It really is hard to believe that Hold Your Fire is our twelfth studio album - in thirteen years together. But then it's also hard to believe in Relativity and TV evangelists.
We began the songwriting in the autumn of 1986, then started recording in England in January of 1987. As we had for Power Windows, we tried to move around for each stage of the project to keep our environment fresh and interesting all the time. Having worked with co-producer Peter Collins and engineer Jimbo Barton on that album as well, we had already established a mutual trust and respect that made the work go very smoothly. In fact, we haven't enjoyed making a record so much for a long while - and we even finished on time!
But that's getting ahead of the story ...
In early September summer is already over in the mountains, and everything is quiet and a pleasant kind of lonely. In a cottage beside a still lake I began working on some lyrics. Next month we would be starting to work on new material and I wanted a little time to prepare some ideas. It's hard to walk in with a totally blank slate, the way I am anyway.
Having enjoyed writing around the central theme of "Power" last time, I decided to try something like that again, this time working with the theme of "Time". I set to work first on "Time Stand Still". I'd been thinking about this for some time now; how so often the richness of a period of time or an experience seems to lie in looking back at it. Or conversely, sometimes you might know that you are enjoying a wonderful time, but just wish you could make it last longer. I'm sure you know how that goes.
But as I set that one aside after a while, and went on to work on other ideas, it was strange to see that what I had thought was my theme suddenly turned itself into something else - without even asking me! With the development of ideas for "Second Nature" and "High Water" the theme suddenly changed to "Instinct", or perhaps "Temperament" - the idea of primeval or subconscious drives. Well okay, I thought, if that's what my brain wants to work on - go ahead!
"Hey Brain - I don't care what you get fired up about - as long as you (you guessed it!) Hold Your Fire."
One bright day later in September, I went over to Geddy's house and we spent the afternoon catching up on things down in his studio. Over blueberry buns and coffee we discussed our aspirations for the next album. He played me a few things he'd been working on with his new keyboard setup - entirely controlled by a Macintosh computer! It was an amazing thing. After working out what he wanted to play in the conventional way, he could program it all into the Mac and assign different parts to any number of separate keyboards. This proved very valuable to us, both in the songwriting and recording stages of the album. Especially so for Geddy, who considers himself a bass player first, vocalist second, and keyboard player a distant third - now we had a keyboard player we could yell at all the time!
I showed him the work I'd started on so far, and we also discussed a few lyrical ideas that he had been thinking about but had never got around to putting on paper. These ideas would become incorporated into "Mission", "Open Secrets" and "Turn the Page", and fit very well into my overall theme. Of course, being the singer, it's nice for him to have some involvement in the lyric development, and I'm always glad to have some input from him or Alex to expand on a particular idea.
In the beginning of October, with southern Ontario ablaze in the glory of autumn, the three of us returned once again to the rural setting of Elora Sound. Alex brought along a tape of experimental work he had been doing at home, which would yield some good parts for several songs, and Geddy had been sifting through this year's batch of "sound check jams", which have been a rich source of raw material in recent years. He had them all sorted and labeled as potential verses, bridges, choruses or instrumental bits, and thus they served as a reference library of spontaneous ideas that could be drawn upon at will.
As usual I was working alone on lyrics in the afternoons while the other two worked together on musical ideas. Here is where Alex comes into his own as Musical Scientist - creating drum programs for my stand-in, the drum machine, and recording his and Geddy's work on the portable "Lerxst Sound" recorder. In my own process of writing and refining, I remember one day throwing out eight pages of rewrites for "High Water" - and that's after three days of rewriting it. So it doesn't get any easier!
In the evenings we would go over to the barn, share what we had accomplished during the day, and work together on making ideas into songs. This is a very enjoyable part of the process, working so closely together and creating new things. Of course nothing is ever accomplished without a struggle, and sometimes what you're working on seems like it will never turn out any good. But when it does come together, and you can record it and hear it immediately, there are few things more satisfying.
We were torn about whether or not to play some live shows before the recording. In the past we have found it worthwhile in some ways, even if just to have a change of scene for a few days. But it's also frustrating to have to stop working on new material, only to spend a week or so rehearsing old stuff. This year we thought we'd try just going away somewhere for a few days, then returning to the writing fresh. That way we would have the advantage of a change of scene, but wouldn't have to spend precious writing time working on old songs.
