Rush-ing Into Songwriters Hall

By Jane Stevenson, Jam!Showbiz, March 26, 2010

Rush drummer Neil Peart is also the Toronto veteran prog-rock band's resident wordsmith.

So it should come as no surprise that Peart will write and deliver the acceptance speech as he, bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson are inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame at a gala ceremony Sunday night at the Toronto Centre For The Arts.

"Public speaking isn't easy for me and I know all the evening the blood will be roaring louder in my ears," Peart, 57, said down the line from his adopted home of Santa Monica, Calif., recently.

"But it's a challenge and I love those kind of things. Even performing live, after all these years, is an intensely tense (experience) all day long and leading up to showtime and then just before it, again the blood rushing in your ears, and heart pounding, and everything feels tingly and kind of unwell. But it's a challenge as well to go up there and play well under those circumstances."

Peart, the author of four non-fiction books, is an avid reader who said he is constantly going back and reading poets such as T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda, and novelists Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway to get better at his craft.

Peart, who says he would have been an English high school teacher if he hadn't become a rock drummer, is pleased at the Rush songs chosen for induction, particularly Subdivisions.

"It's a very unusual song construction lyrically and musically that we managed to make work," he said. "It was written at a time when we weren't working, so to speak. We were mixing a live album and we just started playing around and wrote a song for fun. Although it's very serious in it's musical structure, one of the most complicated actually that we've had in terms of arrangement drum part alone, it's a really intricate drum part to play and consequently I still love playing it almost 30 years later and that's a good testament."

Peart is also stoked that YouTube sensation Jacob Moon, who plays Subdivisions entirely by himself on a Hamilton building rooftop, is among three artists paying tribute to Rush Sunday night.

"We all shared Jacob Moon's performance of Subdivisions quite a long time ago and sent it to each other, 'Hey have you seen this?' because it's such a beautiful cover. The imaginative way that he uses the little cassette player to get my voice in there. It's superb. And it is that kind of song. It's a singer-songwriter's song. I loved to see his version of it and I loved the idea that song has endured to his generation."

The two others performing Rush songs are Les Claypool of Primus, who will perform The Spirit of Radio, and St. Catharines, Ont., band Alexisonfire, which will perform Tom Sawyer.

Peart fondly remembers Primus, which Rush toured with a couple of times in the 1990s, as the only band they had a jam session with every day on the road.

"The rule was you weren't supposed to play your own instrument so the two guitar players, Alex and Ler (Larry LaLonde) from Primus, were bringing in accordions and flutes, you know banjos and violins, and we would have everything that was sitting around the room, bicycle frames, drum cases, all this kind of stuff became percussion."

It's pure coincidence, too, that Dolores Claman's The Hockey Theme is being inducted on the same night as Rush and the band's classic songs Limelight, Closer to the Heart, The Spirit of Radio, Tom Sawyer and Subdivisions.

Peart recently re-did the iconic hockey song for TSN.

"It's one of those wonderful synchronicities in life," said Peart. "(Claman) lives in Britain now, in her 80s I believe, and just the total synchronicity of the two of us happening to be inducted at this time just after I've re-interpreted her classic. I hope she doesn't throw something at me."

Alexisonfire covers 'Tom Sawyer'

If anybody wins the award for singing for their supper Sunday night at the CSHF gala ceremony it's got to be screamo-hardcore rock outfit Alexisonfire.

After opening for Toronto pop-punk Billy Talent at the Air Canada Centre earlier in the evening, the St. Catharines, Ont., outfit will race north to the Toronto Centre For The Arts to perform the Rush classic Tom Sawyer in the final minutes of the gala.

"I believe we have a police escort, I think so, that's what I've heard," said AOF drummer Jordan Hastings down the line from a tour stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"We'll see it how it goes. It's going to be a tight one. I hope we make it in time."

Rushed (pun intended) or not, Hastings said it's flattering to be asked to perform for CSHF inductees Rush, even if a little nerve-racking.

"Yeah, I try not to think about it too much to be honest," Hastings said. "Being a drummer, you kind of gotta be a Rush fan to a certain degree I think. I remember being a kid just having this one particular drum teacher who was a massive Rush fan, who played bass, while the students tried to figure out Neil Peart's drum beats. So I've definitely inspired by Neil Peart over the years."

It's a good thing then that AOL has been rehearsing "a little bit heavier" version of Tom Sawyer on the road for the past couple of weeks.

"Luckily on the Billy Talent tour they kind of set up a warm-up room with like a separate drum kit and bass guitar and guitar," Hastings said. "If they didn't have that I don't know what we would have done. So we've been kind of jamming it out over the last week or two, still getting the bugs out but it's getting there for sure."

Rush loved 'I Love You Man'

Rush fans who watched the 2009 comedy I Love You Man were thrilled when the Toronto prog-rock trio turned up to play themselves during a concert scene in the movie featuring lead actors Paul Rudd and Jason Segel as Rush superfans going nuts in the audience.

Turns out, it was fun for Rush too.

"Oh, we killed ourselves because those two guys are so funny," drummer Neil Peart told QMI Agency leading up to Rush's induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Sunday night in Toronto. "When we filmed our sequence for example they did take after take improvising, getting the two of them out in the crowd in front of us, getting more and more outrageous and we were supposed to be a serious rock band and we're cracking up, trying to hold it."

Peart says he, bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson also got a kick outta the film's "slappa da bass" catchphrase uttered by Rudd's character as he comically played air bass along to a Rush song in an earlier scene in the movie.

"They showed us that scene the day we shot - slappa da bass - yeah, very funny, very great," Peart said. "In fact, I met a guy in his 20s a few weeks ago, he didn't recognize me, and it gradually came up what I did and he said, 'You're in that movie!' And that's all he knew about me!"

New album in the works

Rush drummer Neil Peart says the group's Canadian Songwriting Hall of Fame induction Sunday night in Toronto comes as he is in the midst of writing lyrics for the next Rush studio album.

He says the band is about five songs into the record with co-producer Nick Raskulinecz, from 2007's Snakes and Arrows, but won't talk about the sound or how or when the tunes will be released or subsequent tour plans.

"I stopped in Toronto a couple of weeks back and went over to Geddy's house and listened to what they've been working on from my lyrics and it's very exciting, we've got probably five very good songs there," Peart told QMI Agency. "So we were saying, 'Well, I kind of just want to keep working on this and finish the record.' But on the other hand we were thinking, 'Well, something we haven't done since the '80s is write new songs and go out and play them.' It's interesting to be so deeply involved in songwriting right now with this honour coming up. It kind of puts a fresh observation on it for me."