Photo courtesy of Sundazed
Love, one of the most unique, influential band of the sixties, is primarily known for the strange wordplay and odd mixture of pop, folk, rock, psychedelic music masterminded by leader Arthur Lee. What also made the early music of Love special was the songs of former Byrds roadie Bryan MacLean. MacLean's etheral voice and songs made for fascinating changes of pace on the first three Love albums. Leaving the group in 1968, MacLean recorded home demos here and there and mostly spent his time devoted to religion.
The last interview
When his mother discovered some long-lost songs sitting around the house, MacLean was suddenly ready to be rediscovered by the pop world. The result of this was IfYouBelieveIn (1997) on Sundazed. A few months later, MacLean gave what would be his last interview with Phil Nee of WRCO Radio in January 1998. MacLean then passed away in Christmas time of that year. Now, Sundazed has come out with a second volume of MacLean demos, Candy's Waltz, just to give us an idea of what this gifted artist was up to outside of Love (the interview below is included on this release). It's a bit heart-breaking to hear about the literary and matrimonial ambitions had before his death.
Enormous thanks go out to Phil Nee and Tim Livingston of Sundazed for their help with this article.
Phil Nee: Thanks for joining us at WRCO radio and joining us on the line is Bryan MacLean, formerly of the group Love, talking about a solo project. Bryan, this work has been in the works for you for a lot of years, hasn't it?
Bryan MacLean: No, it hasn't! As a matter of fact, it was sitting in my garage. I was away and my mom discovered these tapes. The lost tapes.
PN: Were you under the impression that they were destroyed?
BM: You mean, did I hope they were? (laughs)
PN: No, no, no! I mean, had you forgotten about them to the point that...?
BM: As it lends itself to this conversation... yeah. If you would have said 'hey, do you have tapes in the garage?' I would have said 'yeah, I have tapes.' But my mom took the time to catalog them, to arrange them. Then, amazing... I mean, what are the odds? She got a deal. These are like demo tapes- guitar and voice.
PN: They sound good. The tapes have lasted pretty well, haven't they? Where did you record these at, Bryan?
BM: (laughs) Where ever! Basically, it was stuff that my mom found. Some of the things I think were catalog reference tapes that were done in New York back in the sixties. (There's) other stuff that I might have just sung into a tape recorder and like that.
PN: A lot of these songs... were you looking at them to take them to the band Love? Were they ones for your solo album? How did you look at it?
BM: At the time, they were for the band. I was working away. Arthur is what you heard most of. But that didn't stop me from working away, in my own little sphere of existence. When it came time (decide) to what we were going to do on a specific album, Arthur had the veto power. The things you heard up until this release were the things that he didn't veto.
PN: Was that somewhat frustrating to you? That you did these songs and they were turned down, so to speak?
BM: Well... the question becomes abstract in the sense that I was having such a great time that it wasn't the sort of thing that I didn't let bother me. But I'm sure yes... it cost my mind. But I was probably thinking 'this is going to last forever and we'll get around to this stuff.' Otherwise, I might have put up more of a fight or pressed harder.
PN: You were so young but a lot of these songs are pretty serious songs, pretty heady stuff. Were you a pretty serious guy in those days?
BM: I was delirious! (laughs) I have to admit to you that I hadn't heard any of this stuff in 20 years either and I was pretty amazed. I guess that I was thinking. I was trying to figure it all out. I was trying to get the hang of it. I was addressing issues of life even back then. I don't know if 'serious' is the right word. Deep. How's 'deep'? Hey, this guy's DEEP! (laughs)
PN: One of the songs that stands out for me is "Orange Skies." Love did that song as well. Was that the first song you ever wrote?
BM: Seventeen years old. I was actually roadie for the Byrds at the time. I wrote that song from Roger McGuinn's (he was Jim McGuinn then) guitar break in "The Bells of Rhymney." If you listen to it closely, it's the same configuration.
PN: But that was kind of a dream. Here you are around the Byrds, one of the best bands of all time, and then you're writing things. You were kind of living a dream life at that time, weren't you?
BM: Yeah. We were on the Rolling Stones' first American concert tour and traveling around and ringside to the spearhead of the rock revolution and this and that. It was wonderful. I can't be calm about how great it was and how much fun we were really having.
PN: I know that too creatively, it must have been just an amazing time. The creative juices must have been flowing, Bryan.
BM: Very much so. Everybody felt that they were... we felt like supermen in the sense that anything that we came up with would be realized or would come to fruition. That's one of the reasons that I probably didn't fight to get more of my stuff on those albums. It was because I just assumed that everything I did would be heard. That's a tremendous inspirational factor. If you think you're just speculating and working away at possibly for nothing, for no reason... But imagine writing a song and then a few months later, driving along and hearing it on the radio.