The first snowfall of the year fell overnight in early November, and by then we had worked out eight songs. At this point we were still not satisfied with the overall variety of music we had, so we decided we'd go a bit further this time. We were aware of the fact that only a small percentage of people actually buy records any more, the vast majority choosing cassettes or CDs. Thus, we figured, why should we worry about the time limitations of the old vinyl disc? We thought we'd like to have ten songs, and go for fifty minutes or so of music. So we did.
At the beginning of December Peter Collins ("Mr Big") joined us in Elora, and contributed his valuable criticisms and suggestions to the songs. Most of the changes were small ones, except for "Mission", which received new verses, and "Open Secrets", which underwent some chorus revisions. But even the small changes help to keep our music growing in different ways.
Ironically, the opening song, "Force Ten", was almost an afterthought. In the tradition of those last-minute, spontaneous songs like "New World Man", "Vital Signs" and "Natural Science", we put it together on the very last two days we had for writing. As I had on "Tom Sawyer", I worked with some lyrics given to us by Pye Dubois, and Geddy and Alex went to work on the music, trying to explore some musical areas that we hadn't covered yet. By the end of one day it was fairly complete, the touch of spontaneity and freshness we were looking for to complete the album.
We began the serious recording at The Manor, in Oxfordshire England, where we had also recorded the basic tracks for Power Windows. The big attraction here is the drum sound in their big stone room. The big attraction is not the weather - especially the January snowstorm that brought England to its knees, and turned that old stone Manor house into a damn and drafty icehouse! Even with the big coal fires that burned in the main rooms of the house all day, without modern heating or insulation, it did not "hold its fire"!
But hey - we work well when we're shivering! After three weeks we were able to leave there with the drums, bass, basic keyboards, guide guitars and guide vocals all finished. Once again Jimbo did a great job for us behind the console, making things sound great and the maintaining "quality control".
We had decided before going over there that it would be fun (and funny) to be cowboys in England, and had provided ourselves with the requisite hats, scarves, shirts, music - and most important - accents. Thus the studio was full of cowboy-hatted people saying things like: "Ah reckon that sounds mighty good", and "much obligated for the vittles, ma'am!"
Thankfully, it didn't influence the music - but it did give Alex an exciting new theme for his oil paintings.
From there we moved into Ridge Farm Studio, an Elizabethan farm which has been converted into a modern residential studio. It was our first time working there, in the rustic Surrey countryside, and we enjoyed it very much. (Even though it was still winter in England.)
It has to be said - as the man himself might say, Andy Richards did a great job once again, adding dynamic keyboards and exciting "events" to the tracks. For once we were moving along right on schedule, and Alex was even able to finish some guitar overdubs before we left.
On a free day Geddy and I made an overnight trip up to London, treating ourselves to a stay at the prestigious Savoy hotel. We each had our own plans for the afternoon and evening, but met up in the venerable "American Bar" at the hotel for a drink in the late afternoon. We were both so stimulated by being out on the streets of London (and away from work), that our conversation was rich and various - about ourselves, our families, art, movies, our hopes for the future - and not a word about the work in progress! It was really nice how two people who work together every day, and had for so many years, could find fresh areas of stimulating conversation.
Then it was back to - aaah! - Montserrat, a small island in the Caribbean which is notable - apart from its beauty - for turning out doctors in a couple of weeks, and for turning out records in paradise at Air Studios. We had been there for the first time to do the guitar overdubs for Power Windows, and enjoyed it so much we had to go back again.
There is a live volcanic crater on the island, where you stand in a cloud of sulfurous mist and all around you are vents of steaming vapors and bubbling volcanic mud. When you think about the fact that this comes up right from the centre of the earth, it reminds you powerfully just how fragile terra firma really is, and how quickly a place like that could disappear beneath the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
One hopes It will hold its you-know-what too!
We had not worked in Toronto for, oh, about ten years, fearing too many distractions (however enjoyable and well-meant) from family and friends. But it does get harder to be away from home all the time, and for once we thought we'd like to try doing at least a small part of this project at home. So we decided we would record the vocals and the last of the guitars in Toronto.
We worked at McClear Place Studios, right in downtown Toronto, which was nice after all the remote places we'd been. I must admit, as much as I like the country and particularly Montserrat, it was exciting to walk the busy streets and see all those strangers every day.
It was here that Aimee Mann came in to do a great job on some additional vocals for us - yet another new sound for Rush - and also, all of us signed up with the Berlitz school to polish up our French for the next stop on our itinerary - Paris!
