In early May 2012, I spoke to Chicago-area producer Joe Thomas about collaborating with Brian Wilson on the Beach Boys’ reunion record, That’s Why God Made the Radio. Some of what he said appeared in my Newsweek story about the 50th anniversary extravaganza, but the vast majority didn’t. So I’m publishing the full interview transcript here on my personal Tumblr. Given that it’s the most in-depth account of the writing and recording of the new LP to date, I thought my fellow fanatics would want to read it.
What can you tell me about how this project came about and how you got involved?
Well, I’ve worked with Brian in the past…
On Imagination, right?
On Imagination. And we’ve remained friends on and off for the last 12 to 15 years since that. Sometimes I don’t talk to him for a little while, and then, all of sudden—Brian’s kind of impetuous—he’ll call up and then… We started one day, it was conversation we had when he was in Australia. He called up and said I’ve got some ideas for some new Beach Boys songs, and I said, That’s great, and I pointed out to him that when we worked together several years ago he had the genesis of some other Beach Boy songs that he had never really wanted to put on any of his solo records. That he had isolated specifically for the Beach Boys. So he asked me to compile those and it was more than a few. It turned out to be about 80 hours worth of tapes of him playing songs. Fortunately I was just the lucky guy to be able to remember to press the red button, you know?
So we just were shocked at how much material we had in our possession. Some were just snippets: a verse here, an idea here. Sometimes it was just him coming up and telling the tape recorder that he had a great idea for a song and it was called X. With the modern-day technology like ProTools and things like that, we put all these cassette tapes in a huge ProTools file and I came out to his house in Palm Springs a few years ago, and starting playing him some of these ideas. I think it really jogged his creative id, whatever that is. He got really excited and asked me if we could arrange a meeting with Mike Love, so a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago, we met in Palm Springs and he spoke to Mike about whether he was interested in cowriting with him again. Of course Mike was very happy for that. I recorded it while those guys started writing new stuff together. Some based on the older ideas and some… When that creative pool starts flowing, when that waterfall starts going, old idea, new idea, they just all start flowing.
The two of them got together and started collaborating and it was magic.
I’m wondering about the timeline. Some of the songs and ideas were from back when you were working on Imagination, roughly around that time?
“That’s Why God Made the Radio”was a song that was earmarked for… We were starting to work on it when we started work on a second solo record.
After Imagination. Brian liked it so much that it was originally intended for the Beach Boys. He said, I will never record this song with anybody but the Beach Boys. We never finished it, but we did a demo of it in its raw form. We went down to Nashville and did a demo for it, and I just basically… it’s like having a ruby in your backyard and you look every day to make sure the dog doesn’t dig it up. It’s just basically sitting in the vault. Not even the vault, the cassette tape recorder in my office. And he called me up and said, Remember that song, “That’s Why God Made the Radio?” And I was like, Praise the lord. He remembered it.
Because you can’t really push Brian. Things have to be done… I think why we work well together is, I have other interests, not that this isn’t wonderful and important to me. But I’m not one of those guys lapping at the front door who’s ready to work. I give Brian his space and I think he really appreciates that. I’ve directed a show for PBS for 10 years called SoundStage, all these other things. I think that that gives him a weird comfort level. He doesn’t want anybody to be too much of an uber-fan. He’s not comfortable with if I knew what color shorts he wore while he was recording Pet Sounds. He’s had enough people pushing him his whole life. It’s probably a relief to have somebody say, whenever you’re ready.
So he was ready about five years ago. Maybe four years ago. And he asked about the song…
And this was because he was thinking of having the Beach Boys do it.
Oh yeah. The rules are the rules. That’s another thing can never push with Brian. If he tells you something he really expects… And he’s not forceful, but again, you can tell that he would get really annoyed if he says I don’t want to do something and you ask him to try to do. If I were to try to say, hey, look, this could be a great single for your second solo record, he would not like that. And this was originally supposed to be for the Beach Boys. Not ever a solo record. And like I said, we waited almost seven years for him to call back and remember it.
Was that the beginning of getting the ball rolling on the Beach Boys reunion album?
