Bicycle bells, Coca-Cola cans, sleigh bells, water bottles, French horn, Electro-Theremin — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Compared to even ambitious Beatles masterpieces like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's, remixing the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is an entirely different beast. While the Fabs' recordings were often deceptively sparse — "Taxman" is guitars, bass, drums and vocals — Pet Sounds is an ocean of eccentric, melancholic, joyful sound.
Astonishingly — by today's standards — the album was initially recorded to a four-track machine. A student of the studio might assume that remixing the such a record would require some form of sacrifice during the remixing process, wherein various elements would have to be buried, or excised, to bring another to the light.
Giles Martin, who has remixed Sgt. Pepper's, The White Album, Abbey Road, Let It Be, and Revolver — and now Pet Sounds, for Dolby Atmos — has an incisive answer.
"Will I sacrifice taste or feel for the sake of it being an Atmos mix? If that starts getting compromised, then let's make it mono," two-time GRAMMY winner Martin tells GRAMMY.com. "It doesn't make any sense to affect the integrity of a song for the use of technology. Technology should be there to serve the music, as opposed to the other way around.
"I don't want people to listen to an Atmos mix I've done; I want people to listen to a song," he continues. "My mix is just a small part in the process."
But sitting in complete darkness in a Dolby screening room on Sixth Avenue in New York City, it was difficult to think of Martin's touch as being a "small part."
This version of Pet Sounds was nothing short of revelatory — shining up each Beach Boy's vocals, unburying numberless exotic instruments, mapping the musical elements in physical space. All without compromising Brian Wilson's timbral and harmonic syntheses that characterize this art-rock cornerstone.
Read on for a candid interview with Martin about his remixing philosophy, moving from the Beatles space to the Beach Boys space and what he wants to improve about his methodology — in short, "everything."
The Atmos mix of Pet Sounds is available now on Amazon Music, Tidal and Apple Music; stream it here.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
During Beatles listening events, there's a little bit of tension between yourself and that fan community. This Beach Boys event seemed to possess a completely different energy — less antagonistic, more of a lovefest. What's it been like moving from the Beatles world to the Beach Boys world as per their fan communities?
I don't know — I think that I may not be perceiving it right [laughs].
I never felt that there was a huge amount of antagonism with the Beatles thing. I think to begin with, there was. With the early days of me, certainly, doing Love, ironically, there was a suspicion of what I was up to — what are my motives, and what gives you the right to screw around with these tracks, and who the hell do you think you are, and that sort of thing.
I think there's been a sort of shift in a level of trust, hopefully, that people don't realize that I deliberately do this to try and screw things up.
I was actually more nervous going to a Beach Boys playback than I was going to a Beatles playback. With the Beatles, I kind of know where I am — and regardless of what anyone may think, I probably have more experience on this than most other people do.
The Beach Boys, I don't. It's my first rodeo, if you like, so I was probably a bit more nervous addressing their audience.
"Antagonism" is probably too strong a word. Just a little bit of tension in the air, when somebody's like, "What happened to that guitar squeak at 2:01 on 'Taxman,' Giles? Would you like to explain yourself?"
That always makes me laugh. There are two guys who are those people, and they come and listen in the studios. They came around recently for something, and they were like, "Well, we heard something at this moment."
I'll always listen and respect what they say, but then I'll just go… I do have Paul and Ringo. So they'll just go, "Well, we think it's fine."
I think what you are alluding to is there's a sense of ownership that people have over Beatles music. But I think that's the case with Pet Sounds and the Beach Boys as well.
From a business standpoint, what's it been like docking your spaceship on a new mothership?
I pay no attention to the business side of stuff. It's the same record label, actually — Capitol. I have a really good relationship with them, and they're great.
They know what they're getting themselves into by asking me to do stuff, which means that generally, things will be late; I'll miss deadlines. But they also know that I'll take care. And I think part of my job is, obviously, listening to what people have to say, and listening to and collaborating with other people on this, and doing it.
What role did the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds play in your life up to this point? Obviously, you're steeped in this overall miasma due to your lineage.
It's funny: as I said to my dad <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/george-martin/4663">legendary Beatles producer [George Martin], "It's amazing the work you did." And he was like, "Yeah, but I mean, compared to what Brian Wilson did when he was just on his own — you need to go listen to that." And so I did, and I suppose that there's an otherworldliness to it.
Just as a producer, or someone who loves music, Pet Sounds could not be ignored, because it's so intricate in the way it is, and it's an album that gets better the more you listen to it as well. And I hope that is sustainable in times of TikTok where people only have a short amount of time to pay anything attention.
