Q&A: Giles Martin on Beatles ‘Rock Band’ and remasters

Giles Martin:
The video game “The Beatles: Rock Band” is set to be released by Harmonix on Wednesday. Modeled on the already popular “Rock Band” game, and closely supervised by The Beatles and their estates, the game lets players sing and strum along to a huge list of Beatles classics over scenes ranging from Liverpool’s Cavern Club to their final performance on a London rooftop.

CNN’s Peter Wilkinson went to EMI’s legendary Abbey Road studios and spoke to Giles Martin about the project, for which the son of former Beatles producer George Martin mixed the music. CNN: Giles Martin, How did you get involved in “The Beatles Rock Band” project Martin: Well I was approached by Apple, which is the Beatles’ holding company and (George Harrison’s son) Dhani Harrison had met up with the head of MTV video games and they had come up with a concept, and approached the Beatles and the Beatles said “let’s give it a go” and they contacted me. I went out and met the programmers and video games team and started work. See images of Abbey Road studios CNN: Are you an enthusiast on video games like this Martin: I’d played these type of video games. I’d always kind of slightly looked down my nose at them, because if you played guitars and bass anyway you’d think “Why’d I want to play a plastic instrument” They had sent me a copy of “Rockband,” their main video game, and an Xbox and I had it sort of in my back room for a long time and some friends came for dinner. I said I have this video game do you want to play it And we gathered around and played “Living on a Prayer,” you know by Bon Jovi and stuff like that, I really got into it and it kind of swayed me. And then I went up to LA and someone came up to me and said, “You know my son loves these video games, they got desperately into Poison” and you know these bands from the ’80s and ’90s I thought you know, it’s the only way that a lot of kids will listen to music and really get into it and so I was swayed. Watch more about the 21st century Beatles CNN: How did you come up with the list of songs that are on “The Beatles: Rock Band” Martin: Well, the list of songs, it was a collaborative process as it is with any Beatles project, you know I work for the Beatles and myself and the head of Harmonix had a list of Beatles songs we thought would be good and then we approached Paul and Ringo and Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison (the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison). And it was kind of because it’s a guitar-based game immediately it wrote itself: we knew we wanted “Day Tripper,” “Drive My Car,” “Ticket to Ride” — those type of songs because they’re guitar-based songs and that discounted, got out of the way, things like maybe “Lady Madonna” which is a piano song, because there is no piano controller. So it kind of chose themselves, we sort of chose what we thought would be fun for families to play together. CNN: Can you tell us about the processes of separating the various parts of the songs, how difficult was that process Martin: Well, I don’t know if anyone is aware, but the way these games work is you control guitar, bass and drums, if you don’t play the bass correctly you don’t hear the bass. The biggest problem for us is that a lot of the Beatles stuff isn’t recorded separately, they started recording on two tracks, so the Cavern club which is “Twist and Shout,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” for instance, “Boys” is on two tracks — all of the drums, bass and guitars together. And so we had someone here at Abbey Road, a guy named Simon Gibson and an engineer called Paul Hicks who filtered everything and so separated, made what would have been multitracks out of one track, if that makes sense … so created new separate mixes. So when you don’t play the bass in “Twist and Shout” you don’t hear the bass. Sort of like taking your voice off an answer phone message with having the background still on. CNN: Did producing the “Love” album help you in putting together the songs for this Martin: I think the techniques involved in this were vastly different from doing “Love.” With “Love” my role was to try and morph and change the Beatles so that they fitted into that environment, and to come up with new ideas, new musical ideas of combining the music. But with this, it’s almost like if you gave me a cake and I had to take all the ingredients, separate them and put them all back together and give it back to you without you knowing, that was my job here, we had to recreate the Beatles music so that it could be interactive, but so there still would be the songs you love and know. CNN: Have you produced more songs than the 45 that are being used in “Rock Band” Martin: There are 45 songs in the game and we have decided to have the approach of releasing albums for all the downloads, so you can buy “Abbey Road” online, and then “Sgt. Pepper” and then “Rubber Soul.” So, because we all thought that would be the best way of doing it just because albums are important and the Beatles albums are important because they are complete works of art and it’s great to be able to, for instance, play the whole second side of “Abbey Road” or the medley in one go. It’s 17 and a half minutes of music, people/families can get together and play that as one continuous album. That’s what we decided to do and so more and more music will be available for people playing the game. CNN: How did you choose the unreleased studio chatter you put in Were there any surprises in the chatter that you didn’t know about Martin: Well yeah, doing “Love” I spent a lot of time listening to the songs obviously, but not listening to the gaps between songs, why would I We decided that it would be wrong to have dead air, to have digital silence in the game so if you are loading a song from “Abbey Road” and you see “Abbey Road,” you see the room we are in now, it would be great to have that ambience. So I would go through each song we have, say if you take “I Am The Walrus,” I’d go through the takes and listen to the little bits, the little bits before, tuning up, spoken word of them discussing the song. And so whenever you play