February 1985: Looking out through the upstairs window of an old Ontario farmhouse you can see a violent blizzard is blowing. The flying snow whips sideways past the window, across the open fields, and into mighty drifts.
We have been here at Elora Sound for about three weeks now, working on a crop of new songs. Out in the barn there is a 24 track studio where my co-workers Alex and Geddy spend their afternoons, working on musical ideas or fitting music to one or another of the lyrics I have been working on here at my little desk. And I mean little. It's about the right size for a five-year old. It keeps me humble.
Occasionally I might have a listen to a piece of music that the other two have given me to work on, or sheaf through the notes I have collected over the past year or so. See if anything connects. I have been trying to work on Manhatten Project, but it's strange working on a historical piece - you end up having to do so much research to get the facts straight.
Fortunately I came here with some rough outlines for The Big Money, Mystic Rhythms and Marathon, and had a head start. While Geddy was at home, he sifted through a big pile of sound check jams, looking for worthwhile ideas, and Alex has brought in a tape of his homemade guitar symphonies, so we've all done our homework.
We put together those first three songs in a week or so, spending our afternoons separately and getting together in the evenings to play. Then we moved onto Middletown Dreams and tonight we'll probably continue working on Marathon. This bit of music that I'm trying to put words to will eventually become Grand Designs.
March: Looking down from a hotel room window in Miami you see hundreds of shiny bodies baking in the Florida sun. The heat feels good after the long Canadian winter, but with another show tonight you're not really relaxed. Putting your coffee cup down, you put on your headphones and have a listen to the five new songs. The pool looks inviting down there and white sails drift across the blue sea.
As ever we are out doing a few shows before going into the studio, to sharpen up our playing skills and give us a chance to play some of the new songs live and at sound checks.
At Lakeland we met up with "Jimbo" Barton for the first time, the irrepressible Australian who will be our engineer on this album. He has been recommended by our new producer, Peter Collins, and is full of high spirits and confidence. He's sure he can make my drums sound "A hundred percent bettah!" We'll see. He's a nice dresser though.
Later in March: Back behind my little desk in Elora, looking out at the beginnings of spring. Patches of brown grass and plowed earth show through the snow, and that special smell is in the air. Manure.
When we first started here I used to get up from my desk late in the day and go for a ski, but these days I go for a bike ride.
A strange thing happened on our first day back. We had spoken about working on a ballad for the album, so I started working on some suitable lyrics. When I went over to show them to the other guys they were working on a really nice piece of music. Though it wasn't exactly the ballad we had in mind, Geddy started singing the lyrics to it, and the words and music married perfectly. Et voila! Emotion Detector was born.
It had been good for us to get away from it for a couple of weeks. I had been struggling with the lyrics for Territories and Manhatten Project for weeks, but now they just fell together. The music for Emotion Detector and Territories was soon written and arranged, and we had some pretty good tapes of our seven songs to play for Peter when he arrived.
This left only Manhatten Project to be our trouble child. Every album has one, a song that doesn't want to get written, or doesn't want to be recorded, or sometimes mixed. This being the last song we worked on, we were probably a bit burned out, but Peter was able to contribute quite a few helpful ideas, to this and to some of the other songs as well.
It was good that he didn't try to change our songs, or the way we played them, but just liked to add little touches - "events" he called them - that we would not otherwise have thought of. And that is just what we were looking for.
April: Out from a tall window overlooking the mossy gardens and ancient churchyard at the Manor, in Oxfordshire England. Patches of cloud race across a blue sky, as you settle into yet another room, putting up some pictures on the mirror. Make it home.
Somehow you can just feel how old this place is. Ian the gardener tells us that it is mentioned in the Domesday Book - back in would you believe 1086! Now that's old! We have heard stories about a ghost called "The Grey Lady", but didn't get to meet her. Maybe next time.
The method of recording which Peter and Jimbo use allows us to record the basic tracks very quickly, and capture a lot of early, more spontaneous performances. We have the basic tracks finished in a couple of weeks, and are ready for a world of overdubs.
