Good evening and welcome Rush fans to the world premiere broadcast for Test For Echo. I'm Jill Robinson of Rock 103.5 in Chicago, and I'll be your host over the next two hours as we permeate your mind and fill your soul with 11 brand new Rush songs. Guiding us on this musical journey, with their usual wit and wisdom, will be Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. It's a rare night indeed when all three members of Rush are on the radio.
So sit back, maybe put on some headphones so you can listen to the new songs loud without bugging your neighbors, and prepare yourself for the first new Rush music in three years. Test For Echo hits the stores this Tuesday, September 10th, and we're just moments away from saying hello to Geddy Lee when our world premiere broadcast gets rolling on the Album Network.
JR: And joining for the first portion of our broadcast is bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee. Hi, Geddy!
JR: First off, congrats on the birth of your daughter.
GL: Thank you very much.
JR: I guess we know what you've been doing during the band's break; 4am feedings and changing diapers.
GL: Well, actually she's very advanced. She's driving now, she's been really quite easy, she lets me sleep in, she makes me breakfast... no, let's say it's been a domestic time for me.
JR: That's fabulous. It's been three years, Geddy, since Counterparts - 18 months of that spent away from your bandmates. Is that the longest break that you've ever taken from Rush since you formed?
GL: Yeah, without question. We hear all these stories about Pink Floyd, all these other bands that take five years off. For us to be away for more than six months is kind of an indulgence. I guess in retrospect we look back, and it was 18 months without any Rush work going on. For us that's an eternity, but in the big picture of the history of a lot of bands that have been together 20 years or so, which I guess there aren't too many of us left, I guess it's not that long. It sure felt long, and by the end of it I was definitely ready to work again.
JR: And ready to start with the next phase maybe, of your career. Part two, I guess.
GL: Absolutely. That time for me was very introspective. I needed to get away from Rush, I needed to get away from music period, and just reexamine my life and make sure I was living the kind of life I wanted to live, and enjoying all the domestic things that a lot of people take for granted every day. But when you live on the road, and when you're constantly touring, you miss that stuff. It was great for me, but about a year through it I started feeling like there was this hole in my life, and that was the need for me to express myself musically. I was very ready to go back to work after 18 months.
JR: Well, as we listen to every song on Test For Echo tonight, Geddy, we will no doubt be able to tell that that's very apparent - that you guys came back with a bang and people have been waiting for three years to hear something new from Rush, so let's get right into it. This song is "Driven", it's the world premiere of Test For Echo on the Album Network.
[ "Driven" is played ]
JR: That was "Driven", the second tune on Test For Echo, which hits stores next Tuesday, September 10th. Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart will join us later. We're with Geddy Lee. Geddy, when you and Alex got together last October, did you have an idea which way you wanted to take this record musically?
GL: Not really. Getting together after such a big break for us was a bit weird. We kind of were circling each other like cats in a new territory. Alex had just come off a very exhausting experience in one sense, working very hard on his own solo record, Victor. He'd been kind of used to doing everything, engineering it, mixing it. I think he wasn't quite sure how things were going to go, just from the point of view of now he was having to become part of a democracy again. Democracy is tough, let's face it. It's much easier to be the king. I think he was a little tentative, I think last time we wrote Counterparts there was a little tension in the room from time to time. I was feeling very laid-back, and very enthusiastic, and really eager to write, so I was being "yeah, sure, whatever, let's go!" I was being very positive, and I think that threw him a little bit for a loop, that I was being so easy. I have a tendency to be a little bossy.
Anyway, I think there was a lot of that going on, and Neil was being Mr. Aloof a little bit. So we kind of circled each other and we talked. We knew that talking was going to be the key, and Alex and I spent a lot of time talking. Eventually Neil came into the picture, and we started talking. Before we know it, boom - we were back to writing, ideas were just coming, and everything was fresh and exciting. So we kind of let the record take shape on its own. To finally get back to your question you asked me about two hours ago, we let the record take its own direction, and we tried not to be very contrived about it. The only prerequisite that we put on the record was that we were going to stay with writing mostly on guitar, bass, drums and vocals, and use keyboards only as a secondary instrument.
JR: When you're making records for 20 years together, and then you take quite a long break, as Geddy you were saying, did you and Alex approach the way that you interpreted Neil's lyrics differently than you had in the past?
