Sunday, April 09, 2006

PPPDA: Brian Wilson Interview

Pursuant to our discussion of the musical legacy of Brian Wilson, here's a Bomp! interview from 1976. It's, well, kind of weird, in pacing and subject matter. (The Fritos vs. potato chips debate is especially odd.)

Everyone loves Brian, but for an interviewer, he's not the easiest person to make talk. Jim Pewter is one of the few who've been able to establish a genuine rapport with Brian under interview conditions. One of the true pioneers in the field of 'oldies' broadcasting, Jim has interviewed Brian several times, going back as early as 1966.

This interview, presented here for the first time in any magazine, provides a fascinating insight into the background, musical influences and early working methods of Brian Wilson, while avoiding the kind of sensationalistic exploitation of his personal problems that most articles have dwelt too heavily on. We feel this material is a timely complement to the renewed interest in the Beach Boys that has helped make 1976 a banner year for rock & roll fans.

The illustration accopanying the original interview. Posted by Picasa

JP: Brian, let's talk about your first record; I believe that was in '62?
BW: Oh, I forgot we were doing an interview! I was looking at the picture over there.
JP: That's Groucho.
BW: Oh, hi Groucho.
JP: He's on a surfboard...
BW: I've forgotten what they look like....
JP: The first hit was "Surfin' ", back in '62. How did you decide to tie the whole surfing scene up into a song, how did that come about?
BW: My brother Dennis came home from school one day and said something about how surfing looked like it was going to become the next big craze, and we should write a song about it. You see at that time we were writing songs for friends and school assemblies. So it happened that we wrote a song about surfing due to Dennis' suggestion.
JP: I talked with you on the phone about a month ago and asked you to pick out some of your favorite hits from the past for me to bring along to the interview, and you mentioned a record by the Cadets. Was that "Stranded in the Jungle"?
BW: No, that's Kenny & the Cadets. I was Kenny and the other guys went by the name of the Cadets. This was back in '61 and at that time we were just getting going with a publisher and this guy had this great song, his name was Bruce Morgan, so my mother and I and a friend of mine did this demo... hey, this could get to be a long story!
JP: You were telling me earlier about the way you write songs. How you get down a pattern on the piano and lay down some rhythm tracks. When you went in to cut tunes like "Little Deuce Coupe", back in '63, was it all live or did you lay down a rhythm track first?
BW: Sometimes. It varied, depending on how lazy we were feeling. Like sometimes we had the music but no words. Let's use "Little Deuce Coupe" as an example. We'd do the background track for it in the chord pattern and then when we'd listen to it, we'd be listening and suddenly go Wow! I got an idea! I'm hearing these kinds of words. And all of a sudden we'd be in there writing words to that track. I mean, we'd have a feeling to work with and sometimes that was all.
JP: With the car songs like "Little Deuce Coupe" the lyrics were written by Roger Christian, and then there was a song that came out about a year later which has really become a classic: "Don't Worry Baby".
BW: Roger and I spent so many evenings sitting up. He was really kind of a guiding light for me. He'd get off at midnight, he did a night show from 9 to 12 on KRLA, then we'd go out and get a hot fudge sundae and we'd sit there for hours talking, writing lyrics and all of a sudden it was like I'd written 15 songs!
JP: Did Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" affect you in any way?
BW: "Rock Around the Clock" shocked me, I mean I was so electrified by that experience. Some of my friends came over and said I had to hear this new record, so we went out and bought it and took it home and put it on. We were screaming, that song was really it.
JP: Brian, besides writing and producing all these tunes you developed a style of singing in a falsetto that has been your trademark through the years. How did you develop that style?
BW: There was a group called the Four Freshmen. I used to listen to their records all the time. I'd come home from school and lock myself in my room and listen to this group and I practiced the high parts. I wanted to see if I could get as high as he could so I practiced until my range went up. So I trained my voice to the point where it was easy for me to hit that falsetto.
JP: What instrument were you practicing with while you were developing this style?
BW: An organ and piano, usually those two, though actually I didn't use an instrument much at that time. I'd just sit there on a chair and sing along with the high part...
JP: You wrote the lyrics to "Surfin' USA" didn't you?
BW: Chuck Berry wrote that song. It was called "Sweet Little Sixteen". When we first got going Mike was sort of a Chuck Berry fan, so we took Chuck's song and turned the lyrics into a surfing song.