I suppose that I wouldn't have agreed to do it if it wasn't important to me.You have to give it your all; you have to spend a lot of time listening to this music. It's such an important and influential record — not just for other people, but for me as well.
You mentioned during the listening party that you didn't have to employ the same AI techniques to unglue the tracks as you did on Revolver. Can you elaborate?
I wouldn't say it was unglued. If you imagine on, for instance, "That's Not Me," essentially, the band are kind of on three tracks a lot. So, they're stuck.
And "That's Not Me" has drums, organ, tambourine on one track. So, I can't move the organ or tambourine away from the drums. They have to be on one side. And I have bass and lead guitar on another track, so bass and guitar are going to be in the same place no matter what I do.
But there's an intent with this, where it's unlike having a band like the Beatles. This isn't really a band record; it's more of an orchestral record. It has a backing to it.
There's not really a drum kit on Pet Sounds, per se. There's drums on one or two tracks, but there's not really a drum kit. It's like orchestral percussion. So it's fine having those things glued together. Whereas on something like "Taxman," we have guitar, bass and drums — and only guitar, bass and drums going on for the whole song.
If you want to have a stereo record, you have to separate them — because otherwise, they're just on one side and the vocals on the other side; there's no reality. But with this, you have chunks of musicians in a room, and then you can create this real world around it.
Brian Wilson rightfully soaks up the lion's share of the discourse around Pet Sounds; he crafted the record. But in this process, what did you learn about them as per their group dynamic? You alluded to their vocal precision during the listening event. I love Carl and Bruce's vocals on "God Only Knows." I know that Carl and Dennis played on the record in a limited capacity.
I don't know what I learned that I didn't already know, apart from the fact that — this is what people miss — bands exist with resentment, and everything else. But bands exist because they're human beings in a room. The fact that you don't hear someone doesn't mean that they're not having influence.
With the Beach Boys, obviously, you hear their incredible harmonies. And Brian couldn't have done what he did without having the palette of outstanding musicianship, and the ability for these guys to harmonize and create these vocals that can't exist anywhere else.
So, that's what I suppose you hear. You hear the other members of the band come in on tracks, as you alluded to, and you suddenly think — not that it's a relief, but it's like, Oh my god, this is a band. This isn't just Brian. That's what I took from it.
I could genuinely sit there and think about the Beach Boys on a conceptual level and be entertained for hours. But is there a danger of overthinking an artifact like Pet Sounds? Or is it a fount for infinite analysis and edification?
No, I think you are absolutely right. You can take the fun out of it — and people do frequently — by being too pretentious about things. I find this quite amusing. It's almost like the song becomes the ownership of the journalist — or the expert, if you like — and not the person listening to it.
People are told what to listen to, and what to listen out for, in a sort of educational way: "You don't really understand this." It's that sort of thing: "If only you knew you knew how good this was, you'd be able to like it." That sort of conversation. "Music isn't like how it used to be, because it's not as good as this," and all this sort of conversation.
It's absolutely rubbish. It's like, let people enjoy what they want to enjoy. As long as you're passionate about something, it doesn't make a difference whether you like Megadeth or the Beach Boys.
You recently worked on a refreshed version of Paul McCartney's "Live or Let Die." That song is such a mind movie — and not just because it has James Bond roots. I'm sure you had fun with that one.
It was great. It's a bit like a lot of the projects I do; the expectancy is so vast spread.
It's quite tricky; how do you meet the expectation? Because one thing that mono or stereo or compression gives you, is it gives you loudness. You separate stuff in an immersive soundfield, you have to be careful that you don't start losing impact.
One thing that "Live and Let Die" has is impact. And that's the tricky thing about that song. But I'm really happy. It was actually a big mix to do; I can't lie. It was like, "Oh my god, here we go; I have to be fully qualified to do this mix."
But I'm really happy with it. I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it's super cool.
How do you want to get better at what you do? Where do you want to improve?
Oh, god. "Everywhere" is the answer. I think you are never done. It's only sometimes I hear things back and go, Oh, that actually sounds quite good. Oh, I did that. That's alright. Otherwise, you sort of hate everything.
I nervously watched you [all] through a screen in New York going, Oh my god, it sounds terrible. That's what goes through my head.
You still struggle with that, huh?
Yeah, of course. And then the thing is, I don't think, What if it sounds terrible? because of ego. It's, What if it sounds terrible because you guys really like this record and I need to do it justice? That's what goes through my head.
The Beach Boys' Sail On Sailor Reframes Two Obscure 1970s Albums. Why Were They Obscure In The First Place?