Power Trio Rush Kicks Off Tour In Albany

By Greg Haymes, Albany Times Union, October 17, 1996

Canadian power trio Rush doesn't hit the stage at the Knickerbocker Arena until Saturday night, but you may have already seen drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee around town.

You see, not only is Rush kicking off its latest tour at the Knick, but the band has also been rehearsing there this week, too.

"We usually pick a different place to start off the tour each time we go out on the road," Peart explained on the telephone from Toronto, where Rush was winding up some preliminary pre-tour rehearsals.

"Of course, it needs to be a place where we can book the arena for a week and a half or so. Last time out, we went to Pensacola, I believe, but we've gone into places like St. John's in Newfoundland, Hamilton in Ontario and Greensboro in South Carolina one time.

"It's nice because you get to stay in one place for a little while and really see the area, instead of just flying in, doing the show and flying back out again, which is usually what it's like on tour."

Plus, Rush gets Albany out of the way before the snow flies, too.

"Well, yes, that's part of the rationale, too, I must admit," Peart concedes. "We call it creative routing."

The snow plays a major factor, since the band had more than their fair share back in January when they trudged into Bearsville Studios just outside of Woodstock to record their latest album, "Test For Echo."

"It was simply unbelievable," the drummer declares. "There we were right in the middle of the Blizzard of '96. It socked us in on the very day that we arrived there.

"But we had no complaints, really. It was gorgeous. I do love winter, and in its place, it's a fine time of the year. So the Catskills was a particularly beautiful place to be with all that snow coming down."

It also forced them to focus on their music, and the results are some of the strongest songs that the band has crafted in more than a decade.

"We feel that it's a particularly strong album," Peart proclaims, "but of course, we learned long ago that it doesn't necessarily mean that the echo will come back the same way.

"With this album, we're sending out a kind of signal, and we're hoping that the `Hello' is going to come back as strongly as we put it out, but you never know. Only time will tell."

After Rush ended its Counterparts tour in May of '94, the band took a long hiatus. "It was the longest break that we'd ever taken," Peart reveals, "but it was a very fruitful time."

During the break, Lee and his wife had a baby girl, Lifeson produced his first-ever solo album (under the name Victor) and Peart kept himself quite busy producing a tribute album to big band drummer Buddy Rich.

He worried about being able to get back into the swing of things with Rush when it came time to start work on "Test For Echo."

"Well, I did worry about it. I'd been away during the intervening time doing so many different things that I truly wondered -- especially from a lyric-writing point of view -- whether I'd be able to sit down at the desk and distill all of the thoughts and experiences into rock lyrics. Once I got going, it was really no trouble.

"Or at least no more trouble than usual, let me put it that way. It's always initially a frustrating, disappointing process for me. It always takes me three days or so to get into a swing where I don't want to burn every piece of paper that leaves my desk.

"But that's normal, and it's as it should be. You have to call up your discipline and refine the craft aspect of the process. Fortunately, within a few days we started to become happy with the results.

During his long time off from Rush, Peart also explored two very different activities -- drumming and writing.

"I found Freddy Gruber, who is a 70-year-old master teacher from California, to help me re-explore the whole world of drumming. I've been working with him for two years now, and I'll probably stay with him for the rest of my life."

So what can a drum teacher show someone like Peart, who's been playing professionally for years?

"Well, pro tennis players certainly know how to play the game, but they all have coaches, don't they? Freddy serves the same kind of purpose. He doesn't tell you how to keep the beat or anything, but watches you play and makes suggestions like sit further back or raise your snare drum higher or make your motion more circular.

"All of his advice added up to such a regeneration for me on the drums that I literally started over. I hold the sticks a different way and sit at the drums a whole different way. He helped to rebuild my whole approach to the drums, day by day, down in the basement. It was a revelation."

While drumming may have kept Peart sharp physically, he turned to writing to keep his brain in shape.

"I did a lot of prose writing, and I'm actually having my first book published here in Canada this month," he reveals. "It's called `The Masked Rider,' and it's a book about bicycling in West Africa, basically recounting a trip that I took through the country of Cameroon back in '88 -- woven in with a lot of ranting and ranting, silly little tangents and self-indulgences."

But writing isn't new for Peart.

"I've been pretty serious about prose writing for the past 10 years, and I've explored everything from essays to fiction. But I get the most enjoyment out of travel writing. I love to travel for a start, but I also love the documenting, the collecting of notes and gathering of background information.

"I've got lots of material. I just need the time to put it all together. But I think I'd like to be able to finish about one book a year.

"Drumming is pretty much all-consuming, but prose writing is a great thrill for me because I get to use the other side of my brain.

"It keeps me walking straight and balanced."