Mike Love, not war
The number one selling American band of all time, the legendary Beach Boys are coming to Castlebar. Nearly 50 years after the band were formed in southern California, original member Mike Love brings the band to the west of Ireland.
Ahead of the gig on Saturday, June 26, we caught up with Mike from his southern California base as he reflected on five decades with one of the most influential bands in history. This is the full-length interview. If you would rather read the adbriged version click here
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Edwin McGreal: Next year The Beach Boys will be 50 years in existence, where do you get the energy to keep going Mike?
Mike Love: I personally learned transcendental meditation with [famous yoga guru]Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in December of 1967 and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve gone through some long meditations, done some residents courses and I’ve become a teacher of TM, along with Alan Jardine [fellow founding member] and I just kept it up.
It’s a very simple and natural and effortless way to relax and get some rest. Your metabolism can actually get twice a level of rest than through sleep. It is profoundly relaxing and repairs a lot of otherwise wear and tear mentally, emotionally and physically. It is really great because I’ll close my eyes and meditate on the plane and instead of getting somewhere and being completely wrecked, I feel reasonably good.
It doesn’t replace sleep but it definitely helps quite a bit. It really does me anyway, and I really appreciate having being taught that by Maharishi and I keep doing that every day, I meditate, and its been a great help. That, and we try to exercise a little bit. We stay at nice hotels where they might have an exercise room or a gym.
We don’t burn the candle at both ends like we might have done in the early ’60s. You learn very quickly if you are primarily a vocal group, and the Beach Boys are primarily a vocal group, we always emphasise our vocal harmonies, and you can’t sing if you’re going to drink a lot, smoke a lot. I mean you can’t sing the kind of harmonies we do if you are going to destroy yourself. We just try to take it easy and be a little bit reasonable in the lifestyle department.
As part of learning transcendental meditation, you travelled to India with the Beatles. What was that like?
I learned TM from Maharishi in Paris in December of ’67, and then in February of ’68 I went over to India and the Beatles were there as well, and so was Donovan, and Mia Farrow was there for a little while. It was actually a teacher-training course, a gathering to train teachers of Transcendental Meditation. I didn’t really realise that that was the case when I first went there, I was so new to meditation. I had only been meditating a month or two and yet I was invited to India by Maharishi, and I said ‘I don’t know about the other guys but I’ll be there’ and it was really the most fascinating time of my life.
I was there at the breakfast table one morning when Paul McCartney came to the table with his acoustic guitar saying hey Michael, will you listen to this: ‘I flew in from Miami Beach, BOAC’ and he sang me the original version of ‘Back in the USSR’ and I told Paul: ‘well you ought to talk about all the girls around Russia like we talked about all the girls around the world in ‘California Girls’ and he did. We had a couple of nice conversations there and listened to Maharishi lecture in the afternoon and evening. It was really, really a fascinating time.
Do you find that your meditation allows you to go deep into yourself and reflect on the direction your life is taking?
Absolutely. It also allows you to not be pulled into things that are not good for you. It gives you a really nice outlet for stress rather than taking to the bottle or smoking a lot of pot or other drugs and stuff. People meditate themselves because they are just trying to feel better and transcendental meditation is a natural mental technique that you can perform and that provides that relaxation and also a little bit of broader perspective.
I’m sure that it proved useful because temptation was all around.
It wasn’t far away … people in my own family like my cousin Dennis (Wilson) became addicted to alcohol and various types of drugs. He ended up drowning in 1983, long before he should have passed away … and then my cousin Carl, unfortunately 12 years ago, he passed away of lung cancer. But then he started smoking when he was, like, 13, so these lifestyle choices we make can have a tremendous impact on your health and well-being. I’ve just always chosen to do my meditation and try to be reasonable in my life choices and it has been working out so we, The Beach Boys, are looking at celebrating our 50th anniversary in a couple of years.
The 1960s was a phenomenally exciting decade for The Beach Boys.
The greatest. Wonderful things were happening and also, some seriously messed up things. Like my cousin Dennis was roommates with [infamous American serial killer] Charlie Manson . That wasn’t so swell. At the same time I met Maharishi and learned meditation and went to India and things like being voted the Number 1 group in England in 1966 as a result of Good Vibrations coming out and going to Number 1. Number two in that poll was The Beatles and number three was the [Rolling] Stones. That was kinda neat. Obviously there’s no one more successful than The Beatles, but it is really nice to be in that echelon of achievement. The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Motown are three main musical genres from the ’60s that are popular to this day.
This legacy must make you immensely proud?
Yeah, I’m really grateful that the hobby my cousin Brian [Wilson] and I loved to pursue, which was getting together and singing harmonies, became a profession. It is a great blessing that we as singers and musicians were able to make into a profession what was really just a love of ours, casually, back when we were teenagers.
It has been widely reported that you didn’t rate ‘Pet Sounds’ prior to its release and it went on to become the band’s signature album. You must be sick of being reminded of this?
Also that is totally inaccurate. There have been somethings said about me that haven’t been entirely accurate. Brian and I actually took that album to Capitol Records in 1966 and played it for them. The person we played it for in Capitol Records said “Jeez guys, great, but can we get something more like ‘Surfin’ USA’ or ‘I Get Around’.” It was Capitol Records that really didn’t know what to do with the album because it was a bit advanced for its time but we all worked on it extremely hard. We worked very hard on making those harmonies the best they could possibly be and I contributed in songwriting as well as singing on that album so it is not really accurate that I wasn’t a fan of that album; the album was great, an amazing production.
While the ’60s was a hugely successful decade for the band, the ’70s and ’80s were less so. Was that frustrating?