GL: Good question. I don't think our approach was different in the way that we looked at Neil's lyrics, but we took a slightly different approach in assembling the songs.
JR: How so?
GL: Usually we find a lyric we like, or we find a piece of music that we like, and we work it until it's a completed song. Then we bring Neil in and he listens to it, get his opinion, polish it off and then move on. This time, for some reason, we'd start writing on one tune for example, and we'd be really excited about an idea, we'd be developing it, we'd put it on tape, and we'd get it to a point, and we'd be looking for another part for that song. In the course of that, we'd find ourselves writing "Hey, this is a great idea, but it doesn't really have anything to do with this song. Maybe this will work with this lyric." I always like to keep Neil's lyrics spread-out in front of me in case something fits something I'm working on.
So that would lead us to start another song. Then the same thing would happen, and would lead us to start another song. Before we knew it, we had about 5 or 6 songs under construction so to speak, but not finished. We got ourselves in the mode that we wanted to finish these songs before we played anything for Neil. We were very confident and we felt really strong about the music, we wanted to complete it. Until Neil wrote the bio did I realize how frustrating it was for him for us to be a couple of weeks writing all this stuff and he still hadn't heard anything.
JR: Neil waiting in the wings going [knocks] "ok".
GL: Yeah, "Hello? Can I hear something now? I'm in this band too, you know." I apologize to him for that, but we were just on a roll and we didn't want to stop.
JR: I have had the honor of wearing out the batteries in my Walkman over the last several days listening to Test For Echo, and it seems as though you've got a tremendously cohesive record from beginning to end. The song we're going to play now definitely speaks to me, I don't know why, but I just absolutely loved it the first time I heard it, and every time I've listened to it since I've gone, "Whoa! This is a great song!" As we world premiere Test For Echo, the tune is called "Totem".
[ "Totem" is played ]
JR: I love that song. "Totem", from the brand new CD Test For Echo, as we world premiere it on the Album Network. I'm Jill Robinson, Alex and Neil will give us their take on this 16th Rush studio project soon. Geddy Lee is our guest, and Geddy I would like for you now, if you could please, to paint a picture of you guys making the record. Initially, in its embryonic stage, were you in a house somewhere?
GL: There's this farm-like studio that's on the outskirts of Toronto. It's an old farm house, a country kitchen, all the views of the house are quite beautiful; quite an expanse of what used to be farmland, and on the border of this particular property there are still some farms, and a lot of trees. Way off in the distance you can see the nuclear reactors...
JR: Oh, lovely! Put a perspective on things!
GL: No, no, no.. but it's very bucolic kind of setting. A number of bedrooms, and attached to the farmhouse is I guess what used to be a barn, or something like that, but it's a big glass-windowed environment that Alex and I set up our gear in - it's a studio - and Neil has his drums in one corner, there's a control room upstairs. We create our own comfortable writing environment there, Alex and I. We have our various tape recorders and all the equipment we need, and our stupid slogans that we pin on the walls and stuff like that.
JR: Stupid slogans?
GL: Yeah, there's a number of interesting slogans. Every album seems to have its own thing we lock in on. This album we locked in on stupid inspirational slogans.
JR: Can you remember any of them?
GL: Well, there's a couple I could... if you twist my arm I might remember...
GL: The key one, of course, was "Individually we are a ass, together we are a genius", which you have to take in the right light. And stuff like, "If you want something done right, just forget it."
JR: That sounds like something I would say.
GL: So anyway, that's our goofy environment. Neil locks himself up into the far end of the house, his bedroom that he has his computer and all his writing stuff in there and he's also got a little electronic drumkit set up outside that area, so that if we're working on one song, he can be working on the drum parts for that in the far end of the house.
JR: How do you communicate with each other, if you and Alex are in one room and Neil is off somewhere else, or do you communicate with Neil during this part?
GL: Oh, yeah, we have a lot of communication. I say that now but... sure, we're working on the music and we get it to a certain point and I'm running back and forth during the course of the day maybe four or five times.
JR: That's why you're so skinny.
GL: Thank you very much for saying that! Clarifying points of lyric, whether it's things I'm not sure I understand, or suggestions, or I'm working on something. Sometimes it's easy for him to answer if he's heard the music. If he hasn't, it's a little different. I have to feel myself out with his lyrics to see what kind of license I can take in certain areas because of the melodies going in a different way. Usually he writes a lyric with a particular pentameter, or rhythm, in mind, and I may have taken it in a totally different direction. Obviously some things need a little fudging here and there.
