The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


INTERVIEW: Brian Wilson
Luke Cartledge , May 23rd, 2016 14:17

We catch up with one of the minds behind one of pop’s most celebrated records as he celebrates the 50th anniversary of its release

This year, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds turns 50. The album, widely regarded as not only Brian Wilson’s masterpiece but also one of the great pop records of all time, was originally released on 16th May 1966. To celebrate this milestone, Wilson is currently touring the album around the UK. Ahead of his three-night run at the London Palladium, tQ spoke to the great musical auteur about Pet Sounds, his lack of formal musical training and his simultaneous love of and fear for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

Wilson said he was happy to be in London, having arrived in the city a couple of days early in order to prepare for the Palladium concerts. So far, the Pet Sounds shows had been well-received, by which the songwriter was unsurprised; despite his incredibly prolific rate of production in the mid-1960s, Wilson said that he “knew Pet Sounds would be a real special album - the voices made me feel that.” “The voices” – the frequent auditory hallucinations about which he has long spoken openly – are symptomatic of the bipolar and schizoaffective disorders from which he has suffered since 1965. Although his mental health has improved in recent years, he still hears “the voices”, and spoke of his tendency to use music as a coping mechanism when faced with his various problems. “When I was young, I used music as a tool for escapism,” he said. “I still use it in that way.” He went on to highlight the consoling quality of his own music: “’God Only Knows’ has always been there for me.”

Despite being so widely celebrated for his effortless command of highly complex harmonic and melodic compositional techniques, Wilson has never received any formal musical tuition. In reference to the effect that his being self-taught might have had on his approach to songwriting, he said: “it just makes it easier to record. It makes it easier to know the correct pitch and make your voice regular. If I’d had classical training, it would’ve changed the way I write music. I can’t explain it, though. It’s like a mystery to me, you know?” However, in the past he has declared his love for Queen’s classically-inspired ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, stating in a 1976 interview with Creem that “I’m very, very fond of that record, but scared of it at the same time”. He told tQ that one of the only other records to have had such an effect on him was The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’. “That record scared me a lot. But I love it as well.”

One of Pet Sounds’ more interesting details is the unusual rhythmic palette on which many of the songs are built. The record, like many Beach Boys albums, does not feature any use of hi-hats. In their stead, drummer Hal Blaine added the percussive textures of objects like plastic bottles and Coca-Cola cans. On this, Wilson said, “I wanted to use at least 15 instruments on the record. My percussionist had those, and I asked if we could use them. I just knew which ones to use.” He also described his deliberate attempt to instil Pet Sounds with an atmosphere of youthful innocence: “I have appreciated that kind of sound since the earliest days of The Beach Boys.”

Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour continues over the coming weeks with dates in Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Glasgow and more. For more information, visit Brian’s website.