One of the few living legends still producing fresh, worthwhile, and important music, former Beach Boy Brian Wilson spent this past summer working on a new studio album in close collaboration with fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine and untouchable guitarist Jeff Beck. Perhaps a curious partnership at first, Wilson and Beck’s combined efforts and talents have resulted in an album that’s met with consistent praise and respect from critics and fans alike, and has proven successful during the supporting tour’s opening shows. Whether speaking in terms of Wilson’s work with The Beach Boys, his solo releases, or in his personal life, his musical passion and careful ear for sound and “beautiful vibrations” have seen him through a career and lifetime of dazzling peaks and agonizing personal battles to now—a time of promising creativity, exciting sounds, tried and true reunions (former Beach Boy singer/guitarist Blondie Chaplin joins Wilson on select tour dates), and new, symbiotic partnerships.
I recently asked Brian about songwriting’s therapeutic value and the mystery and magic it still holds for him after 50-plus years of writing and recording. For more information, visit brianwilson.com and be on the lookout for the 2014 release of biopic Love & Mercy starring Paul Giamatti as the controversial Dr. Eugene Landy, Paul Dano as a young Wilson, and John Cusack as an older, always brilliant, always vital, and forever legendary Wilson.
Hi Brian. Happy Friday the 13th.
Is it the 13th today?
It is. Are you superstitious about that at all or not?
No (laughs). Not really.
I’ve wanted to ask someone with a long career, that’s had plenty of success and experience, what does music mean to you now?
Well about 95 percent of my whole life is music so it means a hell of a lot to me to make music.
Is it cathartic for you?
Oh, a very good catharsis. Music catharsis, of course. Everybody has that. Everybody in the world has that.
What do you think a band would have to bring to the music industry today to be as special and influential as The Beach Boys were?
I think they would bring harmony, very good harmonies.
I know you are deaf in one ear…
Yeah, my right ear’s shot.
Do you think that’s pushed your music composition into unexpected directions?
Well, I mean, I felt a little bit inadequate about my right ear so I think I overcompensated when I wrote Pet Sounds. I overcompensated for my ear.
I saw a quote where you said you’d make musicians play until the sound made sense. What do you mean by that?
It didn’t make sense; it made beautiful vibrations. It may not have made any sense but if it was a beautiful vibration…
When you’re writing and also when you’re composing, are you conscious of what’s happening or is there still some magic involved? Do you try to control or is there still mystery for you?
There’s still a mystery about how I do it. I don’t know how I possibly write songs. It is a mystery to me, it actually is.
So do you look back on your career and sort of wonder where all of it came from?
Yeah, I do that sometimes. I do. It’s a mystery to me how I could have written all of those songs.
Well thank God that you did. They are all so beautiful.
On the new album you’ve collaborated with Jeff Beck and Blondie Chaplin is going to be joining you on some of the tour dates. Do you feel you’re primarily a solo artist or do you thrive on collaboration?
Well when I write songs, I like to collaborate more than write by myself. I’ve always done that for all of my career. I’ve always chosen a lyricist to work with me.
Why is that? It just pushes you to a new place, creatively?
Yeah. It brings us to new levels, new heights.
I think maybe an artist grows most from a strong collaborative relationship.
What’s been the most important collaboration over your career?
Working with Mike Love on “Good Vibrations” was probably the height.
If someone wants to know more about you, there’s plenty of information available about your life, including a movie that’s just wrapped up. What do you feel is the definitive source for all things Brian Wilson?
Well you could check in with my movie next year to learn about my life. That would be a good source. If you buy my new album, that’s a good way to get in contact with me artistically and just, you know, like that.
It just seems if someone is going to sit down and learn about someone or something, they should learn it from the best possible source.
Of course people comment on your absence from the music business. But in what ways did that break improve you creatively?
It gave me time to build up the desire to make music. It gave me the time to build up that need to express myself. Yeah, it was just a godsend.
I hear people claim that The Beach Boys embodied California, sunshine, and optimism. Which artist or band do you think captures today’s mood best of all?
Gee, that’s a hard question to answer. I think Paul McCartney, you know?
And why is that?
Because he’s probably the most gifted musician I’ve ever known and he brings new and beautiful things to people.
You do too, sir.
Brian Wilson will play at the Beacon Theatre Oct. 15 and the Wellmont Theater Oct. 16. For more information, go to brianwilson.com.