What it was was Capitol Records were really good for us in the ’60s and then we came to the end of our agreement there and we went to another label and coincidental to that my cousin Brian, he pretty much became a recluse for a while for several years, and he didn’t take as dynamic a part in the production of our recordings, and it got a little more democratic and spread out.
My cousin Carl played a bigger part, Bruce Johnston played a bigger part; instead of Brian being ‘the Stalin of the Studio’ as I used to call him, it became a bit more democratic and Brian didn’t take as dynamic a role as he once had. I think after the ’60s, where we had hit after hit after hit, and so I don’t think it is reasonable to accept that that would keep up forever but the ’60s did provide the foundation of our continued success to this day, obviously.
Although, funnily enough, Good Vibrations was Number 1 in 1966 and Kokomo went to Number 1 in the US in 1988, 22 years later, and it became our biggest-selling single. It was Number 1 in Australia for eight weeks, so it was a big hit in various parts of the world. We’ve had more recent success since the ’60s, that’s for sure, but we’re looking forward to doing stuff to mark our 50th anniversary which will be 2011-12.
I’ve had conversations with Brian, I’ve had dialogue with Alan Jardine. The three of us are the founding members who are still around and, of course Bruce Johnston is on tour with us. He took Brian’s place in 1965. The first song he sang was ‘California Girls’ and he worked with the Pet Sounds album with us the next year and ‘Good Vibrations’.
The original Beach Boys are Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, Mike Love and Alan Jardine. Al left the group for a couple of years early on and David Marx came in and played with us for a couple of years, and then Al Jardine came back into the group. Then Brian, under pressure to produce albums – Capitol Records wanted an album every few months – retired from the Beach Boys touring group, and that’s when Bruce Johnson came in in 1965.
A lot of modern artists reference The Beach Boys as leading influences on their work. What current musicians do you enjoy listening to?
I unfortunately get exposed to some rap music from my 14-year-old daughter (laughs) but I also get exposed to Leona Lewis, Beyonce and Alicia Keys, those are pleasant exposures. Some of the rap stuff, she tells me ‘this is a really great song’ and I say ‘that’s not a great song, it’s not even a song’ (laughs). I say ‘play me something with a melody and some harmonies and I’ll be happy’.
I’m just as likely if I’m driving around to throw on the oldies channel just out of morbid curiosity to see if they’re going to play a Beach Boys song. I don’t think I’m obsessed with any new artist but I’m not against them either. It is a compliment though when they allude to the Beach Boys being an inspiration, or the ‘Pet Sounds’ album being the greatest. Rolling Stone magazine said ‘Good Vibrations’ was the single of the century in one poll one time. That’s a pretty amazing thing to say.
Is that the achievement you are proudest of, that ‘Good Vibrations’ was picked as the single of the century?
I think, artistically, ‘Good Vibrations’ has to be right up there. Number one: it was so unique – so many songs are derivative, meaning they sound like other songs, just recycled. ‘Good Vibrations’ kind of stands on its own. It is so unique. Also I wrote the words and I came up with the chorus – ‘I’m pickin up good vibrations/she’s giving me excitations’. Between Brian doing the track and the vocal arrangements and me doing the chorus hook and all the words, it was a true collaboration and was amazingly successful and unique and so I would have to [pick it], creatively, because it is unique and successful and it stands the test of time and is still an amazing song today, and the song I was happiest to be involved with.
But there are many other good songs too. ‘California Girls’, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, we had a ballad called ‘The Warmth of the Sun’ which is absolutely beautiful. There’s not a damn thing wrong with that song, it’s beautiful.
It’s kinda like if you have half a dozen kids and you were to ask which is your favourite kid? Well one might be a better athlete, one might be a better scholar. For different reasons, different songs will be your favourite and for different moods too. If you are in a happy, up tempo mood and cruising out to go on a road trip or something, you might want to listen to ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ and ‘I Get Around’. If you are in a more melancholy mood you might listen to ‘In My Room’ or ‘Warmth of the Sun’.
You seem like a reflective person, what is your philosophy on life?
I think my philosophy in music has been to accentuate the positive. We’ve known for years there have been problems. There’s been the Vietnam War, there’s integration problems, economic ups and downs, personal ups and downs, family issues and problems and disease and death and there’s some very challenging things this planet presents to you, but hey, guess what? … I felt that the Beach Boys, because of the harmonies which are from the heart, we began singing for the love of making music, not for the money, because we didn’t make any money originally (laughs). That warmth of the harmonies combined with focusing on the positive things in our lives – the neat things about our cars, the neat things about our girls, the neat things about our environment, our beaches, the nifty things about our school and the sports and the camaraderie of it all, we accentuate the positive. I always have in the writing.
I’ve always been that way, accentuating the positive. I know there’s millions of problems in the world, but if you dwell on those, then you’re going to be miserable. I think my meditation helps me to transcend and get beyond the grip of all the negativity and regenerate from within a more positive attitude, which comes in very handy when you’re going to do 150 concerts a year.
Performing so many gigs indicates a real passion for performing?
This year we will probably do 150 to 160 shows. After Ireland we’re going to Finland and Denmark and then Sweden and then down to the Canary Islands and the Spanish Coast and back to Sweden and who knows from there.
What we like to do every night is prove we can recreate those songs like they’re meant to be sung, like the recordings. We have an excellent musical director and lead guitarist to make sure every part is what it should be and we have got nothing but compliments recently on how fantastic the show sounds and [people saying] that the group has never sounded better. To see how people respond so beautifully to your efforts and to see that reaction from all ages is really, really fantastic. Obviously we get to travel to some pretty cool places and see the world and obviously we make a living doing it and those are two good things, but the special part of it is recreating those songs and doing the absolute best job that we can and seeing the audience join in and have a great time with us.
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