Before The Beach Boys take to the Bovard Auditorium stage Oct. 25, the sold-out crowd will experience a homegrown opening act — five original songs written and performed by singer-songwriters in the USC Thornton School of Music’s Popular Music Performance program. The songs, each written with a Beach Boys’ musical vibe or connection, were selected from 30 submissions in an open call given in late September to the students in the program.
“The Beach Boys’ willingness to have students open for them is turning the concert into a real learning experience,” said Chris Sampson, USC Thornton associate dean for popular music and music industries studies.
It was Sampson’s idea to ask the iconic rock group if it would consider the unorthodox opener.
“I don’t necessarily know that The Beach Boys are going to hear them, but I would love it if they were in the wings, paying attention,” Sampson said. “No matter what, it’s a rare opportunity for students to play to a sold-out room of 1,200.”
The singer-songwriters will be backed up by other student vocalists and instrumentalists from the program. Senior Divya Maus, who co-wrote one of the chosen songs, said the Popular Music students are confident playing on each others’ songs because “we’ve grown so used to each other. We’ve all learned the same skills.” Maus wrote “Salty Water” with keyboardist Dan Weidlein, who graduated from the program in May.
“It’s about someone falling out of love with you and being so nice about it that you don’t get closure,” she said.
“American Champagne,” written by junior Rees Finley, features “heavy harmony” in The Beach Boys style, the composer said, supplied by no fewer than eight backup vocalists.
“Lindsay,” written by senior Anna Schulze, is “a darker commentary on Lindsay Lohan and fame,” the composer said. She submitted two original songs and was thrilled to make the cut.
“I grew up listening to The Beach Boys, and this is such a great opportunity for us,” Schulze said.
Sophomore Austin Smith wrote “California,” which he describes as “harmonically very simple, a modern take on beaches and sunshine.” Although he has appeared before a large crowd once before as part of an a cappella group, the largest audience he’s ever sung before as a solo vocalist is a few hundred people. Playing before a full house at Bovard will be a great experience, he said.
Junior Jimmy Villaflor penned the fifth song, a stripped-down ballad called “She Doesn’t Love Me Anymore.”
The musicians appearing with the singer-songwriters include Brandon Woodward, percussion and vocals; Nolan Frank, keyboards and vocals; Brian Jones, bass and vocals; Jake Noveck, guitar and vocals; Max Quilici, guitar; John Snow, synth bass; and Weidlein, keyboards.
All of the students in the Popular Music program will have an opportunity to interact with Mike Love, an original Beach Boys member, and Bruce Johnston, who joined the group in 1965, several hours before the concert at Sampson’s Popular Music Forum, held every Friday with music industry figures.
This concert is not the only opportunity USC Thornton students have had this semester to perform with high-profile professionals. USC Thornton classical musicians backed up Elton John at a performance at Bovard Sept. 16 and again at the Emmy Awards broadcast Sept. 22. They will also be playing with James Conlon and the Los Angeles Opera in December as part of the Britten 100 celebration.