BRIAN WILSON: WRITE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MUSIC
Brian Wilson will release a special DVD companion to last year’s That Lucky Old Sun (that includes a making-of documentary and live performance footage) at the end of this month. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
How do you like your steak?
My steak? Medium rare. With a baked potato with butter.
What do you and your band say to each other when you’re standing in a circle holding hands before shows?
When we circle up? That’s about pep talking each other into doing a good concert. We started years ago. I always say, ‘Let’s play for each other just like we play for the audience, you know?’
You said that for you, music is a healing process—how does music heal you?
It sounds good and makes your soul feel good. It heals your soul. It can’t heal your mind, but it can heal your soul.
Why do you think your music connects to young people now?
I think because it’s honest music and it’s good music and they can tell it’s good by hearing it.
Who are your most loyal audiences?
The London and the Australian audiences, for sure. People in London and Australia are more sensitive to musical art than Americans. They listen for the heart and soul. They’re more in tune with it.
How do Americans feel about you?
I think they like me but not quite as much as London and Australia. They like me here, too.
Why do you think you’re in a productive period right now?
Well, actually, I’m not writing very much at all. Just about a year ago, I was writing—it’s been about a year since I’ve written.
What’s the most comfortable situation for you to make music in?
I like to go alone in a room with like a synthesizer and sit there and plunk out chords and slowly write a song.
How can you tell when a song is done?
I can’t. If I play it on the piano, I can. I can’t really tell if it’s done unless I finish the song and say like, ‘Hey, I finished a song.’
What do you do when you sit down at the piano each morning?
I just play. I just play whatever I feel. I play for a while and I get into a mood to write, and then I write for a while.
Where did you get the Louis Armstrong record with ‘Lucky Old Sun’?
From a record store in Sherman Oaks, and I learned the song and I completely rearranged the chords. Updated the chords. I wanted something conceptual for the album—I wanted there to be a concept behind it, so we chose ‘Lucky Old Sun.’
You recorded this in three weeks—is that the shortest album session you’ve ever done?
Yeah. We knew the songs real well.
What album of yours are you proudest about?
SMiLE—I think it was a very creative album.
How did it feel to finish?
It was a thrill because we were taking drugs, and of course it brought back memories of drugs. But we managed to get it recorded.
Would Lucky Old Sun be different if you’d never released SMiLE?
You know, I don’t know. I can’t answer that question either.
How long had it been since you visited Capitol?
Forty-six years. It was a little bit nostalgic. It brought back memories. The recording equipment was a lot different now. The studio techniques are all different—each studio’s different.
Do you have your own studio?
No, I don’t. I go to various different studios in Los Angeles.
Do you have new songs you’d like to work on?
I’m just performing now. I’ll be writing sometime in the future. I don’t know when. Ideas? It’s too early to tell.
On the DVD, you say you’re scared to try new ideas—do you feel that way still?
No, not anymore. I did before but not anymore.
You said you used to do your best work when you tried to top other songwriters. When do you do your best work now?
Usually in the morning—when I write in the morning. Breakfast and some exercise and then I write. I can’t write now, but I play the piano a lot.
What makes you happiest now?
What makes me happy is taking walks in the park, seeing my wife’s face and hearing her voice, and going to the piano and being at the piano for a couple hours.
And your fifteen dogs?
No, fourteen now.
How many songs on Lucky Old Sun are about moments in your own life?
‘California Role,’ ‘Oxygen To The Brain’—those are the two. And ‘Midnight’s Another Day.’
There’s that line in ‘Midnight’ about ‘All these people, they make me feel so alone.’ Do you feel different now?
Not very different. I still feel very alone.
Where does that come from?
I don’t know.
How would you describe Lucky Old Sun in a sentence?
I would describe it as a collection of good pop songs with a great concept and some really good narrations, all about Los Angeles.
Why do you work so well with Van Dyke Parks?
I know him very well, and I know how good he is with music and lyrics. So I rely on his ability with lyrics.
If you’d never heard the Four Freshmen, how would your life have been different?
I wouldn’t have known as much about harmony if I hadn’t heard them. Harmony’s my favorite part of music.
What kind of effect do you feel harmony has on a listener?
It makes the listener feel good. I don’t know. It’s hard to answer these questions, you know?
Where did you go the last time you went back to Hawthorne?
I didn’t go anywhere. I went by my house but it’s gone. My house is gone.
What if you were just left to work without pressure? What kind of music would you make?
I’d probably just write rock ‘n’ roll music. I probably would.
AN EVENING WITH BRIAN WILSON ON THU., JAN. 15, AT THE GRAMMY MUSEUM, 800 W. OLYMPIC AVE., DOWNTOWN. 8 PM / $18-$19.95 / ALL AGES. GRAMMYMUSEUM.ORG. AND BRIAN WILSON ON WED., JAN. 28, AT THE WILTERN, 3790 WILSHIRE BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / $39.50-$89.50 / ALL AGES. LIVENATION.COM. AUTOGRAPH SESSION WITH BRIAN WILSON FOR THAT LUCKY OLD SUN ON SUN., JAN. 25, AT GUITAR CENTER, 7425 W. SUNSET BLVD., HOLLYWOOD. 12 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. THAT LUCKY OLD SUN DVD RELEASES TUE., JAN. 27, ON CAPITOL. VISIT BRIAN WILSON AT BRIANWILSON.COM.