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Beach Boy Mike Love: Being Present by Leaving the Past Behind

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According to founding Beach Boy Mike Love, there has never been a post-1990s Axl Rose vibe going on with his band. Sure, the singer/songwriter admits he and the iconic band have had a bunch of bumps along the way, but it never got to a point where they truly lost that loving feeling. "When you mix business with ego there can be tense situations, but when you let that go, you realize that a lot of the stuff that got in the way is in the past," he explained in an interview earlier this month. "We can let the past screw the present by holding onto old disagreements or you can move past it and do something great."

... And something great is exactly what they're doing. In celebration of their 50th anniversary, the band has regrouped, recorded a new album, and are in the midst of an international tour in support of it. That's Why God Made The Radio marks the band's first new album in years and the first in which surviving original members appear on an album together in decades. West Coasters Love, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks fittingly recorded their 29th album at Los Angeles' Ocean Way Studios. The album finds the hitmasters in similar territory with catchy choruses and infectious harmonies, and no, even though they're in their seventies -- the Boys from Hawthorne, Calif., still sound as good as they did in the '60's.

I caught up with Love after seeing the band sell out the Westchester County Center in White Plains on May 15 (yes you read that right... Westchester!) and asked him about the new album, the tour and getting the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers back together.

You guys put on an amazing show the other night -- and a lengthy one at that! How did you come up with the set list for the tour? I'd imagine it's a very long, grueling process.
It was. I'm always thinking you ought to be doing some of the songs the people know you for... the most recognizable, bigger hits like "California Girls," "Help Me, Rhonda," "Good Vibrations"... I actually have heard of acts who only do their new album, and don't do their hits. I've never been in that mind set. Not only do I like to do those recognizable hits, I like to start from the beginning. We get retro. There are initial songs we're known for, and they have a lot of energy. They're upbeat and it brings people back. If they are of our age, it'll remind them of summer at the beach -- going out to Long Island or who else knows where. For many of our audience, our stuff is nostalgic. But, then there's the younger crowd who just become aware of music. They're digging into groups that gave rise to acts today.

We took it all into consideration so we perform the big hits and then the surfing songs. After a half a dozen up tempo songs, we'll go with a nice ballad, and from there we'll do more of that and end the first half with the cars songs. "I Get Around" ends the first half. When we come back, it's laid back, and then we pick it up again.

It's hard to please everybody, but it sounds like you guys really tried to do just that.
We didn't want to disappoint casual fans or the hardcore fans. You can't please everyone but we made a good effort and sometimes we'll add in a song, and replace it with something else to keep it fresh. There are a lot of songs to choose from.

You perform a bunch of songs from Pet Sounds, which has taken on sort of a cult following after its release....
It took 30 years for it to go platinum. We presented it to Capitol Records and they didn't do much with it. It's a remarkable effort and achievement we do three songs or so. It's regarded by so many great artists. Paul McCartney called "God Only Knows" a perfect song. He's so prolific -- to get one of those statements is just tremendous.

One aspect of the concert that I really appreciated was how you pay tribute to late band members Carl and Dennis Wilson -- singing back up to them respectively singing "Forever" and "God Only Knows" is subtly moving...
We knew to be truly inclusive it would be kind of silly not to recognize Carl and Dennis. Brian's fortunately there with us, while Dennis and Carl are not. It's a drag. We felt the only way to be truly inclusive was to show footage of Dennis and Carl singing. It's really cool to back them up.

Listen to The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows":

A lot has been made of the band's troubles in the past, but was there ever really bad blood among you guys?
A lot of people focus on separation, and how we're in different camps. The fact is there wasn't really a problem between Brian and I. His father was running the publishing company and he didn't credit me with writing "I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda" and a bunch of songs that I wrote words for. That was not fun to be discredited and to not be compensated. Brian told me he wanted to rectify this. He didn't want to screw me, it was other people. The only recourse I had was to go to court to really establish authorship. From the outside perspective, it appeared I sued Brian but there was no bad blood. Brian and I have been singing together since children. We know each others' strengths and weaknesses.

What came first the comeback tour or the new album?
Brian was working on some songs with Joe Thomas who was producing his record a few years ago, and I was given the task of completing some of the songs lyrically. We ended up using some songs on that record.That was the genesis of it all. The recording came first. We wanted to cover own own record to see if we could still sound like The Beach Boys and still get along, and the harmonies were as good as they ever were.

Once Capitol Records heard what was going on, they liked it enough to give us an album deal. Then it was like OK, let's celebrate... let's do some touring. We've had lot of tremendous success. We've done 15 shows and we're getting ready to do the 16th tonight.

What's been the biggest surprise so far?
I'd say the biggest was in Houston -- the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion basically sold out. Selling out the Hollywood Bowl, our hometown, was great. We're doing well in Europe, Japan and Australia. I don't know if it's surprising, it's just gratifying. All of us together makes a tremendous impact. The whole is greater than the some of its parts.

Lastly, what is there to accomplish as a band that you already haven't mastered. Is anything left?
Well, Tony Bennett at 85 debuted at number one on the charts. We're 15 years behind him, but that would be pretty cool.