MUSIC WRITER IN JAPAN
30th March 2014
Just for the record…
Q: I’d like to start by setting the record straight on a couple of things if you don’t mind. Firstly that The Beach Boys are the longest serving band in rock/pop.
Q: Yeah. The Stones are celebrating 50 years together but the Beach Boys are in their 53rd year.
ML: Our first single, Surfin’ came out in 1961.
Q: What personally keeps you – not the band but you - touring when many of your generation’s artists have retired?
ML: There’s a couple of things. Foremost I would have to say is having an audience that wants to hear you. Were there not an audience that appreciates your music, you obviously wouldn’t be doing it. We’ve been fortunate to have gret recognition in many places around the world and interestingly enough in places where they don’t really understand our brand of English. It’s pretty remarkable when you start a song. I remember playing at Fuji Rock and every time we started another song the audience would yell and in Germany, it’s a similar thing. They can’t possibly understand what we are singing really fast in American style English and yet they love the beat, they love the sound and the concept. The harmonies are very distinctive as well so there remains a very popular demand for the music so that is the primary reason we are doing it. Some other things that work into that as far as I am personally concerned is that I meditate. I don’t do anything to harm the voice such as smoking or drinking a lot or live a crazy lifestyle. On a personal level, I do transcendental meditation which I’ve been doing since learning from the Maharishi in the summer of ’67. I even went on a six month long meditation course one time which is kind of like living like a monk so it’s quite different from the cliché assumption that a person in the music business has to do sex, drugs and rock and roll. Although I do I have several children so maybe the sex part is true. (laughs)
Q: You look very healthy. You’re vegan as well aren’t you?
ML: I tend towards that, yes.
Q: How much of your health do you attribute to being vegan and Transcendental Meditation?
ML: There is a system of health that was introduced to me by the Maharishi, it’s called Ayurveda. Ayus means life and Veda means knowledge. It is herbal and has tremendous rejuvenating therapies and I unveil myself to a lot of these things. I’m not as assiduous as I would like to be because the travel and the locations, you can’t live perfectly according to Ayurveda but has a lot of knowledge. It is the right things to eat at the right times of the year bearing in mind, the body and mind type so there is a lot of knowledge to be gained and a lot of health benefit from all that.
Q: The second point I’d like to ask is that I feel without your dedication to it, The Beach Boys would be now a legacy rather than an active band. You and Brian started the band; Brian went more into production whereas you were the one who took the band around the world for live shows. Do you think that both taking separate avenues helped to keep the band going?
ML: What it did help initially was productivity. We did three albums a year for a period of time. The year Bruce joined the group, 1965, the first song he did with us was California Girls and then we did Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations and the Party album. There was a lot of activity going on there and I ascribe that to Brian having full time at home to writing arranging and producing records. At that time, Brian would stay at home and get a share of our concert revenues and we would get a share equally in the recording royalties so that was the kind of deal we had. It worked for quite a while and led to some really good things. The problem was, there were people running Brian who thought they were being cool by turning him on to certain things like LSD and various other non-prescribed drugs. That led to some big problems for Brian which set him back a number of years and I think in the final analysis, it didn’t do the Beach Boys any favours when he experienced some of the effects from some of the things he did.
Q: Thirdly, you have been unfairly labelled by the press sometimes as the bad boy…
ML: I thought Mick Jagger was the bad boy! (smiles) I don’t want to take away his crown! (laughs) No, I’ve been outspoken and I can be not very politically correct.
Q: No more than anybody else.
ML: Well yeah but I mean it’s a funny thing about being in a group. People say things like John Lennon was The Beatles but then what the hell was Paul McCartney? For some reason, they have to pick a favourite and disparage the others in the process and I always thought of a group as a team. It’s like in sports. You don’t say ‘That guy is really terrible in that position in that sport’ you try to work with each other and bring out each other’s strengths. When Brian and I would write our songs, he is gifted musically but lyrically he left it to me to come up with a lot of things and I’ve always been the one to appreciate poetry and lyrics and literature and spoken word in various languages as a matter of fact. Nihongo, Spanish or anything, I’m always interested in it.
Q: Also around that time, somebody had to take the helm business-wise.
ML: Well that’s another thing. I was always interested in the business of concerts and promotion and marketing. Could I be better? Yes I could. There are better people at it than I that’s for sure but of the group members of the Beach Boys, it would be me that would go to the agency. Our first agency was William-Morris and I would go two or three times a week if we were not on tour. I was very interested in all the functions; which city can we go to, which promoter because if you went without that particular promoter it can be very tough, etc and I personally like the spontaneity of live performances. In High School I was very shy and awkward with the girls although I loved them and being onstage, forced me to become more outgoing.
Q: So how was it writing with Brian?
Sitting and writing a song with Brian, I would be singing in my range primarily and in the first four or five years of the group, that’s why I’m the lead singer on many of the songs. For instance, we did Do It Again in 1968 I think and and I went and got him out of his house, literally his bed, took him down to the beach, looked around, came back and in about twenty minutes or so we wrote the song. I wrote the words, he pounded out the music on the piano, recorded it and it went to No. 1 in England. It didn’t do as well in the US because we were at the end of our deal with Capital Records and they didn’t try too hard but that’s an example of how we would work together.
