The Beach Boys 2012 are…
Brian Wilson: lead vocals, harmony vocals, keyboards
Mike Love: lead & backing vocals
Al Jardine: lead and backing vocals, guitar
Bruce Johnston: lead and backing vocals, keyboards
David Marx: vocals, guitars
The era of The Beach Boys seemed to end with the deaths of Dennis & Carl Wilson and the ongoing conflict between the surviving members, especially singer Mike Love and guiding genius Brian Wilson. The new millennium found Brian creating new music and touring with a hot shot band; Al Jardine toured with Beach Boys family & Friends (with Brian's daughters Wendy and Carnie Wilson) while Mike Love took control of the Beach Boys name and toured the country with long time singer/keyboardist Bruce Johnston and a crew of anonymous sidemen.
This proved to be the creative nadir for the Beach Boys. By the first decade of the new millennium Brian would return to the studio to piece back together the broken template of his lost masterpiece Smile. By the end of 2011 there were whispers about a reunion between Brian and his former mates. Mike and Brian were talking again. The Beach Boys agreed to bring all the original surviving members back into the fold and create beautiful sounds once again.
Al Jardine agreed to an interview with Review Magazine. It was great fun. Here it is…
Al, I really appreciate your doing this interview. In the mid-70s many Beach Band Boys fans felt you had the best voice in the band. I thought so. With the strong tenor that you've got, you never lose pitch. Did you see yourself as a great singer in comparison to the other guys in the band like Carl?
Oh, well thank you. I didn't have the best voice - it was always Brian. He taught us all how to sing and would lead us through vocal exercises. Just the other day at the concert we did at Tampa Bay, a few days ago, Brian looked down at me and said, “Your voice has gotten a lot stronger.” I looked over and said, “Yours has too” - which is nice that we recognized the strengths in each other.
I remember when, I saw you a lot in the '70s at Pine Knob and you sang a lot of leads that you didn't sing on record, like “Wouldn't It Be Nice.”
Yeah, in fact we're doing that tonight.
That's a beautiful song, and you were just perfect with it. It seemed to me that in the '70s right around the Holland release that the band sounded spectacular on stage, and your singing was wonderful, “California Saga.” was magnificent. What's your opinion of that era for the Beach Boys, the '70s?
That was the ripe era of creation. Brian had slacked off a little, you know, on his composing duties, producing anyway. So we all filled the vacuum a little bit with our compositions. It was a great time to experiment, and when we were in Holland during the Holland album we had an opportunity to stretch out a little, and Brian shared the spotlight with us, so it was kind of nice.
When I heard you live I heard you sing lead on Heroes and Villains, Help Me Rhonda and Break Away…
Yeah, yeah I did sing those songs live and also I gave the lead to California Saga to Mike on the Holland album, but I have my own album out now, so I've reprised it and I'm singing the lead with Neil Young.
I have your new album - Postcard From California. I might as well go to that question then. I really loved the title track Ode to California - it was quiet and cool and I heard Brian's bootleg versions of California Feeling. You really re-imagined California Saga. It's stunning to me, and “Help Me Rhonda” is just great of course.
I don't know. It was a wonderful piece of music, this CD, and it's suggested that there was a real vibe between you and the guest singers. Do you agree to that, that it really was a close-knit family on this?
I was so lucky to have those guys. Amazing to have the likes of David Frost, Neil Young, Peter Sills, Alec Baldwin on there even. The Beach Boys sang “Down By The Sea,” and it's just such an honor to have them on this project. Brian's great in “California Feelin', as I always loved that tune that he wrote. There are a lot of great singers and players like Steven Stills, Glen Campbell, Steve Miller and Brian Wilson - holy cow! I'm honored to have them on there, and thanks for asking.
Yeah. How's the response been so far? I think it's just a great album. You've been getting some notice, has it been reported in the press and stuff?
Oh yeah, we're getting great reviews. Great reviews, and with the Beach Boy album coming out, Ernie's going to help. I think they'll help each other, you know. They'll kind of give each other a kick in the pants. This new Beach Boy album is pretty damn good too. I'm looking forward to that one. There are some great moments on there, and Brian is reaching into his creative pocket and he pulled out some real beauties. Gives me that soft feeling, you know?
Are you singing some leads on that one, on the new one?
