Grammy award winner Mark Linett is the veteran of many years in the studio, starting in Hollywood at Artist Recording, Paramount and Mystic Studios in the early seventies after running his own PA company. Later he was hired by George Massenburg to assist at Sunset Sound for several years before heading over to Amigo, Warner Brothers' now defunct studio, where he did sessions with Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones, Los Lobos and Michael McDonald. In the late eighties he ended up doing most of the engineering for Brian Wilson's first self- titled solo album, which led to work compiling The Beach Boys' back catalog for reissues, the Good Vibrations box set and Pet Sounds projects, including the box set, stereo and surround mixes and live concert recordings. Last year Mark engineered and mixed the release of Brian's long-stalled SMiLE album, his long-awaited follow-up to Pet Sounds. Mark has also done recent albums with Dave Alvin (they won a Grammy in 2001!), The Blasters, Los Straitjackets, Christy McWilson, Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys and John Lithgow (Singin' in the Bathtub!). We dropped in at Mark's home studio, Your Place or Mine (also the name of his live recording service), nestled in under his Glendale home next to the swimming pool. It's a modestly sized place but the equipment in it would have a vintage gear collector salivating. When we walked in Mark was finishing up some mixes for a DVD release of a SMiLE performance.
You really do quite a variety of different recording jobs. You're known for archiving and retrospective stuff, like the Good Vibrations box set. Also for tracking records from start to finish, producing or co-producing in those cases, and mixing, mastering and remote recording. Is there any one part that takes more of your interest that you'd rather be doing more of, or do you like having a mix of these different jobs?
Well, I like the mix. I like doing live records a lot. One of the things I like the most that I get to do the least is big, orchestral things. I did a big band for a TV show a month ago and I love that stuff. That stuff is pretty unique to the recording studio. I did a 65-piece orchestra for John Lithgow a few years ago. That's just great. It's not really hard either because it's so much about the playing and the room and much less about all this technology. Once we got to 8-track and used separate tracks for the instruments, overdubbing instruments and then from all of that trying to assemble something that sounds like a performance again. It's not the same as how Brian made his early records with 14 to 18 guys crammed into the studio and cutting it all to 3-track, which is the way everyone recorded in those days. Pretty much everybody set it up the same way and had the same players every day playing different stuff. It was almost more factory-like but it was also more musical in the sense that it was still live people playing together. Maybe that's why I still like doing live records. I've been doing live records my whole career, but in the old days, because of technology, we just ended wholesale replacing a tremendous amount of the stuff.
Overdubbing, punching in.
Yeah, because you couldn't do the things you could do with Pro Tools — where I can make a good live performance better. I can edit them together to make them better. I can fix one duff note. I can move it. I can take it from another performance. Vocals can be tuned to a certain extent, so in a way you can preserve more of the real live performance by doing all this. It's a lot more work but you don't wind up having a live record that's three-quarters fake. I did a live Movers and Shakers record in the eighties and we just kept the drums, the bass, some of the guitars, doubled the horns, and redid a lot of the vocals and the backgrounds. Just a typical live record. Of course the standards are higher. When you couldn't do all that, you made a live three-track. Well The Beach Boys Concert album has two tracks on it that are fake: "I Get Around" and "Fun, Fun, Fun".
They overdubbed the audience?
Well, they used the studio tracks and then re-sang them and put this crowd loop over them — well there's crowd loop over the whole record — that's what you did! I've got this firm belief that technology can be used for good or evil, and that's true of Pro Tools, multitrack or whatever you want. Also that it isn't static. In other words, the best example is before 8-track, before multitrack being used the way we think of it. Before you could punch in an individual thing, everybody was playing pretty much together in the same place at the same time. Maybe you'd overdub a little, but pretty much at the same time. Not only did that change, but the rooms suddenly had to be dead, everybody had to be isolated, everybody had to wear headphones. They had to learn how to play wearing headphones, which they never did before and then a whole new sort of kind of kind of music developed because of all that. Because of that ability to be more studied, more perfect, build it up from one thing. You have a whole new form of music coming from the fact that you have this technology that allows that, so it's this chicken and egg kind of thing and now...