We arrived there on a bright sunny day in early May, with the chestnut trees still in bloom along the boulevards, and had our first breakfast at a sidewalk cafe on the Boulevard St. Germain. We were staying right on the Champs Elysees, and working at a good place called Studio Guillaume Tell, about five miles away. Our route to and from work every day led right through the Bois de Boulogne, the biggest park in Paris, so it was a great situation.
Normally we work twelve or thirteen hour days while we're recording, but "Mr Big" likes to stop by nine o'clock during the mixing, it's difficult to remain objective after nine hours of listening to the same song over and over again, and you can't afford to be wrong when you're making final decisions like that. But that's okay - we didn't mind having to go out for late dinners at night with the day's work done, and the streets of Paris lit up before us!
But of course there is a dark side to the City of Light. Especially after the events of last summer, it was impossible not to think of acts of mindless violence, the kind of thing "Lock and Key" talks about. We even had one or two bombs go off while we were there, though fortunately not on us! And you don't get used to seeing the soldiers and gendarmes standing around everywhere with automatic weapons and bulletproof vests.
There is no fooling around with situations like that, and I would ride carefully by them on my bicycle, almost as afraid of them as I was of the Parisian traffic - and that's going some! Cruising by these deadly-serious guys with their deadly-serious weapons. I had to hope their fingers wouldn't slip, or they wouldn't mistake me for some vicious bicycle terrorist!
Hold Your Fire indeed.
Okay, okay - no more puns, I promise.
In fact, I'd better start again:
It really is hard to believe that Hold Your Fire is our twelfth studio album - in thirteen years together.
But then it's also hard to believe in the expanding universe, superconductors, indoor baseball, 3-D movies, artificial sweetener, offensive weapons, objective reality, rock music ...
Management by Ray Danniels, SRO, Toronto
Tour Manager and Lighting Director: Howard Ungerleider
President and Stage Manager: Liam Birt
Production Manager: Nick Kotos
Concert Sound Engineer: Jon Erickson
Stage Left Technician: Skip Gildersleeve
Centre Stage Technician: Larry Allen
Stage Right Technician: Jim Johnson
Synthesizer Maintenance: Tony Geranios
Stage Monitor Engineer: Steve Byron
Concert Projectionist: Lee Tenner
Personal Shreve: Kevin Flewitt
Carpenter (and Stage Right Assistant): George Steinert
Synthesizer Programming and Keyboard System Design: Jim Burgess, Saved by Technology
Concert Sound by Audio Analysts, Michael Caron, Paul Parker, Dan Schriber
Lighting by See Factor Inc: Bob See, Jonathan Quitt
Lighting Crew: Frank Scilingo, Jack Funk, Conrad Coriz, Roy Niendorf
Varilites: Matthew Druzbik, Daniel Koniar
Rear Screen Projections Created by Keen Pictures: Norm Stangl
Concert Rigging by Myriad/One: Billy Collins, Don Collins, Tim Wendt
Lasers by Laser Media: Craig Spredeman and Laserlite FX: Steve Magyar
Drivers: Tom Whittaker, Mac MacLear, John Davis, Daniel Harmer, Russell Fleming, Tom Hartman, Leonard Southwick and Randy Wolters
Tour Merchandise: Mike McLoughlin
Booking Agencies: International Creative Management, NYC; The Agency Group, London; The Agency, Toronto
Program Design: Hugh Syme
Typesetting: Moveable Type Inc.
Contributing Photographers; Louie DeFilippis, Patrick Harbron, Andrew MacNaughtan, Dimo Safari, Deborah Samuel, Deborah Taylor, Glen Wexler
He looked at me coldly and aksed: "Do you want the equipment or not my friend?"
I said: "Just the list if you don't mind."
"You are a fool then! Get out and never come back to this place again... my late friend!"
I figured it was time to leave but I didn't know where I was. Last I remember, we were on one of those group tours in Gallien-Kruger National Park. But I... can't... seem.... to... remember... exactly what... Wait! I do remember now! I received a calbe from a Mr Johnson instructing me to put my Signature on some kind of document at an office in Zurich. I flew there on a Ja Maha Air out of Vacici el Barundi and was met at the airport by a Herr Roland from the offices of Cuzle, Cuzle and Shmelecki. Before we got to the office he suggested we have a drink: "Come, we will make drinken" and we stopped at some dark roadside 24 hr. bar and hobby shop called the "Dimension D". We went inside and there at the back by the S.E.C. 12 channel transmitters and the balsa ailerons was the notorious Schatz. I was in big trouble. He has a Mac under one arm and a Backgammon game under the other. Who knows what he had in his pockets. Time to splittez-vous. I looked over at my escort, the walking building and asked "Hey Mongo you hungry?"