What he did then was… let’s go back now three years maybe… a year after that. After he said that, I didn’t hear from him for another year. He called me from Australia. It was kind of funny. He was talking about the fact he believed that the toilets flushed the opposite way than they did here above, in the northern hemisphere. And he wanted to know if I had any info on whether that was true or not. I answered it to the best of my ability, and then I didn’t hear from him again for about another nine months.
What did you do with “Radio” in the interim, because he’d brought that up?
I then pulled it out of mothballs. I had it ready for the inevitable day that he would call again. And then when he called again he said, hey, do you remember that song we talked about. Could I hear it again if you have it? I just happened to have a CD of it, and I went to his house personally. I took that and three other ideas that we had. And that’s when we drove… the first time we drove out to Palm Springs, just he and I. He has a place there. We like to drive and talk. It’s a good thing for… Brian likes my driving, so he lets me drive his Mercedes. He says I’m a safe driver. He’s very comfortable. We went down 60 towards Palm Springs, and in an hour and a half, we just listened to music. I think we did about an hour of the Malt Shop Memory channel, which is on Sirius and we love. And then he said, OK, well, let me hear this. So I played that and four other songs that we had parts to. And he said, You know what? I really love this. Let’s call Mike and see if he’d be willing to write some lyrics and whether he’d collaborate with me again.
Which songs were in that first batch of four?
You’d never guess. It’s kind of funny. “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” of course. “Summer’s Gone,” which was one verse, and basically what Brian always wanted to do was make that the last song on the last Beach Boys record. He changed his mind since then. He wanted the original title of the album to be Summer’s Gone. But he had so much fun with Mike and the guys that he scratched that about halfway through the recording process and insisted on changing the title to That’s Why God Made the Radio, because he really didn’t in a lot of ways want this to be the last Beach Boys record. Or he didn’t want that stigma that it had to be. So that was a big step.
He didn’t want the album to be this statement of “Summer’s gone. That’s the end.”
Exactly. And that was a big thing for me because we’ve got another 10 or 12 songs that we didn’t have time to put on this record, and he perceptively felt that and was like, This is a downer. I really do want to do this again. Maybe. And it’s not really over.” “Summer’s Gone” was never really about being over. It was about being in a chronological version of a year, you’re not a kid anymore, it’s not spring. Maybe you’re best days of summer are over. But it doesn’t mean it’s all over. It just means summer’s over. So he tossed that around for awhile and decided that, you know what, it should be the last song on this album but maybe not the title.
Another one that we had that was around was the first one on the second side called “Strange World.” Second side, I’m looking at…
Exactly. That was done as part of a suite that he was always interested in writing. On this record it’s called “From There to Back Again.” He really wanted to do like a kind of reflection of California from the standpoint of a, you know, a guy who’s almost 70 years old. So it’s driving down Pacific Coast Highway and thinking about his life in retrospect. So this suite was a series of maybe one or two minute vignettes that he had like 15 of them that he would start and never finish. When I put them together on ProTools, it was eerie to me that they all fit together. It was like, wow. This song was written a year before the song that followed it, but yet they fit completely perfectly: modulation, key move, the whole thing. Then Brian started assembling these little bits and I kind of dreamed… I was 10 years old when Smile was recorded, but I kind of dreamed that was how that happened. I have no special authority to tell you that’s how it did. It just seemed like all these little pieces became like this theme, and instead of being Americana or whatever Smile was, it was his drive down Pacific Coast Highway.
So there were more pieces? There are only four or five on the record.
Right. We’ve got another 10 or 12 vignettes that we don’t know what to do with yet.
All on the same theme?
Oh yeah, yeah. They all fit together. I’m hoping someday that that will come out in its entirety. The whole suite, as it was always intended to come out.
What happened after Brian contacted Mike and asked if he wanted to write together again?
He also had a song that was eventually called “Spring Vacation.” That was the original song that he wanted Carl to sing on during Imagination. It was originally a song called “Lay Down Burden.” It was a gospelly kind of thing that he wanted to do with Carl. And then when Carl got sick, there was no way he could go back to that song again. So it just laid there. Now, 10 or 12 years later, he came up with a new title and a new direction. I think that it’s had enough time, because Carl didn’t sing it. He and Mike now sing it. He brought it as a kind of new song to Mike with a new theme: “easy money, ain’t life funny, hallelujah, blah blah blah.” Mike then polished it off with the “Spring Vacation” lyric and the verses. It was like, wow. That was the first song that they started writing together.
