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Published: 2017/09/15
by Larson Sutton

Brian Wilson’s Enduring Pet Sounds

Photo by Renee Silverman

Brian Wilson, the ageless beach boy, is relaxing for a few weeks at home in Southern California after a European summer tour. He will soon resume his U.S. performance schedule with former Beach Boys bandmates Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin for the ongoing 50th anniversary tour celebrating the Beach Boys 1966 classic Pet Sounds. It’s been a somber time for some of music’s greatest, with the recent deaths of country legend, and one-time Beach Boy, Glen Campbell, and Allman Brothers Band singer Gregg Allman. Wilson offered thoughts of both on social media, as well as in our conversation in which he discussed his renewed interest in touring, the endurance of Pet Sounds, and his feelings on retirement.

His Pet Sounds tour resumes tonight and concludes in mid-October.

In the past few months we lost two incredible songwriters and singers from your generation: Glen Campbell and Gregg Allman. Can you share a memory of both?

I worked with Glen when I produced a song called “Guess I’m Dumb” in 1964. He played on a few Beach Boys records. I had not really seen him very much (lately). I thought Gregg was great.

You issued very thoughtful statements after each of their passing. You are somewhat of an elder statesman of rock and roll at this point. Are you comfortable with accepting that compliment?

Yes, very much so.

As a younger man, you were known for not liking the road as much. Do you like it more now?

I like the road because we get to make people happy with our concerts.

What changed?

It’s more comfortable for me and just more exciting. I love doing concerts. It’s a great pleasure to do concerts.

You’ve been on tour for Pet Sounds for the past two years and the show itself is over two hours. How are you taking care of your voice?

Each concert is like practice for it, you know. The concert before was a rehearsal for this concert.

It’s great to see you onstage with Blondie Chaplin and Al Jardine, and Al’s son Matt is a special talent, isn’t he?

He’s a great singer. He sings the high parts I used to sing.

At your performances, you could be entertaining as many as four generations. What does that mean to you?

I’ve been doing it for 50 years so it means a lot.

Why do you think Pet Sounds has endured?

I think the harmonies and the good melodies have lived on for quite a long time. People like it a lot.

It is often considered your songwriting peak. What’s the lesson you can offer from that time?

I always tell young songwriters to finish their songs. Not half a song; write a whole song.

Would you consider that a peak?

In 1976 we recorded the 15 Big Ones album. That was the highlight. That was my favorite album and the highlight of my trip. I like the lyrics and the vocals.

Pet Sounds has some arrangements for larger ensembles, some hints of baroque. Did you study classical music or composers?

I never studied classical music. I like Bach and Gershwin.

Pet Sounds was a response to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, right?

Rubber Soul made me want to write a good album.

Were there any other motivations or inspirations?

No. I just wanted to make that album because I loved Rubber Soul.

Then The Beatles answered with Revolver and Sgt. Pepper. What did you think of that?

I liked what they were doing so we started to make the Smile album. Then, we shelved it for 30-some years and in 2004 we finished it.

And they haven’t responded yet to that one.

Laughs.] Right.

After Pet Sounds, the music of the Beach Boys shifted quite a bit. This summer a two-CD Beach Boys retrospective was released- 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow that featured the Wild Honey album in stereo plus outtakes of writing sessions from your house. What are your memories of that time?

Mike [Love] and I got together and wrote a lot of good songs for Wild Honey. “Aren’t You Glad,” “Country Air,” “Let the Wind Blow,” I’d Love Just Once to See You,” – all those songs were great.

The record had a lot of soul influences.

Yeah, I was very much into soul music. My brother Carl turned me on to soul music when we were little kids.

As far as creatively, is there anyone that you run your ideas by or do you trust your instincts?

I trust my instincts.

Do you read your reviews?

No, I don’t read reviews. I listen to people tell me about the reviews. I ask my friends what they think of my new album. Most of them like it.

Does a review matter to you?

It does. Very much so. It inspires me to keep going.

You’ll be wrapping up the Pet Sounds tour this year, I believe. Any thoughts on retirement?

My cousin Mike is 76 and is still touring. He’s a great singer and great performer. I’m still touring and I don’t plan on retiring.

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