How do you go about translating one of the most iconic studio albums of all time to the stage? We speak to FOH engineer/production manager Clint Boire about the 50th-anniversary tour of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
In 1966, the Beach Boys released their 11th studio album Pet Sounds, long regarded as both one of the greatest long-players of all time and Brian Wilson’s personal masterpiece, in terms of his exquisite songwriting and his meticulous and pioneering production.
On 26th March 2016, Wilson kicked off a mammoth Pet Sounds 50th-anniversary world tour in Auckland, New Zealand and — after over 100 dates across numerous continents — the global trek is still going strong, attracting superlative critical praise wherever it hits the stage.
As with any large-scale live show, Pet Sounds is indebted not only to Brian Wilson and his band but also the touring crew working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure every single performance meets the sky-high levels that all Beach Boys fans understandably expect.
Boire, who began working for Wilson back in 2008 as a monitor engineer before assuming his current dual roles a few years later, is regularly lost for words when he chats to audience members on the road.
“When I’m mixing front of house, I get all these fans coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh my god, it sounds amazing!’ and they even take pictures with me,” Clint explains. “Some of these people say things like, ‘I’ve just lost my wife and she loved the Beach Boys. It was her dream to see this but she didn’t quite make it but I’m living it for her.’ It gives me goosebumps even just thinking how that music affects lives. Everyone has a different story about the Beach Boys and how that music affects them. Some people will say, ‘I used to hear my mother listening to that song all the time growing up,’ and they’re now bringing their kids to the shows. It’s definitely a priceless feeling to know you’re making that many people happy.”
As well as his extensive work with Brian Wilson, Clint Boire has toured with a plethora of other acts including Bonnie Raitt, the Offspring, Pepper, Natalie Cole, Melissa Manchester and John Fogerty. For Clint, who hails from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, the calling to be a live sound engineer came at a very early age.
“I’d always had an interest in it from young childhood,” says Boire. “I was always up before school and would watch a programme called MuchMusic and I’d see all the ‘80s metal bands with all the fun costumes, lights and these huge sounds. It was always a magical world to me. As I got older, I still had an interest in music but, where I grew up there was a lot of blue-collar jobs. My dad owned an auto body shop so that path was already set in motion for me, but I just didn’t have it completely in my heart that this was the career I wanted to pursue. A couple of years after graduating high school, I went to a recording school in Vancouver and just decided this was the way I was going to get involved in music, and I ended up loving it. My teachers would ask me to do side projects to help me get more involved in recording but live sound was always something that was more attractive to me. Nowadays, you have to be a recording engineer to be a live sound engineer.”
After finishing the engineering course at Columbia Academy in Vancouver, Boire moved back to Saskatchewan, and it’s there that he started getting some real hands-on live sound experience working for a local band. The lessons he learned during those formative years have stayed with him to this day.
“Back in Saskatchewan, I started doing live sound for a country band by the name of the Electric Cattle Company, and I toured with them for five years just doing weekend warrior stuff,” explains Clint. “It wasn’t a lot of big stuff but it gave me a real taste for the road. It was the best way to cut my teeth and was the perfect environment for learning. We never got the best sound systems but in country music you’ve got to make everything vocally present, so I was just cutting my teeth on making not-so-great gear work great and making the end product sound like it was the most professional gear possible, which was really important. I firmly believe that it’s all about the source, as I learned back then, and I still take that approach with the Brian Wilson band. Every day at soundcheck, I’ll go up on stage and listen to each guitar amp, bass amp and the drums and I’ll talk to the musicians and talk about the things that I hear in the room and also what I was hearing at the previous show. We always try and improve everything all the time.”
It was while touring part-time around Canada with the Electric Cattle Company that Clint Boire managed to score an audio engineering job that resolutely expanded his horizons, in more ways than one.