Wasn’t “Lay Down Burden” a song on Imagination, though?
You know, it was. The title was an original title that was a gospel song that we were too distraught to pursue any more. But we loved the title, so Brian and I wrote “Lay Down Burden” when Carl died.
So “Spring Vacation” was originally “Lay Down Burden” and then you borrowed that title for another song when Carl died?
Ok, so Mike writes some lyrics for “Spring Vacation” …
It was just like Mike told me “California Girls” was. Brian said, how about a title that’s like, “Spring Vacation, easy money.” And within five minutes, Mike had written “Spring vacation, good vibrations, summer weather, we’re back together.” It was like, “Wow. Five minutes.” The next thing you know they were in the studio singing it. It was so much fun to watch. It was like, you know… that’s when I became the fan going, this is really really amazing, how these guys write together. Mike goes off… Brian’s the studio rat, and Mike likes his privacy. So Mike will come down for like an hour. He’ll absorb the session and just kind of watch. Brian will say here’s do-do-do-do-do, and come up with a bunch of melodies or just arrangements. He’ll give Mike the theme and the title, and Mike will go up… in the studio, we had an office that we kind of set up for him, and he’ll go up in the office and meditate, he’d have a notebook, and then he’d come back down with a bunch of lyrics and we’d go, boom, let’s try these. It was just fascinating.
How did the whole reunion thing come together? You’ve told me about these songs and how Brian wanted to resurrect them. But was he already in touch with Mike about a reunion, or was that something that came out of the songs themselves.
He and Mike… one observation from a guy who’s probably more inside than most. No matter what everybody says about these guys… They’d periodically gone to a basketball game. I know Kevin Love plays for the Timberwolves. They went to a couple of Lakers games together. They spent a couple of Thanksgivings at each other’s houses. The things that people don’t realize. The acrimony does not spread to their personal relationship, whatever you hear. The lawyers are arguing about one thing and these guys are family and they’re having Thanksgiving together. It’s kind of sad the way the, I won’t say the p word, the press has kind of taken some of this. I know that periodically over the years they’d had a get-together now and then. But it was always kind of taboo because Mike was touring with the Beach Boys name, which he licensed from Brian and the rest of the guys, and Brian had his solo career. When they’re were doing that, it just never came up.
But when we were getting this album together, I said to Brian, if we’re going to go… We went to Capitol. Let me backtrack a little bit. We went to Capitol with four songs. Before we met Mike, before we did anything. We went to Capitol with four songs that we had come up with. “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” and just the oohs and aahs from three other songs. They just flipped. They were like, Heck, we’ve got to sign this. They were wonderful to us. They’ve got a great catalog division. The people who run it get the Beach Boys, and they said, this is the only place for you guys. So they made us an incredible offer based on those songs for a three-record deal. That’s what Brian needed to go say to Mike at dinner. He could go, look, I’ve got some new material, I want you be part of it, and by the way, we already have a record deal if you want to do it. And that was exactly the way it was approached to Mike. He heard the songs after Capitol had already said we want to give you guys a deal. Now, there were only four of them. But I think it was important to Mike that Brian wanted to include him, and I think it was important to Capitol that this was not a solo record. That this was a collaborative record between those guys.
So when you went to Capitol, was that under the aegis of Brian Wilson coming with this songs, or…
No no no. Brian walked in there and said, the only way I’ll ever record these songs is with the Beach Boys. And that was it. He’s been consistent with that since 1997.
How did the tour come about?
I think that’s where business comes in. For the superstar money that we were asking for to make this record… Because this was made the old-fashioned way. We were in a studio, Ocean Way or Capitol or a major studio with a lot of players. This was not done on ProTools. This was a real record recorded the real way. He’s got strings on it and players. He’s got specific players in Nashville and members of his band. People like Jeff Baxter, one of his favorite guitar players came in and laid down… So this was done the only way Brian could do a record. We had a studio with an organ and vibes and a percussion tree and a tack piano flown in. If you were at Ocean Way when we were doing that there were 17 instruments out there. We had strings set up. Any moment that Brian wanted to do a string session he could call the string players in and do it. You can’t make those records cheaply any more. Nor do people even get the chance to.