At this point we bring on our special guest star for this album, the flamboyant Andy Richards, who will be helping us with synthesizer programming, as well as adding some exciting keyboard moments and textures throughout the album. we enjoyed the chance to sit back and suggest things for someone else to do!
Alex became a little bored during all this, and decided to take up a new hobby - oil painting! Soon he was turning out a string of creditable masterpieces from his upstairs salon. The Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art are engaged in a bidding war over them as we speak.
One morning Larry, who looks after my drums, and I drove into London and loaded up the station wagon with African and Indian drums. We would use these to create the drum sounds for Mystic Rhythms, and I was thrilled to make my bongo drum debut in Territories. New horizons.
During one late night session at the kitchen table (The Launching Pad) the similarity of stature and air of authority is noted between Peter and Edward G. Robinson, and from now on he becomes "Mr. Big". "Okay, see..." He even smokes cigars!
May: A big tinted picture window looks out from the control room across the swimming pool and down a wide green valley. On over the stately royal palms down to the hot black volcanic sand, and out to the tropical sun glaring on the blue Carribean. If you can't live in a place like this, couldn't you at least get a nerve transplant with someone who does?
Ah Montserrat! we have talked and dreamed of working in this place for years - we finally made it. Air Studios; a hilltop retreat on the small friendly "Emerald Isle of the Carribean". A real live volcano, real live iguanas, real live cows and goats on the roads, and some of the friendliest people you'll meet.
Poor Alex. The whole three weeks we are on the island, we work on nothing but guitar overdubs, leaving the rest of us in purely critical roles while he slaves away all day every day. Oh well, we tell him, remember those days of boredom at The Manor, and just think - you'll have some days off when we're back in the rain and cold of London! I think he felt better then.
During the one day off we allowed ourselves, the staff gave us a barbecue at a deserted beach on the north side of the island. There it was decided that Alex should become His Royal Highness King Lerxst, whereupon he changed name of the island to Schmengland (by royal decree). He further proclaimed that the second Monday of every month would be "King Lerxst Day", with no work and free drinks for everyone.
As we drive back, he stands up in the back of our open jeep, wearing a motorcycle helmet (?), flanked by two other maniacs, led by a motorcycle escort (Jimbo and Peter's rented motorbikes), and chauffeured by Your Correspondent (specially schooled in terrorist-evasion tactics). As we pass through the small sleepy villages, he waves to his loyal subjects and shouts out his proclamations to the bemused citizenry.
"You don't have to work tomorrow", he announces to a woman.
"I haven't got a job", she returns. Oh. Nothing's perfect in paradise.
He also survived two assassination attempts.
June: A bay window looks down on the bustling streets of Mayfair in London. It's the start of the tourist season, and a convention of American lawyers is in town, so the streets are thronged. After Elora, The Manor and Montserrat it's actually kind of nice to be back in a big city. The energy and activity are contagious.
I'd like to talk about the windows at the studio - but there weren't any! SARM East studio is located in a basement in the east end of London, so even when there was a nice day, we wouldn't know anything about it!
With almost everything recorded now, we start in on the guitar solos, and then the vocals. We had dared to dream of being home for most of the summer, but we begin to realize that it is not to be. As Jimbo would say: "Dream about it!"
Instead of a hotel we had rented a flat to live in this time, which is a little less impersonal. It contained the view described above, but we usually only saw it late at night, when the streets were dark and deserted. London sleeps early.
It was mildly depressing to watch June and July go by - or not watch them - from a basement in London. After the other studios, and a string of previous albums at Le Studio in Quebec, we were used to more natural surroundings!
July: The glassed-in sunroom of a townhouse in Chelsea. A summer thunderstorm approaches over the Thames. The tide is going out, and the water flows black beneath an angry sky. The rain starts to pelt the window in gusts, like gravel, and you can smell the lightning.
Well, we're still in London, but to counter our restlessness we have moved to a new home to start our second month here. Geddy has been receiving regular infusions of baseball on videotape, and we have been importing some of our favourite junk foods from home.