“I ended up getting a job with Princess Cruises and I travelled the world for three years,” enthuses Boire. “I was one of the head audio engineers on the ship and I took care of all the audio production for all the shows, so there was quite a lot going on there! The sophistication of the gear was absolutely amazing and, while some people don’t think that is the case with cruise ships, it is true. I worked with multiple singers, dancers, and a 12-15-piece band. We showcased a variety of different artists from solo piano shows to Broadway revues and I also gained experience working with playbacks. I worked with some amazing musicians. My personality and approach is very detail-oriented and those three years on the cruise ships really helped that. Making sure that you cross your ‘t’s and dot your ‘i’s when it comes to doing line checks, making sure all the gear is maintained and looked after, as well as making sure your crew is aware of how to operate everything. Those were just a few things I picked up. Also, 50 percent of all of this is definitely about people, if not more than that. You have to have good relationships and everybody has to trust that you’re going to make the right calls and — ultimately — deliver the end product for the fans.”
After his three-year stint on the cruise liners, Clint spent a small amount of time jobbing gigs in San Diego before relocating to LA where he soon met just the right guy at just the right time.
“In LA, I first got a job doing some audio visual installations, but I just wasn’t happy and I quit,” says Clint. “Then, I ended up doing one American Idol after-concert show and I met a guy who was looking for someone to go on tour and I just jumped on board. Unfortunately, that tour got cancelled within two weeks of starting, but one of the tour managers (who’s actually one of Lady Gaga’s guys now) basically liked my work ethic and skills and my personality and he asked me to be part of the Bonnie Raitt audio crew. That’s how I got involved with Schubert Systems in North Hollywood and I ended up working with Bonnie for five years as audio crew chief. I mixed monitors for her a lot of times and also mixed the opening bands. Bonnie’s tour manager was also working with Brian Wilson at the same time, and they needed a monitor engineer for a couple of things and he asked me. My first show with Brian was in 2008 in Coney Island, New York and, you know, just mixing Brian Wilson’s monitors in front of all these people was the most amazing thing! It was a pretty special moment and I still have my picture that I took with Brian that same day. You never know if you’re ever going to be asked back again, right? But everything was cool and the vibe was good and everyone in the band seemed happy.”
Just over two-and-a-half years ago, an FOH engineer vacancy came up in Brian Wilson’s crew and management were having real difficulty in finding a suitable candidate. Clint Boire duly threw his hat in the ring and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I just said to them, ‘Do you know what? I’ve been mixing Brian’s monitors for a long time. I know all the parts, I know all the guys, I know everything about the music and where everything sits... Listen, why don’t you just let me do front-of-house? Just give me a shot!’” laughs Boire, who was swiftly taken up on his offer.
“One early gig I really remember well was at the Greek Theatre [in Los Angeles] and it was on 20th June, 2014. It was Brian’s birthday and Mrs Wilson came out for the show and I was as nervous as could be. You know, I’ve got Mrs Wilson sitting a few rows in front of me, along with management, and this was the first time they were hearing me mix. But, later on, she sent me a really, really nice email saying, ‘That was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard at one of Brian’s concerts.’ From then on, it was like, ‘Here we go!’ She felt comfortable, I was comfortable, management was comfortable and the audience response was amazing. So, yeah, I’ve been doing front-of-house ever since!”
In addition to his current FOH responsibilities, Clint is also Brian Wilson’s production manager, a job he took on back in 2013 when he was still a monitor engineer. He certainly loves to be busy...
“On a normal day, we’ll load in at nine and we’re pretty much up and running in a four-to-five-hour minimum with the local crews,” Clint says. “After that, we’ll go into our soundcheck and then we go into our VIP meet-and-greet soundcheck and then it’s show time, so it’s pretty much constant all day long. On top of that, as production manager, I’ve got phone calls and emails to deal with. I’m organising everything behind the scenes for a couple of days in advance like catering, dressing rooms, transport of gear and arranging trucks and busses, but I have a great crew getting everything else set up while I’m doing all that. The Pet Sounds show is a long show too. We do just over a 60-minute set and then we take a little break and then we come back and do about a 75 to 80-minute set to close it out. We do Pet Sounds all the way through, then a second set of greatest hits and then we go into our encore, which is just blockbuster Beach Boy songs.”
Clint Boire absolutely relishes touring with Brian Wilson, who he believes is as engaged as ever and enjoying being on the road as much as he ever has during his incredible career.
