Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan have long been on the Tape Op radar — Kevin conducted the fantastic Emitt Rhodes interview in issue 33, and Brian recently set up and helped with the Ken Scott interview in issue 52. They both work in the recording realm extensively, but many people will soon know them as the obsessive authors and publishers of their upcoming book, Recording The Beatles. Subtitled The Studio Equipment and Techniques Used to Create Their Classic Albums, it's a big exhaustingly researched book, and is sure to turn a few conceptions of gear and technique on end when it comes out.
How did the decision to do the book start with you guys?
KR: We started it individually. Brian started working on a version of the book in the '90s. I started my preliminary work in '98. It's really because growing up recording and trying to recreate some of the sounds, you start to wonder how it was done and you want to know. Waiting and waiting for a book and realizing one wasn't coming, I guess I was naive enough to say, "Hey, I'll try writing it!" I had no idea at the time what I was in for or how long it would take. I just started trying to track down the people that were there. Brian was doing the same thing at the same time and we eventually crossed paths.
BK: I think it's interesting — I was researching just for personal reasons why these records were done they way they were and how they did it, yet there was almost no information written down. I wanted to find out about the ADT [automatic double-tracking] process that people talk about. Mark Lewisohn's recording book [The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions] mentioned it. I wondered how people did this. It's discussed as if it's common, yet no one I knew could tell me how it was done. And that was one of the interesting bits that I wanted to know that actually took us a long time to figure out. Even the people from Abbey Road, their descriptions of how it worked were not immediately clear and not immediately obvious. We were talking to many people over many years to figure out how it worked properly.
So did you have a little section that explains the theory behind it and how it was built?
BK: Not a little section. A big section! [laughs] KR: Yeah. There was an evolution of the effect for sure. We had to track down chronology of certain events here and there. The recollections of the people that were there became so important. That's part of why it's taken so long to write the book — because you have to track down these people. That "trust building" aspect is a long process.
BK: People wouldn't imagine this, but it is true for the few people that worked there with The Beatles directly — it's not their favorite subject all the time. If you call them out of the blue and ask to talk about The Beatles, you might get shut down. It's like asking someone about high school over and over again. They find it a little bit tiresome. But usually, we approached them with very unusual questions or at least a different approach than most people. We didn't want to know about John Lennon as much as we wanted to know about these people and how they did their jobs. We had one or two people that literally had said, "No." It's not that we wore them down, but we were gently persistent until they realized we needed their input...
KR: And their colleagues were starting to vouch for us and say, "Hey, these guys do know what they're talking about." And once they saw that we came back with information that wasn't normally available — they were more open. The technical engineers we found were the most informative.
KR: Partially because opposed to the balance engineers, like the Geoff Emericks and the Ken Scotts, the technical engineers haven't been asked about The Beatles every day of their lives — so, a lot of these things they are being asked about for the first time. You get really fresh answers. It's the first time they've had to answer some of these questions, so they haven't had time to retell the story so many times that it changes or gets watered down.
BK: To clarify too, the term "balance engineer" is what we normally call a recording engineer. It's an Abbey Road term for someone who balances sounds and tones. And then the technical engineer was a guy who handled all the technical requirements on the session. There was one assigned to each session. He knew about the equipment, hooking up microphones, compressors...