Q&A: Brian Wilson Is 'Thrilled' For The Release Of 'The Smile Sessions Box Set'
November 1st, 2011 2:00pm EDT
Despite never seeing release, The Beach Boys’ unfinished 1967 album SMiLE persevered. Intrepid Beach Boys fans created their own versions of the album cobbled together from album tracks and bootleg studio recordings for decades, and despite not knowing exactly what songwriter Brian Wilson intended with SMiLE, it was clear that the album was a staggering work of genius. In 2004, Wilson released his own re-recorded version of SMiLE to wild acclaim. Now, Capitol and the remaining members of The Beach Boys have prepared a The SMiLE Sessions Box Set, a close approximation of the complete album as well as 5 discs worth of outtakes and studio chatter.
Interviewing Brian Wilson was as exciting as it was terrifying. He has a reputation for being a difficult interview, frequently offering only short, sometimes incoherent, responses. Wilson never really came across as being mean spirited, more uncomfortable with the format. In fact, most of his interviews start off with a disclaimer much like this one—a kind of “look, I tried” from the interviewer. But things worked out pretty well when Starpulse spoke with Wilson over the phone. In our interview, Brian touches on the new SMiLE set as well as some talk of his current projects, including his collection of Disney songs In The Key of Disney, his favorite Phil Spector group and Pacific Ocean Blue, his brother Dennis Wilson’s album that Brian claims to of never heard.
Starpulse: I feel like I should talk to you about the SMiLE Box Set, but I feel like it’s been covered so much over the past 40 years, I’m not even sure where to begin.
Brian Wilson: *chuckles* Yeah. We decided to put out a box set of the unfinished parts of SMiLE. It’s a very interesting album, because there was an hour and a half of music to choose from, you know? It took us a couple of months to get it all put together.
SP: How involved were you in that process?
BW: Well, I was involved to the point where when my engineer would mix down like, say, five minutes of music, he would send me a CD and I would approve it or tell him what changes to make. Stuff like that.
SP: Over the years, what was the biggest obstacle in getting these recordings released?
BW: *pause* Biggest obstacle?
BW: There was no obstacle.
SP: Well, then why did it take so long?
BW: You mean to release it?
BW: Well, because we didn’t think anyone was ready for it.
SP: Okay, well why now then?
BW: Because it’s the right time.
SP: Whose idea was it to put it out? Was it the record label or was it a group decision?
BW: It was my wife’s and my idea.
SP: How does it feel to finally have all of this music released to the public?
BW: Well, it’s a great feeling; it’s a great thrill because I know they’re going to like this one. I just know it’s going to sell like you wouldn’t believe. It’s gonna be a smash! It’s gonna really sell.
SP: I believe that... Does the box have any material that we haven’t heard before?
BW: Yeah, it’s stuff that was not on the SMiLE album.
SP: Was there anything left out from the sessions?
BW: Anything left out, what do you mean?
SP: Well like a track that you came across in the archives or something that you didn’t want to be released.
BW: Oh, no. No, no no.
SP: Would you say that this version that’s coming out is a complete version or would you say that it’s as close to finished as possible?
BW: Close to finished as possible, yes.
SP: Would putting this box set together have been possible had you not made your version [of SMiLE] in 2004?
BW: No, no. It wouldn’t have been possible no.
SP: So was your version used as like a blueprint for putting this together?
BW: Yeah, actually a good way of putting it, a blueprint, yeah.
SP: Over the years a lot of bootlegs were produced of SMiLE, did you ever listen to any of those?
BW: No, I never did. We never got a hold of any of them at all.
SP: Was there any reason that you never bothered to listen to them or were you just not interested?
BW: Wasn’t interested at that time, no.
SP: I want to talk about your other albums as well with The Beach Boys, when you listen to something like SMiLE, how do you think it holds up against something like Today?
BW: What do you mean?
SP: Well, they sound totally different. I was just wondering what kind of feelings come up when you listen to Today versus when you listen to SMiLE?
BW: Well it brings back the memory of a very happy time of life. We were in our twenties. It was a very happy time.
