Seven Questions For Brian Wilson

The Beach Boy on his big-screen portrayal, the magic of ‘God Only Knows’ and his favorite spot in Vegas

Brian Wilson | Photo by Richard Isaac

Brian Wilson | Photo by Richard Isaac/Zuma Press

What did you think of Love & Mercy, the recent biopic about your life?

I loved it. I was really scared to watch the parts where I took drugs and where I was in a doctor’s program for nine years and he wouldn’t let me talk to my family. He had me cooped up in this house with a couple of bodyguards. It was really rough.

Paul Dano portrayed me in my early 20s when I produced records like Pet Sounds and Good Vibrations. John Cusack, who portrayed me in my later years when I met my girlfriend Melinda, [did] very well. Elizabeth Banks [who played Melinda] is a sweet girl, and she did a wonderful, wonderful performance.

What made you want to work with contemporary artists on No Pier Pressure, released in April?

We said we’d like to try something new—three or four guest artists to give the album more variety. We called up Nate Ruess of the group Fun. He came down. I wrote a song for him called “Saturday Night.” We worked on it for about an hour and finally got down to business, and he did a great job singing it.

You’ve said you wrote “God Only Knows” very quickly. What’s it like when you get hit by that kind of creative lightning bolt?

I started playing the piano, and my collaborator Tony Asher started writing lyrics immediately. As soon as I started playing music, it was right there with his lyrics. It took us 45 minutes to write “God Only Knows.”

Have you ever felt like that at any other time in your career, when everything came out just perfect and immediate?

No. It was an experience. The harmonies of it. In the middle section where it goes [singing] “ba-ba-ba-ba-BA-ba-ba,” it was a pleasure to do. It was a gas to do.

You’ve talked publicly about wanting to do a project centered on Chuck Berry. As someone who has continued to write music throughout his life, does it surprise you that someone like Berry, who was so prolific, stopped writing music eventually?

He was prolific. He was probably one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll artists of all time. He’s in his late-80s, so I’m sure he’s slowing down by now. “Sweet Little Sixteen” inspired me to write “Surfin’ USA.” It’s similar to “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Not every note or chord is the same, but it’s very similar. I wrote “Surfin’ USA” with him in mind to sing. But Chuck Berry’s music inspired me to write rock ’n’ roll songs. He was very influential in my life.

What do you want to do next?

I want to do a tribute album to the rock ’n’ roll greats, like Berry, Little Richard, Paul McCartney and Barry Gibb—cover versions of their songs. We’re going to do it in about three or four months. By that time I’ll have all the guest artists—12-14— I want or need. It’s going to be a rough recording trip, but I think I can do it.

At this point in your life, does the idea of shaping your legacy mean anything to you, or is it something completely out of your control?

I’m proud of my legacy. People have called me a genius, and I’m very, very proud that people consider me to be a genius at music.

When you were performing with the Beach Boys and coming to Vegas in the ’60s, was there anything in particular that struck you about the city?

I liked the bathtubs in Caesars Palace.

Brian Wilson

With special guest Rodriguez, The Chelsea, 7 p.m. July 10, $50-$125,

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