Anatomy Building

By Neil Peart, Modern Drummer, April 2006, transcribed by John Patuto

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My first instructional video, A Work In Progress (1996), described how I created drum parts for new songs, then demonstrated the recording process. My directors and collaborators on that project, Paul Siegel and Rob Wallis, had already become friends of mine, first when we met at the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert in 1991, and even more so in 1994, when they filmed the recording of the two volume Buddy Rich tribute, Burning For Buddy.

In the weeks leading up to the May, 1996 shoot for A Work In Progress, at Bearsville Studios in upstate New York, Paul and Rob and I forged a close working relationship. The three of us exchanged ideas almost daily (by fax-so last century!), and together we developed and refined our program into points for discussion and demonstration in the show. I love that kind of collaboration: working with creative, dedicated partners to build a piece of work that grows into something I could never have imagined, let alone made, on my own.

For thirty years I have worked that way with my bandmates in Rush, Alex and Geddy, and their reactions and suggestions for my lyric writing and drumming not only elevate the result, they also elevate the process-the pleasure of doing business.

In the years following that first instructional video, Paul, Rob, and I discussed doing another project together, but I wasn't sure what it should be about. A Work In Progress had covered my approach to composing and recording drum parts, so the next obvious theme seemed to be live performance - but that was such a big one. I decided to start with something a little more modest (if that's the right word!), by making an instructional DVD about my thoughts and methods regarding drum soloing.

Anatomy Of A Drum Solo is centered around a solo from Rush's thirtieth-anniversary tour, "R30,' filmed and recorded in Frankfurt, Germany on September 24, 2004.

Our Rush In Rio DVD, recorded in 2002 on the tour for Vapor Trails, was (perhaps obviously) filmed in Rio de Janeiro. So I had titled that solo "O Baterista! " Portuguese for "The Drummer." (Can't you just hear those words said so many different ways? A foreign movie with a terrified, goggle-eyed man backing away and screaming, "O Baterista!" Or a woman's soft, sexy whisper in the darkness , "O Baterista!" our dreams....)

Anyway, because the centerpiece of Anatomy Of A Drum Solo was filmed in Germany, I called it "Der Trommler." (You'll guess what that means.) It's a good example of my approach to soloing, which has built gradually over forty years of playing and performing. At the beginning of a tour, I like to build a framework, like any other piece of music, an architecture that will give me a certain level of consistency every night, but still allow me to experiment and express myself.

"Der Trommler" was composed from many of the same pieces as "O Baterista!" elements, or "movements," woven together to tell a story that is historical, autobiographical, textural, and sometimes humorous. However, every tour I insist on rearranging the structure of my solo fairly comprehensively, making room for the natural, organic process of internally experimenting with new "fields of study" (as described in the DVD). Thus, over the course of a fifty-seven-show tour, the solo will always be a "nine-minute tour de force" (as Paul and Rob describe it on the DVD package), and hopefully always be entertaining and satisfying as a performance, but also remain an inspiring and creative vehicle for my own explorations.

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Among a few other "bonus" solos in the program, there is one from Hamburg, Germany, performed a few nights after the Frankfurt show. We included that one to demonstrate that even though my solos are tightly composed and arranged, they can still vary significantly from night to night. I gave that one the title "Ieh Bin Ein Hamburger," or, "I Am A Hamburger." This title owes something to Popeye's friend Wimpy, and also echoes JFK's famous statement in the early '60s, when he visited the newly divided city of Berlin and announced to the Berliners, and to the world, "Ich Bin Ein Berliner."

During the "R30" tour, Paul and Rob and I got together a few times and discussed the notion of doing another project. Being in the middle of a long, hard tour, I wasn't very interested in thinking about another major undertaking, but Paul visited me before our show in Saratoga Springs, New York, and the next week both of them ganged up on me backstage at Radio City Music Hall. Unwilling to commit to anything, I did agree to let them arrange for some special "drum cams" for the Frankfurt show, which the band was already planning to film for a concert DVD.

