Q&A with Brian Wilson on new album ‘At My Piano’ and new film ‘Long Promised Road’
Brian Wilson has just released At My Piano, an album of instrumental, solo piano versions of Beach Boys classics, including big hits like "God Only Knows," "In My Room," "California Girls," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," and "Good Vibrations," as well as a Smile medley and some more underrated songs like "Till I Die" and "Friends" (the latter of which Brian calls one of his favorite Beach Boys songs). Instrumental piano versions of classic songs might not seem like the most exciting thing on paper, but this is actually a gorgeous album. Especially if you're already a big Beach Boys fan, it's a treat to hear these familiar melodies in a new way. Even all these years later, there's something wondrous about the way Brian plays these songs.
The album is out today and you can stream it below. Also out today on streaming services (including Amazon Prime and Google Play) is the new Brian Wilson documentary from director Brent Wilson (no relation) and Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine, Long Promised Road. It includes a new song by Brian co-written with My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
We caught up with Brian and his frequent collaborator Darian Sahanaja (who helped assemble the 2004 release Brian Wilson Presents Smile) over email for a Q&A. Read on for our chat...
Where did the inspiration come from to revisit these songs with just piano and no vocals?
Brian: Well, it wasn’t my idea. The record company (Decca) brought the idea to us and it seemed interesting. So we tried it out. It is weird without vocals.
What did you discover about these songs by playing them in this fashion that maybe you had never realized or thought about before?
Brian: What I discovered was that it's all about the music.
Many of the songs are renditions of your biggest known hits, but there are a few lesser known gems like "Friends" and "Till I Die." What went into choosing the songs for the album?
Brian: The label had a list of their choices, then I had mine and me and Darian (Sahanaja) just sort of picked what was best. “Friends” is one of my favorite songs by the way.
Tell us a little about the "Sketches of Smile" medley. The songs in it flow together so naturally, though they aren't all next to each other on the official 2004 and 2011 Smile tracklists. Why did it make sense to you to connect these four songs? Do you still think about other ways Smile might have been arranged, even after the 2004/2011 releases?
Brian: I’ll let Darian answer this one. As for arrangements, I’m not sure I can answer that question. I don't really think about other ways to arrange it. I think it turned out pretty good
Darian: For the most part, the songs from Smile were a result of variations on the same theme, with many of them in a similar key. So I asked Brian to play as many sections that were in C#, which is one of his favorite keys. From there we looked at what he had and fit them together much in the same way we did for the 2004 album.
What's your favorite Beach Boys song to play at this point?
Brian: Always “California Girls.” I like everything about it: the western boogie in the beginning, the vocals. It's a great song and I dig playing it live.
There's a new Brian Wilson documentary coming out soon - there have been many films about both you and The Beach Boys over the years, what makes this one unique?
Brian: This film was about hanging out with my friend Jason. And Brent the director. It's a guy hang... a buddy hang. It was fun we did cool stuff and ate a ton.
Earlier this year, The Beach Boys released the Feel Flows: The Sunflower & Surf's Up Sessions 1969-1971 box set. Pick that up, along with other Beach Boys and Brian Wilson records, in our online store.
Brian recently brought his Greatest Hits tour to NY's Capitol Theatre. Check out pictures from that show...