We're about to start the mixing after taking a week away from it. It gets hard to be objective about anything at this point, so it's good to try and step back from it a bit.
We go through daily changes about the running order of the album, and there are decisions to make about the artwork, the credits, photos, and of course - the songs!
August: Looking through the control room window into the vast Studio 1 at Abbey Road Studios. Rock history has been made here, and history (of a sort) will be made here today. Yet another drenching thunderstorm has flooded the city, and a damp bunch of string players are assembling for a session. A thirty piece string section to play on a Rush album. Imagine!
It was very exciting to stand out int the studio itself and listen to the majestic sound of all those live strings. Especially playing one of our songs! Ha!
We had another excursion out to Angel Studios, this time to record a twenty five piece choir for the end of Marathon. At this session the three of us keep looking at eachother and laughing out loud. It's so weird!
But Mr. Big wanted us to pull out all the stops on this album - really make it something different and special. Well it's certainly different!
And now it rains every day for two weeks. Summertime, and the living is - wet.
September: Through my very own upstairs window looking out at the dark rooftops and backyards of my neighbourhood. Through the trees in the distance you can just see the winking strobe of the CN tower.
Well at last it's truly finished. Six months this odyssey has taken us, but seemed to pass pretty rapidly (except for the last bit). Geddy has been in New York to oversee the mastering (and catch a ball game or two), we've seen and approved the proofs for the cover, and planned out the video.
Now we just kind of wait around and see what everyone else has to say about it. For myself, I'm already starting to think about the next one. Do you suppose that's good or bad? Oh well, it's over!
Like Mr. Big says at the end of the day, "That's a wrap boys!"
Or as H.R.H. King Lerxst proclaimed: "Free drinks for Everybody!"
Management by Ray Danniels and SRO Management, Toronto
Tour Manager and Lighting Director: Howard Ungerleider
Crew Chief, Stage Manager, and President: Liam Birt
Production Manager: Nick Kotos
Cocnert Sound Engineer: Jon Erickson
Stage Left Technician: Skip Gildersleeve
Centre Stage Technician: Larry Allen
Stage Right Technician: Jim Johnson
Guitar and Synthesizer Technician: Tony Geranios
Stage Monitor Mixer: Steve Byron
Cocnert Projectionist: Lee Tenner
Personal Assistant: Kevin Flewitt
Concert Sound and Lighting by See Factor Inc. (Bob See, Elliot Krowe, and Mike Sinclair)
Sound Crew: Jim Staniforth, Bill Fertig, Jason Macrie, Tim Varaday
Light Crew: Frank Scilingo, Jack Funk, Richard Schoenfeld, Ethan Weber
Rear Projectionist Films produced by Norman Stengel and Nelvana Inc.
Concert Rigging by Southfire Rigging: Billy Collins, Don Collins, C.J. Titterington
Carpenter: George Steinert
Lasers by Laser Media: Craig Spredeman, Scott Cunningham, Peter Callahan
Busheads and Truckfaces: Tom Whittaker, Mac MacLear, Pat Lynes, Red McBrine, Tom Hartman, John Mullins, Tom Mullins, Earl "Pudgy" Charles
Booking Agencies: International Creative Management, NYC; The Agency Group, London; The Agency, Toronto
Program Design and Cover Painting by Hugh Syme
Typography by Moveable Type Inc.
Well the big news this time is in the area of electronics. My experiments last time in combining the Simmons electronic drums with my acoustic setup worked out very well, and having the two separate drum sets back-to-back has allowed me to expand the variety of sounds I can choose from without compromising the feel and voice of natural drums.
With the use of Simmons SDS-7 digital modules and the EPROM unit (Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) I can now reproduce, for example, the African drums which I played on "Mystic Rhythms", stored on tiny little chips and triggered by the pads. This is a very exciting area of exploration, as you can imagine. Without losing the excitement and energy of real drums at the heart of my playing, I can have an infinite variety of other percussive sounds and effects to call on at the stroke of a pad or the kick of a switch. Larry and I have even invented a little trigger (called "Sidney") which mounts between my front toms to give me easier access to effects. fun stuff.
