Lakeland’s Scott Totten, musical director of the Beach Boys, tells us why Lakeland is in tune

photography by Philip Pietri

Since the beginning of The Lakelander, we’ve enjoyed interviewing many leaders from
the city’s civic, business, and educational organizations. Punctuating these interviews
are the compelling stories of some of our neighbors — from Dave Leslie’s brews, to the
Lucas’ microfarm, and more recently, Maurice Johnson’s service in WWII. As you read Scott
Totten’s words below, you’ll be reminded that, in Lakeland, it’s easy to have a neighbor with
a remarkable story to tell.
The Lakelander: As a California native, and musical director and guitarist for the The Beach Boys, how did Lakeland become home?
Scott Totten: My wife, Alyssia, grew up here. We were living in Los Angeles, but when we started having kids we decided that good schools, parks, and safe neighborhoods were the most important things for us. Lakeland offers those things in abundance. I knew that a community that
takes such pride in its parks clearly values its children and their quality of life.
TL: In high school you gave up the clarinet for the social benefits bestowed by the guitar. What was your first band like and what/who influenced it? What/who influences you today?
ST: When I switched to guitar, it was so that I could join my friend’s Beatles tribute band. I’ve always been drawn to the music of the ’60s and ’70s, from The Beach Boys and The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. It seems like the older I get, the further back I look. Over the
last few years I’ve had the opportunity to arrange for symphony orchestrasand other large groups, and I’m more and more amazed by the great arrangers Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Gordon Jenkins.
TL: After attending Berklee College of Music, where did you play?
ST: For a few months I was a street performer in New York City, playing guitar for tips in Times Square. Later I played weddings, jingle and recording sessions, and Broadway shows in NYC and on tour throughout North America. I did play in original bands, but they always seemed to fall apart after a couple of years over “creative differences.”
TL: How did you become part of The Beach Boys?
ST: It was after I had left the show Rent in 2000. A friend told me The Beach Boys were looking for a guitar player, but he didn’t say who to call. So I called Capitol Records and left a voicemail. Amazingly, a lady from Capitol called me the next day and gave me the band manager’s fax number, and I sent him my resumé. I got a call back asking for a CD and eventually landed an audition. At first they used me as a sub for the other two guitar players when they needed time off. Eventually one of them left to pursue his own music, and I became a full-time band member in 2001. My persistence paid off!
TL: In addition to performing with the band, your role as musical director is really like that of an art conservator, especially given the band’s longevity. Describe how you view your responsibility to the music.
ST: In 2007 I became musical director. At this point I feel as though the music of The Beach Boys is as important and as established as any classical music. Everyone knows how it’s supposed to sound, and I view my role as similar to the conductor’s role in an orchestra, which is to keep everyone on the same page. No one wants to hear my interpretation of the music, they want to hear the music as they know it and love it. I’m proud to have that responsibility and I take it very seriously.
TL: There must be many great moments while you’re touring and performing — any particularly memorable ones you’d like to share?
ST: In the 14 years I have been with the band there have been so many great moments! A few that stand out would be the 2012 Grammy Awards where The Beach Boys performed in the longest segment of the broadcast, and the same year performing 61 songs for a three hour show at the Royal Albert Hall. Certainly the time at the Sydney Opera House where the applause after “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” halted the show for 10 minutes!
TL: When you’re home in Lakeland, what do you like to do?
ST: I love to spend time with my family. I have young children, ages 10 and three, and I
miss so much when I’m gone. I love to read books to them and catch up on TV dramas
with my wife.
TL: Is there any chance to see you and the band perform locally?
ST: Yes! For the first time in over 10 years The Beach Boys will be playing in Lakeland.
Earlier I mentioned the number of quality parks here. Now, I have a chance to help in
the efforts to build a new playground in Lake Parker Park. It will be called the Rotary
Playground in Hernando’s Landing. On May 2nd The Beach Boys will perform at Marchant
Stadium for the Rotary Playground Benefit Concert, presented by Allen & Company and
the Rotary Clubs of Lakeland. It’s a great cause for a great community that I’m proud to
call home. Come out and see us. It’s going to be a fantastic show!