JR: And you have to sing it so obviously you want to interpret what he writes as best you can with putting your own signature on it.
JR: At what point, Geddy, did you guys decide that "Test For Echo" would be the title of the album?
GL: Quite late, really. The way we work is we leave these things hanging in the air. It's like, "This would be a good title," and then you store that, or "This would be a good title." It's process of elimination or you wake up the next day and see which idea you still like. Usually over the course of the 6 to 10 weeks or whatever we're taking to record, you pretty well will find out what which one still sticks. "Test For Echo" seems to be the quintessential Rush song on this album to me. It seems appropriate that it's titled that.
JR: And it's the first song on the album, let's hear it now. If you haven't heard it before, I would be very surprised actually because every radio station in the world is playing this. "Test For Echo", the title, from the new CD due September 10th, on the Album Network.
[ "Test For Echo" is played ]
JR: There you have it! The quintessential Rush song on this CD, as Geddy Lee put it. "Test For Echo" from the new album of the same name, in stores on September 10th. Rush's Geddy Lee is with us for the world premiere broadcast of this CD, Alex and Neil will get their equal time later. Geddy, the tour begins October 18th - have you planned how you are going to be translating what you wrote on this new album into a live show?
GL: That's the scenario we're going through right now; figuring out what songs we're going to play on this tour; how many songs from the new album we can squeeze in; how much new material our fans want to hear; how much old material we want to play. It's a long involved process. We start sending each other wish lists by fax - "I like these songs", "I like these songs." We're hoping on this tour we might be able to play a bit longer than we normally do and squeeze some more songs in. Hopefully we'll have a full complement out there.
JR: I'm sure all of us will hate that, you guys playing longer that you're used to.
GL: "Fans will love it, critics will hate it!"
JR: Have you missed playing in front of your fans, Geddy?
GL: Yeah I have, I like playing live. The tough thing about touring is that it's so wonderful for a short period of time, when it's fresh and the tour is new, and you're just so excited to be doing it. It reminds you of all that stuff, a lot of those reasons that you wanted to be in a band. Then the rigors and the natural lifestyle that occurs due to it start taking its toll on you. As you get a little older, I think it takes its toll a little more severely on you. Even though that's not a concern to our fans or the public, it's what you have to wrestle with on a daily basis. Sometimes getting through a tour is a lot of work, but when a tour begins, it's pure joy.
JR: If you would allow a true fan to have my idea of what one of the songs you should be that you play in concert, it would be "Half The World".
GL: Oh good!
JR: It's a great song! Can you tell me Geddy, is half the world a hemisphere?
GL: Yeah, I guess in one way that song does relate to what Hemispheres is about, although Hemispheres was more overtly introspective, as opposed to "Half The World" being more of a camera eye visual of the world. It can be taken and in some instances it relates in the same fashion. I love this song, I love the melodies of it, I loved writing it. To me, this is one of the types of songs I really like working with. Rush is always torn between its more complex aggressive side and its softer side. Even though this song is not soft, it's melodic, so I put it in that other category. To me, this is one example where I think we were able to marry slightly edgier sound with that nice, melodic thing, so I was really pleased with this song.
JR: Let's let your fans hear it. "Half The World" as we world premiere Rush's Test For Echo on the Album Network.
[ "Half The World" is played ]
JR: From the way too long-awaited Rush album Test For Echo, that was "Half The World." You can buy it this Tuesday! We're listening to every single song for the very first time together here on the Album Network. I'm Jill Robinson. Geddy Lee has been hanging with us, Neil Peart's going to be in here later for the broadcast. Up next, Alex Lifeson. Geddy, is there anything that would trigger a response from Alex that you might be able to say to me to help me start off the interview with him?
GL: You don't want to go there, you're opening up a real can of worms here! I think I better just keep my mouth closed about this. There are a lot of things I could say, let's put it that way.
JR: Well, I'll be tactful and just say maybe at a later time. Thanks Geddy for joining us.
GL: My pleasure.
JR: Up next, Alex Lifeson as we continue the world premiere broadcast of Rush's Test For Echo on the Album Network.
[ commercial break ]
JR: Welcome back to the world premiere broadcast of Rush's Test For Echo. Grab this one Tuesday, before they're gone. I'm Jo Robinson, and Alex Lifeson, guitarist for the band has joined us. Hi, Alex!
