See also: Al Jardine Would Much Rather Be a Beach Boy Than Go It Alone Al Jardine played standup bass on the very first Beach Boys single, "Surfin'," and since then he's been an integral part of the band's sonic makeup, playing guitar and navigating complexities not often associated with The Beach Boys: environmental concerns ("Don't Go Near the Water," written with Mike Love), transcendence ("All This Is That"), and spoken word prose (Jardine read Robinson Jeffers's poem "The Breaks of Eagles" as part of the band's stunning "California Saga" from Holland).
Though he left the touring version of the 'Boys in the '90s, Jardine settled a lawsuit with Mike Love and is onboard for a brand new record, That's Why God Made the Radio, with all surviving original members, Bruce Johnston, Mike Love, David Marks, and Brian Wilson (Wilson brothers Dennis and Carl passed away in 1983 and 1998, respectively) and has embarked on a tour in support of the band's 50th anniversary.
Jardine spoke with Up on the Sun about recording a brand new record, the band's "wild and wooly days," the differences between the northern and southern parts of California, his solo record, Postcard from California, and took the time to put in a plug for the Smile Foundation, an organization that The Beach Boys support and have performed in support of.
Up on the Sun: The Beach Boys have a new album, That's Why God Made the Radio. What made you guys feel compelled to make a new record, beyond the reunion?
Al Jardine: Well, Brian has about eight years worth of songs stored up in him and he didn't want to do another solo album. It also coincides with our 50th anniversary, and Brian's desire to reconnect with us, and there's a synergy between having a label like Capitol/EMI to support the tour. It's a one feeds the other kind of thing, and everybody feels very happy about it. It just kind of all works.
The last three songs, "From There to Back Again," "Pacific Coast Highway," and "Summer's Gone," for a "California Suite." The sounds remind me a lot of Smile, which was finally released properly last year. What was it like listening to that completed record, and to some degree did it influence That's Why God Made the Radio? I don't know. I think it just...Smile is its own entity. I don't really think we were thinking about that. It was a natural evolution of where Brian's head is at now. [The "California Trilogy"] has a nostalgic element to it, it has a looking back over the years feel. It's very poignant I think. I kind of thought the production has more of a Pet Sounds-esque feel to it, to me. It uses some of the same techniques. It's a real pleasant, real nice recording. It's a kind of like a little pop masterpiece. It brings you to a place lyrically and emotionally. [That's Why God Made the Radio] is not full of hit records. It's not meant to be a hit record, it's more of a hit career. This is a hit career, trust me on that. This is kind of the icing on the cake.
That suite reminded me of the "California Saga" from Holland (1973). You do a spoken word song song, "The Breaks of the Eagles." Could you tell me a little bit about that? Yeah. It's interesting you mention it. That song really has its foundations in the a little known area of the California coast called the Monterey Peninsula and the San Joaquin Valley, where most of the food for the nation is grown. It's the bread basket of the country, they call it. That's something I always felt close to with the relationship with our fellow man and his struggles. It's one of the "average guy" kind of things. That song came from that. The average guy in the most beautiful on earth, the central California coast where Big Sur is and the Salinas Valley and all of that. It's picturesque, and Brian kind of picked up on that too in some of his work. That nostalgia thing. It's kind of a landscape that we painted long ago. That might have been one of the first of its kind [for us], that kind of trilogy, like what you find at the end of God Made the Radio.
I just rerecorded that for my own solo album, Postcard from California, with Neil Young, David Crosby, and Stephen Stills. That's pretty significant, because I felt Neil Young played an important role in that particular song as the voice of the pioneers. He has that rugged voice that carries the lyrics. You might enjoy that if you're interested in that kind of musical landscape. Brian paints the same kind of landscape emotionally and musically, but in a different way. With His Lucky Old Sun he kind of approached that dynamic in a Southern California area. That's where his focus is. Mine's more about growing up in the northern climates of California.
California is such a vast place. It feels like its own country in a way, and the Beach Boys career has always been tied to California. There's a lot of ground to cover in that state. It doesn't make for a limiting setting as far as your musical travels go.
