Brian Wilson’s concert appearances are joyous, all-out rock and roll affairs with a full stage of brilliant performers. Nevertheless, Taylor Mills is easy to pick out of the crowd – not only is this striking blonde the only female member of Wilson’s ensemble, but she also has a knockout voice to go with her killer looks.
Mills sang on Wilson’s Grammy-winning SMiLE album and has appeared with him from the Hollywood Bowl to Buckingham Palace. She has also performed with Billy Joel and shared the stage with the likes of Elton John, John Legend, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Sir Paul McCartney. Her solo debut album Lullagoodbye is out, and she plans to record a followup real soon. Read the full interview after the jump.
30 Days Out: How did you get the gig with Brian Wilson?
Taylor Mills: I was recommended to Joe Thomas (Brian’s musical director at the time) by drummer Todd Sucherman, who I’d met a few months previously on a gig withsaxophonist SteveCole. I came in not knowing all that much of the legend andlore of Brian so I wasn’t very intimidated but more curious. I was given the song “Surf’s Up,” which I had never heard before to learn and perform just a few minutes later so it was a trial by fire! That was the beginning of a relationship that’s been going almost 10 years now.
30 Days Out: What’s it like singing backup on some of the best pop music ever written?
Taylor Mills: I consider myself very fortunate to be in this band of dear friends and perform this timeless and amazing music. It’s something I never take for granted because it is so special. And the band along with Brian is indeed a family. That’s something that strengthens and unifies us onstage as well as adds to the power and emotion of the music.
30 Days Out: What was it like recording the SMiLE album with Brian?
Taylor Mills: There was a strong sense of history during the sessions. There was also a sense of history being made and the happy finishing of a project that had dark connotations for Brian – almost an exorcism so to speak – and it was done lovingly. We were all so happy for Brian and I think the SMiLE DVD and documentary does a great job of capturing the feeling that was going on around that time.
30 Days Out: It’s amazing that you guys can pull off some of that stuff live. Tell us about the rehearsal process. How long do you have to go over vocals to get them to sound like the record?
Taylor Mills: When we were learning older material from the catalogue we would listen to the songs and then get our parts. When learning new material, Brian would start from the low parts and assign us our parts from the bottom up – 4 or 8 bars at a time. He just hears it in his head. You would hear his ideas materialize before your eyes and ears and it’s something special to witness and be a part of. The caliber of musicians and singers in the band is just so high that it comes together and stays together pretty quickly. As well, the historical musical knowledge of Darian (Sahanaja) and Jeff (Foskett) regarding the older material is great to have too. It helps keep it authentic and real.
30 Days Out: Can you tell us any good stories about working with Brian … either live or in the studio?
Taylor Mills: I must confess that I’m not the greatest story teller. Darian is the one for that! He knows and remembers all of the stories. I can just say that Brian is one of the sweetest souls on the planet and he sort of lives “above” us in a way. It’s incredible to work with him. There’s so many funny experiences and we have so much fun, I simply can’t narrow anything down to any specific events. Perhaps when Brian said “Hi Queen” to Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace for the Jubilee in 2002 was a memorable and funny moment!
30 Days Out: What “secrets” of music have you learned from Brian?
Taylor Mills: Hmmm. Perhaps that great songs come from the heart and divine songs come from another dimension.
30 Days Out: What’s your favorite Beach Boys song? Why?
Taylor Mills: It’s hard to pick out any one as “favorite” as there’s so many incredible pieces of music to choose from. They all have their special moments and unique vibe. If I had to choose one, maybe it would be “God Only Knows” as it’s just exquisite and divine. It’s simply one of the greatest songs ever written.
30 Days Out: How did you get involved in music?
Taylor Mills: I’d been singing ever since I was a little girl and it’s really what I’ve always wanted to do. If you’re pretty good and are reliable, build a reputation, over time you just meet more and more people and opportunities arise. That’s how it seems to work.
30 Days Out: Tell us about your new CD? How did the songs come together? Who plays on it? Are the songs personal?
Taylor Mills: It’s a long story I suppose. I ended up marryingTodd Sucherman who had played with Brian on that first tour in 1999. He’s played on a few of Brian’s records and has been the drummer in the band Styx for the past 12 years. We had been thinking of doing a record for sometime and around ’05 the time seemed right to start the project. It was basically just myself, Todd, and Scott Bennett. Scott and Todd go way back together since about 1990 and Scotty has been in Brian’s band all this time as well so the chemistry between us was just perfect. Todd and I chose material that was meaningful to us and the three of us set out over a two year period to do the record between all of our crazy touring schedules. The end result was the CD Lullagoodbye.
Taylor Mills: I feel we’ve done a very personal work. We set out to create something timeless – with no cuteness, kitsch, or anything that dates it. We wanted heart and emotion, and to really have the stories of the songs come across and we all felt we exceeded our expectations of what we set out to do. We also spared no expense on the packaging and design of the actual CD product which was very important to Todd and I. Scott plays all the instruments except drums, which obviously Todd played. We were fortunate to have Brian and Tommy Shaw (from Styx) lend their genius to the record with some background vocal help which really capped off the project. The songs aren’t specifically taken from my own life experiences, but one (including the listener) can project your own feelings and experiences within the music. The whole record lyrically has the arc of self discovery, love found and ultimately lost. For happy people, we really made a melancholy record! The feedback I’ve received from fans has been overwhelming and gratifying. I’m so proud of the record and I know that out of all the records Todd’s done in his career, it’s his favorite.
30 Days Out: What other artists have you worked with? Any good stories with any of them?
Taylor Mills: Brian has been the main gig of notoriety that I’ve done but through him I’ve been able to share the stage with artists like Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Eddie Vedder, and the list goes on. Again, no amazing stories but it’s been a tremendous experience. A beautiful ride.
30 Days Out: What are your plans for the future?
Taylor Mills: I’ll be out on the road for a few weeks coming up with Brian. His new album That Lucky Old Sun came out recently and there looks like there could be more work coming up promoting it next year. It’s a charming record and it’s been fun incorporating the new material in the set. Sometime in the next year Todd and I would like to start on another record working with Scott. It’s a scheduling nightmare to get us together but anything worth doing often takes extraordinary effort. It’ll be another labor of love.
YouTube: “California Girls” by Brian Wilson and Band