So we knew that. Mike and Brian are both good businessmen. Mike realized that if we’re going to ask for a major record deal, we’re going to have to support the album. So we came up with the concept of doing 50 dates together, and then that concept grew to now I think there are 75 dates worldwide.
You’re the cowriter on a lot of these songs. How does that process work, writing with Brian? What’s the division of labor?
For example, on “The Private Life of Bill and Sue,” it’s very easy. Brian came in and had a verse. That’s a new song; it just came up. He said I’ve got this title about these two reality stars, Bill and Sue. And I go, well what it’s about? And he goes, it’s about their private life. And I go, what do you know about it? And he goes, Nothing. And I go, It’s a song about nothing. Oh! And he goes, Yeah, kinda. He goes, one day, these two reality stars get lost over Catalina Island while they’re vacationing, but the reason they got lost is because their show sucks now and the ratings are down and so they faked it all. And I was like, Great concept! The next thing he was like, we want a radio announcer at the end telling the story, and at the beginning it’s kind of sing-songy, like “Private Life of Bill and Sue,” can you dig what I’m telling you, blah blah blah. He came up with all of that. And then the chorus was something I came up with: California to Mexico. So that was just one of those where he had a great verse, I had a nice chorus and we put it together.
Sometimes he’ll have a great chorus and I’ll just add a couple lines in a verse. Or a lot of times we’ll just play. What Brian likes is chords. So I’ll play the piano and I’ll play maybe five or six or seven chord progressions, and we’ll just sit there. And sometimes he won’t say anything, and then all of sudden he’ll come up with this brilliant melody while I’m playing the chords. Or sometimes it’s just the opposite. That’s Why God Made the Radio, he had a title and a chord progression. And it’s like, wow, what can we do? Every song is completely different.
He arranges all the vocals and produces the record. I record it because I think he really likes the fact that technically… you gotta kind of keep up on all the techniques that are available to us right now and that’s kind of what my role is. He’s not going to tell me to us an SM-58 microphone instead of a U-67. He trusts me in that way. But he’s the producer in absolutely every way. I couldn’t even begin to think than anybody could produce Brian Wilson. It would be like how can anybody direct Richard Burton, you know?
It’s fascinating to get into how these songs are created. Is there one on the record that came about like you said, with you playing chords on the piano and Brian conjuring up a melody?
The first song, Think About the Days, that was my favorite, because I came up with the chord progression and Brian came up with the most amazing arrangement, right there on tape. We had there: here’s Al’s part, here’s Brian’s part, here’s Mike’s part, here’s Carl’s part. Which now becomes Jeff Foskett. He sings… nobody could ever match Carl, but I think… I have to say, Jeff gets a lot of not criticism, but… He’s never tried to replace Carl. But there’s that voice, and if you look at it like you need a tenor, and you need that guy there, and that’s Jeff’s role.
He’s singing those falsetto parts that Brian and Carl were singing when they were 20 years old.
He’s wonderful. He’s our go-to guy. Jeff is the fourth part of the team, with me, Brian, and Mike. I don’t care what anybody says. Brian is 68-years old and he doesn’t have stamina and the ability to go demo every part like he probably did on Pet Sounds. Doesn’t mean he can’t hear ‘em. And it doesn’t mean he can’t sing ‘em to Jeff. He does. And then Jeff goes in there and sings the part Brian dictates to him. I would much rather, if I was going to coach this team, say: Brian, you just tell Jeff to sing the original parts, and then we would put on it, this is Al’s part. And Brian would tell him what to sing, and Jeff would sing it. And then this is Mike’s part, and Jeff can sing all of those. And then what we do is eliminate Jeff and put all the other guys on there and Jeff keeps his part. Brian tells me that’s exactly how he did Pet Sounds except at that time he was singing everybody’s parts.
