Music Directors: Scott Totten
January 26, 2010
This article is Part One in a series of articles on understanding the role of the Music Director in the different bands that are led by Mike Love, Al Jardine and Brian Wilson. We begin the series with The Beach Boys' Scott Totten.
Music Director For The Beach Boys
Scott Totten joined the Beach Boys touring unit in 2000. The band has undergone several personnel changes since, but Totten remains a steadfast member. In 2008 he was given the position of Music Director for the band.
David Beard: How familiar were you with The Beach Boys catalogue prior to joining the band?
Scott Totten: Well, growing up in Southern California in the 60’s and 70’s, I was certainly exposed to all the hits, even long after they weren't hits anymore. I spent the 80’s studying jazz and in the 90’s I returned to my pop/rock roots. That’s when I re-discovered the Beach Boys catalog. I remember when the Pet Sounds Sessionsbox set came out and I heard all those vocals-only and track-only mixes.
DB: What inspired you the most when you heard those mixes?
ST: Hearing the isolated vocals was amazing. I remember the first time I heard the backgrounds from “Here Today,” I literally had to sit down and take it all in; it was (and is) hard to believe they could sing so beautifully. Hearing the instruments isolated was also incredible, those beautiful combinations of sounds Brian came up with.
DB: How were you approached to take on the position of Music Director?
ST: I got a call from Mike, who was in India for a week, and he told me that there had been a personnel change, and that I was now Musical Director.
DB: How did you feel about carrying on the responsibility of the group’s legacy?
ST: I was more than a little nauseous at the thought of the responsibility! One thing that I always have in the back of my mind is that I never met or worked with Carl Wilson. I know he was the leader and the soul of the live band and I always hope that he would approve of what we are doing...I know that our hearts are in the right place.
DB: What was your first task?
ST: Make sure the other band members were agreeable to their new responsibilities; shift vocal parts around to cover the parts Chris sang; plus on the immediate horizon was a U.K. tour where we would be performing a large number of “deep catalog.” So I scheduled rehearsals and we learned things like “Here Today,” “Kiss Me Baby,” “Sail On Sailor,” and “Caroline No” (although we have yet to perform that one live). After that I concentrated on cleaning up and restoring vocal and instrumental parts to reflect the original arrangements.
DB: How involved are you in determining the set list?
ST: If you mean “each night’s set list,” then I would say marginally. I usually let Mike know how long the promoter wants us to play, we have a standard opening set and the car songs and then Mike tells me what else he wants to do and we arrange the order. If you mean, “when unusual songs get added,” then I do have some pull...I'll mention some songs to Mike and see his reaction. When I first mentioned “I’m So Young” he really lit up so I knew that one would fly. Another strategy I have is to just teach the band a song and rehearse it and then tell Mike that we have something sounding really great. We did that with “Please Let Me Wonder,” but that didn't work when I tried it on “Custom Machine.” For some reason Mike doesn't want to do that one.
DB: Whose decision was it to begin with “Surfin’” segueing into the song as you guys take the stage?
ST: That was Barry Floyd, our production manager/lighting designer. We had been trying to find the right “walk-on” music for a long time. Plus we had someone announce “Ladies and Gentlemen: America’s Band The Beach Boys.” That one lasted MANY years, but nowadays when you go to see a band they don’t announce themselves when they walk on. You know whom you came to see. Then we tried walking on while the stage was fully lit but it takes a few awkward minutes to get in place and Mike wanted to “pop” the audience when we came on. Then Barry suggested using “Surfin’,” and it may have even been him that suggested we take over for the record at the chorus. I think it works great.
DB: As a guitarist, what is the most challenging song to perform?
ST: Honestly, just playing the parts isn't that tricky. Playing and singing at the same time is tricky. Like the guitar fill answers in “Let Him Run Wild” while singing the lead. I used to sweat the intro to “California Dreamin’” because it’s a bit tricky, but after 10 years it’s kind of second nature.
DB: What do you enjoy most about performing live?
ST: First of all I love this music – it’s an honor to perform it…and I love to see the audience enjoying themselves. I also really love the band. We have some great singers and a really good blend…and I get to play with John Cowsill; he's really incredible. Instrumentally, it all starts with the drums and he is the man.
DB: What are your thoughts on the Beach Boys legacy?
ST: At my first meeting with the band as Music Director, I listed some of the numerous awards and achievements of the band. I wanted to remind everyone that we were entrusted to perform some of the greatest music in pop history. It is that care and reverence that we need to bring to each performance.
DB: What do you enjoy the most about working with Bruce Johnston?
ST: Bruce is our direct link to the original sessions. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to him with questions and he has a great memory. Also, he is a living encyclopedia of music history. He has turned me on to so many great records.
DB: What do you enjoy the most about working with Mike?
ST: Mike is the consummate professional. He is always ready to perform a great show, no matter what time we got up or how many hours we drove. He has an incredible vocabulary and we like to out-pun each other on the road. And he always stays calm, no matter how stressful the situation.