He looked at me and said: "Ja, I am making hongry unt mine interior."
Well I suggested a knuckle sandwich and then headed for the door just as the drink I ordered, a Tahiti Tingle, took its effect. I'd been drugged and fell to my knees and now looked eye to eye with Schatz. I said: "so yoi gralf kanoff illglit!"
He just looked at me and laughed: "Yeah that's right!"
When I awoke I was tied to a table and Schatz was explaining about a new program he'd just developed. He was the only one listening. He was listening to himself so intently he didn't notice the sword I had taped to the bottom of my shoe. Out the window, down 16 stories, hi-jack a cab to the airport, steal a Lear Jet, land on the Queen Mary, swim half the North-Atlantic, stop for lunch at Big Al Hernsburgers and then...
"Wait my friend, I didn't really mean all that. I lost myself for a moment. Now please, do you want the equipment or not?"
"No," I said, "It's just not quite as exciting as I hoped."
"Too bad," said the Sarge.
"Yep, probably an accident! Yeah, that's right - probably an accident!" replied Detective Brophy.
"This was no accident. I've seen this sort of thing too many times before, and always the same result."
"How did he do it? How did he do it? Was it -"
"You don't want to know. All I can tell you is, it wasn't pretty."
"Did he leave a message? Some kind of note?"
"Yeah, kind of sad. All it said was:
'One synth is too much, and a thousand aren't enough'"
"How depressing! But exactly what did he have?"
"Well, he had about a zillion Akai S900 samplers, two Prophet VS synths, a PPG 2.3, a Roland Super Jupiter and a D-550, two Yamaha KX-76 MIDI controllers, two QX-I sequencers and a DX-7, two MIDI Mappers, Korg MIDI pedals - and believe it or not - Moog Taurus Pedals."
"You're telling me! And get this: he had to have some joker named Jack Secret load floppy disks and switch programs for this stuff offstage during the shows!"
"Oh! Well, it all makes sense now, doesn't it?"
"Sure does. At least his bass gear was simple. He used a Wal bass, a 5-string Wal bass and a Steinberger."
"What a relief! But tell me Sarge, what makes a guy go wrong like this? Digital Stress? Too much herring? What?"
"I don't know Brophy. I think it's just one of those things best left unsolved!"
Well, lots of Big News in the equipment department this year, for those of you who are interested in such things. When I decided last year that I wanted to get a new set of drums, I went about it in a very methodical way. This time I wanted to be absolutely sure that I was using the best sounding drums there were. So I went down to the Percussion Centre in Fort Wayne, and we tried out six different makes of drums, side by side with the same heads and tuning. The result was a new set of Ludwig drums - the ones which sounded the most lively and exciting. A similar "A-B" comparison confirmed the effectiveness of the Vibrafibing treatment, and that process of a thin layer of fibreglass has been applied to the inside of the shells.
When Geddy saw the color I had chosen for them, he asked: "Whatever possessed you?" Well I'm not sure about that, but it's another "hot rod" finish like the red ones, this time a combination of white opalescent, with a few "flip-flop" sparkles, and a little hint of pink.
Just different, that's all.
The hardware, which has been prass-plated, is a combination of Premier, Tama and Pearl fittings, while the cymbals are by Avedis Zildjian, with the exception of the Chinese ones which come from Wuhan province in China. The venerable Slingerland "Artist" snare drums remain, as do the Promark 747 drum sticks.
Big News in the electronics department as well - the Simmons pads now trigger an Akai digital sampler through a Yamaha Midi Controller. This has expanded my range of available percussion sounds enormously, allowing me to have absolutely any sound available at the flick of a stick or the kick of a switch. Nice. I've also added a KAT keyboard percussion unit, which again gives me all of the keyboard percussion sounds in a neat little package.
In the "traditional" percussion domain, there are a temple blocks, timbale, crotales, a Tama gong bass drum, cowbells and wind chimes.
What else was I going to say?