JP: Do you get a shock when someone mentions "Be True to Your School"? What kind of memory does that bring back?
BW: Oh that fries my brain! I mean, that brings back some heavy memories...
JP: The lyric about the cheerleader...
BW: Now that's one lyric that I wish everyone would pass on and just listen to the music.
JP: One of the tunes you picked out as an all time favorite was one by the Crystals, a song called "Uptown." That song was produced by Phil Spector. You were an admirer of his work, weren't you?
BW: Of the works I remember; it's hard to remember them all, but that was one of my favorites, along with "Be My Baby" and most of the Ronettes songs. One of my favorite Beach Boys records is "I Can Hear Music" which was by the Ronettes originally. That was Carl singing lead on that one, as a matter of fact he produced it too.
JP: You recorded "Help Me Rhonda" in '64 didn't you? . .
BW: Yes, in the middle part of that year. That's somewhat like a Phil Spector approach and it has the harmonica part like that record "Fannie Mae."
JP: Who was playing harmonica on that, do you remember?
BW: I don't remember. I think it was some musician we hired, not one of the guys. None of us could play harmonica.
JP: Regarding your earlier sides, did you have a favorite studio that you liked to use, or did you experiment with different studios around town?
BW: We went to at least ten of the studios around town. I preferred Western Recorders at 5000 Sunset Blvd. It seemed to have the best echo chamber for what we liked to do vocally. It had good balanced echo, a really fat echo. RCA had a good studio too, and Sunset Sound was great.
JP: When was the last time you were on a Honda, Brian?
BW: Let's see, well, ah, a few years ago when I crashed my Honda.
JP: Did you have a helmet on?
BW: Yeah, I didn't get hurt real bad. I ran into a palm tree and fell off the bike. I haven't gone riding since.
JP: Where did you grow up?
BW: In Hawthorne, about three miles from the beach. It was a little town and it didn't have any sidewalks until after we grew up. It was really weird, we'd mow the lawn and the lawn would taper down into the street.
JP: You were a close family, weren't you?
BW: Yeah, I guess we were. You know my father mixed all our early surfing records, he was like our producer in fact. Yeah, that's what he was. He'd produce our records though he really didn't get credit. He'd tell us to tighten up a bit, offer us discipline, and if we didn't do it he'd get really mad. It was almost like a pep talk: "Okay you guys, you're slacking off now, tighten up a bit" and sure enough we did.
JP: When the records started getting played and becoming hits, did that change your life in any way?
BW: The guys were in high school, hadn't even graduated yet, and we were on the national chart. Now that's quite a change for a kid! So that tightened things up for our family quite a bit. We realized that we now had a chance to go places so we had to tighten up. Our first record, "Surfin' " made it, and when "Surfin' USA" made it on the national charts everybody was kind of in shock, so we tightened up our attitude and just got more serious about music.
JP: The Beach Boys Party album was really the first thing of its kind, wasn't it?
BW: Yeah, I guess it was. We just got everybody together and had some fun. We had no idea Capitol was gonna put "Barbara Ann" out as a single. We thought they were crazy! We weren't even sure it was gonna be an album. We just invited everybody over and turned on the tape machine. Did you know that was Dean Torrence singing that high part on "Barbara Ann"? Yeah that was old Dean, we invited him over and sat him down in a chair and told him to sing, and he did. And we had all these girls come by, it was pretty hectic that night. And then Capitol pulled "Barbara Ann" off the album without telling us, completely snuck that one past us.
JP: I bet that surprised you.
BW: It shocked me. It did very well, and we didn't expect that to happen. I think that was November of '65 when they released that. We had potato chips and dip and other stuff around for the atmosphere. Box guitars, a stand up bass, and drums. Whew!
JP: Brian, what kind of dip do you like, do you like onion?
BW: I love onion. French dip, that’s the best. French onion dip or bleu cheese. Do you like Fritos or that kind of stuff?
JP: I don’t like dip with Fritos as much, I’d rather have a big potato chip with onion dip on it.
BW: I love that, God, I love that…

I'm speechless. You?

(As always, I'm probably violating some sort of copyright here. I'll take the post down if it offends the copyright holders; please contact me.)


Gardner said...

I love this. The interviewer has gotten closer to Brian than most could in those days. There's something sweet, yet very deliberate about Brian--not faux naive, but still almost willfully ingenuous. He must have been exasperatingly lovable in his prime. For me, he still is, and no one gives me my heart more often than he.

refinnej said...

Now that was a fun read :)

Anonymous said...

Nice interview.

Wasn't it Mike Love who used to show up at Brian's house with a bag of hamburgers and give Brian one for every song idea he came up with?