JR: You are looking so healthy!
AL: I feel healthy!
JR: You are tan and you're blonde, and you're just looking fabulous.
AL: Yeah, it's been a great summer. Enjoyed it a lot.
JR: You took a year and a half off with the band, and you were working on the Victor record during that. Did that experience change the way that you dealt with Geddy and Neil when you were putting together Test For Echo?
AL: I think it gave me some confidence that perhaps I was lacking before working on projects like this. I'm the type of person that takes a back seat a lot of times, or at least I was that way. When we'd start working we'd go along, and I'd go along with things. Even if I wasn't quite sure that I was feeling right about a particular decision or not, quite often I'd just go along with it. I think Victor gave me the confidence in my playing as well as in my songwriting. I felt a lot stronger about what I believed in, and what I thought was right for a song or a part.
The experience that we had with Test For Echo writing with Geddy and myself, because we work so closely together, was really great on this record. We were both very enthusiastic and dying to get back into it. Because I felt so good about myself in terms of working, I think he fed off that, and in turn I fed off him. We were very aware of giving each other space, letting each other develop their own ideas as we progressed in the development of songs. Consequently, it was just a terrific writing experience for the both of us.
JR: Do you think that taking three years off from the last Rush album has been a risk for the band?
AL: Well, it depends on how you define risk. I don't think that it really mattered to us; we were taking the time off regardless. If it meant that it was over, then so be it. We needed to take a break after 20 years of this continuous touring. We needed to touch base, get a little more anchored, and have the opportunity to experience other things in our lives. Geddy and I have been in this band since we were 15 years old. It's been the center of our lives, from adolescence through adulthood. Really it was the time where we needed to separate ourselves from it. He has a beautiful baby girl that he really wanted to spend time with. We all sacrificed that time when our kids were young, and he didn't want to make that mistake again. Neil always has many, many things on his agenda. Given that time, I really wanted to do a solo record - not from some dissatisfaction that I had with Rush or the way we worked - but it was time for me to do something like that for myself. So it was very constructive time that we had, and we're much better people I think.
JR: From the long Rush marriage to the slight separation, and then maybe the honeymoon again, it seems to have come together beautifully. We're going to hear another song from Test For Echo, this is "Time And Motion".
[ "Time And Motion" is played ]
JR: "Time And Motion". Alex Lifeson's here as we world premiere Rush's Test For Echo. We've heard Geddy's slant on the record, and pretty soon we're going to be picking Neil's brain. Alex, has there been a need for a co-producer? Do you think you really needed Peter Collins?
AL: I think it's a wise decision on our part to have a co-producer. I think the three of us have collectively a very good idea of where we want the band to go, and the way we want records to sound, and how they're developed. At the same time we're very individual in our personal tastes, and also in the way we see certain aspects of the band's sound developing. I think with a co-producer - such as Peter Collins cause he's such a great guy to work with, he's such a musical producer - he really draws all those things in, and adds a little cohesion to the whole thing, in terms of decision-making and where we go. Really, I would say 80% of it is us, but that 20% is a really important 20% that gels everything.
JR: He's kind of the mediator from the three minds of the band and brings it together.
AL: He's that as well as a voice on his own, where if we are not sure about a part or about a performance, we can bounce that off him; he's an extremely responsible person in the studio. It's great to have that; you don't have to worry about anything because you know Peter's there for it. We've worked with terrific people always, but Peter is definitely one of the best.
JR: Now Alex, Geddy had mentioned that it was a conscious effort of the band to strip down Test For Echo, to solely concentrate this time around on bass, drums, guitars. How did that bring your guitar playing out?
AL: I think that it's something we've been working towards. I think we've wanted to go back and catch some of the basic energy of a three-piece band. It has been a conscious effort, but I'll say this: when we started writing this record, maybe about halfway through after we'd gotten four or five songs written, it had already moved in that direction naturally. Just the things that Geddy and I were playing precluded having keyboards, there was no reason for it. The development was quite natural, and the fact that I'd been playing almost continuously for a solid year - as I said earlier -just gave me a little more confidence. I felt better about my playing, just dove into that role and the responsibility of coming up with parts that were solid enough for the other guys.
JR: We're going to hear some of Alex's playing on this particular song. "Color of Right" from Test For Echo. World premiere on the Album Network.
