Devout Beach Boys / Brian Wilson fans anxiously await Brian’s upcoming album. Over the last decade Wilson has released some memorable projects, including Brian Wilson Presents Smile, That Lucky Old Sun and Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin.
In anticipation of Brian’s upcoming release, we revisit his 2008 release, That Lucky Old Sun; an incredibly evocative song cycle. Included in this coverage are interviews conducted with Wilson, Scott Bennett, Jeffrey Foskett, Van Dyke Parks and Paul Von Mertens (from the Fall 2008 edition of Endless Summer Quarterly [ESQ]).
For years we’ve been teased with Brian’s conceptual brilliance on 1988’s “Rio Grande,” the Van Dyke Parks’ produced Orange Crate Art, and 2004’s presentation of Smile. The more important aspect of That Lucky Old Sun is that unique feel that only Brian can bring to a sound on a much deeper musical level. Wilson’s ability of conveyance through his compositions has always set him apart from any artist, anywhere. It musically carries transportive elements, particularly when it’s created existentially from his life influences of fear, loneliness and solitude — with the balance of Brian’s musical influences of Gershwin, Bach and Spector. These pieces are what make a “Brian Wilson song cycle” (full of subtle nuances of sound and meaning).
In 2008 That Lucky Old Sun was an all new stand alone rhapsodic love letter that speaks directly to Wilson’s life experiences: life in California, love, humor and emotional displacement. Brian Wilson is as revolutionary today as he was in May of 1966, when he revealed the emotionally evocative opus, Pet Sounds. And like that body of work, you could listen to just the music, and the “feel” would still be present. That Lucky Old Sun might be considered a “Love Letter To California,” but Brian’s love for music is the real story.
Q: Brian, talk about the trust you feel with your collaborators. Why is that important to you?
Brian Wilson: I trust that they know how to write about me. If they’re going to write something introspective about me, I trust they can do it. Scott’s a wonderful lyricist, a great guy, and he’s very-very original lyricist. He has a very good sense of poetry. He did a really good job tapping into me in a biographical sense.
Scott Bennett: A lot of people want the myth of “Brian the one-man genius” thing all the time. Brian’s not closed to a good idea, and he gets really excited when somebody has a good idea. I think it’s neat when people call attention to the fact that The Beatles were John Lennon and Paul McCartney, sometimes George Harrison and George Martin and The Beach Boys were mostly Brian.
Jeffrey Foskett: To me the importance of That Lucky Old Sun is that it is something that Brian wanted to do…and did on his own. No one asked him to go to Scott’s and record an album. He phoned Scotty and said “Hey do you have a studio at your place, I would like to record some material.” I think throughout that summer, they ended up with 18 cuts…many of them on That Lucky Old Sun. It’s fitting that the CD ended up being a tribute / homage to Southern California because that’s where Brian has lived his entire life. He, as a human / artist, is associated with Southern California and his songs are anthems to the Southern California lifestyle that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy my entire adult life. I love Terry Melcher’s quote speaking about Brian: “Here’s a guy who wrote a song and created an industry.” How insightful is that?
Q: Scott Bennett is your collaborator for most of your work on That Lucky Old Sun, why did you choose him for this project?
Brian: I wrote a song with him about five years ago, and he showed good signs of being a good lyricist, so I called him in to write lyrics for my new album.
Jeffrey: In my opinion, Scotty’s contribution to That Lucky Old Sun cannot be overstated. If Scott didn’t have the studio and recording knowledge that he possesses, we wouldn’t have That Lucky Old Sun as we know it. Brian could have chosen anyone to record with that summer but he ended up doing the majority and most fruitful work with Scotty. Brian did record in several other studios that summer but ended up spending the most time at Scott’s place. I think he and Scotty jived on some ethereal level and Brian is very tuned into that and that’s when Brian asked Scott to help write the lyrics on some of these songs. I think what surprised me most was that Brian didn’t write the majority of the lyrics in “Midnight’s Another Day.” That song seems almost autobiographical when listening to it yet he credits Scott with writing most of those lyrics. That surprised me greatly! One really has to know Brian on a very intimate emotional level to write those lyrics … think about it.