Q: So it was 50/50.
ML: Yeah in the writing process. Unfortunately my Uncle Murray was administering the publishing and he didn’t give me credit on songs that I wrote every word to like California Girls, I Get Around and Help Me Rhonda. Big records and I was not credited and Brian was not able to stand up to his own father and although he said they would fix it, it never got fixed which resulted in legal recourse which is unfortunate.
Q: I read the transcript of the court case between you and Brian. You weren’t out there to hurt Brian, you were there to just justifiably get you credits back. There was no animosity at all.
Q: In fact, it seems your lawyer was defending Brian more than Brian’s was. It was your lawyer that was saying Brian was on drugs and not fit to testify.
ML: His lawyer was terrifying him and very intimidating. He was saying to Brian that if you own up to Mike writing these songs, you’re going to be bankrupt. He’s already a paranoid-schizophrenic and his paranoia was part of the process they used to intimidate him but I always had compassion for Brian because as brilliant as he is, he did himself indiscriminate harm with the use of drugs.
Q: Of course Brian’s not just a band mate, he’s family which makes it twice as hard.
ML: Exactly. In fact Al Jardine and had a conversation about it. He went out with Brian and Jeff Beck and did about twenty-five or thirty shows and Al was lamenting the fact that he couldn’t really speak to Brian like he used to be able to call or talk to him. There’s a song by the Kingston Trio called Sloop John B, Al gave him the chords and the idea and Brian went in the studio and did a beautiful arrangement of the track which showed up on the Pet Sounds album. So he was lamenting the fact he couldn’t talk to him and I said ‘Well yeah, you’ve known him since High School, I’ve known him since he was born’ because I’m about a year older than him. We grew up together singing Everley Brothers songs and Doo-Wop.
Q: Well then you haven’t been together for 53 years, it’s more like 65 years!
ML: I’m 73 so he’ll be 72 this June so yeah. You see, music has been a part of our life and family culture since we were born. We were born into a musical family. My Mom sang in a trio on the radio which was a big deal back then. She sang in Madam Butterfly, she wrote opera music; she would wake us up in the morning to go to school by turning the Hi-Fi set on 10 with Maria Callas and all these opera singers at the top of their lungs and it was pretty traumatic actually (laughs) and if we played our music – Rock and Roll, Everley Brothers or Do-Wop –she’d have a connection. Christmas gatherings, birthday parties, thanksgivings were always about music. Music has always been the denominator. Even if things were not perfect with a family member, you know, somebody got on somebody else’s nerves or said or did something that somebody else didn’t like, music was the healing salve. I have two sisters who play the harp – I’m the oldest of six - we had a Steinway grand piano, a Hammond organ and a Lyon & Healy harp so music was just a fact of our life. My Mom laid the groundwork and so did the Wilson’s Mom and that was the incubation of the group.
Mike Love – The Man
Q: Aside from The Beach Boys, you do solo shows and the amount of humanitarian work you do is phenomenal.
ML: Well I think I could do a lot more (humanitarian work). I’m interested in the environment and the world is so commercialised. Everything is looked at by most businesses as ‘How do we make money?’ regardless of the impact on human life, animal life and the environment itself. Science is brilliant enough to figure ways to do things that don’t destroy the planet in the process. I’m not against any of the great benefits of manufacturing and society but I am in favour of doing things that are more pro-life and I guess that feeling is enhanced or supported by transcendental meditation.
Q: The Beach Boys seem to have a whole catalogue of albums that have never been released including a couple of solo albums from you. When will we see a definitive anthology, if ever?
ML: Capital records put out an anthology from time to time.
Q: Yeah but it’s always the same. They never seem to dig into the vaults.
ML: There are one or two things that weren’t released. For instance, in our show now we’re doing a song now called Going To The Beach which was on the recent Made In California box set of six CDs. Going To The Beach is a catchy song and in fact, it is so catchy I forgot I wrote it! It was done at the time when we did an album project called Keeping The Summer Alive and recorded at Al Jardine’s studio in Big Sur and was shelved. It didn’t make the album for whatever reason. I can’t even remember why but then when I heard it again I said ‘Hey! That’s catchy!’ and it kind of fitted in with the first part of our show. So once in a while we find these things that were not released, either because we preferred the version that came out or didn’t make the grade or didn’t finish it, maybe we got involved with something else…there’s all kinds of reasons why things are not released. It’s not necessarily a benefit, it can be but groups normally put out what they feel is their best effort. It takes a serious collector of Beach Boys esoteric material to buy one of those albums. I like the album Sounds Of Summer which I think is thirty songs on one CD and includes most of the hits. I like to do the flow of a CD in the same way we do the flow of a show so it’s almost like being there live. You don’t do 409 into God Only Knows into Fun Fun Fun. There are songs that complement each other tempo wise and conceptually and vibrationally.
Solo album, India and The Beatles
Q: So when are we going to see your solo album?
