A conversation with Brian Wilson. This interview was exclusively conducted for "Caroline Now!" on April 20, 2000
Even in the early days your music was very spiritual - songs like "Lonely Sea", for example.
Brian: Oh, that was a very spiritual trip, but that was, like 1962. I wrote it with Gary Usher. It's like time waits for no-one, the lonely sea waits for no-one. You know it's kinda sad - but true.
Another example is "Anna Lee, The Healer". Why was it important for you to bring this aspect to your music - to make people feel better?
Brian: Because that's what I'm made of! That's what I'm all about! Mike Love went to India and met a healer called "Anna Lee, The Healer" - it's all about her.
How do you put healing properties into music?
Brian: Well, that comes naturally. It's a very natural thing, you know. Mike told me, let's write a song about Anna Lee, The Healer and we just sat down and started crankin' it out - we couldn't get anywhere so we waited for a couple of weeks and got back together and Boom! it started happenin'. We started gettin' the melody and the lyrics together real fast and it turned out great, fantastic.
What about "Wind Chimes" - another song with an incredibly relaxing, spiritual feel.
Brian: I had some wind chimes and they were beautiful and Carl said, "Why don't you write a song about them?". And I said, "Well I'll try", and so I did. The last part was (sings) "oh whispering winds send my wind chimes a tinklin'". That was Mike singin' and I thought it was fantastic!
You've always worked with other lyricists, but you're a great lyricist yourself. One good example is "Busy Doin' Nothin'".
Brian: Well, you know, those lyrics came very naturally. "Busy Doin' Nothin'". that's what I'm all about! (laughs) Busy doin' absolutely nothin'!
Is it true that if you followed those instructions you'd get to your house in Bel Air?
Brian: No, but it was a cute lyric though.
What about that bossa nova feel? Were you listening to a lot of Brazilian music at the time?
Brian: I must have listened to it because I know it got to me very deeply so I tried somethin' like that.
An influence in some of your music is Burt Bacharach. Was he a contemporary you particularly admired?
Brian: Very much so, yeah. I learned how to write chords from Burt Bacharach. I learned how to make minor seventh chords, pretty chords.
Another American great who was a big fan of your music was Leonard Bernstein.
Brian: He thought that "Surf's Up" was a great song.
Did it thrill you to hear that?
Brian: Yes, I was thrilled out of my mind, are you kidding?! I was thrilled out of my mind!
A question about your brother Dennis: Around the time of the "Friends" album he started to emerge as a songwriter. What made his songs so special?
Brian: Well, he learned from me. He learned a lot from me about producing, and he just went on his own and started doing things on his own - started producin' records for The Beach Boys and just took off on a great career. He just picked it up from me as we went along. I like his song "Forever", but I like "Little Bird" the best.
One of our favourite periods of your writing is the late 70s "The Beach Boys Love You" period. You say that you were having a rough time then, yet you managed to write so many great songs.
Brian: I think because I felt so sad I had to bring out my feelings, and try to create music that would make me and all my friends feel better. I think the "Love You" album is one of the best we have ever made. My favourites are "I Wanna Pick You Up" and "Ding Dang". that was a good cut, wasn't it? Just a very short song, that's all. One of the shortest records we have ever made. It's funny because now people are beginning to see that album as a classic - it was quite revolutionary in its use of synthesizers.
Had you been influenced by any synthesizer musicians like Walter Carlos - "Switched On Bach"?
Brian: Oh, I love this! You know what? I have it in my CD player right now!
Would you say it was an influence on "Love You"?
Brian: Well, it's true to a certain extent. I have to admit that it was, yeah.
Alex Chilton has recorded "I Wanna Pick You Up" for this album.
Brian: Alex from The Box Tops! I was one of their biggest fans of all time!
And Chip Taylor and Evie Sands have recorded "Let's Put Our Hearts Together".
Brian: I absolutely love that song. I just love it.
How does it feel that these great music makers are paying tribute to songs you wrote so long ago?
Brian: It's funny how people are pickin' up on our music now, you know? I think it's wonderful that people like our music.
The Radio Sweethearts have recorded "Honkin' Down The Highway" which is almost a Beach Boys country song. Was It influenced by country music?
Brian: It was to a certain degree - but just to a certain degree though. I remember when I wrote that I was thinkin' "truckin' down the highway" - just some kind of a country western kind of an idea . The actual song itself wasn't that country though.
There are many of your songs from the 70s which are still unreleased. You must have been writing non-stop.
Brian: Well, not non-stop, I wrote quite a bit though. I was quite prolific in the 70s. I think "15 Big Ones" is a great album too.
A great song from a bit later on was "Rainbow Eyes" which sounds like a number one record that never was.
Brian: Oh, yeah. I love that song.
I think it was one of the most special songs ever written by anybody. The changes are incredible.
Brian: I learned from Phil Spector's records how to do that. I learned it all.
What makes you happy these days?
Brian: My two daughters. They're three and two - and they're just fantastic.
Do you feel that now you're getting some of the love back that you gave out through your music?
Brian (laughing): Yeah!
...and that at last you're getting paid back for what you've given to people?
Brian: Yeah, in some ways I'm being rewarded. I still get royalty cheques from the companies.
Brian: See, our catalogue's still movin'.
Itīll always move...
Brian: I hope so!
Does it surprise or thrill you that so many artists have recorded great cover versions of your compositions?
Brian: Very much so, I'm very, very honored when people do that - it's quite an honor.
Thanks for the interview, Brian!