[ "The Color Of Right" is played ]
JR: That was "Color of Right" as we continue the world premiere broadcast of Test For Echo from Rush. Later we'll chat with Neil Peart, and up next, more with Alex Lifeson on the Album Network. We're about halfway through this two-hour broadcast, so Alex you're the middle man. Fans are going to love the fact that there's a trademark instrumental tune on Test For Echo. It's called "Limbo", and I understand that it's got something to do with Rush Limbaugh?
AL: Absolutely nothing to do with Rush Limbaugh. We wouldn't write a song that had anything to do with him. We just thought it was fun, the play on words of "Rush Limbo". We had a lot of fun doing that as we always do with instrumentals, it was a last minute thing with that song, as most of our instrumentals are. It's kind of an afterthought. Once we get everything out of the way, all the arrangements, all the development is done in pre-production, we jump in and put an instrumental thing together for ourselves more than anything else, just to have fun with.
JR: So it started out as an instrumental and never had lyrics, then.
AL: No, it never. It was written very late in the writing stages, we were already into pre-production, Neil was already working on all his drum parts for all the other songs when we dumped it in his lap and said, "Here's another one for you to learn!" As late as doing the rhythm tracks in the studio, we were still making arrangement changes on that song. So it was last-minute, which was kind of fun. The pressure was on, it was essential that we put it together in that given time.
JR: Let's hear it. This is "Limbo".
[ "Limbo" is played ]
JR: Now, somewhere in the middle of that song, Alex, it sounds like "What ever happened to my Transylvania Twist?"
AL: Yes, "mash good!" It's taken from the "Monster Mash". "It was a graveyard smash."
JR: Yes, I knew it! I was thinking of Count Chocula, which is a cereal. But I was like, "Where did that come from?" That was "Limbo" on our world premiere of Test For Echo. Alex is here with us. Geddy was mentioning a little bit earlier Alex, about how excited he was about the upcoming tour that begins on October 18th. Now, the band is known for releasing a live album after ever 4th studio album. And it seems to me that it's time for a live album. Is that going to happen?
AL: Well, nothing's written in stone at this point. We've recorded the last tour, as well as some older stuff that we have from older tours in the vault. We'll likely record the next tour as well. Whether we'll do a studio or live album next, I don't know. We're here right now, and that's a little bit in the future. Right now we're more concerned with getting the tour together. All the pre-production has started, the machine has started to roll and preparing for that.
JR: What do you do to prepare for that?
AL: Meet with all the technical people, develop the show, how we want it to look, what we want to do. There's some thought as to doing "an evening with" rather than having an opening act on the next tour, which would be great for us. It would allow us to play a little longer than we normally do, and have a little more fun with it, make it a little more of a special evening.
JR: Alex, you're known as the inventor in the band. Was there anything during the making of Test For Echo, any little contraptions that you contrived?
AL: You know, usually there is something that I do, especially when we're in those phases where everyone else is working, you have some spare time, I like to invent and doodle with things. But this time I was quite busy all the time, but I did come up with an interesting egg-cup holder, which actually Neil could tell you. I made it specifically for him out of a vitamin bottle, so he could probably tell you a little bit about that.
JR: Well then, that's what we'll do, we'll ask him about the egg-cup holder.
JR: Thank you! Alex Lifeson, thanks for taking the time with us.
AL: My pleasure.
JR: Hang tight, Neil is going to join us very soon. The world premiere of Test For Echo on the Album Network.
[ commercial break ]
JR: We're back to part three of our world broadcast premiere of Rush's Test For Echo. I'm Jo Robinson, and I said to the other two guys that their segments were the most important. But obviously we've saved the best for last.
NP: Have no doubt of it!
JR: We've got Neil Peart in the studio with us. Hi, Neil!
NP: Hi, how are you Jo?
JR: Just doing fabulous! The view is beautiful, and you look great, looks like you've been doing a lot of working out cycling?
NP: Hi everybody, welcome to Quebec.
JR: We've saved a couple of the songs because we really liked your use of the lyrics. One of them is "Virtuality" off of the Test For Echo record. Do you spend a lot time surfing the net?
NP: No, ironically, or perhaps not ironically, having got the message of the song itself. But I certainly do dabble in anything new that comes along, and I spent a bit time getting netted, and explored around just to see what it could do. Just couldn't resist poking a little fun at its pretentions.
