It’s a fitting tribute to the cult-favorite — from one Los Angeles-based sideman to another, packed with cameos from Ewing’s Local Natives bandmates, Cults, The Gloomies, Chris Chu of POP ETC, Evan Voytas and Nico Segal — born from a glum drive across the city that turned memorable, thanks to the perfect soundtrack.
“With zero hyperbole, driving across L.A. can take half an hour or four days. One of the more manageable times I drove across the city, it took me 37 minutes and 15 seconds, the length of Pacific Ocean Blue by Dennis Wilson,” Ewing tells Billboard. “Like many important first album listening experiences, the entire environment surrounding that listen burnt into my memory. It was like that sad, dark album was made specifically for that specific sad, dark drive across L.A. A haunted, outcast Beach Boy who still sung simple Beach Boy lyrics like “I’m sorry, I miss you” but whose weathered voice is painfully more honest without the hollow late ’70s shine from his band (who seemingly didn’t miss him that much).”
On album opener “River Song,” it’s immediately clear Ewing isn’t content to just cover Wilson’s tracks, but is reimagining them entirely to make them his own. Joined by Local Natives, “River Song” rolls along on heavy production that sways between minimal and intense, from discordant to comforting, with help from his bandmates’ beautifully accentuating harmonies. Later, with “Moonshine,” Cults’ Madeline Follin takes the lead with distorted vocals floating over atmospheric composition, delivering an airiness that runs through the LP, befitting that familiar trip Ewing took years back from the city to the shore. Both songs are premiering exclusively below with Billboard.
“I really love when artists give their own radical take on a song,” says Ewing. “Luckily this album isn’t as ‘sacred’ as if I covered Pet Sounds in its entirety, which allowed me a lot more liberty. I wanted to re-imagine this album in a much darker and ambient context: to flow like a lost mixtape and to sound cohesive with all the voices … weaving in and out throughout; and obviously I couldn’t not have my band contribute beautiful, lush harmonies to a Beach Boy cover album.”
While fans wait for a new Local Natives album, it’s impressive to see Ewing owning his own creative voice as he steps out on his own with such artistic success — just as Wilson did from the Beach Boys over four decades prior. Still, it’s assuring to hear his bandmates have had his back throughout the process.
“I started working on this album during our Sunlit Youth World Tour and then in between our sessions recording Local Natives’ LP4,” says Ewing. “I started ‘River Song’ on a day off in Austin, showing Ryan [Hahn] and then quickly getting Kelcey [Ayer] to record a scratch vocal. I always wanted the album to flow like a lost mixtape, almost in the spirit of a proper Beach Boys album with so many voices singing ‘lead,’ but darker. My band is really collaborative and when working on music I’ll often think of melodies in terms of, ‘Oh, that’s perfect for Taylor’s [Rice] voice’ or ‘Ryan should sing a higher harmony.’ While working on this album, I quickly found that I wanted more voices than just my band, which is where the otherworldly pop of Cults fit perfectly on ‘Moonshine.'”
Chewing’s Pacific Ocean Blue will be released on Dec. 21, exclusively on vinyl via Turntable Kitchen’s Sounds Delicious vinyl subscription series in a limited edition pressing featuring artwork by Teresa Grasseschi. Pre-orders are available here.