“I was so blown away that this opportunity ever came up and I have never ever attempted to give it up and I would never ever want to give it up,” explains Boire. “It is just something so special. The vibe around him is amazing and it’s great to know you’re making him happy and all these other people around him so happy. On the other hand, he’s so modest and he doesn’t like a lot of attention. For example, after ‘God Only Knows’, which is one of his biggest songs, the crowd will always be standing up at the end wanting to give endless applause but he’ll only give them about 20 seconds of applause. Then he’ll be like, ‘OK, please sit down now!’ You know, he’s actually very shy and incredibly modest but people will do anything that he says. They just drop into their seats as quickly as possible.
"He’s also always mixing things up and changing things so every night will be different when you see him perform. He’ll sing something a little bit different or he’ll say something a little bit different. He’s just really engaged, whereas I think he hasn’t been as engaged on previous tours that I’ve been on with him. I think, over the last few years, he’s just realised that this is what makes him happy and he wants to be out here. He’s also very simple in that he doesn’t demand a lot. Just give him his piano, a couple of sparkling waters and a place to hang out and he’s happy. He doesn’t need much!”
So what have been some of the outstanding moments for Clint during the 12-month plus (thus far) duration of the Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour?
“I think one of the real highlights has been travelling and going to different places that he’s never been before and I’ve never been before,” he replies. “We went to Israel last year for the first time and we went to Dubai and we went to Iceland and we started the whole thing off in New Zealand and Australia before making our way to Japan. I also love the fact that he’s quirky on stage and I think people know that going into the shows. At the end of the day, it’s Brian Wilson and you should be seeing stuff that’s kind of off the wall and unexpected.
“One of the things that I’ll always remember is from when we were in Iceland. In a way, Brian just has no filter and can be so innocent on stage. In the middle of a song, he just stopped the show completely to a halt and called his assistant Jerry Weiss on the microphone. He said, ‘Jerry Weiss to the piano please — bring some heartburn medicine!’ So Jerry comes running out with a handful of antacids and gives them to him and Brian chomps them up and you can hear him chomping them up on the microphone! He then turns to the audience and says, ‘Man, if you’ve never had heartburn, it’s the worst!’ and then he started the song again! I love those special moments where he catches everybody off guard. There’s nobody around that stage or in his band that knows what he’s going to do and that adds a level of excitement for us as well.
“There’s been a bunch of other different things as well,” continues Boire. “We were in Spain in the middle of summer and he decided he wanted to sing ‘Monster Mash’! So they played ‘Monster Mash’ and people didn’t know what hit them... but then they started singing along and, later, we had a review of the show and all they talked about was him doing ‘Monster Mash’! It was just one of those things where you’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that!’ It’s nice to keep it fresh and always be on your toes. He’s just such a gentle, gentle man and I’m so happy and proud to be working with him and I’ll never ever take it for granted.”
With the original Pet Sounds recordings being so sonically rich and, of course, possessing such complex arrangements, it certainly wasn’t a straightforward task replicating the parts and overall ambience for the live arena.
“So many people have such high expectations because it was one of the greatest albums ever written and recorded,” explains Clint. “I just made sure I studied everything and made sure that every aspect was sticking in my mind. I watched all the Pet Sounds documentaries on YouTube and there was even another one that came out just before the tour started. I live in Las Vegas and, at home, I would just get a nice big cup of coffee and I would put Pet Sounds on and I’d just sit on my couch and listen to everything. I would just take in all the sounds, all the reverbs, all the guitar parts and every part for every single instrument. I really try and translate that into the show as far as how accurate those recordings were.
“It is pretty amazing to have this amazing big band of 12 people (including Brian) that’s able to accomplish those arrangements because the Wrecking Crew [the famed group of LA session musicians who laid down the original tracks with Wilson] were the best. On top of that, we don’t have the audio gear they had back then. A lot of times, I rely on the musicians because these musicians have been playing the songs for a long time. All their guitar sounds are already dialled in. In fact, Fender are going to be working with us on a new guitar amp when we get to LA. They’ll be taking our guitar players’ sounds and they’re going to translate those sounds into an amplifier they’re planning to put out. My approach to mixing them is simple — don’t try to do too much! The musicians are great so the source coming in is just fantastic and that makes my job easier. I just have to do a little polishing to blend them all together and make magic!
“I must also add something about how much I really rely on my audio crew to bring their A-game — Robert Alumbaugh, Daniel Parseghian and Jacob Archer [Schubert Systems Group] of the US team and William Laing and James Smallwood [Wigwam] of the UK team really have the right attitude when it comes to representing Brian’s music in the way it was meant to be experienced. It’s a team of really passionate people who treat the shows like it’s actually them paying and going to see each and every concert to see these legends play.”