Q: Scott, how did you become integrated as Brian’s newest collaborator?
Scott Bennett: David Leaf had suggested that I work with Brian ages ago. I learned very quickly that Brian isn’t somebody who finishes something that you start. He’s good with, “I’ve gotten this far, now I’m stuck. What can you do?” I thought it would never happen. I didn’t want to push the issue. I was not quite the “Brian-a-phile” that everybody else was, so maybe the thought was that I would bring something new to his sound as opposed to making it sound like a Beach Boys record. At the same time, having played with Brian as long as I have, I’m aware of what works for him – he definitely infused his thing into my own songs like the middle part of “Pearls.” I understand his vibe, but I’m not afraid to break the mold. On the new material I was mostly a lyric man, which is funny to me because music comes really easy to me and lyrics are work. Brian came around and we were recording all these songs.
Q: Choose a song from That Lucky Old Sun and take the readers through the process of basic melody, musical arrangement, lyrics, adding instrumentation, vocals, song/track fruition.
Jeffrey: Let’s examine “Morning Beat.” Brian had written that song two summers ago. Last summer, when we were on tour in Europe, specifically Germany, he started to teach us some songs from what would become That Lucky Old Sun. “Morning Beat” was the first song that Brian taught us as a band. No chord charts, no road maps, just Brian in front of his very eager band learning things as fast as Brian could communicate them. He walked over to each player individually and doled out music parts. He was very specific about me playing acoustic (box) guitar. He wanted the two different pianos to play at different times, added organ in then the other guitars, bass and drums. When we finally rehearsed it to debut it in London, we were way ahead of the game because Brian had taken the time to teach us at sound checks in the summer of 2007. Likewise with recording the material, we laid things down fairly rapidly because we had performed it live in London, Europe and Australia. When recording the material we would always start with drums, bass, guitars and pianos. Overdub any extraneous guitars, ukes, (then) organ or other stringed instruments. Percussion was always overdubbed. Vocals were added when the tracks were complete sans strings and horns. They were the last things added.
Q: I hear a hint of “Let Him Run Wild” in “Good Kind of Love.” Are you conscious of this?
Brian: No … I never thought of that. I did think about Carole King, so I gave her a call and asked her to come to Scott’s studio. I thought of her for the track, so she came in and sang it. That’s when I decided I wanted to record “I’m Into Something Good” [the Herman’s Hermits hit co-written by King].
Scott: “Good Kind of Love” sounded like an old school Brill building Carole King thing. The next thing I know Brian tells me, “Carole King is coming to your house tomorrow to record with us.” Next, Brian told me that he wanted to record “I’m Into Something Good,” and we had Tommy Morgan [Pet Sounds’ bass harmonica player] perform on it, and Carole shared vocals. We cut “Proud Mary,” and the Buddy Holly song “Rave On” with Danny Hutton singing lead on it. We worked at break neck speed and got about 18 songs recorded. Then the call came from Royal Festival Hall to do a new work, and they wanted it to be a bit conceptual. Brian had called up Van Dyke Parks and gotten this spoken word narrative about California
Van Dyke Parks: I wrote five short narrations that Brian wanted to recite in his present program. I did provide one song lyric on “Live Let Live.” This is because Scott (who is the real collaborator on Brian’s new project) felt that the song lyrics Scott provided (and he did an incredible job on words and music) only matched up neatly with four of my submissions. I heard all the songs Brian finished up with Scott…those with Brian’s words, and the others with new lyrics by Scott. They did a fabulous job in their collaboration. Darian just brought it all together, with the same modest mastery he brought to the recent Smile. I was happy to play a decidedly small part in Brian’s new project, and hope it’ll lead to a real collaboration some day. For now, this honor is more than I ever expected or hoped for.
For the complete unabridged q&a, visit Endless Summer Quarterly’s merchandise page and order the issue. THAT LUCKY OLD SUN ISSUE OF ESQ.
©2014 David Beard / All rights reserved
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