Even before the most casual of pleasantries are exchanged at the onset of our phone conversation, Brian Wilson wants to get down to business.
"Hi," he says by way of welcome. "Let's do the interview."
From there, the iconic pop composer and songwriter answers questions in quick, clipped replies. They are brief, businesslike and seldom illuminating.
Question: "Do you have a favorite Beach Boys album?"
Question: "Are you pleased with the direction your solo career has taken?"
Question: "I've read that Capitol Records is finally going to release The Beach Boys' much fabled Smile album this year."
Such was the tone of the talk. One almost suspects the legendary architect of The Beach Boys' luscious surf-pop sound would rather be somewhere else — anywhere else, in fact — than talking to yours truly.
Then the discussion winds up and Wilson offers this parting comment: "Wow. It's been a great interview. I appreciate the time that you spent."
The time, as they say, flew. Little was discussed. Little was explained. Next to nothing was revealed. I felt, as an interviewer, I had failed. Then came some hunting to see how others have fared.
"He rattles through questions as if being interrogated," wrote Alexis Petridis of the British newspaper The Guardian after interviewing Wilson in January. "'Yes.' 'No.' 'I don't understand the question.' But (he) insists that he enjoys being interviewed.'
"But then, has any interviewer not left Brian Wilson's presence at least slightly disconcerted and confused?"
Perhaps, at age 69, Wilson, who plays the Lexington Opera House on Tuesday, has said all there is to say about a sound that changed the pop landscape more than 45 years ago. More to the point, though, is he seems to communicate ideas, emotions and melodies in his songs and production work in ways that could never be conveyed in casual conversation.
Sure, early Beach Boys hits embraced teenage jubilation Southern California-style with all the obvious themes: girls, cars, surfing and summer. But just as The Beatles quickly moved beyond teen-pop concepts, Wilson's songs opened up to themes of solitude and isolation. He was hardly the first pop songwriter to pen a sad tune, but he was perhaps the first to devote as much time to the music surrounding his more forlorn works as he did to the lyrics.
Such duality between surf-pop celebration and summery melancholy reached a pinnacle with The Beach Boys' uncontested (and most lasting) album masterwork, 1966's Pet Sounds. It was a robust vision of the teenage-dream music filled with sun-drenched pop euphoria (Wouldn't It Be Nice), romantic innocence (God Only Knows), epic instrumental orchestration (Let's Go Away for Awhile) and devastating sadness (Caroline No). Capping off Pet Sounds was a work that would come to define his life, especially during the dark years to come: the brilliant I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.
"These songs all get standing ovations when we play them," Wilson said. "God Only Knows always gets a standing ovation. It's a lot of good stuff."
But what was the secret to the lasting popularity and influence of recordings like Pet Sounds?
"I think it's the harmonies, believe it or not," Wilson said. "They keep the music alive."
Then came the much-chronicled downfall: the mental wreckage brought on by LSD experimentation, a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type and the controversial, controlling care of psychotherapist Eugene Landy.
During the past decade, though, Wilson has dug deep into a prolific solo career, offering tours that have revisited the music of Pet Sounds and Smile and broadly interpretive recordings such as 2010's Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin.
It's the latter that seems to drive Wilson the most. The stage is fine. But the studio? That remains his ultimate playground.
"It's always an achievement when you go into the studio," Wilson said. "When the pressure is on, you go in and keep on doin' good, you know?"