Interview with Geoff Emerick (March 24, 2006)
By Ronnie

Right: Geoff Emerick

I recently got to interview four-time Grammy winner and Beatles' engineer Geoff Emerick in regards to his new book - "HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE-My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles". The book is a fascinating read, especially in regards to the Revolver and Sgt. Pepper albums! Of course most of my questions were Beatles-related, but I did get to ask about some of the other artists he worked with.

E.C.: First, I wanted to ask if you kept any kind of journal in the ‘60s? I know you said that when you revisited the EMI vaults for the Anthology project that even the smells brought back memories. Did you refer to Mark Lewisohn’s excellent book – and – if so, did it bring back any memories?

Geoff: No, I never kept a journal – I was too busy working all the time! Yes, we referred to Mark’s excellent book on occasion in order to verify dates and times, and we even posed a few questions to him when we needed details that weren’t immediately available. Mark’s a good friend and a great researcher, and he was most helpful.

E.C.: You make your opinion quite obvious in your book in regards to the CD reissues of Beatles albums and the fidelity question of these songs that were originally mixed specifically for vinyl. Do you think that such as successful vinyl to CD conversion IS possible? Or is it just that money has become the true bottom line and they don’t want to put the effort into it?

Geoff: I don’t think it’s a question of money; there are just technical limitations that make it impossible at the present time to exactly capture the sound of vinyl onto CD. Perhaps at some point in the future it will become possible.

E.C.: In the early ‘80s, when I found a mono copy of Sgt. Pepper – I felt like I had found ‘buried treasure’, the mix was so unique compared to the stereo version. Until I read your book I had no idea that most of the effort of mixing Sgt. Pepper actually went into the mono mix, that the stereo mix seemed almost an afterthought! Why on earth did they not release the mono vinyl mix when the CD of Pepper was released? Didn’t the first handful of Beatles CD releases use the mono mix?

Geoff: Most of our time and effort went into the mono mixes of both Pepper and Revolver. Sorry, but I don’t know the answer to your questions as I wasn’t involved when the CD versions were released.

E.C.: I also was not aware that the mono mix of Revolver is different. Does it have as many differences as those of the mono/stereo Pepper? Was it the same case –the majority of the effort went into the mono mix?

Geoff: Yes; the mono mixes were the way the record was meant to be heard; the same thing applies to Pepper. The effects tended to be a little bit overdone on the stereo mixes, too. We’d just kind of have fun with the stereo mixes.

E.C.: A few years ago I found a bootleg version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” which had Jeremy (from the “Yellow Submarine” film) singing one of the verses. Since you worked on the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack, did you have anything to do with this version? Was it an unused out-take from the film?

Geoff: No, I had nothing to do with that version, so I’m afraid I can’t answer your question.

E.C.: I imagine that Sgt. Pepper is your favorite recording session with the Beatles? In your book you state that it was the last time that the Beatles were truly harmonious and worked together in the studio. Are you surprised that Lennon called the White Album his favorite Beatles album?

Geoff: Hmm, there are two questions there! Sgt. Pepper is probably my favorite Beatles album and the one I’m proudest of, because it had so much innovation and because so much time and effort went into it – plus there was an overall good vibe... and it’s got some great songs, too. I guess I wasn’t too surprised when I read John’s remark; it seemed as if he tried to take control of the White Album sessions – at least the early ones I worked on – and I’ve since heard the theory that he viewed it as the “anti-Pepper,” as his answer to Paul’s more polished approach. He did once tell me, as I relate in the book, that he thought that Pepper was, in his words, “the biggest load of shit we’ve ever done.” Mind you, he said pretty much the same thing years later about the Let It Be sessions.

E.C.: In regards to Sgt. Pepper, I have a question regarding the mindset of the Beatles (especially Paul) during the recording of the album. Your book mentions that Paul would often play the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album to you to describe the sound he wanted to get. Recently there have been some claims that The Beatles, with Derek Taylor’s help, listened to tapes of Smile – with the insinuation that Smile influenced the Sgt. Pepper album. You were THERE at the time of Pepper, and you mentioned that Paul was VERY specific about the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album being an influence – was there every ANY mention of The Beach Boys Smile album?

Geoff: No, I don’t remember any mention of Smile. Paul did seem to like Pet Sounds a lot, though.

Right: 1968-At EMI, Ringo presents Geoff with a Grammy for his engineering on the Sgt. Pepper's album.

E.C.: On the Sgt. Pepper "Inner Groove" there is the "urban legend" that they are saying, "I'm going to fuck you like superman" and that the sound was altered to give a little inside joke. Is that true?

Geoff: No, it’s absolutely untrue. All that’s on the groove is some gobbledeegook, them fooling around in front of an open microphone. They were just babbling nonsense, whatever popped into their minds, and the whole thing only took a few minutes.

E.C.: You mentioned that you had to split your time during the recording of Abbey Road – between engineering work for the Beatles and working on their new recording studio. Do you think that if “Magic Alex” hadn’t have been in the picture that you would have been able to start the studio earlier? When reading your book, you realize that it is such a pity that the Beatles didn’t get to use the finished studio (as a group).

