- Brian could do this because he knew what was possible with the equipment at hand. ‘Brian is not only an excellent composer and musician; he is probably the best engineer in the recording business,’ noted World Pacific Records jazz and folk producer Jim Dickson, who also managed The Byrds. ‘He knows the board like nobody does.’
- ‘Brian was just amazing, as far as mixing goes, which I don’t think he gets a lot of credit for,’ said Danny Hutton. ‘People don’t talk that much about it. They always talk about his music. He was fabulous in the studio, in terms of getting sounds. You’d sit there, and that was him. He was just hands-on. He would change the reverb and the echo, and all of a sudden, something just -whoa! – got twice as big and fat.’
- ‘I didn’t get involved [with that process],’ Van Dyke Parks pointed out. ‘First of all, I couldn’t understand it. It was so brilliant. I was dazzled by his talent. In spite of all the social pressures around us, we both appreciate the same stuff. He liked Les Paul, Spike Jones, all of these sounds that I liked, and he was doing it in a pro-active way. I never felt I was sitting on the sidelines. I was swept up by the scale and prodigiousness of his activity. He did a lot of stuff, and I was just hanging onto the words.’
- ‘Brian, like a lot of great artists through history, is a real primitive,’ Paul Williams of Crawdaddy! explained. ‘He’s just saying, “Ah! I hear a sound. Here’s this thing in my head; let’s see how I can put it out into music.” He’s not coming from an education, of this is this and that is that. It’s just whatever you can grab that you can throw into it to get what you’re trying to create at that moment. In addition to the raw genius and musical ability, something that perhaps goes with it – or perhaps is coincidental – is the personal presence of a creative power like this. When he says something like that to you, he moves everybody around him to want to try to co-operate with him, whether they even know who he is or not, and somehow to bring to existence this impossible thing that he’s asking for. He has a great charismatic quality when he’s doing what he’s about.’
- In the same way that Brian is known for his complex vocal arrangements, his approach to instrumentation during the Pet Sounds and Smile sessions interlocked counter-melodies in a manner far beyond what the vocal range could handle. As Bruce Johnston told the NME, ‘The secret of the group’s success is being complex and intricate.’ Brian would take those instrumental textures and maximise their depth within the limitations of eight-track recording technology, and would still come out with dynamics beyond things recorded in the high-tech future.
- ‘[Western Recorders engineer] Chuck Britz would get the basic sound,’ Danny Hutton remembered, ‘but then Brian really had a lot to do with tweaking it, because they were using so few tracks, and they had to lock a lot of that stuff in. Today, you’ve got the luxury of boiling it down, and then fiddling with it for months, if you want, but back then you could ruin a session if you locked something in and the mixer was off. You had to know what you really wanted before you went in. And I know he left a lot of room for experimenting and letting the musicians put their thing into it, but he still had to make these final, quick decisions, because there was a lot of leakage. Even though he sectioned stuff off, there would still be leakage in there.’
- From the very start in 1961, at Stereo Masters and World Pacific, Brian learned to master the gear available to him in Hollywood. That skill grew through his work at Western Recorders in 1962 and 1963, and kicked up a notch by 1964 as he learned from listening to and watching Phil Spector at work, then working with Gold Star engineer Larry Levine.
- By 1966, Brian was in direct contact with Columbia Studios and the RCA Music Center of the World and their brilliant engineer, Dave Hassinger. This experience gave his expanding young musical mind a dexterity unavailable to anyone working solely at Abbey Road, for example. ‘I love The Beatles,’ Danny Hutton affirmed, ‘but Brian was far and above them – in another league – in terms of knowing the studio. I recall Paul McCartney saying that, when the red light would go on, they’d record. He said he loved it, when he thought back on it. They’d go to the pub, and then they’d phone and say, “Do we have a hit? How’s the mix?” They were totally not involved in the mixes, on their first couple of albums. And Brian came from completely the opposite direction. He was completely in control of the board. He didn’t step in later and learn it after they’d done the songs and gotten popular; it was the other way around. He was in control.’
- All tones, all notation in a recording situation, were immediately evident in Wilson’s steel-trap musical mind, and so decisions and directions flew, and each session progressed in a manner that was constantly surprising to all. ‘That was very fast stuff, and at the same time he did stuff that was very slow,’ said Van Dyke Parks of the contrast between Wilson’s experimental approach and the final material’s detailed finish. ‘He went take after take after take – a monotony of repeated takes – to get a performance that fell by the wayside because of maybe one eighth note. Usually, it’s like eating spaghetti with a Technicolor tie – nobody’s gonna notice that, but if you’re in Navy whites, they might pick up on it. He was that astute. He was his own worst critic, and everybody suffered in the process. You had to suffer to be beautiful with Brian, as a musician. That’s why I decided not to do any of that stuff. It was hard music.’
showmethecarfax Jul 15th, 2014 30 Never
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