New York – It’s been a stunning year for Brian Wilson.
The former Beach Boy released his rerecording of the group’s “SMiLE” album to critical acclaim, and staged a worldwide tour chock-full of standing ovations. The original “SMiLE,” recorded more than 37 years ago, was never released officially.
The Nonesuch Records release bowed at No. 13 on The Billboard 200. The set, whose full title is “Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE,” has sold more than 300,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and has been nominated for three awards at the Grammys on Feb. 13. Two nights before that, he will be feted as industry charity MusiCares’ person of the year at the Palladium in Hollywood.
Wilson is already writing songs for his next opus. “I think it will be a rock’n’roll album,” he says. “Wouldn’t that be great? ‘SMiLE’ was a pop album. We need rock’n’roll for sure. We just want to try to make something that makes people get out of their seats and dance.”
He laughs heartily just musing about his new rock tunes, yet his eyes can turn to shadows quickly. Wilson has long received treatment for mental illness, and he says he still battles mood swings.
“SMiLE” was scrapped in 1967 as Wilson neared a mental breakdown. Drugs, pressure from the other Beach Boys – especially his cousin Mike Love – and Wilson’s weak mental state doomed the project. Though the album was shelved, a few original “SMiLE” tracks – “Wonderful,” “Heroes and Villains” and “Surf’s Up” – found their way onto subsequent Beach Boys releases.
“People are much more ready for ‘SMiLE’ today,” Wilson says. “It was ahead of its time. I’m glad I waited. Now it’s finally time.”
Wilson describes “SMiLE” as the American journey – it takes listeners on a magical mystery ride from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii. “It represents early Americana. The Beach Boys were very American, but ‘SMiLE’ is even more Americana, I think.”
The new “SMiLE” sessions were not all easy. Wilson admits he feared that the bad memories of 1967 would haunt him. “I had some of that,” he says. “But I got through it… It brought back a lot of memories of when we were on drugs, stuff like that. And it brought back good memories because of all the creativity that went into it.”
The demons, however, are never far away. “I’ve overcome a lot of them,” he says. “Not all of them, but some of them… Most people don’t understand my moods.”
Wilson credits his perseverance largely to his wife Melinda.
“I found the spirit,” Wilson says. “(Melinda) inspired me. She gave me a solo career. It was her idea. I owe my life to her.”
Wilson adds that his current band is better than the Beach Boys. “I’ve never played with a band so good in my life.”
Wilson enlisted the help of old friend and original “SMiLE” collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Wilson and bandleader Darian Sahanaja were laboring to read a 38-year-old lyric sheet to “Do You Like Worms?” (renamed “Roll Plymouth Rock” on the new album). Wilson called Parks, who remembered the song verbatim, and the friendship was reborn.
Parks “created a third movement for ‘SMiLE’ with me,” Wilson says excitedly. “So we have three movements instead of two.”
During Wilson’s performance of “SMiLE” last fall at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Parks made a surprise appearance, receiving a standing ovation.
Wilson still can’t grasp the impact and success that “SMiLE” has had. “I wake up in the morning and I go, ‘Oh, my God, I thank you, God, for another day of life.”‘