While Mark Linett is a two time Grammy Award winning engineer and producer who has worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Los Lobos and Randy Newman among others, he is most closely associated with his work with the Beach Boys. For nearly 25 years, Linett has worked on the band’s catalog and has produced the reissues of the entire Beach Boys catalog including the “Pet Sounds Sessions” and “Good Vibrations” box sets. He also works on Brian Wilson solo albums including doing research in preparation for the 2004 release of “Brian Wilson Presents… SMiLE,” for which Linett was nominated for a Grammy for best engineered recording. Here he chats about working on the SMiLE sessions, which he is producing in conjunction with long-time Beach Boy archivist Alan Boyd for release later this year.
Beach Boys’ Lost ‘Smile’ Album to See Release in 2011
How long have you been working on the “Smile” project to get it ready for release?
In one sense I began working on it 25 years ago. I have been working with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys catalog since 1987. We first took a quick look at the “Smile” material back in 1988 and then it was shelved again until Brian Wilson put out “Smile” in 2004. We started working on it about August or September of last year [and] doing our digital transfers last fall; even though the project hadn’t been confirmed, it seemed likely. That way when the project did get a green light, we would be a way a head of the game. And we knew we would be dealing with roughly 50 separate recording sessions for the project and that doesn’t even include the sessions for “Good Vibrations.”
How much work have you put into it?
At this point I would say we have put in a couple of hundred hours going through the roughly 50 sessions because we want to present them in a form similar to what we did on the “Pet Sounds” box, where the sessions are condensed down to the most interesting and informative to get the fly on the wall bits to give a real sense of how this project was created.
The Beach Boys have a tremendous amount of material in their vaults. We do know of things that have gone missing over the past 40-odd years. Now that the project has the green light, we think we have a better opportunity to make sure there is nothing else out there that we haven’t been able to locate because the project has never come to fruition. So one of the objects here is to make sure that everything that still exists can be a part of this project.
How much of this project was completed before it was abandoned?
We are still working on the sessions so we haven’t begun assembling what would normally be considered an album, which in this case will only be a representation of where the project got before it was put aside by Brian and the group. All of the tracks were recorded. A lot of the vocals seem to not have been completed.
Brian spent a tremendous amount of time on “Heroes & Villains”. [There’s] even a slightly longer version of the one that was released as a single, which includes several extra sections doesn’t even have to begin to encompass every variation of that song. And I should point out that the most interesting thing about “Smile” is that it took Brian’s original concept, which he first used with “Good Vibrations,”-he would record the song in sections in different variations and then sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, assemble the final backing track before going on to vocals.
So Brian spent most of his time on “Good Vibrations” and “Heroes & Villains”?
“Good Vibrations,” if memory serves, was recorded twice as a complete songs. After the first two sessions, he started to record pieces. They would do a verse, a chorus, a bridge at various sessions and in different ways. “Good Vibrations” was extremely complicated, I can’t remember exactly how many sessions were actually used to create the final backing tracks but it was quite a few – I think there were in excess of 20 backing track sessions that were considered for that song.
I am always astounded that if you listen, as I have, to the entire recorded output on that song; and then look at what was assembled as the final backing tracks and some of the experiments that didn’t get used-it was an amazing accomplishment. I am just amazed that not only was he able to put that together, but of course it was so influential and successful at the same time. And originally, the song was much more of you would describe a Wilson Pickett kind of R&B number in the chorus and that ultimately didn’t get used. When he got to “Smile,” “Heroes & Villains” took that a step further and recorded enormous amount of different pastiches of themes both vocally and instrumentally.
What will the changes in studio technology bring to “Smile” today?
[Brian] was doing this with very primitive technology that we now do on a daily basis with digital recordings, reusing sections and moving them around. Its interesting to surmise if he had the current technology what might have happened. It would have been so much easier to do these experiments.
The advantage that we have now is digital editing that we didn’t even have in 1996 when we were editing for the “Pet Sounds” boxset; it was still on tape with razor blades. So it goes a lot faster but there is still about 20 times as much material [on “Smile”]. But that almost makes it 20 times as interesting to present that much material.â€¨
“Smile” is one of the most bootlegged albums of all time. What will be new for the listener?
For most of them, the whole thing will be new. The Beach Boys have an enormous amount of material from their whole career and [since] we have been actively doing an archive project for about 10 years, there are things that we have discovered that the bootleggers missed.
And the other important thing is bootleggers tend to present every single take… We are obviously going to use the best versions and there are things that we can do that was just technologically impossible when those bootlegs were made in the 1980’s.
For example, we can put Brian’s vocal back into “Surf’s Up,” which was a group track in the 1970s [on the “Surf’s Up” album]. Brian recorded a basic track with a full band for part one. And he also recorded a sort of a demo version, its just him double-tracked and a piano track. What the band did was they used the part one backing track and tried to fly Brian’s vocal into that, but the technology at the time really made that impossible. So what happened was that Carl sang the [lead] vocal and overdubs were added [forthe Surf’s Up album version]. And for the second half, they used Brian’s piano vocal piece and added very few additions.
