Mike Love and the ‘sonic oasis’ of The Beach Boys
December 13, 2014
On Monday night, one of the world’s most iconic rock bands of the past five decades will visit Champaign as part of its winter holiday tour. The Beach Boys, now synonymous with California-surfer rock and pop music, will take the stage at the Virginia Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale and range from $59.50 to $99.50.
The Daily Illini was able to talk to Mike Love, band co-founder, singer and lyricist for many of the band’s hit songs, about The Beach Boys’ current work and touring experiences.
The Daily Illini: The Beach Boys has changed lineups so much throughout the past five decades. How do you adapt to each change while maintaining cohesion as a band?
Mike Love: Even though the individuals may change, the structure of the harmonies and the arrangement of the song remains what it is. So that’s the beauty of music; in that you can recreate the songs as long as you have a person that can sing that note or play that instrument as well as the original instrumentalists or singers.
We’re really fortunate to have a really great seven-man, seven-piece group these days, which we get a lot of compliments in saying the group has never sounded better. … We’re obsessed in recreating those songs as well as humanly possible.
To more specifically answer your question, The Beach Boys have been changing since the beginning … so we’re really fortunate that we have a bunch of great musicians and great singers, and we’re able to replicate those songs quite wonderfully.
DI: How has your experience touring changed over the years, across audiences and trends in the music industry?
ML: The first thing is the physical realities of touring. When we first started out, we would have a station wagon, which is the precursor to the SUV following a U-Haul trailer, and we’d go set up our own equipment and break it down. In short order, we realized there was this thing called a roadie (laughs) and now we have a wonderful crew of four that goes in ahead of us and sets up our stage with the sound and the lights and everything. I mean the physical act of touring is better by far these days than when we first started out.
But as far as trends are concerned, we’ve seen many, many trends come and be an influence over the years. … The Beach Boys have always been just part of the musical landscape, but we’ve been fortunate enough to have enough hit records to where we’re kind of like, I’ve sometimes said, we’re like a sonic oasis. If you want to listen to The Beach Boys, you’re going to hear some primarily uplifting songs with really nice harmonies and really nice arrangements and stuff, and other trends in music most definitely have come along.
Right now, you’ve got your alternative stuff, and for several years you’ve got hip-hop and rap and all these various forms of music. But the wonderful thing about The Beach Boys, from my perspective, is multiple generations seem to be able to enjoy our music. We’ll see nine and ten-year-old children at our shows singing along to some of the songs that were created decades before they were born.
DI: Do you feel your connection with fans has changed as well? In what ways?
ML: Well, of course when we started out the audience response was primarily really young people who were teenagers themselves and maybe the girls would scream and stuff. Now, 50 years later, they’re not going to scream. But they may well enjoy themselves, like get up and boogie a little bit at our concerts, or they’ll just still there and be appreciative and applaud. Because of the chronological realities, the people will act differently.
But there are some concerts that we do that there was a preponderance of young people there. They’ll dance around and have a good time, just like everybody does at that certain kind of age. So anything can go at a Beach Boys show. … I have fun with it, and however a person wants to enjoy the show is fine with me. I’m just happy that they’re there, and I’m happy that we’re able to do our music and have such a long-lasting career.
DI: How does performing seasonal songs, like songs off “The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album” for your upcoming show in Champaign, differ from playing your classic hits?
ML: They differ only because of the subject matter. But we still have the harmonies, we still have the catchy little arrangements and beats. Some of them are songs that we made up, like “Little Saint Nick” is a classic Christmas single that’s played everytime you go to a mall or on the radio this time of the year. … That’s been going on every year since we recorded the album in 1964.
Along with the ones we made up, we did some classics like “Frosty the Snowman” with an orchestra and “Blue Christmas” and “We Three Kings.” So we do some traditional Christmas songs along with the ones we invented. … I particularly like doing “Little Saint Nick;” I think it’s a fun idea of a song — making up a song that’s calling Santa’s sled a hot rod, you know?
DI: Is it a different experience performing on college campuses in comparison to other locations? How so?
ML: A lot of times we get alumni come in, but it’s really nice when we get the current student body to participate as well. It’s probably a bit more lively; like I said, it’s age specific. It’s nice to see younger people enjoying our music. Every generation looks to the music not only of their time but they often go back into time and appreciate.
… The Beach Boys, The Beatles and Motown are the three most performed musical genres of the ‘60s time period, and we’re still performed quite a bit to this day on the oldies radio station. … You see The Beach Boys on soundtracks and sometimes commercials and the “Full House” reruns and so on, and so we’re always somehow making impressions through our music.
DI: What keeps you going back to the studio and touring after you’ve reached such an immense level of fame and success?
ML: For me it’s the audience response — when you see an audience of a couple thousand people. … (The Virginia Theatre) is a beautiful place, and I think the show’s doing really well. I think we’re 90 percent sold out, so there still might be some tickets left and all that.
But I love performing in those classic theaters; they’re designed to be acoustically wonderful and for us as a primarily vocal group, it’s really nice to be able to hear our harmonies coming back. We like to do an opening set of approximately an hour with an intermission of maybe 20 minutes followed by another closing set of maybe 50 minutes or so. We get to do all kinds of songs – all of our hits but also a lot of songs that weren’t necessary hits or either we just discovered or we’ve just created.
… I meditate twice a day — once in the morning and once in the evening, as it’s meant to be taught — and you can lower your metabolism to a level of rest as twice as deep as deep sleep, and that’s very profoundly restful. So that gives me the opportunity to on a daily basis, day in and day out, eradicate fatigue and stress and tension that comes inherent in aging and activity. … I’ve done it every day since I’ve learned it in December of ‘67.
So I think that’s my secret weapon, personally. We did 140 shows this year, or we’re in the process of doing 140 shows this year, and I doubt I’d be able to do that many or have a positive attitude and level of energy and so on that I’m able to maintain had I not learned transcendental meditation.
DI: How long do you see yourself touring and recording for?
ML: Just as long as we’re healthy and as long as we enjoy doing what we do, and more importantly, as long as there are people who want to come and hear us perform.
DI: What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of your legendary success and iconic life’s work?
ML: I think the fact that we’ve met some incredible people, some really talented people. We had some phenomenal experiences. … I would have never gone to so many places in the world and never have met the people I have met had it not been for our music, so I have a lot to be thankful for.
Sarah and Alice can be reached at [email protected].