Interview with Mark Linett
By Chris Allen

Question: Having engineered most of Brian's first solo album as well as the new one, what would you say is different about recording with him now versus then?

Mark Linett: The basic tracks for the new album are being recorded with a band of live musicians where the '88 record was cut for the most part starting with a drum machine and a lot of it finishing up with drum machine. In some cases on the '88 record, real drums were overdubbed, but in this case we're starting with real live tracks.

Question: What about the vocals?

Mark Linett: Between this and '88? Well this record's got more stacked up Brian backgrounds and such than the '88 record, for the most part, but I'd have to go back track by track and that's a long time ago.

Question: What would you say about Brian as a producer?

Mark Linett: Brian's always the greatest producer. We've done a bunch of records since then - Live At The Roxy and Pet Sounds Live and the Tribute Show and all that stuff. Not much has changed there.

Question: Is there anything about the new sessions that sticks out in your mind?

Mark Linett: Just lots of good songs - and it's nice to have real players because it's always good to have the interaction between people. It's just nice to see Brian back in the studio again. It's been awhile, doing a studio record. Except for "California Feeling" which we cut last year - that one bonus track for "Classics." I haven't really done too much studio recording with him since '96 - '98 - somewhere in there, before Imagination.

Question: Some of the guys in the band have said that your recording studio is nice to work in because it's a relaxing atmosphere. I wonder if that lends itself to better recordings?

Mark Linett: Whatever makes the players comfortable, certainly. I know that Brian's comfortable here, in part because he's been here a lot and he can work at whatever pace he feels like. And the fact that you can just go out and sit in the back yard seems to make it nice. I was just noticing when we were working on the "On Tour" video almost all the interviews with the band and Brian and Melinda were shot in my back yard. (laughs) They were doing that while we were working on the Roxy album. Actually we're doing some stuff for the Carl Wilson show this year, trying to put a little film together, we're trying to schedule the interviews here as well. (laughs) Maybe I could rent my location out as a background site, or whatever you want to call it.

Question: Sounds like you're keeping busy.

Mark Linett: I've been very busy this year. A lot going on, I have been working on other projects as well, but just Brian doing a record - that's enough to keep you pretty tied up.

Question: Is the album kind of in a finishing period - do you know how many songs are going to be on it?

Mark Linett: I'd say we're approaching that. It's a little hard to say. Brian's been on vacation for the summer and we haven't started up again yet. When we stopped, everything was in pretty good shape. I'm sure therešs still things to add and touch ups to do and of course mixing which will take awhile. But I'd say we're well on our way - moreso than when you talked to the band, because we've worked on this thing pretty steady for about 3 or 4 months.

Question: Melinda had said there might be a couple of songs that Brian co-wrote with Stephen Kalinich.

Mark Linett: Yeah, we recorded two. I know we demoed a few more than that but we recorded two. I don't think any decision has been made about what's actually gonna be on the record. As always, we recorded more songs than will probably go on the album, but that could change too. We could very well record more stuff. I would be surprised if we didn't frankly. A certain amount of time goes by and there's something new that Brian wants to do - no reason not to do it, no reason to lock the thing down until it's ready to go to the stores.

Question: Is the feel of the album - he's been talking for a few years about a rock and roll album - does that kind of fit what you're doing?

Mark Linett: There's definitely some rock and roll stuff on it. There's also some ballads on it. I'd say it's a well balanced record.

Question: A Brian Wilson record.

Mark Linett: Yeah, exactly. (laughs)

Question: Are there any other songwriters that he's worked with on the record?

Mark Linett: I think there's one song that Van Dyke wrote the lyrics for. Usually by the time they get here, unless the songwriter shows up I'm not going to know much about it.

Question: Anything else you want to say about the album?

Mark Linett: I don't know if anybody cares about the gear that we have here, it's kind of an interesting amalgamation of stuff. I have a console that goes back to the United Western days which gets used a lot. And then we're recording on ProTools like everybody else. We're kind of spanning four decades here of recording technology. (laughs)

Question: Do you use the old mics that they used to record with?