I mean, really, let’s not split hairs. It’s no different than a great quarterback… Peyton Manning I’m sure is going to one day be a wonderful coach, and I’m sure no one’s going to say “Why can’t you get out there at 49 and throw like you did.” Well, you can’t. So it evolves a little bit, but it’s still… Brian still sings his own part. He calls Foskett…
And Foskett lays down the parts for everyone and then everyone else records over them.
Exactly. When we did “Think About the Days,” it was a chord progression and he goes [sings] do do do do da da da. He puts that part down and goes OK, this is Carl’s part, this is my part… so we get that on a cassette tape. He calls Foskett up and within an hour he’s at Ocean Way and he put it down and we’ve got the whole thing there. And Brian surprised the Beach Boys, because he did this the day before went to Capitol. The plan that Mike and Brian had was to try… We had this dinner, it was a steakhouse that Brian picked, although Mike is a vegetarian, so it was kind of weird. Mike had a salad or something like that. We decided that we got to try this once to see how everyone would react together. So we got all five guys together and decided to do Do It Again at Capitol. Something familiar, just rerecord it with Brian’s band, plus the drummer, John Cowsill, and the guitarist, Scott Totten, from Mike’s band. They nailed the song. The guys did it in like an hour. But they had the whole day booked, so Brian was like, hey guys, while you’re hear let me try something on you. So he played them the demo of Think About the Days, taught them the parts, and in two hours we had it done with the five original guys and Foskett. It just sounded amazing. Everybody walked out of there going, there’s no chance we can’t do this. This has got to happen. It’s like magic.
It’s a great way to lead off the record.
Nobody could write those melodies like that. That’s like something… I could have played those chord progressions for 500 other people and nobody would have come up with that poignant, longing melody. It makes you cry. You go, this is what Brian does. I mean, sometimes, we’ve got cassette tapes where we may be playing for three hours. You really need some patience, playing the same frickin guitar parts, the same frickin piano chords over and over again and nothing happens. But this one was just like, boom, magic. That was the song. It was probably done in less than two hours.
So is that how the songwriting process works? You just hit record on the tape machine and play things and see what comes up?
When Brian walks in the room—sometimes you don’t even have to be at a piano—you just… we have a tape recorder on. I think right now we have over 800 hours worth of tapes. Of just sessions. Hours and hours of just nothing. And then Brian will be singing along, maybe to a song that’s already been recorded, and he’ll come up with a brand new part, and he’ll go, hey, did you get that?! “Yeah Brian, it’s already on tape.” We have the guy mark, and then, as I said, we feed it all into ProTools, and he’s got all these marks on the ProTools session. At 37.11 Brian came up with a great idea. Then we play it back to Brian and it makes… First of all, it helps you from having to stop the process, so you can continue what you’re doing. But it just enables everybody to be able to remember the stuff. And then, at the end of the day, you might have 17 different markers and Brian will go home with a CD of that, or sometimes he just remembers it. And then it often becomes the genesis for a new part of the arrangement or a new song.
When you went back through all of the tape, how did you decide what to bring to Brian and say, this is the best stuff we’ve got? This is what we should work with?
I think have a creative authority to get rid of 30 percent of the junk. Here’s another thing that I’ll tell you: people don’t understand sometimes why Brian picks writing partners. I kind of told you, he likes people who are not too into certain things. “Hey Brian, when you wrote the third verse on the fourth song on that record.” Ehhh. It’s a little creepy, you know. So once you get over the non-creep-out factor, the other thing is the non-BS factor. When I first met Brian in 1994, I recorded Proud Mary with him seven times. Just him waiting to see if I’m going to be one of those people where he burps on tape and I call it genius. You know? He doesn’t want any pretenders. I think he respects the fact that if it’s a stupid idea, I’ll nix it and I won’t try to make him sing it. So, getting back to you question, I think I’ve got the authority to whack 40 percent of the stuff that isn’t any good. Then I bring him the other 60 percent. Out of that, he immediately doesn’t like 30 percent of it. So now we get pretty quickly to the 30 percent that’s really the crème de la crème, and we can start going, this is really good and this is really good. You know?
