview article for your Santa Barbara show, and I’ve seen you in Santa Barbara several times before. Do you have any memories from visits to Santa Barbara that stand out to you?

BW: Not really, but I liked every one of the shows.

JM: You may know that Jeff Barry, the songwriter who co-wrote of one of your favorite songs “Be My Baby”, lives in the Santa Barbara area. Have you ever met him?

BW: I met him one time in a restaurant, but I can’t remember where it was.

JM: Do you remember what you talked about?

BW: I just met him very briefly.

JM: When you’re on the road touring, what do you miss the most about home?

BW: Well, I miss watching television.

JM: What else do you like to do in your spare time these days?

BW: I exercise a lot.

JM: Are you keeping up with the baseball season this year?

BW: I like the Dodgers and the Angels.

JM: The Dodgers are doing very well this year! Which of your songs are you most proud of, either for the songwriting or for the recording and production?

BW: “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Surfin’ Safari”.

JM: What musical inspirations did you have when you wrote “California Girls”?

BW: Mike Love and I got together and wrote it together. We collaborated.

JM: I read somewhere that aspects of the song were inspired by “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Is that correct?

BW: No.

JM: What do you remember about the recording sessions for the song “God Only Knows”?

BW: I was going to do vocals, but I changed my mind and I had Carl [Wilson] do the vocals.

JM: And Carl really did a beautiful job. One more song – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. How did that song come together?

BW: Well, I wrote that song in 1966. It was on the Pet Sounds album.

JM: Was that an easy song to write, or did you work on that for a long time?

BW: It took me about a month to write it.

JM: There have been several recent Beach Boys boxed sets which include outtakes, alternate versions, previously unreleased songs, etc. How do you feel about having everything that you recorded being released to the public?

BW: I think that the public likes the music very much.

JM: So you’re OK with us hearing the false starts and things like that?

BW: Right, right.

JM: Cool. Say, I’m a big fan of the theremin, and I know that’s an instrument you used when recording with the Beach Boys. How did you decide to use the theremin in your music?

BW: My brother Carl told me to use the theremin.

JM: Were you already aware of the theremin at that point?

BW: Yeah.

JM: Do you remember when you first heard a theremin?

BW: I think my Mom and Dad had a friend that had a theremin. It was a “crystal ball” theremin.

JM: As I mentioned before, you’ve said how important Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper were to you. What about the Beatles’ Revolver album, which came between those two?

BW: I met Paul McCartney in 1967. He sang “She’s Leaving Home” for me and my wife.

JM: Nice! So you don’t remember the Revolver album being influential on your music?

BW: No.

JM: Here’s another broad question. Thinking about not just your own music, but about music in general – why do think that music is so powerful?

BW: I think music is the universal language. Even people in Japan that don’t understand the lyrics, they like the music.

JM: Any final thoughts on the upcoming concert?

BW: Well, I hope they like the songs of the Surf’s Up album, and the songs off the Friends album.

JM: Well, I can tell you on behalf of Santa Barbara that we’re very excited that you’re coming back to town.

BW: Thank you very much.


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