Mark Linett: Yeah, kind of an interesting little sidebar is that a couple of lead vocals we wound up doing on an old Shure mic, just like in the old days. Just sounded good one afternoon so we just went with it. Of course Brian basically sounds good on anything, so it's not much of an issue. I mean, yeah these things are all kind of fun to talk about but it really comes down to the music hopefully, and not what brand of tape - well if we were using tape anymore - (laughs) what brand of tape you're using. What brand of hard drive. These things all make a difference in how things sound but ultimately it's rather unimportant, I think. It's really about the songs and the music, that's what it should be. One of the problems with music business in general these days is that it's gotten away from that, maybe because for a lot of people there's not really much going on except the technology. That's one of the reasons why Brian's records have endured, they're technically accomplished, but they're just good songs. Good music. I think that's more important than all the rest of that stuff - much as I like to deal with it all the time - and I'd rather use the old technology as much as possible. I'd say that 90% of this record has been recorded through the same - front end - recorded through the same kind of equipment he Used in '63. Whether that really makes any difference in the end? I don't know. Does that make it sound like a Brian Wilson record? No. Brian Wilson makes it sound like a Brian Wilson record. The same technology was used to record everything from The Seeds to Jan and Dean in those days. The same equipment. It has a lot more to do with what's coming into the inputs rather than what the inputs are. I mean you can make it worse, you can make it bad, but on a certain level it doesn't really mean a whole lot. But it's nice to do it that way. You get a certain sonic signature to the thing. Wešve done a lot of stuff here, both old and new - I was just sitting here, I was just starting to play the master for "This Whole World" - we need an a capella mix of that for something. (laughs) We go round and round. Now it's been transferred to ProTools for a variety of reasons.

Question: Do you want to talk about the new Pet Sounds release?

Mark Linett: The DVD-A? We've got two of them you know, we've got that and the Live video coming. The DVD-A's out and I'm glad. It took a lot of effort besides the mixing just getting the packaging and all of the on-screen stuff together. I'm real happy with it, it's a bit ironic that some reviewers donšt think it's "surroundy" enough. It's a funny throwback to the early days of stereo where you had to have stuff like it was coming from two different rooms. There have been one or two reviewers who were Disappointed because Pet Sounds in 5.1 doesn't sound like that. I don't think it should anyway. I mean there are technical reasons it can't, the band was only recorded on three tracks, and it's all coincident. The three tracks were being fed from mics all in the same room. So it's not like a modern recording where you have one track for each instrument, you can put stuff all over the place. But then I've had people who were like - "I'm not comfortable with the band surrounding me" (laughs) I really like it, so do a lot of people, but to a certain extent again, we're futzing with the art here. I always say about these things, the stereo mix included, we're not trying to make a better Pet Sounds, we're just trying to create another interesting way to listen to it. And with that in mind, the 5.1 mix strives to give the same vibe and feeling, but just with a bigger sound stage. And I think that's as it should be. It shouldn't sound like "A Night At The Opera" or Eminem or anything like that. It's still Pet Sounds. We all did it with that in mind. It may not be the smartest thing commercially – or actually we didn't have much choice in this case - there are only a certain number of tracks to work with and unless I literally put one thing in each corner, even then I wouldn't necessarily have enough tracks to fill up the speakers.

Question: I was surprised to read somewhere that Brian was actually singing the double to his vocal while they were mixing "Caroline No."

Mark Linett: Oh yeah. There are a lot of things like that. On "Help Me Rhonda" - the alternate version on Endless Harmony - you get a pretty good sense of how these things could be redone and changed. What is it, there's a piano part, a solo part, and a bass part all being done as it's being mixed. Y'know it saved you a generation and the trouble of doing it. So if all Brian's gonna add is a doubled vocal - you've got a three track and no open track and you've got to double the vocal why not just sing as it's being mixed? You're gonna perform it anyway. It's not like today where you'd punch it in, and you might punch it in line by line. You're just gonna sing it so youšve only got 4 tracks including the new vocal so - combine it, sing it, mix it, done. It is a strange quirk of fate that we even have the ability to do "Caroline No" with a doubled vocal in stereo because of what I assume was a mispatch, where instead of a mix getting onto the mono tape, just the two vocals got on there for one pass. If it weren't for that, we'd be stuck - like on "You Still Believe In Me" - with just having one vocal. The out takes for that were probably tossed in 1966. And that "Caroline No" tape survived, of course, because there's nothing on that 1/4 inch mono tape that anybody wants - the mono master of "Caroline No" was removed ages ago. Well, I might have to look, that might be the tape that was played with the wrap added to speed it up. I'd have to look to tell you. It's interesting about Pet Sounds, in those days, nobody was very good about saving their multi-track tapes because basically what you finished with was what mattered. And nobody worried about it. You copied from one tape to another, you copied as you mixed, all these things. So once you were done, you were done. So an awful lot of Beach Boys masters have gone missing over the years. Ironically, Pet Sounds is one of the few albums - there are a few others - one of the few albums and certainly the only one from that period where more than 99% of the original recordings are still there. I think there's only one tracking date that doesn't exist, and then those couple of things that were rerecorded, that Brian chose to use earlier pieces of mixes. So it's a strange irony that of all of them, that that stuff has survived. Which makes all this possible - the Sessions Box, the stereo mix, the 5.1 mix. And we're just looking to the future, hopefully we'll get Surf's Up out before too long, we have to get back to that. The artwork is the hangup, we haven't started looking at what the screens are gonna be and all that. But that's probably good because I suspect in the end we'll get a few more things on there as bonus tracks because we have the time to think about it. Wešve got a few more things in mind.

