The Beach Boys’ Al Jardine on touring and recording with Brian Wilson: ‘We’re going all the way back’

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Even the disintigration of a long-hoped-for Beach Boys reunion hasn’t stopped Brian Wilson’s third-act creative resurgence. Ask Al Jardine, a childhood friend and long-time bandmate who’s been with him every step of the way.

Jardine, an original member who split with the band in the 1990s, returned for 2012’s That’s Why God Made the Radio album and concert dates — only to find himself left behind again (along with Wilson and founding guitarist David Marks) when Mike Love elected to continue tour dates as the Beach Boys in a stripped-down configuration. Jardine, Marks and Wilson subsequently got together for a smattering of incredibly well-received shows of their own, leading to the announcement of a full-fledged tour with special guest Jeff Beck. (Turns out, the guitarist is a huge fan.) Jardine is also involved with a forthcoming album from Wilson.

In Part 1 of an exclusive SER Sitdown, Jardine discusses the new tour in advance of its opening date on Friday, Wilson’s forthcoming studio project and completing his own long-awaited new solo effort A Postcard from California

NICK DERISO: This new concert series with Brian and David Marks is set to feature not just the jukebox hits, but also these terrific moments of long-form song craft like “Heroes and Villains.” That’s what’s been missing from Beach Boys tours for years.
AL JARDINE: We have some seriously deep cuts. We’re going all the way back. We’ve added a lot of dimension to it. So, we have some classic American stuff in there — classic Beach Boys. And now, we’re going to have classic Beck, too. (Laughs.) Who knew he was a huge Beach Boys fan? Suddenly, we’re going to be doing some car classics with Jeff. He happens to be a classic auto collector and restorer. He grew up listening to all of those great car songs. So, we’re going to jam in the encore with all kinds of Beach Boys classics. The show is going to have a lot of dynamism. It’s got a lot of deep cuts, a lot of those big hits. It’s really an extension of the reunion tour, with some added brush strokes.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: In Part 2, Al Jardine talks about Beach Boys tracks from “Help Me Rhonda” to “Sloop John B” to their 2012 reunion project, and a favorite moment from his current solo disc.]

NICK DERISO: How will Jeff Beck fit into the concert experience?
AL JARDINE: Jeff is going to join us for a couple of cuts from SMiLE that he wants to play. We’re going to let him play the melody to “Surf’s Up,” and then we’re going to sing background against it. That’s one of my favorite cuts. We’re going to do “Our Prayer” and “Surf’s Up” after the intermission, and then he’s going to take over for a few minutes and do some of his songs with his band. Then, we’re going to come back for an encore.

NICK DERISO: I remember reading in an interview, more than 15 years ago now, that you were working on an environmentally charged solo song called “Don’t Fight the Sea.” How did you finally get to the point where you could call it finished last year?
AL JARDINE: I had been working on that thing forever! (Laughs.) I’m still working on it. The song is pretty good, I think. I think it came off well. It hammers home the message continuously. The vocals (which feature his fellow Beach Boys) are great, and that helps me appreciate the message more — when you have an iconic group of singers like that. That helps to bring the message home.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: A new rarities-filled Beach Boys box set showcases not just Brian Wilson’s genius, but also important later contributions by his brothers Carl and Dennis.]

NICK DERISO: It’s certainly something that we take for granted.
AL JARDINE: You know, I was asked by a group called the Seakeepers, an international organization whose responsibility is to monitor the ocean, to preview the video for their annual meetings in San Francisco. I was honored to be asked to speak to the group. They know a lot more about the ocean than I do; that’s for sure. And it was amazing. I’m hoping to do some more work with them. I had so many people come up to me and say how much they enjoyed the video. And it’s still not finished! We just added (former Defense Secretary and CIA director) Leon Panetta to the ending. We already have Paul McCartney at the end, saying: “Don’t fight the sea.” Now, we have Leon Panetta. We’re trying to get as many superstar human beings on the video as we can. It’s an on-going project.

NICK DERISO: I loved that you included a new version of “California Saga” on Postcard from California, this time with Crosby, Stills and Young. That always felt like a lost hit single to me.
AL JARDINE: We were out of sync, as usual, with the radio folks of the day. It was very strange. We were always either ahead of the ball, or behind it. We just did what we felt like doing, and what influenced us at the time. So, I had a chance to recreate it, and was very happy to get Neil Young on there. He enjoyed it. He said: “I want this to sound just like you.” And I’m thinking to myself: “No, I want to do it the way you would do it!” (Laughs.) He kept studying my lead, so I just let him go with it. Stephen Stills said the same thing: “We all wanted to be Beach Boys.” (Laughs.) It’s funny to hear that from those guys.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: 2012’s ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio’ reunion, in particular over its final sequence, showed how much magic could still be conjured by the remaining Beach Boys.]

NICK DERISO: Young was also part of an unfinished song from those same sessions called “My Plane Leaves Tomorrow.” Do you see that becoming part of a future studio project?
AL JARDINE: I’m hoping to finish it up, and make that the lead-off song. It’s pretty cool. It’s about a soldier who loses his way in the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts. Very plaintive. I modelled it after a Kingston Trio song, which is really an old American folk song, called “All of My Trials.” It’s had several titles over the years. But it reflects the mood of a soldier who joined up and wants to get back home. It’s about not giving up, not saying goodbye.

NICK DERISO: Meanwhile, you’ve now gone right back into the studio for a project with Brian.
AL JARDINE: The new album has that classic energy. We actually have a new car song, called “Run James Run” — which I’m singing the lead on. It’s pretty darn cool. That should be out next summer. We’re just putting stuff in the bank right now. It sounds just like the old Beach Boys. It’s amazing.

NICK DERISO: After everything that happened at the end of the reunion, there’s a sense of redemption in seeing you out there with Brian and David. Together, you’ve reclaimed your piece of the Beach Boys legacy — and you’re now building on that.
AL JARDINE: I like to say we’re the heart and soul of the band. And, as long as we are able to continue to produce quality lyrics and music, I think we should. Brian said the funniest thing the other day: “Hey, Al, I just turned 71, so we’ve got about 10 more years. We may as well give it our best while we’re here!” (Laughs uproariously.) I said: “Brian, I hope we have more than 10!”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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