I am actually, yeah, thanks for asking. There's one called “There and Back Again,” and I don't know where it is on the album. Yeah, I'll be honest with you. I have not heard the album. I've only been in for my vocals and I totally gave my time and energy to just doing the vocal parts that were needed, but I ended up singing the lead on this one, and I'm very proud of it. It's a beautiful, beautiful piece of music. Sometimes you're the last to know.
Your most precious instrument is your voice. How do you keep it limber so you retain your pitch? You must exercise it.
Actually I don't. Carl and Steve Miller became good friends, and Steve Miller gave Carl a warm-up tape, and then Carl used it religiously until the day he stopped singing, you know, with us. I couldn't ever quite justify warming up like that because I thought it might wear my voice out, psychologically. Although Carl thrived on it, and Steve does to this very day. He still warms up with that damn tape. I just try to talk during the day and warm my voice up and hopefully my singing voice appears in the evening. That's about all I do.
So there's no trick that you use?
Well, I avoid salt. That is a trick. I found that salt is a killer to the voice.
Yeah. It just absolutely totally wrecks your voice, and coffee dehydrates you, and those two things are very important to avoid if possible.
Do you use things like honey and tea to soothe your vocal cords or…
Nah, it doesn't help, but psychologically it does because it's something warm in your throat, especially during a concert I like to have my lemon and honey and tea right there, but the truth is it really doesn't make much…just a psychological edge. Yeah, I like having lemon and honey on my amp. George, our musical director, has a big bag of Ricola that we eat like candy. But this is sugar-free Ricola. Yeah, and it's lemon-flavored. Incredible. And it's really a nice way to not coat the throat.
I don't know if you'll like this question, but when I heard you guys in the '70s and music kind of changed, you had so many great singers with several octave ranges and Mike Love seemed to be less, except for the hits at the end of some of the shows, and I wondered if that caused some conflict at the time.
Mike's got the best of all gigs. He's a lead singer with a great baritone. When he's not singing lead, he can shift down to that great air pump. He can just riff; he can riff, and actually complement any song we do with that baritone. So, he's always doing something. He probably has the best baritone in the whole business. He does the little surfing riffs, you know the bop, bop - but he can do a lot of other vocal things, he's very musical. He has a very musical voice.
I wanted to ask your thoughts about the 10-disk box set of the Legendary Smile LP. Do you have any particular thoughts you'd like to share about that LP and your role in the project?
Well that was an experiment that would have been considered a chemistry experiment, as I used to call living in that time period, because Brian and Van Dyke Parks were always doing acid, you know. So they were in a world of their own, and we were simply basically the instruments of that era. You know, we'd go in and experiment with not only the drugs but with our voices. It was pretty tough for me to be straight during that time. I was the straight-laced one, Bruce and myself, and Mike for that matter. It was kind of tough being sober.
Did you have many lead vocals in “Smile?”
Oh yeah, they were all over the sessions. Well, there weren't very many complete songs. I did the lead vocal on Heroes and Villains, the single version. Brian did the verses, I did the chorus. That's the way it was on the single. In the “Smile” sessions Brian did it all, but I like the “Smile” version a lot better than the Smiley Smile release. The production cost a lot more to complete, you know. I prefer that…I don't really enjoy the “Smile sessions.” They were hard to do. There was a lot of work and a lot of burning the midnight oil, you might say. But all in all, it's a pretty remarkable thing, particularly the complete songs, you know “Cabin Essence”…I loved that one, “Heroes and Villains,” “Still Water.” I don't know…and “My Only Sunshine” is my absolute favorite. I would love to do that on stage. I keep forgetting to ask Brian, but I'm going to ask if he'll do it this time around
You dug pretty deep during the seventies you were doing Feel Flows from the Surfs Up album
Yeah, Carl did that. “Feel Flows” is fantastic. “Traitor” and “Feel Flows.” Those two are my favorites along with…I can't remember the title. I don't know why I'm blanking out on the title. I can't remember the title, isn't that funny? (Jardine sings lyrics)
Well, at least I'm getting you to sing. That's cool. I wanted to ask you about those great albums, “Beach Boys,” “Today,” “Sunflower,” “Pet Sounds,” “Surf's Up,” but I thought “Holland” was just exquisite and an exceptional piece of music. Long Promised Road was on “Surf's Up?”
“Surf's Up,” yep. Yeah, that's the one I was trying to remember. “Holland” was a piece of work. We had to go overseas to do that. It was very hard on us. A great album, but the big hit on it was “Sail On, Sailor” and we made that in Los Angeles. We came home and added that to the album. Brian sings that on stage now, by the way.