“I’ve fallen in love with this d&b PA system,” says Boire. “It sounds so great and it’s also really easy to fly. They’ve mastered the way their boxes go together and the boxes themselves give out such a clean, crisp sound. The system is just very sweet and easy to listen to. I find that everything is engineered to perfection between their subs and their boxes. The weight of the PA is important too. As a production manager, you’re always looking at things like truck space and weight and the way everything needs to be packaged together. We’re also using Avid consoles on monitors and front-of-house. Schubert Systems have a great setup and a very compact package, which works with most touring acts. I’ve worked with John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Brian Wilson and the Offspring using all the same gear.”
So what is it that Clint loves most about his Avid Venue Profile desk? “One thing is that I just love things that work out of the box,” he explains. “You just plug it in, turn it on and it just works. That’s what I’ve found with this console. I always say to other friends who are engineers, ‘You’ve got to go on this console!’ You do hear some horror stories about other consoles and things that you’ve got to always work around as far as snapshots go. I’m kind of a snapshot-heavy engineer, and that came from being Brian’s monitor engineer because every song, every keyboard patch and every guitar sound is different from song to song. With the monitors, it was very crucial to have everything saved and remembered so you could just go into it with one file and have one snapshot, because the set list can change every night, depending on what Brian wants to sing. We have a snapshot bank of probably over 100 of Brian’s songs in the system. All of that is kind of translated into my front-of-house as well. I have to change different effects, different compressor settings and different cues for each and every song. It’s all just at the click of a button and it works! I’ve never had any problems.
“The ‘keep it simple, stupid’ approach is the way I go,” continues Boire. “My main aim is getting the best sounds on stage. Once you have all the core components — a great PA system, a great band, great gear and knowledgeable staff who know how to use it all — it seems to come together pretty easy. It’s all about performance and Brian has been pretty top-notch vocally for the last couple of years. He sings with lots of power and he’s singing stuff like he’s never sang since I’ve been with him. It’s also exciting to see him get back to experimenting with his voice and getting into a higher falsetto range. I also record every single show we do as I did with the rehearsals. The beautiful thing about doing multitrack recording with Avid consoles is that I can turn around everything that was recorded and play it through the sound system. In rehearsals, I basically sat there after all the band had gone and went through all the tracks with the musical director. He’d say, ‘Hey, I want this to be more upfront,’ or, ‘Let’s lay that back in the mix more,’ or, ‘Let’s work further on this reverb sound for this song’. The Avid console gives us the tools to revisit each live performance when nobody’s around, knowing we can get things spot-on in seconds.”
When it comes to effects, Clint Boire is a Waves man all the way. “The Waves C4 multiband compressor is one of my favourite plug-ins,” Boire enthuses. “Compression is really important for performing Pet Sounds. I use the Waves reverbs for the vocals and just try to emulate exactly what Brian was doing with his spring reverbs and slap delays and longer delays on the album. With ‘Good Vibrations’, there’s a big build-up where it cuts out and it’s all just a reverb tail, and I can match that with Waves. We just concentrate on doing stuff like that and making sure everything sounds like the record. It doesn’t really take too long to replicate things. It’s just a matter of having a game plan going in and knowing what you want to do. Once you’ve studied the reverbs on those songs, you can just experiment and work things out. I also have some good Waves stereo plug-ins as well, which I lightly use just to take a little bit of punch out of things that could be harsh on the ears.”
As far as outboard goes, Clint keeps things to an absolute minimum. “I find a lot of engineers with digital consoles will add so much different outboard gear as well as plug-ins on top of plug-ins, but I really do just keep it simple,” Boire explains. “I use only a handful of plug-in effects and compressors and the only outboard piece of gear I use right now is an Apogee Clock. We basically clock both consoles and we just kind of keep it within the realm.”
Boire is a big fan of using Shure microphones on stage and utilises a variety for capturing both Brian Wilson himself and the other 11 musicians in the live band.
