Look beyond the usual suspects credited as collaborators on Weeknd’s newly released “Dawn FM” – think Max Martin, think Calvin Harris, think Oneohtrix Point Never – and you’ll find a more unexpected name in the notes album cover art: Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, who is listed as a writer and producer on the track “Here We Go… Again” with Rex Kudo, known for his studio work with Post Malone and the late Juice WRLD.

A shimmering soft-rock ballad with a lush choral vocals and both tender yet witty lyrics on sliding into a new romance, the song is one of the clear stars of “Dawn FM.” But how exactly did Johnston, who at 79 continues to perform regularly with the touring version of Mike Love of The Beach Boys, got involved? I called him Friday at his home in Santa Barbara to find out.

Bruce Johnston, in a red sweater, with the Beach Boys (and their kids) in the early 1970s.

(mptvimages.com)

Take me back to the beginning of this song.
Here is how it went. I was set up with Sonny Moore – Skrillex – a few summers ago. I kind of knew who he was. As a guy over 20, I don’t go out and do a lot of concerts with DJs. But then I went to the Shangri-La Studios across from Zuma Beach, where I surf, and we hit it off. I met a guy named Heavy Mellow – what a guitarist. And I met Rex Kudo, who has become my new brother for the past two years.

We just started recording, inventing stuff on the spot. Over time, I started to bring Mike Love’s son Christian Love to our sessions. He is incredible. Even though you may miss Carl Wilson, when you hear Christian Love singing “God Only Knows”, wow.

Either way, these guys, they never stop recording. Once I got there and Rex was in a puppy tent, sleeping on the grass after a session. Finally, Rex says, “Come to my house,” a little further down PCH. We don’t have Beach Boys shows because of the pandemic, so I go downstairs and bring Christian with me. Rex hands me a Bullet mic, the kind Mick Jagger would use when playing the harmonica, and we just start singing. A few days later Rex says, “Hey, we played this thing for Abel” – you know, the Weeknd – “and he really likes it.” That was 6, 8 months ago. Somehow it floated into his creative ether and he launched himself as a writer.

Did you know the Weeknd before that?
Who wouldn’t know the Weeknd?

What did you know
I knew he was a guy from Toronto who had the nicest high-pitched voice and some big hits with Max Martin. I stay up to date, don’t worry.

Have you met him in person?
I do not have. But man has heart, soul and vocal range.

Do you know what attracted him to your original piece of music?
He got addicted to some of the melodic things that I did and maybe some of the harmonies that Christian and I did. I only heard the final mix last night on Amazon. It’s like he’s coloring what we’ve done in black and white. You used to dance slowly to it.

Did he tell you what the finished song would be about?
I think they probably wanted to give me a late Christmas present.

In the song he sings, “You said you wanted your boyfriend to be jealous with some pictures / And you didn’t expect to fall in love with me once you got that dick.”
It is not a word that I wrote.

I wouldn’t have thought so.
But am I going to criticize? No, because what I love about our country is that we have freedom of expression. If this is how he understands it, this is how he should do it. It matches the mood of the song. Come on Abel.

Got more material than you recorded with Rex and Skrillex?
Hours of that. I have been going there for a year in July and going on Monday at 2pm. These guys are like the Wrecking Crew in the 21st century. They can write, sing, play, produce. They put the music together and then deliver it, and for artists, it’s like trying on clothes before they personalize them.

A different way of making records than in the Beach Boys days.
Alright, Brian [Wilson] owned everything. Always does. But creatively it’s the same vibe as when I joined the band in the spring of ’65.

Would you one day make a solo album with them?
No, I don’t care about a Bruce Johnston record. I need to spend my time, what’s left of it, composing. I still have some magic left.


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