I always thought “California Saga” was just a masterpiece - the music is layered, an assortment of instruments. It appears like there's a pedal steel in there somewhere giving it some phrasing.
“California Saga Suite” - it's often referred to as “California Suite,” had nice moments on it. The form, a lot of people don't like the form. I don't blame them because it's too long-winded. I was in my Big Sur modality at the time, so they should have edited the form down, but I felt like it wouldn't have been appropriate.
How did it all come to you? What was your inspiration for “California Saga?”
I was home sick, just really home sick - I wanted to come home, so you start thinking about stuff like that. You get very creative when you have nothing else to do. Actually I read Robinson Jeffers, the poet; I read some of his work. That one seemed to fit. Then “Saga,” I wrote that in Big Sur, and then Mike Love wrote the Big Sur part of the song which ironically - he didn't even live there, but we must have had some kind of connection, something deep going on.
Well, I bought a couple of copies of the 1973 In Concert, LP, and I saw you many times during that era. Did you feel that that album captured it for the band?
That was a pretty good one. I thought that was an excellent characterization of that band. The '70s band was probably the best one. The '70s band was a really great band.
At this point Bruce Johnston called in and agreed to add a little color to the conversation. Smile…
I'd like to go back in time to your early work with Terry Melcher, Gary Usher when you created such incredible music such as “Summer Means Fun - my favorite summer song of all time and then “My World Fell Down. “ I love these songs. How do you remember these songs? Do you see them as forgotten masterpieces?
No, I don't think you can say they are masterpieces…sometimes when you're around so long you think, you know, if you slam the door loud enough it's a masterpiece. I think its just good work. It's non-Beach Boys and the Beach Boys music totally trumps those two records that are from my younger days.
I loved your LP too, “Going Public,” and all those great songs, and I wonder if you saw it as a satisfying project?
I'd say the only music that's really satisfied me, is satisfying for me, and is in the Beach Boy World in terms of albums. As a writer, I do other stuff, but you know… I tried solo. I was disappointed, mostly in me. But not when I get to sing with all the Beach Boys. With this new single out called “That's Why God Made the Radio.” We can't wait to play it.
You performed Disney Girls in concert in the '70s
We're doing it again now, too. With Brian singing “Please Let Me Wonder,” which is killing me every night, it's so good even though it was on the flip side in the single “Do You Wanna Dance?” It's just a killer song that Mike and I wrote. It's great. It's really a cool song.
What's your most satisfying role in the Beach Boys? You have a contribution that…what makes them come back for more?
My role in the band I think is that I'm a comforting guy, I make people laugh, I help pace the show and I sing on key.
What's the Beach Boys most notable legacy in your eyes?
Well you know, it's funny… it's like a vocal Disney World which has all the brilliance of Brian Wilson's mind and you can still see it and hear it live, besides being able to download all those great Beach Boys albums and all that other stuff. So it's pretty good, satisfying. Since you're a Michigan guy, I went to Interlochen. You know about the music camp?
I sure do.
It's a year-around school, oh my God. Jesse Rubin went there. A lot of people went there. I was in the class of '55 and was recently given an alumni honoree award. We played in Michigan, coming out to what used to be Pine Knob, and they changed the name 80 times, so here we are coming to Michigan again!
What made you decide to get past the obstacles to do this & engage in the 50th anniversary tour?
The new songs, to get to do music together as the Beach Boys, the friendship, trust, anything you read in the paper that's negative. So here we are.
Jeff Tamarkin is a noted reviewer, you probably know him anyway, but he says that Love and the rest of the band are singing their asses off on tour. How does it feel to be in the pocket?
It's nice to know you're still doing cool things after all these years. I have some great fans that are going to take pictures. That was very nice. Thanks for asking. It means a lot to me.
How do you keep your voice up? Do you have any tricks or what?
I don't drink, I don't smoke, I never took drugs, and I get plenty of sleep. I'm like my dog. I don't realize I'm 108 years old.
What do you think is the highlight of your career so far when you think back on the life with the Beach Boys?
Getting to work with the guys I've grown up with - it's a great environment. Being with Brian Wilson is like hanging out with Sergei Rachmaninoff. He has a ton of skill and on all levels he's a quadruple threat but he is not threatened.