SP: I read that your favorite Beach Boys album was Love You, is that still the case?
BW: That’s one of my favorites, yeah.
SP: Why that album?
BW: Well, because I like the songs on it, you know?
SP: I wanted to touch on your new album with the Disney [songs] if that’s okay.
SP: How did you go about choosing the songs for that album, did you even have a choice?
BW: The Disney people came to me and asked me if I would like to do that album. And so we took 15 songs, narrowed it down to 12 and then did the album. We said we’ll rehearse it, we all learned it together and then we recorded it.
SP: I was wondering if you considered doing your own version of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” because of the Phil Spector and Bob B. Soxx version?
BW: No, I never thought of doing that, no.
SP: While we’re on the subject of Phil Spector real quick, I want to talk to you about The Ronettes
SP: You seem to like them most out of other Phil Spector artists, is that true?
BW: Yeah, I was always partial to Ronnie Bennett [Spector]’s voice, I thought she was a good singer… Ronnie Spector is my favorite singer and “Be My Baby” is my favorite record.
SP: Is there any chance in the future that we’re going to see you take on any other people’s music, like you’ve done with Gershwin and Disney?
BW: I don’t know. We don’t know yet all, we don’t know.
SP: I understand you’re working on a new Brian Wilson album, is that right?
BW: That’s right.
SP: What can we expect out of that?
BW: You can expect some good some good vocals, some interesting songs and... some concept songs.
SP: And you’ve started working on that already, haven’t you?
SP: Have you recorded anything so far or are you just writing?
BW: We’ve already recorded four or five things, and this Friday, we start working again this Friday.
SP: Do you have an idea of when it’s going to be out?
BW: No, I don’t. Next year some time, probably.
SP: So you’re just kind of taking your time with it?
SP: Do you listen to new, contemporary music at all?
BW: I don’t, I listen to oldies but goodies.
SP: Is there any reason why you don’t dwell into anything that’s new, [because you’re a big influence on a lot of musicians today.]
BW: I don’t know what that would be because I don’t listen to current music.
SP: I wanted to ask you something about, the other day in the news that they’re making a movie about your brother Dennis [Randall Miller and Jody Savin’s The Drummer starring Aaron Eckhart as Dennis Wilson].
SP: Do you have any thoughts on that at all?
BW: Well I miss him a lot, and I’ll watch it when it comes out.
SP: And I also read recently about his album, and I was a little confused as to whether or not you had actually heard it, because I read in one instance it said you hadn’t heard it and one said that you had. Do you know what I’m talking about?
BW: No, I don’t follow you. What do you mean?
SP: Well, Pacific Ocean Blue, I read once that you said that you loved it and I also read that you had never heard it.
BW: Well, I was lying when I said that I loved it because I have never heard his album. I never heard it.
SP: Is there any reason you never listened to it?
BW: No there wasn’t, I just never got around to listening to it. I’m going to because I think he might have made some good music.
SP: It’s a great album. I think you might like it.
BW: Have you heard it?
SP: Yes, I have.
BW: What sort of songs are on it?
SP: It’s him but he’s a little bit more grizzled and weathered, and there’s a nice [dark beauty] to everything. It’s a good album, it has a great vibe. [Forgive the panicky, half-assed description; Brian Wilson put me on the spot – K]
BW: Well, I’m going to listen to it then. I’m going to listen to it.
SP: Okay, well you’ll have to let me know what you think about it.
SP: With SMiLE coming out, what’s the one thing you’re most excited about that you think people will enjoy?
BW: I think people will enjoy, mostly the *pauses* What do you call it? What’s the question again?
SP: What’s the one thing out of the new box set out of the new SMiLE box set that you think people will enjoy the most?
BW: I think people will enjoy “Heroes and Villains” the most.
SP: I’ve been wondering, even though that SMiLE was never released, it’s a really popular album, why do you think that people have been so drawn to it over the years?
BW: I think they were just curious as to what we were up to musically, and I think they should probably appreciate it.
The Complete SMiLE Sessions box set is in stores Nov. 1.
Photo Credits: Capitol