JR: Do you think that virtual reality has the potential to replace real life, Neil?
NP: That's where my quarrels lay, because I think it is going to be the most excellent video game in the world when things like that are available. When I think about traveling to places, and thinking how would you translate Palermo, Sicily or Abidjan, Ivory Coast to virtual reality. The first thing they'd do would be to take away the smells, the garbage, and defunkify it all, make it all Disneyfied. That might make an ultimate video game, but it cannot possibly even approximate my experiences of those places. No virtual reality can take you to the top of Kilimanjaro or to Tienanmen Square, or to the heart of the Sahara. None of these places is accessible any other way but by suffering for it. For me to pretend there's an easy way to any more than approximate it, it can't be any more than a book or a movie or a TV documentary, except magnified of course. Maybe you can add smells and sounds, and maybe you can add the feeling of the wind, and so on. That would be great, I have no problem with that, I love things like that. It'll be a great sensual experience. My only quarrel becomes with people who tend to pretend that it is as good as reality, and nothing's that good.
JR: If you're a Star Trek fan, it's almost like people on the Enterprise visiting the holodeck.
NP: The holodeck, exactly. This is a wonderful thing, that's why I'm not at all reactionary against these things. I see their wonderfulness without no problem at all; I see why they're really cool and lots of fun. It's just that differentiation between reality and virtual reality as I said before, it can't be as good. And sometimes it can't be as bad. I've had some really nasty experiences in parts of the world that might have been Disneyfied a little for my enjoyability, but the fact is that's how they are. That's part of the experience: part of the suffering getting to these kind of places is what you have to endure, and maybe the bad smell, and they add to it.
I mentioned Palermo, Sicily because I was there recently, and it was a really funky place, but I loved it! The people were so great, the place itself just had a charm. When I was coming back in to the town after being out in Sicily for the day I was thinking, "Wow, this place is dirty and smelly and funky, but I love it!" It just won me over despite any flaws, and that would be a case of where reality is rife with reality where all the dark sides of things are very present, to be endured or just wrapped into your package of things. All of these sides of Palermo, for instance, just made it more charming to me. That's just the way it was, and I loved it all despite of and including all that.
JR: If I can quote you, and pardon me while I do, some of the lyrics in "Virtuality" are "I can smell her perfume, I can taste her lips, I can feel the voltage from her fingertips".
NP: That's a perfect one to dwell on, because it points out a lot of the irony of what I was trying to get across. What happens in an email relationship or something is that imagination, of course, is called upon to make it come alive. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but it's also slightly dangerous because it invites illusions. I love the image that verse opens up with, seeing a woman's face through the window in the rain; that's a really romantic image. I've had that experience, seeing a woman driving by in a car, or if I'm driving by and see a woman in the window, it's a beautiful thing. The same experience if I'm riding my bicycle down the road and a car goes by, sometimes I'll smell a woman's perfume. Imagination, though, is a little bit of sense input, but the rest of it if you put anything more into it, it's just imagination. All I was pointing out there is here's a romantic little image that is imagined, so let's not pretend that it's real. You cannot feel the voltage from her fingertips, but you can imagine it. That's all I was trying to say.
JR: "Virtuality" from Test For Echo.
[ "Virtuality" is played ]
JR: That was "Virtuality" and we'll be right back with Neil Peart with Rush on our world premiere of their Test For Echo on the Album Network.
[ commercial break ]
JR: Welcome back, we're with Neil Peart for the world premiere of Rush's Test For Echo on the Album Network. Neil, let's talk about you as the drummer. During Rush's break, you did the Buddy Rich album and you took drum lessons.
NP: I thought it was about time! It was just a strange chain of circumstances that life treats you to sometimes, it was just beautiful synchronicity. Part of the reason for getting involved with in big band music and the Buddy Rich tribute was a certain amount of restlessness, of wanting to explore other areas. In the course of that I was introduced to Steve Smith's teacher, Freddy Gruber. After 30 years he was exactly "the guy" - there are any number of master teachers in the drumming world, but he was the only one who had what I needed to learn, which was the physical approach to the drum set: being more fluid and more circular. In these times over the last 20 years or so, drummers have been increasingly disciplined into the rigid confines of click-tracks and sequencers, and electronic perfection. Most drummers have been able to rise to that challenge, which is some kind of an accomplishment, but it can often lead to a certain stiffness - to a being so rigidly chained to a mathematical perfection. Music isn't necessarily meant to be that way; it's meant to ebb and flow, and breathe a natural way. With a certain experience you do learn to do that as a drummer. Even playing to a click-track you can make it appear to relax, you can make it appear to become more urgent with the experience of manipulating that.
