Any article about the Beach Boys, no matter how seemingly pleasant its reason for being written, is going to have an air of tension about it. This is a group that, in its 50-plus-year history, has been one of the great contradictions in pop music, producing gorgeously harmonized songs like "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Good Vibrations" and "Surfin U.S.A." while going through some of the best-known intra-personal dysfunction in history. There are decades of lawsuits, mental breakdowns, and personal excesses in the story of the Beach Boys, with many of the battles being between singer Mike Love and his first cousin Brian Wilson, the two men largely responsible for writing the songs that have endeared the band to millions and gotten them enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In fact, the press release that details the band's new holiday-music themed tour, which combines the classic hits with selections from Love's hit Christmas music album Reason for The Season and the Boys' 1964 release The Beach Boys' Christmas Album, ends with the line, "This concert will not feature Brian Wilson, Al Jardine or David Marks," meaning that the Beach Boys these days are Love, longtime member Bruce Johnston, and a newer group of players featuring Christian Love, Mike's son. (Similarly, Wilson still tours with his own band, which includes Jardine and his son, Matt Jardine.)
So perhaps the best thing to do, rather than attempt to construct some sort of narrative about who and what the Beach Boys are now is to simply present our interview with Mike Love, in which he talks about the band's new "Reason for the Season" tour, his nomination for induction into the 2019 class of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the lasting legacy of the band he's co-fronted since 1961.
City Paper: So tell us about this new tour; what can people expect when you perform at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center.
Mike Love: "A performing arts center is our favorite kind of venue. The acoustics are great, the sight lines are great, everybody has a proper seat, and it's a really nice experience for all of us because we can hear what we're doing. We start with an hour of music, a lot of the big Beach Boys hits, and then some songs from The Beach Boys Christmas Album which came out in 1964, highlighted by "Little Saint Nick," which you hear in every mall if you go shopping. And then we'll do a bunch of songs from Reason for the Season, which has been doing tremendously well — it debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard holiday album chart, which is pretty amazing."
CP: The hallmark of the Beach Boys has always been the group's vocal harmonies; how much rehearsal do you have to do nowadays on the vocals?
Love: "Songs like 'I Get Around,' 'Fun, Fun, Fun,' and 'California Girls,' we've got those arrangements down pat. It's just a matter of being rested and energetic and being able to do your best during a concert. But as the new songs, or the ones we don't normally do, like 'Little Saint Nick,' we've all got our parts and we had to re-rehearse a bunch of the new things."
CP: Reason For The Season came out on an independent label; for bands like the Beach Boys, the goal was presumably always to be on a major label like Capitol Records. Can you talk a little about the changes you've seen in the music industry?
Love: "Well, BMG is an independent label, but it's doing pretty well. They have a lot of acts. And they've been doing really well by us. Reason for the Season was in the Top 10 on the Independent Music charts, and that's a really good showing. It's pretty darn nice. I'm glad it's doing well."
CP: Talk a little about your nomination for the Songwriters Hall of Fame?
Love: "There are two categories: One is songwriters' and then there are performing songwriters. In other words, performers who write their own music. I'm in that latter category, because I sang 'California Girls, 'I Get Around,' 'Good Vibrations,' all the way back to 'Surfin' Safari' back in 1962. And I co-wrote a lot of those songs with my cousin Brian. And then I wrote 'Kokomo,' which I wrote with John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas. And I've been singing those songs every night onstage for more than 50 years. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It would be nice to be inducted."
CP: Given what you have gone through with these songs over the years, has that changed your perspective on them at all? Is there any bitterness, or a bittersweet reaction to the Songwriting nomination?
Love: "The human frailties, stuff you're not happy to talk about, are things that have happened in virtually every family. But on the other hand, the real story of the Beach Boys is how that music we've created has meant so much to so many people for so many years. We get fan letters from people who served in Vietnam, from single moms who would play [The Beach Boys' 1974 hits compilation] Endless Summer to get their kids in a good mood, from children who've seen us on Full House reruns. I don't deny that there are crummy things that happened — bad lifestyle choices that impaired people's health, mentally and otherwise. My cousin Dennis died because of his excesses. My cousin Carl unfortunately passed away 20 years ago from lung cancer. He'd started smoking when he was 12 years old. And that was a sad, sad thing. He sang so beautifully on 'Good Vibrations' and 'God Only Knows.' My son Christian is singing it now in concert and he sounds fantastic, but Carl is always with us when we sing that song. So there are a lot of sad things that have happened, but I think every family is touched by mortality and drug abuse or alcoholism. So yeah, there's all of that. But to focus on that would be to lose sight of the value of the Beach Boys' music, which was to create some pleasure and harmony and positivity around the world. The music has transcended boundaries and borders and time periods. That's what the big story is."