Once the tour was behind me, the conversations among Paul, Rob, and me picked up in frequency and intensity. In early 2005, slowly, gradually, we began to circle around actually doing it. Plans were made, people were chosen for cameras and technical crews, audio recording , and photography, and the studio was booked. Finally, my plane flight was booked, and I was on my way. (Hey-wait a minute! I'm not ready....)

In mid-July, it would have been an enjoyable adventure to motorcycle or drive from my California home to New York, but there was not time. Instead, I sent my car ahead by truck to Rob's house in rural New York. I would be able to drive the Z8 from there to the studio, then after the shoot, drive north through the Adirondacks to my house in Quebec, and to visit family and friends in Ontario. The expense was easy to justify, trading all those airfares, taxis, airport limos- and the sheer nastiness of air travel-for a beautiful drive.

And sure enough, after flying five hours to Newark and sitting in an airport limo for almost two hours from there to Rob's house, I was very pleased to be following Rob and the jovial Alfonse through the dark little roads of the Catskills. Allaire Studios is located atop a mountain near Bearsville, New York, where Paul and Rob and I had shot the previous video at Bearsville Studios; nine years before.

Allaire's excellent recording facilities and cozy accommodations are built into a vast estate from the 1920s, once a summer residence for the family who owned Pittsburgh Plate Glass. The studio's Web site showed spectacular views in every direction, but I never saw them- the weather was foggy and/or rainy all through our three-day shoot.

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But never mind; most of our business was indoors anyway. We tried to get outside between rain showers for some of my introductory, spoken pieces, and during one of those, I felt a few fat, heavy raindrops. I kept talking, Carlos kept filming, and even as the rain's tempo increased into a Buddy Rich single-stroke roll, no one wanted to say "cut." Then all at once everybody seemed to realize it was absurdly hopeless, and we made a comical run for cover.

In actuality, I was wet more from sweat than from rain, sitting behind the drums and working through the solo. Each part of "Der Trommler" was dissected (even "vivisected," hence Anatomy), and I discussed themes, textures, and techniques, while demonstrating the pieces individually.

I have to say, it was the hardest three days of work I've ever done.

Starting in the early morning, each day I stood or sat in front of the cameras for ten or twelve hours, either talking or drumming. There's a joke among comedians: "Dying is easy; comedy is hard." I would amend that to, "Drumming is easy; talking is hard."

Wanting most of the spoken parts to be unscripted and spontaneous, I had to exert all my powers of concentration to try to speak articulately, comprehensively, and smoothly-without drooling . That is a challenge for any drummer. (You know the jokes.) I found it demanded so much mental energy to remember what I wanted to say, in the order I wanted to say it, and not deliver it like a robot or a zombie.

At the end of each day I felt empty and drained, and at the end of three days, I felt truly exhausted- and yet, exalted, in the afterglow of all that creative and performing energy. The next day I drove from the studio to my house in Quebec, speeding north over the back roads of the Adirondacks in my Z8, and it was one of the great drives of my life. I felt ragged and fatigued, yet elevated, elated.

A few weeks later, after I had steeled myself to watch the first edit (fearing embarrassment and shame), I was talking on the phone to my wife, Carrie, and grumbled, "I guess it's going to be okay." She knew that meant I was very pleased.

Working with Paul and Rob and our excellent crew of artists, technicians, and assistants had been truly collaborative, with everyone contributing his or her bit of expertise and imagination. As each shot was being set up, Paul and Rob and I gathered in the kitchen to exchange ideas for talking points and demonstrations, roughing out a basic "script." Then off I went again- into the lights to try to do all that in front of the cameras.

Though difficult, the process was exciting and rewarding, truly inspiring. In those brief and fast-moving three days, all of us had forged a united team of people who worked toward a common goal-making the best show we could.

That being the case, of course we hope people are going to like it!