Al Jardine — Family & Friends Q&A

By David Beard

In recent months Al Jardine has taken to the road in two configurations: a fully-realized band with Carnie and Wendy Wilson at his side, and his warmly welcomed storyteller tours where he appears with his son Matt Jardine, and keyboardist Debbie Shair. Recently, Al did a stretch of shows with one particular evening debuting a third-generation Jardine: Al’s granddaughter Olivia. In this family-themed Q&A, I spoke with Al, Matt, Wendy Wilson, and Olivia Jardine. All in all, it’s a true ‘family affair.’

FAMILY & FRIENDS SHOWS

(Left to right) Bobby Figueroa, Probyn Gregory, Carnie Wilson, Matt Jardine, Al Jardine, Wendy Wilson, Debbie Shair, and Ed Carter
Photo by Mary Ann Jardine

ESQ: What did you enjoy the most about going on the road and performing with the new iteration of Family & Friends?

Al Jardine: It was great! It was wonderful. It’s great singing with women. I enjoyed the voices immensely … having Carnie and Wendy there. And having Ed Carter, Bobby Figueroa, Probyn Gregory, and Debbie Shair too. That was dynamite! That’s a fun group because you’re getting all the blend of Carnie and Wendy with their father’s music, etc., and it was good when we did it before (twenty-some years ago), but this is better. This group has more ‘punch.’ I miss not having Adam with us, but it’s very fulfilling to have enough talent up there to pull it off. Everyone has a good stage presence.

ESQ: Adding Wilson-Philips material is cool, especially “Monday Without You” by The Wilsons. You released a live Family & Friends CD in 1999. Have you given any consideration to writing and recording original material with Matt, Carnie, and Wendy?

Al: That was great (too). At first, I was kind of shy because I didn’t know their material that well, but once I got to know it, I appreciated it that much more … I was sparingly used, but I played a great tambourine [laughs]. It felt good to put the guitar down, play the tambourine, and sing every once in a while. Carnie and Wendy are fun. I just wish we could do more of these shows. We have a bunch of dates that we’re planning.

Wendy Wilson: It’s good to be working with Al again.

ESQ: Matt is always by your side and has become one of the best and most natural singers as it relates to the ‘blend’ created by The Beach Boys in the early 1960s. What impresses you the most about Matt and his growth as a musician, singer, and songwriter?

Al: Matt’s amazing and has done a great job at maintaining his voice and does a great job on guitar and percussion. He’s also great at organizing things for me when we’re on the road and understanding what I ‘don’t know.’ He really takes care of me. Our Family & Friends and Storytelling shows are very casual. I’m pretty easygoing when it comes to my shows.

ESQ: A lot of things are different since the first time you went out as Family & Friends in 1999.

Wendy: Yeah … I view the world differently since becoming a mother, hold myself differently, and have more confidence. I feel like I might be a better singer as well than back then – through all the years of practice and being on the road – and I really enjoy it. I’ve always loved The Beach Boys’ music; it feels very natural. It doesn’t feel complicated to me. I can always find my part. I enjoy being with everybody. Everyone in that group is great! Each person is special … we laugh … Al is a kick … he’s funny. Al really comes to life on stage.

I love hearing the voices blending. It reminds me of The Beach Boys in a way because we have Carnie and me (the Wilsons) and there’s Al and Matt (the Jardines), so those voices are blending and there’s something so familiar about the sound. It doesn’t feel forced in any way. It’s just very natural. Everybody has so much fun and is appreciative to be there.

ESQ: What did you enjoy the most about going on the road and performing with the new iteration of Family & Friends?

Matt Jardine: I always enjoy singing with Carnie & Wendy. Singing with them is effortless and our eyebrows always go up collectively when we sing together because it’s so cool. And getting to go out and perform with our incredible band is always a highlight for me. I haven’t performed with Ed Carter & Bobby Figueroa for seven or eight years, so it was great to be on stage with them again. The great vocal blend with Dad, Carnie, Wendy, and myself make it a lot of fun for me. 

ESQ: What’s it like to have Al and Matt singing backing vocals with you and Carnie to your Wilson Philips/Wilson material?

Wendy: I think Matt could sing just about anything and sound great. He’s got really beautiful tones, and he can sing with sensitivity, so his singing is so complimentary. Al backs us up on “Monday Without You,” and sings the same parts as my dad (on the original recording). It’s fun to sing our material, and “Monday Without You” is probably my favorite one, but when we sing the Wilson Phillips songs it’s a little different. We’ve never sung those songs without Chynna. It’s new territory for us and we’re still trying to figure it out. I think it sounds good but think we still need to do a little exploration.