With the technology we have today, its much much easier to take Brian’s vocal for part one and put it onto the backing track. I have done it and its quite nice. Now we have the ability to shift time things very easily so those synchronizations can be accomplished.
Will there be one complete version of the album in the way it was presented 2004 and will that album serve as the guide line for the “Smile” Sessions track listing?
We have gaps, we have missing vocals. We aren’t missing any music which is heartening. All the songs were recorded. Most of it is there. I can’t be sure that we won’t still come up with something because we do know that there were other things recorded, but the tapes are no longer in the group’s possession. And unfortunately they may have been destroyed years ago.
We have some rough mixes from 1966, which will probably become part of the quote album. There seems to be less of that than you might expect. That also leads to believe, it really wasn’t close to being finished when it was put aside to go to the next project.
If you take Brian’s 2004 version as a blueprint, [it will have] all of that music, all of the significant parts and even the little segue ways. For the most part, that project was heavily researched by myself and others to make sure Brian had available all the parts that had been recorded back in 1966 and 1967. Some lyric additions were made in 2004 that hadn’t been completed before the project was abandoned. That’s some of the questions that we have to do deal with. How will we are going to present those few pieces. But there really aren’t too many. The biggest one is the song that became Blue Hawaii, which started out as a thing called “Loved to Say Dada,” which is sort of the water section of the piece. That had background but no lead vocal.
What will you do. Will you add vocals?
Don’t know yet. The general consensus appears to be not to do any recording just because this is a historic piece, but its a little premature because we are still trying to get 30 hours worth of sessions down to some kind of playable length. Even at that, it will be at least 3 CD to represent the sessions.
But will you attempt to present it as an album in a certain song order?
Oh sure, we will present it probably on a single CD, and the vinyl will have to be three sides; I am not sure what the fourth side will encompass at this point. When we did Brian’s version in 2004, it had to span 3 sides to fit. And there is another indication of I just don’t know. I don’t know if he was going to eliminate songs; it was surely never proposed than more than a single album to Capital at that time. Fortunately we don’t have that restriction anymore; the CD will allow us 80 minutes which is more than enough. But we will certainly going to present the whole piece as close to it as was envisioned, or as is envisioned, as possible. Obviously, [it will be] with input from Brian as from everybody else.
Will it be in mono or stereo?
At this point I would probably say mono because that’s the way Brian intended it, although the sessions will be presented in stereo. One other consideration, with some of the bonus space, we ight present at least some of the album, the stack of tracks version in stereo.
Were the Beach Boys on the tracks or was it mainly the legendary L.A. session musicians, the Wrecking Crew?
The tracks are, by and large, the Wrecking Crew. Carl is on some of the sessions; Dennis is on a few of them. And of course the vocals, there are numerous vocal sessions that are all the Beach Boys, depending on who is taking the lead, sometimes its Carl, sometimes it Dennis, sometimes its Brian. Most of the significant vocal sessions are group sessions and Brian seem to have gone back to the idea of doing the vocals with the group around one mike as opposed to doing the lead separate from the background, especially with “Heroes and Villains.”
Will Paul McCartney be on the album?
If Paul McCartney is on “Vegetables,” it is that version. This is one of those stories that has been told over the years and you would really have to ask somebody who was there to confirm whether Paul was there. Yes, there are two versions of “Vegetables,” well there are three if you count the “Smiley Smile” version; and certainly one that will appear on the album version as well as the special version is that one Paul McCartney purportedly is participating in the vegetable crunching.
That is another point. There is versions of these songs that were not used. Brian re-recorded some of these songs again. It’s clear which versions were meant for the album, but towards the end of the project he started thinking that some of these needed to be re-recorded and got as far as cutting tracks for two or three of them. And those will also be presented. There are a few extras., the song, “You’re Welcome,” which was the b-side of “Heroes & Villains” doesn’t seem like that was ever going to be a part of the album; it didn’t wind up being part of Brian’s 2004 version, so that will be included in the sessions.
We are acting as the producers. But until we got something pretty well laid out, we are not going to get a whole lot of feedback from anybody. Some of these questions are hard to answer because not only haven’t we assembled them yet, then this has to be played for Brian and the other members of the group and see what kind of input they have. Just because Brian did it the way he did it in 2004, [who knows if] he won’t say we’ll lets add, “You’re Welcome,” it will be a nice throwdown.
So how will you go about assembling the sessions portion of the project?
The boxset will present hopefully all of the  recording sessions [which comprise 30 hours] but do it in a condensed form so what the listener hears is like being the fly on the wall; so the listener hears the most important and most interesting parts musically and also the interaction between Brian and the group and the musician.