You'd be right in thinking that these machines are complicated, experimental, and sometimes frustrating. In spite of my instinctive distrust and antipathy for things electronic, I find myself unable to resist the limitless variety of sounds I can create and reproduce. I didn't realize that when I first played with a little Mattel drum synthesizer - I'd get hooked!
Everything else remains pretty constant, the Tama drums are the "Artstar" prototypes, except for the snares which are the old Slingerland "Artist" model. All the cymbals are by Avedis Zildjian, except for the Chinese ones which are from Wuhan in China. Timbale, crotales, wind chimes, glockenspiel, temple blocks, cowbells, "Clap Trap", and a gong bass drum round out the toy box.
And next Christmas I'd like a train set, a mountain bike, a sailboat, new Telemark skis, a rocket ship, a ferrari GTO, a chemistry set, eternal life...
Oy! Oy! Headache!!
You wouldn't believe what I've done!
You see, I put all these great keyboard sounds on "Power Windows", (with the help of Andy Richards and Jim Burgess) and the album sounds wonderful!
So what's wrong? You ask!
Oy! Oy! Headache!!
Well, now I've got to have these same wonderful sounds live and in Technicolor for yours (and my) edification. You think that's easy!
Oy! Oy! Headache!!
So! I had to go and get a bunch of Emulator II Computerized Synthesizers, and a DX 7 (Yamaha) and a QX-1 Sequencer (also Yamaha), along with my regular PPG 2.3 and JP 8 (Roland) Oy!! And, if that wasn't enough, I have to keep these offstage, so Jack Secret can load the Emulator computer disks during the show while I play them with remote keyboards (two Yamaha KX 76 Remote Midi Controllers!) Get it ! But wait!! Who's going to load Jack Secret!
Oy! Oy! Headache!!
Meanwhile, in the fun, I mean Bass department, I am pleased to announce the addition of one beautifully crafted and great sounding Wal Bass. Custom made in England by a small but "happening" company. The Wal (no pun intended) along with my two trusty Steinbergers are the only Basses I will be using on this tour. My amplifiers remain the same as on the "Grace Under Pressure" tour. And Oy! I'm getting thirsty!
A MESSAGE FROM H.R.H. KING LERXT, KING OF SCHMENGLAND
This was supposed to be my equipment list, but I sold all my gear. I just borrow things I need from friends. Some old stuff. A few wires here, a couple guitars there, some machine guns... Oh yeah, the machine guns. Well, the story goes something like this: During our stay in Montserrat we decided to have a dinner picnic on a beautiful deserted beach. It was a lovely day and a great barbecue. There was much laughter until we heard the machine guns and bombs exploding. The sky was a cross-hatch of jet fighter and missile contrails. I had a hunch that something was up.
We immediately headed back to the studio. It was a blazing inferno with temperatures well above 100 degrees C!! We managed to save all our gear and the blender which we used to make daiquiris with. It was there that we learned from one of the locals that a coup had taken place.
"Yeah mon, dey kill dat monkey ass. Now is da time of da King mon."
After I heard his incredible tale I thought to myself - Kingman? Who is Kingman? The accountant? The calypso group The Kingman Trio, maybe?
And as if this man had read my thoughts, he said, "No man, not Kingman - The KING, Mon!"
Now it was all too clear. I suddenly realized destiny had brought me to this island to do a job. I looked up as the flaming studio sparked a reflection in my eyes and bravely said: "But they have guns! We need something better than guns. We need Gubs!"
We also needed a defence budget so I sold my equipment that same night, met at a dark lagoon with a Cuban gub runner, quelled the rioting and became King Lerxst by 8:30 the next morning. Boy was I bushed.
I enacted two important laws that Monday morning. The first was the "No Work Today" law, and the second was "Big Al Day", which fell on the first Monday of each week, when all the drinks on the island were free.
Sure there were a few unhappy subjects, and I have had my fair share of assassination attempts, but after the third Monday things were pretty well settled down. Yeah that's what the world needs: more "Big Al Days".