STORYTELLER SHOWS

ESQ: What do you enjoy about the storytelling shows?

Matt: The trio shows are so different & such a departure from the full band set-up that I’m accustomed to and, as such, it really forces me to focus on the music in a different way. There’s less instrumentation to get pitch reference from. We have no drummer, no full-time bass player and so we all sometimes feel like we’re floating through the songs and there’s no bottom end, no bass and kick drum. It’s kind of unsettling and yet fun at the same time. And because we’re a three-piece, we can really take some artistic liberties and do different things. Like the tag on “Don’t Worry Baby.” Instead of singing that line over and over again like in the full band lineup, I can sing it a few times and then drop down to an uncovered background vocal part, jump up to reset the lead for a couple of lines then drop down to backing parts again. The three-piece makes it feel pretty sparse but also opens up a lot of avenues for different artistic approaches.

ESQ: What inspired the inclusion of having Olivia join you and your dad on stage for your storyteller show on Friday, March 18, in Gilbert, AZ?

Matt: I always sing around the house a few weeks before I go out on the road to get my voice ready for touring and it sometimes drives my wife and kids crazy. I tend to sing when I’m doing chores like cleaning the dishes and sometimes, I’ll get Olivia, Abby, or my wife Susie or all three to sing harmony with me. They all have great voices, and we have a lot of fun which helps me out as well. Olivia sounded so good on one of these at-home vocal jams that Susie suggested she sit in on “California Saga” for the Glendale, AZ, trio show to help fill out vocals. We ended up Face Timing Dad and sang the background parts to him and he loved it. I taught her the backing parts for “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Surfin’ USA,” as well, and she nailed it. The sound on stage wasn’t great that night, but she was spot on, and I loved seeing her up there between me and my dad. It was special for me.

ESQ: What inspired the inclusion of having Olivia join you on stage for your storyteller show on Friday, March 18, in Gilbert, AZ?

Al: Olivia is such a talented musician. Her sister, Abby, plays a great bass guitar. Olivia came on stage and really held her own and helped Debbie Shair out because we needed an extra (vocal) part. It was perfect. Both of my granddaughters are really good musicians.

Matt: Olivia was taking piano lessons for a few years before the pandemic hit us. Then, when we couldn’t continue with piano lessons she just kept playing & writing on her own and also taught herself how to play Ukulele and she composes her own music, and sings. I have a small rehearsal studio stocked with an upright piano, drums, amps, and guitars and it’s behind our house so the kids can use it whenever they want. It’s definitely getting used and has really helped the kids during the pandemic when we were all home-bound. My other daughter, Abby, has taught herself how to play bass and is pretty incredible as well. 

ESQ: How did the opportunity for you to perform with your father and grandfather come about?

Olivia Jardine: There had been talk of me performing with the trio leading up to that show by my parents. I took it upon myself to ask if I could sing with them on that gig, and my dad taught me the vocal parts for a few different songs, though I was already familiar with them. 

(above, left to right) Olivia Jardine, Mary Ann Jardine, Al Jardine, Mason, Jardine, Matt Jardine, Abby Jardine, and Susie Jardine
Photo courtesy Jardine Productions

ESQ: What type of music does she prefer?

Matt: Olivia has a really good ear and great taste in music. She loves classic rock from the ’70s and ’80s but also is into the newer music coming out. She listens to Madison Beer, Benson Boone, some Taylor Swift, and Lana Del Rey.

Olivia: I have a pretty scattered music taste. I listen to artists across the board. My favorite artist in the last year has been Madison Beer; her album “Life Support” is full of songs I find my own feelings in. I love Lana Del Rey for her retro-inspired discography as well. I’ve also recently been listening to Amy Winehouse. My favorite song by her is “Me and Mr. Jones.” I really appreciate the vocal layering and instrumentation in “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes. I didn’t realize until recently that Brian Wilson found inspiration in that song for his own music. That was really cool to me.

ESQ: Are Abby and Mason pursuing music?

Matt: Abby was taking piano lessons but has moved over to electric bass. She is also very musical and is currently tearing it up playing bass to Maneskin, Queen, Kansas, and White Stripes, among many others. She has an amazing ear and enjoys a really eclectic and wide range of musical genres. She’s really good. Mason had a few months of piano before lockdown and now loves playing percussion & messing around on the upright piano. He’s also very musical and has a very good singing voice. We are hoping he can start piano lessons again soon. 

ESQ: Have you and Matt had any conversations about writing and recording original music together?

Al: He’s been so busy raising a family that we haven’t been able to get together. We’ve both been putting it off forever, but that seems like a possibility. Anything’s possible … that would be great!