What about the song “Shelter”? When I was speaking to Brian, he mentioned “Shelter” and “Bill and Sue” as the two songs he’s most of proud of on the record, maybe because they’re the most recent?
Oh yeah. Those were part of the magical thing that happened once he started the process. They came flying out.
Tell me a little bit about “Shelter” then.
I don’t know exactly what his original thought was. We were talking about his house… we had driven by one of his houses in Beverly Hills on the way down to Ocean Way. And he said, Oh, I used to live right up that hill and I had a really cool shelter. And I was like, wow, that’s a funny word to call it. And he’s like, yeah, it’s kind of hip, isn’t it? So shelter was his way of putting it. And I said, what do you like about shelter? And he goes, Well, it’s got everything. It’s where you’re warm and you’re happy and you’re sad. But… I think it’s kind of like—and I would never try to think what’s in his head—but I think it’s like an expansion on In My Room. You know? You’ve got this nice shelter, it keeps you warm, it’s always… He came up with a great line in there about a parade and stuff. It was really kind of like, wow, yeah, you’re shelter is everything. For a week he was really on the fact of all the things you could do in your house. He was very very much proud of the fact that it was brand new and came out of nowhere. I think it was a really cool concept.
Just to get it straight: which songs were built out of the pieces originally created after Imagination, and which ones are wholly new?
Wholly new was “Shelter,” “Private Life of Bill and Sue,” “Isn’t It Time.” That was brand-new. Absolutely brand-new: Mike Love, Brian Wilson and us, we all got together and recorded that and Beaches in Mind. Those were there new version of “California Girls,” with Mike Love writing these lyrics… Those are the two where you really bring in the Mike influence. The beaches, the sunny days, stuff like that. I have to say, I really think that you have to have both sides of the coin here. There’s a sunny side, and then there’s more of a dark side on it. I think it’s important that as a Beach Boys album this had to have that sunny side to it. I really appreciate that Mike has that sensibility and that kind of vibe where he can bring in that positive, optimistic look to things.
So those were the new ones?
Well, in the suite, the song that Al sings is brand-new.
“From There to Back Again”?
Yeah, that was brand-new. “My Life,” the one that’s now called “Pacific Coast Highway”—that’s one where we found some bits on a tape. And then, “Strange World,” again, was some bits that we found on tape. Brian has a person, Gloria, who’s been his housekeeper, confidant, been taking care of Brian and the kids, Melinda. I don’t know what the right word is in California. Just the person who’s always been there, helps cook… She’s done this for many many years. He’s always had this Spanish influence because I think Gloria is Colombian. So he was talking to her about—he knows quite a bit of Spanish, and he came up with a couple of Spanish words in “Strange World. It was just kind of a look at Santa Monica and all the different kinds of people there, and how everybody, whether you came from Ohio like his parents did or Colombia like Gloria’s parents did, it was just such a good cornucopia of people. Santa Monica pier, the different colorful kinds of people… what a strange world and we’re all a part of it. Look at how different everybody is, but we’re all sitting on the pier eating ice cream cones.
I really noticed the two sides of the coin listening to this record. You have the upbeat, sunny, classically-themed Beach Boys songs: Spring Vacation, Beaches in Mind. And then you have the second side. What was Brian’s inspiration for putting that suite together—for making something melancholy, that was grappling with aging and even mortality?
The suite was always intertwined. From 15 years ago to some of the pieces he just put together and then shelved this last year. He’s got a really uncanny ability to pace an album. Look at Pet Sounds: Wouldn’t It Be Nice starts the album, then it ends with Caroline, No. There’s an uncanny pacing there. I think even with the solo work I did with him, Mike’s influence not being there makes it a completely different kind of an album. In a way, it’s refreshing. I go to a lot of the shows. I started the tour with these guys, and I came out to the first five or six shows to get everything… not that I contribute that much, just make sure that familiarity, that everybody’s on their way. When I look at the fans, there’s the hardcore Brian fan and then there’s the Beach Boys fans. I think this is a melding of the two. It’s great that both fans can enjoy an album like this. Hopefully they will. And that there’s a little bit in it for either one of them and that they can share the guys together.
