This is the latest installment in our Unlikely Encounters series, where local musicians interview a big-name artist. You can read the rest of the installments, including Darius Rucker, Nickelback, and Coolio right here.
Brian Wilson is a stone-cold rock 'n' roll genius. He is the single most brilliant composer of the 20th century, a true God-breathed musical legend. His music has been knocking me out my whole life. When I was a little boy "Surfin USA" and "Catch a Wave" would just super-charge my day when I heard them on the radio. When I was in high school, I was picking up the "Good Vibrations" and "Getting Around "while the other kids were into the commercial saccharine of the day. In college, Pet Sounds completely took over my life. I listened to it day and night, every day. In my early 20s, the Smile session bootlegs completely shattered my ego.
Brian Wilson made me dream. He gave me hope that even though I maybe wasn't made for these times, just like he sang about, I could do something great just like he had. I started the Explorers Club in hopes of creating and continuing harmony-based music in the tradition of Wilson and the Beach Boys. In the Explorers Club, we knew we needed a mess of help to stand on our own, but I figured out how to tap into some of the spiritual space Brian had — or at least a glimpse, anyway.
That's just it — Brian Wilson's music is spiritual. He has said that when he was creating it he felt like God was creating music through him — Wilson had no idea how he could do it on his own. Brian and his brothers, cousin, and friends — for a moment in time — were God's messengers of harmony to the world. Just listen to "Our Prayer" or "You Still Believe in Me," and you can feel the angels of sound covering your ears with their wings as you pass into a heavenly state.
For so long I was Rolling Stoned and Beatled 'til I was blind, but Brian Wilson opened my eyes. Maybe one day I will be able to see the harmony and music that he sees in everyday things, but until then I will just keep picking up on the California feeling that his timeless, spiritual pocket symphonies send out.
Jason Brewer: So you've had a big year. You had a new record, No Pier Pressure, a new movie, Love & Mercy, you have a book coming out, I am Brian Wilson, a lot of tour dates. I wanted to know what has gotten your creativity flowing so much the last couple of years with all this new product you've had out.
Brian Wilson: Well, I wanted to get back into the swing of things, you know. And my wife was always encouraging me to, ya know, to write, so we decided to make an album. And it took us a year to make the album — a year!
JB: That's a long time, but my band, the Explorers Club, has been working on a new album for a year too, so I know how that goes.
BW: Yeah, it's quite tedious.
JB: Do you have maybe another record up your sleeve after this one?
BW: We might do, I think, a tribute album, where I sing a tribute to the great rock 'n' roll singers.
JB:Who are some of your favorite rock 'n' roll singers you want to do a tribute to?
BW: Well, Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, you know.
JB: I saw you back in June in Nashville, Tenn., where I live, and you were fantastic — the band was great. And speaking of your band, some of the guys in your band — Darian [Sahanaja] and Probyn [Gregory], and a few of the other guys, actually have recorded with me, on my band's new album, Together. So I wanted to know what it's like working with musicians like that who understand the details of your great, fantastic, and complex music, every night.
BW: Well, they've had a lot of practice, you know. So it's like second nature to them. They can play a concert with no sweat. They're very, very good. They're the best band I've ever heard, the greatest band I've ever heard.
JB: I agree. Darian and Probyn added some great parts to the album because I needed a little help and I contacted them and I said, "I know you're busy with Brian, but I want to get you on my record." So it was a great treat working with them, and I know you've worked with them for so long, it's got to make you feel great every night when you go on stage.
BW: Yes, very much so, yeah.
JB: OK, so I wanted to ask you one more question about your live show. You've been putting some really unique songs in the set. Of all the songs you do every night, what are your favorite ones to sing?
BW: Well, "Wouldn't It Be Nice?," "Don't Worry Baby," "Then I Kissed Her," "California Girls," and "Good Vibrations." Those are my five favorites.
JB: Those are absolutely fantastic ones. Do you mind me asking which ones you sometimes are a little less excited to sing?
BW: Well actually there's a song called "Busy Doin' Nothin'." I don't really like doing that one too much. Ya know, most of them I like though, most of them.
JB: I really like "Busy Doin' Nothin'" because I love the Friends album, but I can understand it's got a lot of unique chord changes and a lot of words, so sometimes I bet that could be a little tedious.
BW: Right, it was a little tedious. It's tedious to sing. That's why I don't like to do it.
JB: I completely understand. I have songs like that I do with my band that I'm just like, "Guys, I don't want to sing that," and they tell me I have to. So, I want to talk a little about the movie real quick. I saw Love & Mercy like three times. I saw it at a film festival, and I went to the movie theater, and I took my wife to see it. We loved it. We cried and we laughed and just were in awe of the movie. Every bit was just a fantastic film. The scenes in the movie that were my favorite were the Pet Sounds scenes, where you're in there making Pet Sounds with all the musicians — the Wrecking Crew folks. When you saw that on the screen, after they were finished with the movie, did it make you, by chance, want to get back in the studio and make records to analog tape again like you did in the '60s?
BW: Yeah, it did! It actually made me want to get back in the studio. You're right, it really did.
JB: So, do you prefer working with the old-fashioned way of making records or making them in digital?
BW: I like digital. It's a lot easier and a lot more perfectionist — you can perfect the pitch and the sound.
JB: Yep, I use that to my advantage all the time, too. I've worked in analog and digital. The great engineers at Reel Recording in Nashville and I blend them together and it sounds really fantastic. OK, I mentioned earlier how much I love the Love You album...
JB: And songs like "The Night Was So Young." I think that one goes [singing] "The night was so young, and everything still."
BW: Right, right.
JB: It's such a great song. Is there any chance you'd play any songs from that album in your concerts coming up this fall?
BW: You know, that's a good idea. I never thought of that, but I just might do that, ya know. I just might talk to my band leader about that and see what he thinks. That would be great — "The Night Was So Young" — that would be a very, very good song to do on stage. Thank you for reminding me about that!
JB: Alright, I've got two more questions for you. I've heard that you really like to listen to oldies radio.
BW: Yeah, I listen to oldies radio all the time.
JB: When you turn on the oldies station, what's a song that comes on that just gets you really excited and you crank it up really loud?
BW: Well, "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones.
JB: That's a great one.
BW: And, that's about it. The Rolling Stones' music.
JB: OK, so, my last question would be, is it possible in the next couple of years that you may be looking at retirement?
BW: No. Not at least for another five or six years.
JB: So, you're going to make the rock 'n' roll record, and hopefully we get to hear that, and you're going to do some more touring next year — is that right?
BW: That's right, yeah. Yeah.
JB: Well, Brian I really, really appreciate you talking to me today. I can't wait to see you guys when you come to Charleston, and I can't wait to hear "The Night Was So Young," right?
BW: I'm gonna have that one together for you, you'll see. You know what, thank you very much. Ya know, that's one song I hadn't remembered for a while. Now that I think about it, it would be a fantastic song to do on stage.