At the same time I really wanted a looser, more fluid style in my playing and didn't know how to go about it by myself, but Freddy was exactly the teacher. At 70 years old, he's been a teacher for about 40 years, and has evolved a real understanding how the body works in relation to hitting things with sticks, which is the elements of what we do. I got together with him, and basically restarted everything - changed completely the way I set up the drums, completely the way I sit at them, the way I hold the sticks, the ends of the sticks that I hold, everything was completely rebuilt. I sat down in my basement day after day practicing every day like a little kid, rebuilding these things because I was really eager to take this challenge. Despite what it might bring in terms of results I thought, "This is great, start all over! Thirty years, throw it all away." I really was starting from a whole different foundation such that even things that I had known and learned all these years I was coming at from a different point of view and applying them in different ways. That whole process was very interesting.
By the time I got into working with the band, I was curious to see if it would apply because after 20 years with the same musicians and a style that's been built around the band style, there was a certain amount of doubt of whether I would be able to use this, and whether I might be back into the way I used to play. Which would've been okay too, it would still have been worth doing. As it happened, it was broadly applicable to the way I used to play, and all the things I've learned have only become an addition to, so it in fact made a very satisfying way to spend a couple of years.
JR: Do you think that you are a better drummer now?
NP: That gets into unfortunately less than humble territory. I certainly feel that I came to understand a lot of things that I didn't understand before, and I certainly feel as if I knew nothing before. I guess that's some element of progress.
JR: That's got to be discouraging for drummers, for you to say that you think that you knew nothing before.
NP: That's how it should be really. No drummer can possibly think they know everything. Buddy Rich didn't at the end of his life think that he knew everything, didn't think he was great. He thought he was good and he was trying to be great. I think that's how we should all define ourselves. If we achieve a certain level of control of the instrument after 10 years or so, then you might be good. But then to try to be great is something you have to earn every night and with every performance. It's not something ever attained; it's not a laurel that you're ever likely to be able to rest upon. It's the way every drummer should face it; that if Buddy Rich at the end of his life, after playing the instrument all of his life for 70 years, didn't think that he had attained it, then how does any of the rest of us expect to either?
JR: Well, this would be Neil's aspiration of being a great drummer, "Resist" from Test For Echo.
[ "Resist" is played ]
JR: That tune was "Resist". We're with Neil Peart. We've talked to Geddy and Alex already about their excitement about Rush beginning another tour in five or six weeks. What's your take on it, Neil?
NP: Everyone finds their excitement in different places, I find. For me, it's certainly the most enjoyable part of the process is always the going away and writing together, watching new things develop. Just having immediate feedback of making demos of a new song, hearing something you've just worked on that morning suddenly become something real. That's certainly the most exciting part of it. Touring is probably the biggest challenge, because you have to go out there and deliver in a real-time basis, where there's no opportunity to stop the tape and go back. There's no opportunity to tear up the paper and start over again. Each night you walk up on that stage knowing you carry a huge weight of expectation with you - self-imposed is enough, never mind thousands of people expecting a certain level of performance from you. I think it's something that's hard to step away from, because it is such a monumental challenge. It almost seems like cheating to leave out the hardest part. I think touring for us has always represented that, it's like the ultimate peak. It's one thing to work in isolation and create the music and record it and be satisfied with it. But to go out and actually perform it in front of an audience is the most difficult thing a musician has to do I think.
JR: I was speaking with our producer, and we were talking about how at rock shows everyone leaves during the drum solo except at Rush concerts. Do you think you'll be incorporating a solo in this show?