ML: Just this year for George Harrison’s birthday, February 25th, I released a song called Pisces Brothers which I recorded ten years ago but never came out. It’s part of an album I call Mike Love Not War and Pisces Brothers was a reminiscence of the time spent in India at the Maharishi’s place in 1968 where the Ganges comes out of the Himalayas. It’s a very special spot and a very sacred spot for Hindus and it was an extremely remarkable get together. The Beatles were there, I was there, Donovan, Mia Farrow for a little while and the purpose of that get-together was to train people to be teachers of transcendental meditation but as Paul McCartney once told me, “I don’t think it was the lad’s cup of tea.” meaning to become teachers. I think it could have been for George and myself as we’re both Pisces so I wrote this reminiscence about that time which is very special to me and I think it was to George as well. It’s a tribute to George who was very much into the Hare Krishna movement. The song he wrote, My Sweet Lord has the chant in it and the one I wrote has the chorus which goes ‘Jai guru dev, Little darlin’ here comes the sun, Jai guru dev, hare Krishna gonna miss ya.’ We’ll do it in the show and even in Japan there is a wonderful, really respectful appreciation. They can’t possibly understand everything we are saying but they really get the mood and the feeling of it.
Q: Music is a universal language.
ML: It is. It transcends boundaries that are either geographic, national, ethnic or language.
Q: Whilst in India, you famously gave Paul McCartney some advice when he was writing the song ‘Back In The USSR’…
ML: I did and he gave me advice.
Q: He did?
ML: Yes. We were on the roof of this place – it was like a motor port without the motors – little bungalows. He was living in one end and I was in the other and we were on the roof, talking, on a beautiful starry night and he was telling me ‘Mike, you really need to take more care with your album covers.’ Here is the brilliant mastermind of the Sgt pepper album cover telling me we should take more care of the album covers. Well, the photograph on the Pet Sounds album cover was taken at the San Diego petting zoo so it obviously didn’t take all that much thinking. Someone said ‘Pet Sounds – let’s go somewhere where there’s animal life’ but anyway, he said that to me and I said ‘Well Paul, you’re absolutely right. We should take more care of the covers but we always felt was more important was what went in the sleeve.’ That was a touché moment. (smiles) The thing about Back In The USSR was, I guess because I was there he got to thinking in a Beach Boys vein and he came down singing the verses. I said’ Well you know in the middle part, you’ve got to sing about all the girls around Russia.’
Q: So when the White Album came out and you heard it, did you go ‘Wow!’
ML: Well no – I’d sang it, sang along with it. There’s a bootleg of it somewhere. It was wonderful. He came down to the breakfast table vying for food with the monkeys – not the group either (smiles) – so that was a pretty neat thing.
Q: Will we ever see a Mike Love autobiography?
ML: Yes. It will be my side of the story.
Q: Will the Beach Boys live baton be handed to Christian to carry on the name when Bruce and yourself finally call it a day?
ML: Christian likes beach volleyball. He sounds marvellous and I think he has a wonderful voice but it’s not his passion. His Dad’s music is not his passion but he does it beautifully but I think he’d rather be home playing beach volleyball. He’s very fitness orientated and very passionate about it. I’d love to see him carry it on but I’m not planning on retiring any time in the near future. We went to see Tony Bennett the other night, he’s 87 and he sounds fantastic. He puts his microphone down on the piano and sings a capella in the Performing Arts Centre, no accompaniment, Fly me To The Moon.
Q: That’s incredible.
ML: Yes it is! The vocal chords are muscular. If you use them, you stay toned and if they don’t they become flaccid.
Q: Like any muscle, it becomes weak and you have to get it back in training.
ML: Exactly. I was up in the gym today. I don’t go every day but I do some physical stuff, meditate, try and not each as much ice cream as I’d really like to. That disqualifies me from being vegan right there! (laughs) I love ice cream, especially coffee.
Q: Oh well then the next time you come we’ll have to take you to Ice Cream City in Ikebukuro. It has garlic ice cream, chicken wing ice cream….
ML: Oh no! Thanks but I’ll stick with my coffee ice cream!
Q: Mike Love, thank you very much indeed. Have a great show.
ML: Thank you. I hope this doesn’t come out with all back stabbings from a journalistic approach.
Q: Not at all – we are redressing the balance in this article.
ML: Oh that’s nice. I will do that in my book as well.
Q: You know Mike, researching this I found so much rubbish on the internet.
ML: It’s just drivel. There has been a concerted effort to disparage me who have not been named but they will be named at the right time. The point is there are actual lies. Here is one little minor thing: ‘Brian Wilson had the first verse of California Girls and Mike finished it.’ Not true! I wrote every single syllable of it other than he had (sings last line of the chorus) ‘I wish they all could be California girls’ but I did the east coast, west coast, midwest, southern girls, and everything else but there is that kind of mis-information out there. Surfin’ USA, a big record for us, I wrote all the words to that but there’s stuff out there that says it was Brian’s girlfriend’s brother. Just absolute garbage and it perpetrated by certain unscrupulous types who will go unnamed for now.
Q: Thank you very much Mike. I shall look forward to reading it.
ML: Thank you.