Geoff: If Alex had done a proper job of it, I might have not been hired by Apple at all, so who knows? The Beatles essentially brought me in to sort the studio out. It didn’t take long to ascertain that nothing of what he had done was usable, so we had to start from scratch.

E.C.: When Paul released his “Liverpool Sound Collage” back in 2000, it had snippets of studio chat of the Beatles. I’ve heard that this “chatter” dates from the Rubber Soul sessions. From your experience in the studio with the Beatles – how much was actually recorded of such chatter? Or was it against EMI policy to keep such irrelevant stuff?

Geoff: I wasn’t present at any of the Rubber Soul sessions, so I don’t know when it started. By the time of Pepper, the Beatles were essentially rehearsing and creating their songs right in the studio, so we often kept tape rolling even in-between takes because you never knew when something good would come out of it. They’d sometimes lay down several takes, one after the other, without even bothering to hear a playback, then they’d ask to hear them all at once.

E.C.: You also mention "Carnival of Light" in your book. Was any of this used in Paul’s “Liverpool Sound Collage”? You also mention that parts of it were used in “Revolution 9”? Do you remember which parts? Do you think it was a good choice to leave it off of the Anthology? I mean, if you have John’s “What’s the New Mary Jane” dribble, why not some experimental Beatles?

Geoff: I’m not familiar with the “Liverpool Sound Collage,” so I don’t know if any of it was used there. The bits from the Carnival of Light session that were used in Revolution 9, as I recall, were of John saying the word “Barcelona,” and some other random sound effects. It was really just noise and cacophony, not a proper song.

E.C.: I know you weren’t the engineer on the “I Feel Fine” session, but the book mentions that you were there. When I crank up the sound at the very end of “I Feel Fine”, I can hear what sounds like “dog noises/fake barks”. Is it my imagination, or was this some kind of “inside joke”?

Geoff: I think it must be your imagination; I’ve never heard that before. It could just be ambient noise, from someone moving a chair or something.

E.C.: You won a total of three Grammy awards for your Beatles-related work correct? Have you won any with any other artist?

Geoff: Actually, not to sound big-headed, but I’ve been privileged to win four Grammys. The first two were for Beatles projects (Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road), the third was for Paul’s Band On The Run, and the most recent one, in 2003, was a Technical Grammy. I’m proud of all of them, but that last one had special meaning because it was for my entire body of recorded work.

Right: 1973-Geoff in Lagos in 1973, working on the Band on the Run album with Paul McCartney

E.C.: I’ve got a question regarding the "Threetles" session for the Beatles Anthology-“Now and Then” was the third attempted “reunion” track for the Anthology, correct? Just how finished was it? How much work was put into it before it was abandoned? Was it just a problem with the original tape hiss, or was it something else? Do you think the track will ever be re-visited?

Geoff: All I did was listen to it. As far as I know, there was no work done to that track.

E.C.: Also, having worked with the Beatles, how did you like the music of other groups, such as The Zombies, Elvis Costello and Split Enz? Is it apples and oranges?

Geoff: Every artist is different, of course – they all have their own special set of talents and abilities – and I have pretty diverse taste in music, so I like most things.

E.C.: In regards to Elvis Costello, I'd love to know about the screaming interludes on Imperial Bedroom. How was that decision made?

Geoff: It was really just a spur of the moment thing. One minute I’m sitting behind the mixing console and the next minute I hear Elvis screaming; I guess he was just having a good time and letting off some steam.

E.C.: Do you have any anecdotes about the Zombies, “Odyssey And Oracle”? Were the boys confident and well rehearsed in the studio - or could you tell the end was in sight for them?

Geoff: Yes, they were quite confident and well-rehearsed, and I enjoyed working with them because they were after new kinds of sounds. I don’t recall there being problems within the band while we were recording.

E.C.: In regards to Split Enz album, Dizrythmia, was Tim cocky and confident, putting the band through their paces? Did they come in knowing exactly what they wanted, or was their any time for experimentation in the studio?

Geoff: Tim was certainly confident, though I wouldn’t call him cocky. He most definitely knew what he wanted and directed the others. The sessions weren’t especially rushed, so there was a fair amount of time for experimentation, which I always enjoyed. I do remember Tim bringing in his kid brother Neil and introducing him to me for the first time – Neil was quite young at the time.

E.C.: Finally, in regards to your book, there have been allegations by Ken Scott that the book is full of inaccuracies and character assassinations of George Martin and George Harrison (after reading your book, I don’t agree at all about these two). Any response from you in regards to Scott’s allegations Also, were you aware that Norman Smith is coming out with a book this year?

Geoff: I have issued a statement regarding Ken Scott’s attempt to discredit my book and I really don’t have anything to add to it at this time. I have heard that Norman is working on a book, and I look forward to reading it. He’s a brilliant engineer and producer, and I learned a lot from him.