NP: Oh certainly so, yes. An important part of it for me is a test bed, and I always find during the course of a tour it's one area where I can afford to take radical chances with fewer ramifications in terms of other musicians around me. That's the case where I'll often be working on new ideas and themes I want to develop further and explore, and be a little more free with. The solo is an important part of that, and it's also a structured performance for me; it's not completely improvised, either. I always have a framework, it's built like a song for me: beginning, middle, and end and all the dynamics are considered so that the framework will remain consistent. What I do within that framework is the freedom I'm allowed, so it's the best of both really. I am presenting a structured performance for an audience, which is something I really believe in as a principle, but at the same time I'm giving myself the risk and myself the excitement of developing something new. I truly feel that conveys to the audience too, when you're on the edge. Even in the studio it's something we plan for; when I'm recording my drum parts, I always leave some of them unrehearsed, so there's a sense of danger. There's a sense of risk, and also you might get the sense from a certain passage that it's never been played exactly that way before. A drum solo's like that, it's never the same two nights in a row. But structurally as a performance, as a piece of music, it is conceived of that way.
JR: We're world premiering Test For Echo, this is "Carve Away The Stone".
[ "Carve Away The Stone" is played ]
JR: That was "Carve Away The Stone" as we continue to world premiere Rush's Test For Echo on the Album Network. We're with Neil Peart on the Album Network, the world premiere of Rush's Test For Echo. As I mentioned, we were saving a couple of the songs specifically because of the words, because of the lyrics. One of them is "Dog Years".
NP: Ah, this is a feast! Just a feast to talk about.
JR: On the surface it seems like it's a funny song, that it's light-hearted, but it really isn't.
NP: Well, no. As always I try to weave it in on several levels, so certainly the listener is welcome to take it just as a piece of throwaway foolishness. That's certainly in there. Even the story of its writing is kind of amusing, because it was right when we got together for the first time, the three of us, after quite a long break apart. We did a little celebrating the first night and the following day I was a bit the worse for wear, and a little dull-witted, and I thought, "Gee, I don't think I'm going to get much done today, but I'm a professional, I'd better try." So I sat down all muzzy-headed like that and started trying to stitch words together - that's what I was there for, after all. "Dog Years" is what came out of that kind of mentality, and born of observations over the years too, of looking at my dog thinking, "What's going through his brain?" and I would think, "Just a low-level zzzzz static." "Food. Walk." The basic elemental things. When I look at my dog that's how I see his brainwaves moving. Other elements in there of dog behavior, and I've had this discussion with other dog owners too: "What do you think your dog is really thinking about?" I say, "I don't think he's thinking about too much." That was certainly woven into it as well.
JR: I just think that's a hoot! What's your dog's name?
JR: How old is he?
NP: About seven.
JR: What kind of dog is he?
NP: A big husky.
JR: I have three cats, and I always feel that the animal takes on the personality of its owner. Do you think the same way?
NP: Ah, no I don't really.
JR: Do you walk to fire hydrants and lift up your leg?
NP: Really, I was going to say it would have to go both ways. There are some great stereotypes of people's faces starting to develop to look like their dogs when they get older.
JR: Do you think that every dog has its day, Neil?
NP: Yes, I do. I think every dog will have his day.
JR: This is "Dog Years" from Test For Echo.
[ "Dog Years" is played ]
JR: That was "Dog Years" from Rush's Test For Echo. I know that all the Rush fans can't wait to get their hands on this CD or tape, or I believe it's coming out on vinyl even, limitedly, on September 10th. We certainly want to thank all of the band members. Neil Peart is still here with us. Alex said that he invented an egg-cup holder.
NP: Oh! It's perhaps a little-known fact what a musical known genius Alex is, as Geddy and I refer to him. One of my favorite breakfasts is soft-boiled eggs, for which you need an egg-cup. When we were in Bearsville recording, there was no such implement available, so Alex in his boundless creativity created me one. What an egg-cup it was too! It was made of silver foil, with all kinds of wings poking out of it. It wasn't just your garden-variety egg-cup.
JR: Is it on your shelf with the rest of your awards, your Junos and everything?
NP: It's among the momentos of the session, actually. It seems during every project there's a group of objects that become important to the making of it and are always there. One album it was lava lamps, and other times it'll be hockey pennants, or just some little objects that accumulate like little icons. This became part of that through the whole process that there were a line-up of little items that were inspirational and amusing to us. The egg-cup became a permanent member of it; it was always perched on one of the monitors in the studio control room.
JR: Neil, again, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, to talk about your drumming and the lyrics on Test For Echo. Sometimes it's easier to drag Alex and Geddy into things than it is to you, and I know that it's a special rare treat for your fans, to be able to have you be here this evening.
NP: Ok, great! Thank you very much, it's been a pleasure.