BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Brian Wilson sits on a plush couch in his living room, smiling nervously.
On the Beach Boys visionary's back porch, his family's 15 pooches yip and scramble over each other. Inside, photos of his children with wife Melinda Ledbetter _ 11-year-old Daria, 10-year-old Delanie and 4-year-old Dylan _ lace the walls.
The two-story house, snuggled deep into a gated hillside community in Beverly Hills, is immaculately clean, with beige carpeting and marble floors. Housekeepers tidy up downstairs. A swimming pool overlooks the sun-drenched valley below. It all resembles a postcard.
"I'm happier now than I was a year ago," Wilson says in a recent interview. "I started exercising and I started eating more of the right food and I started feeling better. I just get up in the morning and say my prayers."
Gangly and tall in a pinstriped dress shirt, his graying hair swept back into waves, the wizard songwriter and composer behind such '60s Beach Boys hits as "Good Vibrations" and "California Girls" stares with sharp blue eyes, frequently fidgeting.
A lot has changed for the historically reclusive Southern California native, who speaks with a slight slur, a result of his drug-abuse past and medicated journey through mental illness.
He is a second-round father at the age of 66 (musician daughters Wendy, 38, and Carnie, 40, from his first marriage, tour as The Wilsons). Following 2004's long-awaited rock opera "Smile," and a 2005 Christmas release, he has a new, ambitious solo album, "That Lucky Old Sun," due out Sept. 2. He is touring behind the material, pushing through years of stage fright.
"I think the new album is just as good as anything the Beach Boys ever recorded," says Wilson. "Playing these songs live, I feel proud. You know that funny feeling you get in your stomach, like, 'Oh my God, this is sounding great!'"
Two years ago, he says, he recorded 18 songs then chose 10 last year for Capitol Records/EMI. He came up with the album's lush orchestration and music, while 43-year-old bandmate Scott Bennett scribed the lyrics, with colorful narrative interludes by Wilson's longtime collaborator Van Dyke Parks.
The outcome is a blend of uptempo pop and piano-based ballads. The title track, a cover of Louis Armstrong's "That Lucky Old Sun," flows into the bouncy anthem "Morning Beat," setting the album's tone.
"Van Dyke Parks, Brian and Melinda thought this should be a love letter to Los Angeles. At this point, Brian was 65-years-old and it just felt right to embrace his legend and be a bit nostalgic," Bennett says.
Songs such as "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl" touch on Beach Boys melodies while "Mexican Girl" adds a dash of salsa flavor. "Midnight's Another Day" and "Oxygen to the Brain" reference Wilson's dark days in the '70s and '80s, when he receded from the spotlight into isolation, drugs and weight gain.
Wilson calls "Midnight's Another Day," which skirts on a solitary piano melody, his favorite song, "kind of introspective, kind of how I feel around people."
The album's last song, "Southern California," reminisces about co-founding the Beach Boys in 1961 with his late brothers Carl and Dennis, and ends the album on an uplifting note. Wilson sings, "It's magical/ Living your dream."
"Yes, Brian had a rough time of it, with his mental health, but I would kill to have the kind of catalog he does, and tour everywhere with his brothers like he did," says Bennett, who confirms that Wilson "is on a heavy dose of antidepressants."
Regardless, Wilson has hit a creative stride in his life.
Inspiration comes at night when he sits down alone at his Yamaha synthesizer and grand piano in his purple-curtained music room.
"When I go to the keyboard, I feel holy, like an angel over my head. I feel very holy. When we did (the Beach Boys hit) 'God Only Knows,' I felt holy about that too. A godly something comes through me," Wilson says, motioning with his hands. "I'm always thinking about melodies. The melodies come from my brain, and my keyboards. I play a really pleasant keyboard. It sounds so pleasant it makes me want to write melodies."
But life as a busy dad and touring musician can be overwhelming. Wilson describes a house full of kids and dogs as "very loud" and "a madhouse." He frequently goes to a nearby park and takes walks.
"The kids make me feel a little jumpy," he says. "Sometimes I want to get out of the house to get away from my kids but I love my kids a lot. I love my kids. ... Quiet time comes around 10 at night when I go to sleep. It's peace of mind. Things run smoothly at night. During the day, things are more rough."
Later on, when Ledbetter comes home with their small son Dylan _ floppy-haired, barefoot and wearing a Hawaiian shirt _ Wilson brightens. He's quieter when it comes to daughters Wendy and Carnie, who both live less than 10 miles away.
"I don't talk to them very much. I used to. I recorded with them at one time, but I don't talk to them a lot," he says, explaining that the women are "really busy."
Questions about the Beach Boys' current status get lukewarm response as well. Wilson, who also formed the band with cousin Mike Love and then-school friend Al Jardine, split with most of the group's surviving members years ago amid legal squabbles. Love and later Beach Boys bandmate Bruce Johnston tour as the Beach Boys Band, while Jardine has his own Endless Summer Band. Wilson stresses the subject's touchiness.
"We don't want any publicity about me getting back with the Beach Boys, cause I don't want to. They're not my group anymore. That's Mike and Bruce's group now. I'm on my own, and I would rather do that than go back to the Beach Boys," he says.
Wilson, though, clearly loves performing Beach Boys tunes as well as his own solo work, even with nightly stage fright, which he says he works through by getting neck and shoulder rubs, and praying.
At a taping days later for Yahoo! Music's Live Sets, Wilson is joined onstage by his nine-piece band, including Bennett and members of the Wondermints, who have played with him for 10 years.
Tentatively at first, Wilson claps his hands and directs the group in rousing, harmony-filled versions of such Beach Boys classics as "Help Me Rhonda" and "I Get Around." Wilson later sings from the new album.
When asked during a Q&A session his biggest regret, he doesn't mince words.
"The drugs I took which kind of messed up my mind. The LSD, the marijuana, the cocaine," he says, to audience laughter.
Wilson isn't letting his past stop him from throwing his ambitions forward.
After "That Lucky Old Sun," Wilson says the unreleased songs he recorded, including a slow, smooth version of "Proud Mary," will form another album. He gushes that "the only person I really want to work with is Paul McCartney." He would also like to record "a rock 'n' roll album inspired by Phil Spector's type records, a really hard rock album that really rocks, with big orchestration, the whole bit."
Yet, he also views his future gingerly, as day to day.
"I look forward to today," he tells The AP. "I never look forward to the future because I think to myself, 'What if there's an earthquake, what if I die or someone I love dies?' I get those kind of thoughts all the time. It's 'oof' to my head."
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