The AD Interview :: Darian Sahanaja (Behind The Smile Sessions)

Finding Smile: A litany of “Fifth Beatles” may continue to spark debate among fans, but when it comes to the Beach Boys, a handful of external collaborators ought to garner similar recognition. Darian Sahanaja is among them.

Having impressed Brian Wilson as part of his live band in 2003, Sahanaja was asked to employ this encyclopedic knowledge of Smile–the Wondermints founder had been collecting bootlegs since the early 1980s–ProTools and his Apple G3 iBook to arrange and rearrange the disparate puzzle pieces of the famously unfinished 1967 project Wilson once called his “teenage symphony to God.”

Sahanaja’s detailed work was first used as a roadmap for live Smile performances and, ultimately, the re-recorded Grammy-winning version, Brian Wilson Presents Smile, in 2004. Now it is the official template for The Smile Sessions, a new, lushly expansive collection devoted to the original sessions of the Beach Boys’ abandoned masterpiece and the most famous unreleased album of all time, due out Nov. 1 in both deluxe box set and 2-CD packages.

As a current member of Wilson’s band and a consultant to Capitol for The Smile Sessions, Sahanaja opened up about all things Smile in the weeks leading up to this highly anticipated release.

Aquarium Drunkard: Given that the track list for Capitol’s release of The Smile Sessions is based heavily on the work you and Brian Wilson did together for Brian Wilson Presents Smile, it seems you have played and continue to play a tremendous role in the legacy of the Beach Boys. What are your thoughts on your role in the group’s legacy and history?

Darian Sahanaja: It’s interesting because here we are, eight years later and I still feel very fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time. I mean, at the end of the day it was always Brian and Van Dyke Parks’ creation, and I merely facilitated their ideas. That being said, of course, I feel extremely flattered when people show such deep gratitude. Some have suggested that along with being in the right place at the right time, that I was perhaps the right person. Looking back, I’m at a point where I can accept that.

AD: I’m always curious to ask insiders to pick favorites. What is your favorite piece of Smile music?

Darian Sahanaja: I remember around 1984 or ’85 getting one of the first cassettes with Smile bootlegs floating around and hearing this version of “Wonderful” with Brian playing harpsichord. That pretty much changed my life. It sounded to me like the natural link between Pet Sounds and “Heroes & Villains.” So amazing. Even now, when I think of Smile I think of that piece.

AD: Do you know of any newly discovered session tapes or recordings that The Smile Sessions were able to utilize that you and Brian did not have access to when writing and recording BWPS?

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