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Topic: Al Jardine talks about SMiLE

Al Jardine’s comments on SMiLE:

Alan Jardine-A Beach Boy Still Riding The Waves
by Ken Sharp. This article originally appeared in Goldmine, July 28, 2000.

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Al: In fact, “Heroes And Villains” at the start, was one of the first things we ever did, really early on, even before we recorded “Surfin'”; We were working on that song way back in '61. We all became instruments for Brian's barber shop concept. He said, “Let's all do this, let's sing this idea.” Carl would be one instrument, I'd be another. Mike would be another instrument.

Question: So the idea of “Heroes And Villains” was born back in 61.

Al: Yeah, the idea, not the song. We started singing a capella first because we didn't play instruments. With none of us really being players, we would just scat in the car going to a show or something or going to school, anywhere.

Question: Do you view the “Surf's Up ", “Sunflower” period as a watershed of creativity as a band?

Al: Yes. We were forced to go into creative hyperspeed because Brian was retreating in the opposite direction as fast as we were in the other direction. Carl and I had to piece together “Cool, Cool Water”. That song was a 48-hour mixdown. I saw two sunrises on that. Bruce and I were just delirious and desperate. We were all just walking around like zombies. So weird. How could anything take so long? And we had to reconstruct Surf's Up because we couldn't get Brian to finish it. So Carl ended up singing half of it and we kept Brian's original verses. And I think Carl sang the middle parts. It was like reconstructing the Smile album in a way. That's what that period kind of represented.

We were working on “Heroes And Villains” just prior to his withdrawal and we were excited. Actually Brian was so excited, more excited than the rest of us about the way “Heroes And Villains” the single, had come out. We went down to a radio station, I think it was KRLA, and burst in on the jock and played the record. Brian wanted to be the first person to play it for L.A., for the whole city to hear it, and it just didn't have any punch. There was no sonic value in it. The song was great, but the sonic value was bad. We were experimenting in the studio with limited equipment. We had just finished “Good Vibrations” in Columbia Studios with the greatest equipment ever made at the time, state-of-the-art limiters and compressors and equalizers and the most exotic microphones and state-of-the-art recording machines. And the next thing we did is we decompress and we take the Beach Boys P.A. system, take it home and break it down. It was designed by our engineer, set that up and used that as out playback monitors and rented a 16-track machine. And that was our studio. So no matter how good you are, it's gonna be limited to the equipment that you are able to record with. I'm trying to figure out how why we went from United-Western and Columbia to Brian's living room. I'll have to ask [Steve] Desper, our engineer about that. It must have been a conception of his and Nick Grillo, our manager at the time. There must have been something related to costs. It was certainly costing an arm and a leg to record at these studios. So “Heroes And Villains” had no sonic energy, I can't explain. If you listen to the record it's kind of flat. The mastering maybe could have helped. I don't know if it was mastered properly. All I know is it took a while for it to kick into gear. Anyway, I think that really deflated Brian. I think he just completely went into tailspin, because he thought that was his masterpiece. An I did too. I really thought it was great, but I could hear the difference. I could hear the edge was gone. There was no edge on the vocals, there was no edge on the track, there was no edge on the piano. In fact we didn't even have the piano that we started with which we used. That tack piano is the key to the whole song. If you listen to our first o set, it had a bunch of permutations of “Heroes And Villains”. And sonically you hear where it's going, and we just never get any closure. It's a lot of loose ends. So finally we got closure, but we lost the sonic part of it. We lost the value of the musicianship. Then I think we had these crummy instruments too. I think we had this Baldwin organ, a beautiful organ, I shouldn't say crummy. The Baldwin organ company decided to give Brian his organ, very nice. But Brian became so obsessed with this organ that everything became focused around this organ. “The Woody Woodpecker Symphony” I don't know whether you've heard that one. [laughs] That was brilliant actually. I loved that. There, that one fit the organ. But every darn song on the album we had to have the organ on it. It was one of those very strange things. Brian got very quirky. And “Heroes And Villains” was played on that damn organ, and I didn't like that sound. It was just a bit much. I think that's where the musicianship became strange. Western Records is where I think we did the track for “Heroes” in studio three with this great tack piano. It could have been Columbia. Both studios were really important. I think we used Columbia more for the vocals for Pet Sounds and Smile and we used Western for the track.

Question: What was your reaction to the Smile material, which made the Pet Sounds stuff seem very straight forward?

Al: We were working on Pet Sounds and all that stuff at the same time. That's probably why it seems like a year out of my life without sleep. I like the Smile material. I like everything except crawling around on the floors snorting like pigs. The swine section. I hated that. Everyone was high but me. I was the only one that didn't take drugs. I was the square, so Brian made us crawl around on the floor and snort like a bunch of pigs on a section of “Heroes”. You hear a bunch of snorting and swining... It was like being trapped in an insane asylum. I was emotionally depressed by a lot of that stuff because to watch people go through that and you have to kind of make like you're part of that but you're not, you're sober... But somehow we got through it. Nobody overdosed and everybody made it through it.

Question: There's a mystique about the Smile album among fans. Do you think the album should come out or stay on the shelf?

Al: It's not finished. It shouldn't come out. It's just all these fragments. “Cool Water”, “Surf's Up”, “Cabinessence” - there just all over the place. But then there are titles, I remember the titles like “Barnyard”. I liked “Barnyard”. I thought that was neat. I have an acetate of that.

Question: Van Dyke Parks lent a very surreal and literary approach with the lyrics on Smile, very much the antithesis to Mike's Chuck Berry lyrical style.

Al: I loved Van Dyke's lyrics. I just loved how he painted the songs with words. His ideas were great. I didn't care what they meant. It didn't matter to me. Love was always trying to pinpoint Van Dyke saying, “What does this mean?” And he would go, “I don't know, I was high.” [laughs] Mike would go, “That's disgusting. That doesn't make any sense.” [laughs] But it didn't have to make sense, it didn't have to have a hook. If it works, it works.

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