Question: Do you get involved in designing the discs?

Mark Linett: Well only indirectly, in terms of approving it, yeah. Trying to hire the right people and then looking at it. I mean in the end on Pet Sounds, Alan Boyd and I wound up finding most of the pictures and selecting which ones went where. The graphics company did it once and we had to go back and say "That should be a picture of Carl, not a picture of Al..." just trying to make the pictures fit the package. And then Brian and Melinda would give their final approval. You really have to see the whole thing, it's an enormous amount of material. I mean you've got the three different mixes in four different formats, and then all these onscreen graphics and pictures and lyrics and session details - it's encyclopedic really.

Question: It must be quite a different job of mixing, isn't it?

Mark Linett: Oh yeah. 5.1 in general is quite different. I don't think as engineers and producers we've all entirely settled on just what it is exactly. (laughs) The point is we've been creating music in mono and stereo - which are a lot more compatible than either is with 5.1 - for a long time. And even in a perfomance kind of record, a live record, 5.1 while it presents the opportunity to be somewhat more lifelike - we can imitate what happens in a real environment - it's not exactly that. Having a couple of speakers behind you isn't really the same experience of what we hear all around us. So I think to a certain extent, to really get the benefit of 5.1 people are going to have to start creating music with surround in mind as opposed creating a stereo record and then put it in 5.1. But that's kind of how it was with stereo too.

Question: When you're recording this new album, do you think about that?

Mark Linett: No. No you really can't. Nobody really is yet except with some performance records. I know when we do live stuff now we make sure we've got extra ambient audience tracks and stuff so that if we're doing a 5.1 mix we can put something back there. I just finished Live At The Roxy in 5.1, and was fortunate to have that. There's other ways to do it, but I had extra audience track that I could use in the rear speakers. I'm real happy with it, we're gonna master that next week. Hopefully that will be out sometime in December.

Question: What's the difference in the number of tracks you're mixing between Pet Sounds and Surf's Up?

Mark Linett: Pet Sounds is 3, 4 and 8 track so you generally wind up with, at most, 10 or 11 tracks on half the album. The rest of it's just straight 4 track. So you might have 4 tracks or maybe up to 6 or something. By the time of Surf's Up itšs all 16 track. In most cases you wind up with more because what they tended to do was, if you had a guitar solo, the track wouldn't just be the guitar solo, it would have something else in other places. So what you do when you copy it all over to a digital workstation, you separate those things. So if the track contained a background vocal, a tambourine part, and a lead guitar in three different sections, you can separate those now and have them as if they were three different tracks. So I would say the average on Surf's Up might be more in the range of 16 to 24 tracks, or 20 tracks anyway. You have a lot more to work with. Drums are probably on 2 to 4 tracks, you have a bass track - and they were recorded that way, I mean the basic tracks might have had 2 or 3 instruments, but basically you're doing it in layers. Which is better for 5.1 because then you've got things you can put in different speakers. On Pet Sounds where I've got the rhythm track that's got one track with bass, drums, a couple of guitars and a keyboard, another track that's the horns, and a third track that's a few more keyboards and percussion. If I had that separated out I could put the keyboards in the front and the percussion in the rear - but I can't do that. Because I don't have it. Now, I'm not sure I would do that with Pet Sounds because I don't think it would be terribly appropriate to the music, but there you have it.

For a website bio of Mark Linett Click here

The above article is from OPEN SKY issue #6, used with kind permission by the editor Chris Allen. To find out more about this fab magazine and to get a copy of the whole issue, visit