In this spirit of celebration it would be nice to know that… and by the way, I have several oversized Tommy Bahama shirts, so I don’t mean this as a cut… so that those of us, the 50-plusers with our khaki golf pants and oversized Tommy Bahama shirts can sit there next to the eclectic aficionados that really dig into the music and can get the essence of the Gmajor9 chord that Brian puts in there… In this album, in this day and age, everybody just needs to put an apostrophe at the end of the Beach Boys and the apostrophe is a happy one. Rather than the tension. There’s none of that tension stuff anymore. They get along. They care about each other. Mike and Brian ride on the bus together to the shows in the back and listen to the 50s music at night. It’s just the way that it should be. Everybody’s mellowed out. And I hope the fans can appreciate that you need both perspectives to make a complete Beach Boys album. Not that Brian may not go off and do other solo projects, but they’re going to be different.
That’s absolutely the message that album sends. It would be a really fitting coda.
And look at the tour too. The tour is like, you’re going to get the car songs, you’re going to Good Vibrations, you’re going to get the hits. But you’re also going to get Sail On, Sailor and This Whole World.
Or All This is That.
Stuff that people wouldn’t expect to see without the two of them together. Without all of the guys together.
Back to the recording for a second. How did it work with the boys laying down their vocal parts. Did they just pop into the studio in LA? They didn’t hang around for the recording, did they?
Brian is still, as you would imagine, the taskmaster in terms of what people play. He’s in charge of those sessions. The way we look at it is that Mike is the King of the Road: he does the sets, he’s the front man when it comes to performing in front of an audience. He really paces the show. Well, Brian is the King of the Studio. And they have a really… the two of them together have an absolutely 100 percent clear understanding of the needs of each other. Brian does not… he’s not going to go out there and tell jokes and be jumping around on stage. He’s a little introspective and introverted on stage. You know, it’s sad that people don’t let him be who he is, because he’s not Rod Stewart, you know? He’s not going to come out and give you that. He’s going to play his parts and sing them. And you’re going to hear him sing and you’re going to go, wow, this Brian Wilson. I’m watching him.
I know that Mike has been supportive in the studio where he knows that Brian is going to pick whether it’s a flute or a oboe or a double bass or a tack piano that he could only hear at Ben Folds studio in Nashville. Brian is very specific about things like that. We found this tack piano at one studio in Nashville and that’s what Brian wanted to hear.
He was in Nashville? He travels around?
Oh yeah. He travels all over.
But in terms of vocal recordings: Al and Bruce and the others. They just pop in in LA?
They did it all in LA. Let me give you the rolls. Bruce is a very very good arranger himself. He still has a very high voice, so he’s up there right under Foskett. Sometimes, like on Think About the Days, the very high falsetto is Bruce. He’s got this extremely high range. He’s a good tenor. Brian loves Al’s voice, so there’s three songs on there that Al sings lead on.
He sounds like he’s 25.
The amazing thing is that that one song, From There to Back Again, was always Al’s song in Brian’s head from the minute it was written. You know, he never even tried to sing it. He just said, this is Al’s song to sing. And boy was he right. It reminds me of something off of Sunflower.
He wrote that last year?
Last year, yeah. It was always just do-do-do, and he got Al to sing the first verse… probably that was six months before he sang the second verse, because Brian didn’t have a second verse yet. That was definitely for Al.
How about David Marks?
David Marks has some incredible surfy guitar licks. When Brian produced him he said, this is the sound. David’s got that, whether it’s a telecaster or sometimes it’s a Gibson, that solid-body guitar sound. He really did add a lot to this record. He adds a ton to the authenticity when they play this early surf songs in concert. His leads are exactly like they came out of Dick Dale. Studio guys can’t cop that. Brian’s smart enough to use David when he needs that guitar. He uses his band to their strengths. The percussionist Nelson was in, Darian, Scott Bennett. He really uses their strengths. Probyn on a lot of things. Nick Walusko has a good guitar part on there. Scott Totten came in. John Cowsill played on Beaches in Mind and a couple of another songs. Brian quickly identifies the strengths of everybody and it doesn’t matter how far he has to go to find the sound. That’s why the album was recorded in so many different places.
Notes / Permalink