the game, you hear those, you hear the interest, so you feel like you are about to play the song in the studio. And they kind of chose themselves because there are only … the Beatles are pretty good at what they did so there are only so many takes of each version. CNN: As someone who is a unique and enviable position of having heard most of the tapes, do you think there is anything in the archives that hasn’t been released that you think should be put out “Carnival of Light” for instance, or the long version of “Helter Skelter” Martin: No, I don’t think so. It’s not for me to say actually whether Beatles stuff should be released or not. I think that the body of work they have out there right now is incredibly representative of what they do, and I can’t imagine anyone would want more. They always do, funnily enough, but let’s face it the Beatles have more great songs than most other bands and just the fact that we can present them in different ways and make people interact in different ways is probably good enough. CNN: Do you think there will be plans to produce game packs for the solo Beatles in their later careers

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Martin: I think that would be separate: the solo Beatles, their work is separate from the Beatles, obviously and that would be up to them to do. It’s funny I always think of the work of John Lennon or Paul or Ringo or George as being almost like a separate life in a way, and the Beatles were this entity that got together and produced some of the greatest music ever, and they were greater as a unit than the sum of their parts. CNN: What is Paul and Ringo’s reaction to “Rock Band” Have they played it Martin: They have been exposed to it. Paul’s so enthusiastic about it he uses the images from “Rock Band” in his concerts now. Their reactions, Ringo was, he was amazed by the rooftop, look at the rooftop images. They only work on collaborations, they don’t let companies go off and come back and deliver a product, they have to every step of the way. You know both Ringo and Paul have been in here a lot looking at the game, working on the game. Talking to us about every single aspect and it wouldn’t be coming out if they weren’t happy, so they are delighted with it. CNN: There are reports of training options for drummers within Rock Band, can you tell us about this Will people be able to drum like Ringo Martin: It does actually, it’s funny, I’ve learned, I’m not a bad guitarist and bass player but I have actually learned to play drums to a certain level through doing this game. And we have this training mode where you learn Ringo’s drum parts and I think the interesting thing for me about doing this game is you start listening to what the parts are doing. The Beatles are very clever in the way they compose their music and the way they were very economical with guitar, bass and drums and you hear that in the game. So you do actually start realizing that Ringo’s drum fills are unlike anything else. The chance of playing “A Day in The Life,” it’s a download song, it is such a strange drum part but it’s incredibly effective in what it does. CNN: What do you think about the remastered albums Martin: I think the remastered albums sound great. I mean they were done by, you know, friends of mine. They are, it needed doing, it really needed doing, and I know that it needed doing because I worked on “Love” and have heard the multitrack and the original versions and a lot of the credit that we got for “Love” was how beautifully clear everything sounded when really we didn’t do much, it’s just that people were used to listening to the CDs from the ’80s that were made. And I think the remasters — I think that they, they showed that the Beatles don’t age more than anything else and their music is alive today as it ever has been. CNN: Would you be interested in having a go at a more radical remix of say a “Love 2” album Martin: Well, “Love” wasn’t really meant to be an album. “Love” is a show, it is a show that is still going on, it’ll be showing tonight for instance, and the album was an offshoot of that. I think, you know, I am interested in doing anything that innovates and if I get a chance to work on Beatles stuff then great. But I think it has to be for a reason, it wouldn’t be just so I could go and have a go at it. CNN: Do you think that “Rock Band” and the remasters will make the Beatles sound revolutionary again to younger generations Martin: I think that “Rock Band” and the remasters will appeal to younger generations, I don’t think it makes, I think, the Beatles sound revolutionary because they are the Beatles. It’s not me that makes them sound revolutionary; it’s what they did in this room 40 years ago. I love the idea that say, in the game, I have a copy of the game at home and I had a grandmother, a son who is my age and his daughter who is 11 all playing “I Saw Her Standing There” and they all knew the song. And I think that is great, I think that music is there to be enjoyed and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. And the Beatles music is definitely there to be enjoyed. CNN: Do you think that “Rock Band” will actually encourage people to join bands much like the Ed Sullivan performance in 1964 did Martin: They have already shown, when I first heard about “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero,” I was thinking why would anyone want to play a plastic guitar And they have shown in America that actually these games, which have become hugely successful, have actually increased the sales of guitars. There is a comparison, and I think looking back if I was a 10-year-old boy again or 11 or actually an 18- year-old, you know, you’d… The appeal of getting further into the music you love is great, you know. Joe Brown, the old musician, said to me, “The great thing about playing guitar or bass is you can, if you make a mistake you can look at the bass player or vice versa look at the guitarist, because no one knows the difference.” With these games you immediately know what a bass guitar does because you are holding a representative of it in your hands. It does make people want to go and do it themselves. CNN: Do you think there are things