I escaped the whole Southern California scene like the rest of the guys. None of us really live there anymore, but we work there out of necessity. But in our little dreamscapes, when we write about our favorite things, on a personal level I prefer to capture a different California in my writing, whereas Brian and Mike were very successful in their writing [at capturing Southern California] -- the early stuff-- the cars, the girls, the high school memories, they capture that there, and Robert Christian, a great lyricist, with "Don't Worry Baby" and all those other great cars song. But there's a point where you expand your consciousness and you reach out. But that's how the "California Trilogy" came about; it was basically my rejection of the Southern California culture. Going north to Big Sur.
The set list looks like it gives you the freedom to touch on all the different eras of The Beach Boys, from the great early surf stuff till now, but I was especially excited to see "All This is That" on the set-lists. Once again, that Carl and the Passions record is really ripe for rediscovery. Wow, you're really an audiophile. But that is a very interesting phenomenon. I was surprised myself that Mike really wanted to do that song. I felt, I don't want to get preachy and proselytizing, but it's really a magnificent piece of music in concert. The audience really loves it. It gives everyone a nice peaceful feeling and then when we get back into the familiar stuff. It's a very moving song, not only musically, but lyrically, with the transcription from the Vedas, which is an ancient Hindu teaching. They are thousands of years old they come from the Upanishads, the lyrics, "I am that, thou are that, all this is that," the lyrics are the description of a person's complete transcendence into pure consciousness. So if you can bring the audience into pure consciousness, you've really succeeded. [Laughs]
It's an interesting journey that the Beach Boys took, where you've got all these different stages, and certain things speak to people more, but there's something very interesting to me about the "wild and wooly stage" that I think speaks to me personally, but the beauty of these concerts is that you get two hours to speak to everybody's particular era. I imagine that must feel very gratifying experience. It's an amazing confluence of all these disparate eras and these different, literally, we've got 50 years of material, from Surfin' Safari to That's Why God Made the Radio. I said there weren't any hits on the album, but the other song we do from the album is called "Isn't it Time," and it's a lovely little piece of music, a bohemian thing with a little doo-wop thrown in. It's okay on the record, but it's really great live. I think we're going to re-record it with some aditional work as a single offering. It's a nice little doo-wop piece but very avant-garde. Brian's singing the lead on it, which is nice because I love hearing his voice. When he sings a lead he really knocks them out. Every lead he sings on stage is amazing. Everybody is going to really get a thrill out of hearing him. It's very moving, it really is. The audience is brought to tears during the episode where we have Dennis and Carl singing in video and we sing along live with them and it's like wow. To have Brian, Dennis, and Carl on stage is amazing.
I don't mean to be insulting if there's some sort of plan to do this, but I'm glad you guys aren't going the hologram route. What you're doing sounds much classier. I read about that. It was suggested to us, but it was just decided that original video captured by cameras at the time would be enough, I guess. I don't know -- I don't think we're going to do that. Not at this time at least.
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These are pretty long sets. Are there any songs you don't enjoy playing? I think with everybody present on stage it brings new life to the songs. You can only imagine if you didn't have all the voices there it wouldn't be as interesting. But we've got everybody singing their original parts and putting in 100%. Every night's like a new show. Nobody is slacking off, believe me. Brian's band is very tight -- the backup band is amazing, and it makes our job easier. Our leads are strong you know, they're doing parts we can't do. There's so many parts on every record, but we do our parts and they can do the overdubs.
Was there any nervousness during the lead-up to the tour? It was real natural, it was just like riding a bike. Just get back on and go. We've all been working on our own stuff, our own seperate bands now for years. We sang the same stuff, and recorded too. I enjoy listening to Brian do Smile, that's what I enjoy. And Brian enjoys watching Mike do his shtick, and Bruce [Johnson] enjoys watching me do my shtick, David [Marks] does a nice lead guitar, Bruce does a nice version of "Disney Girls," which is his classic. Everybody admires everyone else. It's pretty nice.
The Beach Boys are scheduled to perform Saturday, July 9, at Grand Canyon University Arena.