“I think I’m at 60 inputs right now and that is quite a lot,” says Clint. “And we do stick with a lot of Shure products. For the last couple of years, I’ve been using the Shure KSM8 [Dualdyne], which is a newer dual-diaphragm microphone that combats proximity effect. I use that on Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin and the music director Paul Mertens who does a lot of flute, harp and clarinet stuff, so there’s a wide variety of instruments going through that microphone. For Brian, I use a Shure Beta 58, which is the workhorse of all the microphones, and it seems to work really well for him. Then we have Shure KSM32s on the two Fender Twin guitar amps and also a [Shure SM] 57 on Blondie’s amp.
“The vibraphone is such a critical sound in Brian’s music and for that I use AKG C414s and I also use those on percussion overheads and drum overheads as well,” explains Boire. “It’s a wall of sound up there and you’ve got 12 guys playing all those instruments. There’s no Pro Tools playback, it’s all 100-percent live and we don’t ever have to worry about a click track or anything like that going on with the drummer. Brian is so unpredictable so we couldn’t use click tracks anyway. He’ll stop a song, he’ll change something or sing something different and his timing might be a little bit different here and there so you can’t really be fooling along with any of those devices. I just think it makes things authentic, which is especially important with his music. You’ve just got to keep it real! You are going to hear mistakes too, but that’s what happens with live music!”
The Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary World Tour was originally only scheduled to run during the actual 50th-anniversary year of 2016 but, with a raft of extra dates added throughout 2017, the global trek is showing no signs of ending anytime soon and could even continue well into 2018.
“The tour has just been getting better review after better review after better review,” explains Clint Boire. “And the more people continue talking about it in the industry, the more people keep calling up the management saying that they want to buy the show, and how can you deny that? Brian just loves to be on the road. Last year we did 100 shows and, personally, I was on the road for 212 days both with Brian Wilson and this little three-piece reggae rock ska band from Hawaii called Pepper. Brian has just turned 75 this year and there’s this one thing he said to one of his assistants recently. He was 74 at the time and he said, ‘Just think, we only have 20 more years of this!’ It’s like, ‘Alright, man! You’re going to still be doing this when you’re 94!’ That’s pretty amazing. He just doesn’t want to stop doing this ever!”
One of the first things Boire and his audio crew do when they arrive at a particular venue is to recce the room’s sonics to ensure they can get the show sounding as spot on as humanly possible. As can wholly be expected, every room is different and provides a unique challenge, no matter how magnificent it might be visually and aesthetically.
“With this tour, we’ve been doing a lot of concert halls so they’re not really set up for doing public address as far as a loud rock concert music goes, and having subs laid out in there and everything,” explains Clint. “In some of those places, you might usually have orchestras playing and various forms of quieter music. You know, we get rocking pretty good and, when you get into those kind of rooms, it’s definitely a challenge but it’s a good challenge because some of these places are just so beautiful and magnificent.
"Playing two nights at the Sydney Opera House was a magical moment for me. I never thought that would ever have been possible for me. You just take every new room on as a new project and you start from scratch. Some you can’t overpower, some you have to turn up a little bit and some rooms are just all audience and the audience get so loud you have no choice but to turn it up more. That’s the fun part and that’s what keeps us on our toes. My office changes every day!”
So, in technical terms, how does the audio crew go about recce-ing each room on the day of a particular show?
“Myself and my audio crew chief will basically go in first thing in the morning and we’ll look at where we can hang the PA although, obviously, I’ll have most of it advance-planned beforehand,” says Boire. “He will measure the room with a laser and input it all into the d&b software and we’ll get a good configuration for the angles of the boxes that we’re going to put out. Some places are too big for the amount of PA that we have and they usually have their own separate middle PAs, so we might tie into their system and time-align everything. We’ll then listen to a lot of reference music, which we use everywhere we go, so we know what it will all sound like.
We try to keep all the same practices all the time so we can keep things consistent. We obviously carry our own lights, PA, backline, risers and drape curtains and all that stuff, which just means consistency across the board. That’s something that you don’t usually get with the lower-budget tours or with bands that are just starting out. In those cases, you only get to use the gear that’s in front of you and that can be the biggest challenge — you have to have the skills to make those different sound systems sound good every single night, no matter what. Most of the audience don’t know about all that stuff and they don’t care. All they expect is a flawless-sounding show. They just want their Beach Boys harmonies!”