Beach Boy Brian Wilson says ‘Pet Sounds’ ‘came from God’

Brian Wilson performing at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in 2015.
Ben Stas for The Boston Globe/file
Brian Wilson performing at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in 2015.

In a 1964 letter to Marilyn Rovell, who would later become his first wife, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote: “. . . You didn’t know me when I was Brian the Neurotic. No one needed music like I did. Hours at the piano. I was a starving child. Through an act of God . . . I was saved from a life of misery. . . . You are the last of the real persons.”

But talking to Wilson, you feel that he is the last of the real persons. At 75, Wilson speaks quickly, blurring his words. He answers bluntly, honestly, as a child might, with no trace of ego. If you’ve seen him perform or portrayed, as he was in 2014’s “Love and Mercy” by Paul Dano and John Cusack, Wilson can seem like a perfect innocent: Neuroses unhidden, anxieties bared, no persona, no phoniness. Lucky for us, the auteur/composer is back on the road, touring with fellow Beach Boy musicians Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the band’s 1966 opus, “Pet Sounds.”

In advance of their two Bay State dates — they play the Orpheum Sept. 22 and New Bedford’s Zeiterion Theatre Sept. 29 — we spoke to Wilson by phone about his complicated relationship with his father, his struggle with auditory hallucinations, and the inspiration for “Pet Sounds.”


Q. This is tour celebrating the 50th Anniversary of “Pet Sounds.” Are you surprised by how much people still love it?

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

A. Well, they love it because the harmonies are really good. We’ve rehearsed and practiced.

Q. Were you surprised at the reaction when it was released?

A. When it first came out, it didn’t sell, but later on, people started to like it.

Q. A new generation got into “Pet Sounds” from the movie “Love and Mercy.” How accurate is the film?


A. Very accurate; it was very well portrayed. Very well done.

Q. I read that “Pet Sounds” was inspired by “Rubber Soul”?

A. It sure was. “Pet Sounds” was inspired by “Rubber Soul.” I loved “Rubber Soul.” I thought it was a great album.

Q. What about “Rubber Soul” sparked those songs in you?

A. Nothing about it [in particular]; it was just such a great album that it inspired me to want to create a great album.


Q. How does a song come to you?

A. It’s a process. We sit down; I write a little melody; my lyricist writes a little.

Q. How did “Pet Sounds” come to you?

A. It came from God. Through my head into my pants onto the piano keys.

Q. People often call you a genius. What do you think of that term?

A. I think it’s an accurate thing to call me.

Q. Are you writing now?

A. I haven’t written for four and a half years, but I’m going to after this tour finishes. I’m going to write a rock and roll album.

Q. What were your earliest influences?

A. Gershwin’s music blew my mind. I learned harmonies from George Gershwin. . . . I was about 14.

Q. What was your relationship like with your dad? I know you’ve said it was tough, but in helpful ways?

A. My dad taught me a little piano. I’m mostly self-taught, but he taught me a few songs on piano.

Q. But what was your relationship like with him?

A. Not quite loving. He was a little bit rude to me. He said [uses louder voice] “You get out there and kick ass in music! Get out there and kick ass!” And that’s what I did.

Q. So was that helpful or harmful?

A. He was an inspiration.

Q. What was the first song you wrote that you wanted to share with the world?

A. I wrote “Surfer Girl” at 19.

Q. How does music make you feel?

A. It feels good; it inspires me; it makes me very happy. Music means a lot to me. A lot.

Q. What do you like to do besides make music?

A. Nothing. Mostly just music.

Q. What are you listening to now?

A. 1950s, 1960s music.

Q. What’s your favorite memory with the Beach Boys?

A. The night we cut “Good Vibrations” was one the biggest events of my life. They all said “Brian, this is going to be No. 1!” And it went to No. 1.

Q. What’s your favorite Beach Boys record?

A. “California Girls.”

Q. What do you like about it?

A. I like [Mike Love’s] singing.

Q. You’ve said you’ve suffered for years from auditory hallucinations. Do you still?

A. They still bother me but not as bad.

Q. What do they sound like?

A. It’s not clear. Sounds.

Q. You’ve said in the past that the auditory hallucinations started after you did psychedelics?

A. My advice to people: Don’t take drugs. Try to write a song, but not on drugs.

Q. I can’t imagine trying to write music and hearing hallucinations. What’s that like?

A. I hear sounds of music, too. The music is more than the auditory hallucinations. The music keeps me going.

Lauren Daley is a freelance writer. She tweets @laurendaley1. Contact her at