Taylor Hawkins talks to Mojo about Pacific Ocean Blue and his role in bringing the music of Dennis Wilson back to life.
When and how did you become aware of Dennis's solo album?
My ex-girlfriend's dad is Gregg Jakobson [co-producer of Pacific Ocean Blue]. About eight years ago Gregg was saying "You know, you should check out this album I worked on with Dennis Wilson." I fell in love with it. I loved the honesty in it, the aching beauty of his songs and his voice. It sounds like he's singing from a barstool. I think I loved the idea of Dennis as well. There's an iconic thing with Dennis, especially here in California. He was the real surfer, the real Beach Boy. Here was this beautiful guy who has a sad story that ends up going down the tubes and dying - that whole mythology is part of the album. Every time I found a vinyl copy - which went for about $150 - I bought one.
Did you feel a kinship to him?
Well, Dennis started out as a playboy, having a good time, drinking and seeing how many chicks he could land. But as time went on, around the period Brian started doing really intense stuff like Pet Sounds, I think Dennis got more interested in the music and started thinking he should try and write songs. And the first song he wrote, Little Bird, is the best song on Friends, and others like Never Learn Not To Love, are great. Gregg told me stories how Dennis got really into the music, but had to build up confidence in himself. By that point, the mid-to-late 70s, he just wanted to go make a record of his own.
Pacific Ocean Blue is very different from what you might expect from a Beach Boy.
He was different, though. He was influenced to some extent production-wise by Brian, and he always brought Carl in to help him on stuff. But I think Dennis was probably a little bit hipper than anyone else in that band and that's what you hear.
How did you get involved in completing and singing 'Holy Man'?
When Gregg first played me the record, he mentioned there was a bunch of unfinished tracks. His first thought was that Dave and I should work on them. There were so many legal issues trying to get permission to work on it. Then, about a year ago, he called me and said the reissue was finally happening. With Holy Man, Dennis had done a vocal and hated it, and made the engineer erase it. All they had was a scat guide vocal that Carl had done, with a rough melody. Gregg gave me a CD of the song and said, "Do what you think you can with it." I didn't listen to it for a while. I just felt really weird about it - like, I can't fuck with this. People are gonna want to lynch me for this, for messing with some brilliant piece of history.
Eventually you did finish the song and your vocal bears a striking similarity to Dennis.
The funny thing is when I first met Gregg and played him my stuff years ago he told me I had a certain quality reminiscent of Dennis - that scratchy smoker's voice, that gravelly sound. That's just how I sing naturally. But I tried to channel how Dennis would've done it.
What's been the reaction to your 'Holy Man'?
Some people may say, "What the fuck is the guy from Foo Fighters doing on this record?" People hold Dennis very dear to their hearts. But there's a lineage: I'm a beach kid, a drummer, and I've been living with Dennis's music for a long time. I meant what I did genuinely.