Rush Lyricist Peart Yearns For Chance To Play Big Band

By Dan MacDonald, Jacksonville Times-Union, March 2, 1994

For the past 20 years, Neil Peart has been content to be the drummer and lyricist for the rock band Rush. While he has no intentions of changing jobs, but if he did, he knows just where he would go.

Peart would like to go from the three-man rock format to the 'big band' jazz sound.

"Big Band music is what I'd like to play on the side," Peart said during a telephone interview prior to a show in Atlanta last week. "It's like playing Rush music. It's concieved architechturally but with lots of room for fooling around in the middle."

The big band career will have to wait as Rush is in the midst of a tour that brings it to the Jacksonville Coliseum tonight.

Peart is content with the setup he has with bandmates bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. The band works in a two year cycle of writing, recording and touring that brings them back to Jacksonville almost two years to the day from their last Coliseum appearance. While that sounds a little regimented, Peart was quick to disagree.

"It's a self-chosen cycle," he said. "That's the ironic thing. It takes a lot of years for a band to develop the autonomy to be able to say we will work then and now and in this fashion.

"It's quite the contrary of a rut because it is not imposed on us. It is something that we have developed as a comfortable cycle of work."

The band seems to find its comfort level in all aspects of it's work. Peart said most Rush songs fall between 4.5 and 5 minutes in length and after they put a stop-watch to a newly developed show it seems to always clock out at right about 2 hours.

That's the way it has been for the band since it's earliest days of headlining. The Tornoto based band was formed in 1969 and released it's self-titled debut album in 1974. Originally, it was John Rutsey behind the drums. But he quit the band just after the release of Rush.

The band's tendency to play extended instrumental jams has brought it comparisons to Yes. But it has had more radio success on the Classic Rock format stations with such songs as "Tom Sawyer", "Closer to the Heart" and "Big Money" and they even had a top 40 pop hit in 1982 with "New World Man".

As a trio, Rush has fought the temptation to simply let a tape run to to fill in studio effects and keyboards that would otherwise necessitate additional bodies on the stage. Instead, they use synthesized switches and foot pedals to trigger musical "events" that rarely last longer than an instant. Thus, the three players are playing all of the music rather than being accompanied by a tape.

There's no rule that says you can't play a tape, but with us it's a moral thing, Peart explained.

"Every note that happens is triggered by one of us, which makes for a bit of a dance. That's the ethic as far as we are concerned. Anything that happens on stage must be played by one of us," he said.

Even with technology, it's no easy matter to make all of the sounds happen at the precise moment.

"There are bits coming in tempo-wise that increase the challenge for a drummer because there are keyboard samples coming in that are rooted to the same time. I have to be prepared during the course of the song for these to come in and out. Consequently, I have to nail the tempo exactly right so that these do not come in to make it feel too fast or too slow," Peart said.

Such a decision goes back to the very reasons a musician decides to play the kind of music that he plays.

"There is an instinctive right and wrongness. Musicians have to make moral choices," Peart said. "You have to decide, are you playing for money or are you playing for love? Even in the cover bands, do I want to play what the audience wants to hear or what pleases me?

"A cover band I was in would play songs by people we liked regardless of popularity. That cut us off to a certain extent and narrowed our focus on that end, but there is a much more long term chance of both independence and longevity and not to mention job satisfaction."