PN: That would be pretty heady, I would think.
BM: Yeah! (laughs) Very much.
PN: Amazing. Who influenced you musically? Do you remember?
BM: Yeah, in the beginning, it was David Crosby. I wanted to sound like him. But early than that it was Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein. My mother danced the flamenco so there was that influence- years of hearing the Spanish gypsy music, flamenco music. And I loved jazz. You know how it goes. Then I guess when I was nine years old, I bought my Elvis Presley record.
PN: I'm sure the Beatles came into play somewhere along the line too.
BM: Well, of course. That changed everything. I walked out of A Hard Day's Night... different. I was never the same. I just immediately identified with that. I let my hair grow out and got kicked out of school, just immediately. That settled the whether-I-should-finish-high-school question right there. (laughs) That was all taken care of! The greatest decisions in our lives, we really don't make ourselves. I don't know if you ever noticed that.
PN: That's probably true.
BM: We realize we made them or they were made in retrospect.
PN: Listening to some of these tracks, you use your voice as a musical instrument. It's very interesting and very well done, I must add. Do you know where that came in? Was that some of the jazz influence?
BM: Barbara Streisand. I idolized and worshipped her. And Harry Belafonte was the other big one. I would just sit and listen and go 'oh boy.' My basic reaction to either one of them was 'gee, every time I think I can sing, I just put one of these records on and I get back to reality.' But, whatever you're striving for, shoot the moon. So I was imitating that kind of vocal ability.
PN: Looking back on the history of Love, what do you feel the best Love album was?
BM: Qualifying it by the fact that they never captured what we were like live... Forever Changes was the most symmetrical. In the first album, we were just trying to get the hang of it. In the second album, for some reason we got derailed and put that big, huge, long song on the other side, which is a shame. There's a lot of other stuff we could have done that would have been better. Then by the time Forever Changes came along, we were beginning to get at ease with what we were doing. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't have quit. I was kind of lured away and it was not a smart decision. But it was probably the best decision in the long run. It's not what happens, it's how you end up.
PN: Looking at who those albums still sell well, does that surprise you after all these years?
BM: Absolutely. Sure. We're supposed to be this obscure little garage band, this little street band. Some guys were here from England doing a documentary. We were talking about... I guess the thing that people long for from the sixties is being to put an LP or a CD or whatever it is on and being able to listen to it through both sides, and enjoying every song. I think that's the thing that's gone. I think that's the thing that people are longing for. Any time I hear anything I like on the radio, you go out to buy the record and that's the only thing on the whole record you like.
PN: That's true. (laughs) Do you still write songs very frequently?
PN: Do you actively go out there and trying to get them published or get someone to record it?
BM: I don't lift a finger. That's not what I've been put on earth... I mean, I haven't been given that ability. I guess that's probably one of the reasons you haven't heard much. Now people are interested in getting it out. People are interesting in it. We're not even talking minor leagues. This is little leagues. If anything, if there's any interest, basically it'll be word of mouth.
My goal from the beginning writing music was to be timeless, to transcend age or style and to enrich peoples' lives, to make them feel better about life in general. And you hear that, even back then. That's my desire. It's like I say- the longer it takes, the better it's going to be. The fact that this is starting to happen now is in a way is amazing. It's kind of like a tying up of loose ends. But maybe it's the beginning of something that started back then. I've got as many songs from that same era that I'm talking to my producer right now about going in and recording. Basically, the same format- simple guitar and voice. Maybe I might overdub some harmonies and maybe put a string or two. But it'll be basically the same.
PN: So if I call you up ten years from today, and we're doing this interview, what would you have liked to have accomplished?
BM: Well, I just want you and I to be a lot closer. (laughs) Between you and I, I'm writing a book. Someone said 'change your career every couple of decades.' I'm writing a book, I've got a couple of more book ideas. If you're carefully observant, you'll see that I wrote some liner notes. You can see that I'm trying desperately to let people know that I have some kind of gift or writing ability as far as being literate. And I've spent a lot of time trying to develop myself in character and as a person so that when I walk down off the stage and everyone says 'the music is so wonderful and so rich,' that when they meet me they're not disillusioned (which was the case for many years). You would hear this sort of transcendent music and you'd meet me and there was this sort of snotty, bratty Beverley Hills kid, kind of drooling at the girls and stuff like that. In ten years, I should have made a lot more headway. Even though I'm a half a century old, I don't think there's any problem with thinking I could meet somebody and start a family.
PN: Well, good luck with your goals. It's been a pleasure talking with you Bryan. We'll keep playing your music here on the air and keep us posted with how it goes with the book and everything. Good luck to you.
BM: Absolutely. Thank you.
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