ESQ: Have you written anything with your dad?

Matt: Yes, Dad and I have worked on a couple of tunes together over the years. Hopefully, we can get them off the tape and hard drives and get them released sometime soon.

ESQ: Would you like to have a ‘family band’ and write original material to perform together?

Matt:  I would never try to push or force that on my kids, and I feel strongly that their musical journey should be organic, fun and with music, they like to play, or they won’t want to do it. I’m always available to support them in their musical endeavors and will help them whenever and however I can if they want to go in that direction. That’s not to say that I won’t grab a kid or two to sing or play on stage or on a demo if they’re up to it. My kids have many other interests outside of music and things they excel at, so I want them to do whatever makes them happy.

ESQ: When it comes to working with your father, what would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?

Matt: I think we’ve pretty much done it all when it comes to touring and working. I’ve been working with him on and off for close to 34 years and we’ve covered a lot of personal and professional ground during that time. Come to think of it, I’ve been encouraging him to do an album of his favorite standards or of his favorite folk songs. His voice has a life of its own and he sounds absolutely incredible. Just his voice with upright bass, some light piano, an acoustic guitar, and a kick drum and brushes, maybe a second voice for two-part harmony (sung, hopefully, by yours truly). That would be a fun project.

ESQ: Would you like to record and release a Jardine family album?

Matt: I think if the stars aligned and there was enough material it’d be fun. Dad certainly has an incredible fanbase in place to help the process along. Maybe that idea with the folk or standards album will be a family album. You never know.   

ESQ: In 2021 you posted a brief video snippet of yourself performing “Sloop John B” on piano as a gift to your grandfather, What inspired you to do that?

Olivia: My mum was recording me sing and play an original song actually, which then led to me picking out a simplified chord progression for Sloop. I began to sing, and we sent it over to my grandfather. I love that song for multiple reasons, one being that Papa was the one who had pitched the song to the band back in the day. Moreover, it relays the story of a grandchild and grandfather. I think that those correlations are really sweet. When I sing “Sloop John B” it’s like I’m singing it about myself and Papa. 

ESQ: How long have you been taking piano and singing lessons?

Olivia: I took proper piano lessons for a few years between the ages of twelve-fourteen, though I had fallen in love with the instrument prior to having teacher instruction. I continue to play with my school band as a hobby. I have never taken vocal lessons, though my dad has given me pointers over the years to help me improve my singing. I’d like to start taking lessons, as I sing often and write my own music.  

ESQ: Are you currently taking additional music instrument lessons?
Olivia:
I am not currently taking any music lessons, though I would like to learn the guitar. 

ESQ: How old were you when you first learned and understood who your grandfather was to the world and what he did for a living?

Olivia: Going to shows was normal to me, and an exciting part of my childhood. Many of my fondest memories are of dancing backstage or playing the tambourine onstage with my dad. I always knew that it was a different life. My peers and teachers used to approach me when I was around eight years old with questions about my family. 

ESQ: What part of his legacy as a member of The Beach Boys is most intriguing to you?
Olivia: My Papa has taken great care of his voice, and at almost 80, he sounds almost exactly like he did when The Beach Boys recorded some of their earlier music. It’s really amazing to me.

ESQ: Do you have a favorite Beach Boys song or album?

Olivia: “Don’t Worry Baby” is definitely one of my favorite songs. My dad sings the lead for it beautifully, so when I hear it, I think of him. I’ve also become fond of the song “Surf’s Up.” The composition and lyrics are quite unique … and that’s saying a lot for a Brian Wilson song! “God Only Knows” is similar in that many of the chords are not traditional. I can play that song on the piano, and I’d love to learn “Surfs Up” as well.  

ESQ: Do you aspire to be a singer/songwriter yourself?

Olivia:  I feel that in many ways, I already am a “singer/songwriter.” I write and sing all the time, and it makes my heart feel full. Whether I pursue a musical career remains to be seen. It doesn’t change the fact that I will always create art behind the scenes.  

ESQ: Would you like to record and release a Jardine family album?

Olivia: Sure, if I have the opportunity to sing on a track with my grandfather I will. That or, if I pursue a musical career of my own, maybe I’ll feature my family in my own song. That would be very full circle. We’ll see! 

ESQ: Have you written anything with your dad?

Olivia: No, I have not. My dad and I have very different music tastes and go about writing music very differently. We’ve done some recording together though, and I reckon we will record more in the future.

Al is performing his Family & Friends show on Friday, May 27 at the Des Plaines Theatre in Des Plaines, IL. CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS

©2022 David M. Beard/All Rights Reserved

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