that bands could learn from the Beatles Martin: I think there are definitely things bands could learn from the Beatles. I think the Beatles learned a huge amount from other bands as well. They say that “Sgt. Pepper” wouldn’t have happened without “Pet Sounds,” for instance. You know they were huge fans of Buddy Holly, and Fats Waller and Elvis Presley obviously. I think that It’s really important if you are in a band not to be worried about being influenced by or even stealing stuff, let’s be honest as long as you make it your own in the end. And if you are going to start somewhere the Beatles are a good place to start. CNN: Has your father played “Rock Band” Martin: Funnily enough, he has been in and I showed him the work we were doing and he was astounded by the fact that we could demix stuff. I remember he came in and we were running through the music of “I Feel Fine” and having a look at the Shea Stadium footage and I showed him that we could remove the bass track from what he had recorded as everything together. CNN: From the concert Martin: No, from the studio. And he was astounded at the technology. He hasn’t played the game yet because I was waiting to get my hands on the right instruments because I thought I might as well make it authentic for him and just today I got sent my box of Hofner bass and Rickenbacker guitars, so maybe this weekend. CNN: Presumably you met Paul and Ringo when you were growing up, did you realize that they were the Beatles, the great band, or did you just think of them as your father’s friends at the time Martin: I suppose, as a kid, you know I didn’t really realize what my dad did. I was at play group, there was a story that they went round the room and they asked all the children what their parents did for a living and my dad was writing the music for “Live and Let Die” at the time and I just said my Dad just sits at home and plays the piano. I think my parents were slightly angry about it but, you know you have no idea and you have to remember the Beatles are much bigger now then they were when I was growing up. You know I grew up in the ’80s, that’s kind of how it was then, and now they have become, rightfully this legacy of music. And I remember going down and meeting Paul, and I spent time with him as a kid. He was incredibly kind, I said to him, “listen I’m really interested in music.” I remember being in the car with him, he was driving me, I think, somewhere, I remember we were in the car together, and he said, “You know, you should carry on doing it, you should write songs, you should do music. I mean writing songs is really hard, you know I’m Paul McCartney and I find it really difficult!” And I had a hugely privileged, I mean I know that, to have grown up around that. But I didn’t, you don’t really understand the magnitude of it all because it’s much better that way not to. It’s the same if I have to work on a song in the studios, you can’t be scared of it because it’s not my job to do that. It’s my job to do the best job I can for them. CNN: Has working on the recordings, given you a greater appreciation of your father’s work in the ’60s Martin: It was funny when we did “Love.” I sat with him in a room and we went through all the recordings as I decided to back everything up onto a better format. You know there were the original tapes and I needed to work on Protools which is a computer-based format and I listened to everything with him. It gave me a huge appreciation of what his talents are and what their talents are and were as well. Just the fact that quite often what you imagined to be the case isn’t the case and their music is full of surprises. And they always challenged each other. And just the fact that they had a good time doing it. There’s a lot of talk about the Beatles, everybody remembers and there’s talk about the breakup and all this kind of stuff but in the studio, in here, there was none of that stuff. It’s very difficult to find outtakes where they are arguing from here. Huge admiration of my father but a touch of envy as well. CNN: Did you ever go through a period as a teenager when you rebelled against what your father did and disliked his work and disliked the Beatles Martin: I didn’t really pay attention to it. The Beatles weren’t a large part of me growing up and I think I can speak for my dad that he… there wasn’t ever a denial that he worked for the Beatles but there was certainly a “listen, I’ve done other things” attitude. Which I think they all had in the ’70s and ’80s. It was that thing, that was then and now I am doing this. So it wasn’t really a large part, I don’t think I really heard the “White Album” until I was 17. I was into, bizarrely I was into this Free and Humble Pie and that kind of blues rock and then I wanted to be Steve Ray Vaughn for a long time so it wasn’t a big issue either way. It came as a complete surprise to me and still does, a nice surprise a great surprise that I have ended up working on the Beatles catalogue. I never thought it would happen. It’s not what I drove towards. But as soon as I started doing it I found it was amazing.

CNN: Do you think there will be future projects involved with the band Martin: I don’t know. It wouldn’t be up to me. I think if there’s a project, it’s like the show, the show as a concept when I thought about doing a Beatles show in Vegas. The concept to me didn’t sound that appealing but the chance of working with the Beatles was hugely appealing and I think everyone was nervous about it. We all, the whole creative team and especially the Beatles made it into something that was full of innovation and critically acclaimed. I think the same thing is happening with the game. I think it is exactly the same we think, “Do we” You know and then you get into it and you realize you can do something that’s good and that’s worthwhile and will bring huge amounts of pleasure to people. And I think it has to be something like that, so If we did another Beatles project, or I did another Beatles project or if they give permission to do anything, it would have to be something that again would be trying to push the boundaries because that is what they are known for and that is what they still like to do.