The Big Issue : Edition 482
THE BIG ISSUE 17 – 30 APRIL 2015 35 NOBODY IN MUSIC has done more to immortalise the California sun than Brian Wilson, co-founder and resident pop genius of The Beach Boys. But beyond the timeless summer glow of 1960s hits like ‘California Girls’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, Wilson is equally celebrated for more ambitious entries like ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations’. The Beach Boys’ landmark 1966 album Pet Sounds elevated their heartfelt teenage postcards to a decidedly adult portrait of melancholy, even as the songs swelled to rapturous, orchestral-minded heights. After celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary with a reunion album and world tour in 2012, 72-year-old Wilson is now the subject of upcoming biopic, Love & Mercy. The film tells his life story, with Wilson played by Paul Dano during the 1960s and John Cusack during the 1980s. It divides its focus between his early musical success, eventual breakdown following the use of psychedelic drugs, and ill-fated connection to exploitive therapist Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti). The plot culminates in Wilson’s hard-won recovery, thanks largely to his wife, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), whom he married in 1995. Wilson still lives in his native California, where he continues to make solo albums that mingle bright- eyed wonder with a certain lingering sadness. His new LP, titled with the beach-friendly pun No Pier Pressure, touches on several eras of his career. The romantic instrumental ‘Half Moon Bay’ and the longing French horn of ‘One Kind of Love’ both point fondly back to Pet Sounds, while ‘What Ever Happened’ enlists his Beach Boys bandmates Al Jardine and David Marks to rekindle those classic sighing vocals and layered harmonies. “We tried to capture a bit of the feeling of Pet Sounds,” admits Wilson, sounding sleepily amiable on the phone. Working on the new album with his regular co-producer Joe Thomas, he also collaborates with new friends like indie-pop duo She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M Ward) and tries a handful of new tricks. Take the bubbly disco verve of ‘Runaway Dancer’: “We just wanted to do something like The Bee Gees,” he says. No Pier Pressure is a refreshing mix of new and old. While Wilson doesn’t dwell in the past – the new album’s opening line is Life goes on and on, like your favourite song – he doesn’t mind discussing it. And, despite his bandmate Mike Love gaining control of The Beach Boys name after years of ugly legal disputes, Wilson speaks of him with no trace of animosity. In fact, discussing the band’s 2012 reunion, after which Love went back to touring without Wilson, he gushes more like a fan: “Well, they’re great singers, so it was quite an event for me. Mike Love is my favourite rock’n’roll singer.” Asked if he’s surprised by the continued influence of Pet Sounds, which was initially a commercial disappointment, he answers: “No, I knew it was gonna be one of those albums that would last for a long time.” Also, Wilson is proud to have finally finished The Beach Boys’ ‘lost album’, Smile, which he began in 1966 and only completed in 2004. “It was a great experience to see how people really liked it,” he admits. He also thinks the band’s 1970s output is underrated compared to their 1960s era, naming the 1977 album Love You as a personal favourite. Never quick to take personal credit for something, Wilson downplays those perfect Beach Boys harmonies. “I just learned from a lot of people how to make harmony,” he says, citing the 1950s doo-wop group The Del Vikings and the early rock band Bill Haley and The Comets. He himself is amazed at how quickly the groundbreaking, suite-like single ‘Good Vibrations’ came together, after playing it on a left-hand bass while Love came up with the lyrics. Asked if there are any songs or albums in his half-century career that he would do differently today, he answers: “No, actually. I wouldn’t do anything differently at all.” As for a song he’d still love to reinterpret, he singles out the 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit ‘Proud Mary’: “I would slow down the beat, maybe make the rhythm a little slower.” There’s an appealing earnestness and innocence to Wilson, even decades after those aw-shucks early Beach Boys hits. His work may have shaped pop music for generations to come, but his favourite cover version of a Beach Boys song remains David Lee Roth’s over-the-top 1985 rendition of ‘California Girls’. No Pier Pressure is daggy in much the same way, veering into smooth jazz and tropical-tinged New Age without fretting about appealing to today’s trends. Rather, it’s imbued with a time-proof serenity that makes perfect sense from someone who admits that church hymns provided “a very big part of my education”. These days Wilson’s life is kept simple, devoted wholeheartedly to his music and family. “My only real hobby is taking walks in a park,” he says. Asked if those strolls are good for brainstorming song arrangements, he answers: “Not really, no. I don’t think about music when I’m walking.” » No Pier Pressure is out now. Love & Mercy is in cinemas 25 June.