Since 1963, Al Jardine has sustained his position as "the quiet one" in the Beach Boys by keeping a low profile in a band that have endured more drama than an entire season of Melrose Place. After several years of desperately crass musical attempts that were geared towards the El Torito happy-hour crowd (remember that "Beach Boys with the Fat Boys" record from the late '80s?), Al finally split from the Beach Boys earlier this year, leaving Mike Love as the sole, original member of "America's Band."
Al is currently focusing his musical energy on unearthing much of the deeper, non-hit, "album" material from the Beach Boys' vast catalog with a new band largely composed of Beach Boys' offspring. The mild-mannered Jardine took time out of his rigorous rehearsal schedule ("I'm working on the charts for 'Monday Monday' right now, and it's driving me nuts!") to speak to BAM.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your current project.
Right now we're in the middle of rehearsals for a Starlight Foundation benefit at the Shrine Auditorium. [The Starlight Foundation] is a charity that helps terminally ill children. We're calling the group "The Beach Boys Family and Friends," and it includes Carnie and Wendy Wilson, Owen Elliot [daughter of the Mamas and the Papas' Cass Elliot] and my sons Adam and Matthew Jardine.
Q: Do the Beach Boys still exist? It's pretty much just "The Mike Love
Show" at this point, isn't it?
That's right. Michael [Love] and I had been touring for awhile together and it just didn't seem to be fulfilling, so we had a creative parting of the ways. He's still working with "The Beach Boys," and he's doing what I call the "party circuit" -- the hits. He has always excelled at doing the uptempo, lead singing style, but I felt we'd been confined to that for so many years and I desperately wanted to fill the void when Carl left. With the Beach Boys Family and Friends, I hope to produce some in-depth music from the album material that's seldom ever heard.
Q: In other words, the touring version of the band started to become
something of a joke?
Oh yeah. We had to confine ourselves to just the hits. We were like a traveling jukebox, and then we added cheerleaders to the jukebox and it started to look like an overly decorated Christmas tree. And it just got further and further away from the music and more into the Barnum & Bailey thing, where you pull out all the circus animals, the tent, the chimpanzee with the organ grinder -- the whole thing. It just got to be too much of a circus and I wanted to put the music back in the show, so I created this idea of doing what I've called the "b-sides."
Q: What's your personal favorite Beach Boys record?
There's too many; there's just too much going on there. I mean, we could spend a year figuring that out. Emotionally favorite, maybe "California Girls." I just enjoy that particular style, and that song reminds me of some kind of an anthem. There are so many things over the years that Brian [Wilson] has written that I'd totally forgotten about and, quite frankly, discarded. There's a real obscure one called "Be Here in the Morning" from the Friends album that we'll be doing with this new group. That was probably the most uncelebrated Beach Boys album, but it has the most interesting music on it. It's interesting how reality changes. We're somehow confined to our name, the Beach Boys; it confines you to a certain image, but there's so much there that's so rich.
Q: The two most well-known moments of you singing lead vocals are "Help Me
Rhonda" and "Sloop John B.", yet, you also sang on "Vegetables" from the
aborted Smile project. Wasn't Paul McCartney at that session?
Paul helped produced a little bit of encouragement, and he and Brian just chit-chatted while I was doing the lead. A real interesting evening. "Vegetables" is one of those unheralded and seldom heard tunes from the "psychedelic era" of the Beach Boys. We went through all these phases, just like all the other '60s bands, yet ours were somewhat more subtle. The Beatles were "a big explosion," Brian would say, and were kind of a quiet and long-lasting one. I always thought we should have done a concert together with the Beatles.
Q: All the other members of the Beach Boys have released solo albums except
Why should I? I like to be surrounded by harmonies and fullness and richness and vitality. Most people have to do it just to get it off their chest, but what a waste of time. I've been at the microphone, I've sang the parts, I've stood next to the people that sang the parts, so I'm more or less qualified to deliver the goods. Why should I pander to anything else?
Q: The Endless Harmony soundtrack/documentary was exciting for a lot of
Beach Boys fans, in the sense that it contained a bounty of unreleased
material, including "Loop de Loop (Flip Flop Flyin' in an Aeroplane)," a
1969 recording that you actually went in and finished this past year.
That's a good example of digging into the treasury. There's some phenomenally diverse material on that. It took me 29 years to finish that song. That's a typical Jardine move. I've got another one in the can that's just like it, called "Don't Fight the Sea." It's pretty good, but I just can't seem to get it finished.
Q: Similarly, the just-released Ultimate Christmas CD contains 1964's The
Beach Boys' Christmas Album plus many of the tracks the band recorded in the
mid '70s for a Christmas album that never saw release.
This additional, previously unreleased music will help to embellish it, and it brings a lot of originality to it. A lot of those songs are not so highly produced and polished, because, unfortunately, we did the band tracks in a makeshift studio in the Midwest. We really tried to add some polish to it up in my studio in Big Sur by adding a spacializer, which is a process by which you kind of get a 3D sound. Hopefully that gave the songs a little more depth. On "Santa's Got an Airplane," for instance, you can hear the sound of the engine going around the room and it spreads the stereo 180 degrees. My boys, Matt and Adam, actually sing lead on one of the songs, "(I Saw Santa) Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."
Q: I understand that many of the '70s Beach Boys titles from your Warner
Bros. tenure are being reissued next year sometime.
Those will be out in about March or April. The Beach Boys Family and Friends will be exploring a lot of that material, because those are our favorites. When the girls [Carnie and Wendy Wilson] were young, we were literally making a lot of these records at Brian's house in the early '70s, so the music's in their blood. It's a dream come true for the girls to finally be singing a lot of those songs.
Q: What was your reaction when you first heard the backing tracks that
Brian had recorded for Pet Sounds prior to the band doing the vocals?
Dismayed. And that would probably be an understatement. We'd been traveling on the road with this music -- the jukebox was out there -- and when we came back, here's this incredible wealth of material, and it took us quite awhile to adjust to it. We approached it like a job and to be brought up to speed because this isn't music you could necessarily dance to; it was more like music you could make love to. Like that great Moody Blues album, Days of Future Past, it had that kind of complexity to it, so it was quite a departure. Once we got the hang of it though, it was magic. It wasn't easy, but if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.
Q: That's an interesting response, considering that 30 years after it's
release, Pet Sounds is universally hailed as one of the most beloved albums
of all time.
Again, we're confined by our name to a certain criteria, and the messenger is out there singing the leads, and you're confined to that form. So, to break out of that mold you have to take chances, and that's what Brian was trying to do. And here I am 30 years later, doing the same thing trying to express the wealth of music that doesn't fit into that early mold. It's not that Mike's not doing a good job, but I'm just trying to represent the other 90 percent of the music. It's like Huey Lewis and the News record, "Hip to Be Square." We'll be hip without trying to be.