"MY FIRST INTRODUCTION TO Rush was back in 1973. The band was working the graveyard shift at a local studio in Toronto called Eastern Sound. They'd recorded a bunch of eight-track masters, but felt there was still more work to be done on the tracks. Vic Wilson, who was part of Rush's management team at that time and would go on to co-found Anthem Records, called me up. I was working at another studio called Toronto Sound, and Vic booked some time, two or three days at the most. We cut three tunes, but I wasn't the producer. I was the studio engineer and was just there to help Rush through, really. I remember that 'Finding My Way' really stood out as a great song, and that working with them was a lot of fun. In fact, it was so much fun that we ended mixing the entire record, what became the first album.
"WE ALL got along really well right from the get-go. When we first started recording – and I'll always remember this – I was double tracking Alex's guitar and I was absolutely blown away by the fact that he doubled his tracks so perfectly that they sounded like they were almost flanging. Flanging is the audio effect you get when you mix two identical signals together, with one signal delayed by the tiniest amount. It produces a sweeping effect. The fact that Alex's timing was so good made me go, 'Wow!' And then there were Ged's vocals. The way he sang... Well, there was nobody like him around at the time, so I was totally mesmerised.
"AFTER THE good experience we'd had on the first album, we ended up working together and I became the band's co-producer on 'Fly By Night', 'Caress Of Steel' and '2112'. I remember talking to the guys sometime in 1977 and Ged said, 'I think we want to go somewhere else to record next. We've done three albums at Toronto Sound and we want to stretch our wings a bit, try somewhere new.' That's how we ended up at Rockfield Studios in Wales, having a really good time making 'A Farewell To Kings' there. The weather was great and we got excellent recordings. We tried lots of different ideas. We even recorded outside in the quadrangle of the building, and that spirit made for a great experience. So when it was time to record another album, going back to Rockfield was the obvious choice. It was a question of, 'If it's not broken, let's not fix it.'
"GEDDY, ALEX and Neil were all very enthusiastic going in at the start of what would become 'Hemispheres'. They might have been tired from the road, but they didn't let that show, because they all knew we had a job to do. Rush are really dedicated guys. They're hard workers. They don't sit around and waste time, which is easily done in a residential studio. And we actually thrived on all being in one place all the time; it was great. We'd done a concept album before when we recorded '2112'. That had worked for us, so we weren't daunted by the conceptual nature of 'Hemispheres'. The material was all organised, so the guys basically knew what they wanted to record. We did make quite a lot of subtle changes as we were moving along, but the meat and potatoes of it was very much there going in.
"WE WERE in the studio for a month, which is a reasonable amount of time. But here's the catch! We'd been in the studio for a month with 'A Farewell To Kings' too, except that when we came out at the end of those first Rockfield sessions we'd already finished everything – including the vocals – and only needed two weeks to mix at Advision in London. We got to the last morning at Rockfield on the 'Hemispheres' sessions, though, and we hadn't had time to do any vocals. So in the wee small hours we finally tackled one – and it wasn't a keeper. We thought, 'Okay, we've got some work to do here.' So we went to Advision with two weeks booked. Naively we thought we'd be able to record vocals and do the mix in that time. But this proved to be a much harder job than 'Farewell...' I remember that it was a real eye opener for everyone when we started doing vocals. It was like, 'Holy shit, this is really difficult.' In the end we used those entire two weeks to do vocals and had to take extra time to mix. The songs we'd recorded were a little high for Geddy and it was a lot of work for him. Doing the vocals was the most difficult period of the whole recording process. But Geddy rose to the occasion and worked his ass off. We ended up with some great vocals – and an album that still stands the test of time.
"'HEMISPHERES' WAS definitely more complicated to make than 'Farewell...' but some records are like that. A song like 'La Villa Strangiato', for instance, was a difficult thing to do. There's a lot of detail in it. From a production standpoint it was something you couldn't really play from beginning to end. I'd guess the band thought they might simply do it in one take. But to do that you'd need the song to be charted out – and that wasn't my style. So we ended up doing it in sections, in big chunks, and it worked out really well in the end. The vibe was good, and the song is still a classic Rush live staple even now.
"REALLY AND truly, a month isn't an inordinate amount of time to make a record of the complexity of 'Hemispheres'. So it's not as if I feel we didn't pull it off. I never really discussed how I thought the albums would do saleswise. I always felt we were making good records and that the audience would let us know if we were doing something wrong – they'd done it with 'Caress Of Steel'. But I felt we were doing the right thing with 'Hemispheres'. It was exciting and had great material.
"MIXING THE album at Trident Studios in London wasn't the easiest thing either. It went well overall, but it was definitely a lot of hard work. I think it was at that point that the band made the decision that things would be different on the next album. And I think that was a smart move. 'Hemispheres' was the last concept record for a long time for a reason...
"THAT SAID, I'm still really thrilled with the album to this day, because it sounds different from any of Rush's other releases. I think the band approached it differently, from a musical point of view. Even Alex's chording sounds different. In fact, the whole thing sounds different and I enjoy that immensely. Some material can be extremely troublesome and difficult. Other material can be a breeze. 'Hemispheres' was more of the former and less of the latter. You have to jump through hoops sometimes. But all the tracks ended up on the album and they all work.
"I STILL have some really fond memories of the time we spent together recording 'Hemispheres'. It was a great period in Rush's history, no doubt about it. And then of course we ended up going on to work in Le Studio in Quebec, where we also cut another three great albums before I finally stopped working with the band. All I can say about Rush is that I had a really good run and I enjoyed every single moment of working with Alex, Neil and Geddy."
Dateline: 8 December 1982 - Uniondale, New York
"MY FACE MELTED!"
Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci relives his life-changing experience seeing Rush as a 15 year old...
"IT MAY HAVE BEEN Uniondale on Long Island rather than the capital of Nepal, but I can still remember the pungent smell that penetrated the arena on that cold winter night in 1982... 'Pulling into Kathmandu/Smoke rings fill the air...' I was a 15-year-old budding musician attending my very first concert – Rush – at the fabled Coliseum; the venue of the Gods! If you lived on Long Island, it was the place to see concerts. All the rock giants – from Iron Maiden to The Who to Black Sabbath – had played there.
"I EITHER drew or painted just about every Rush album cover from the moment I discovered the band and became a super-fan. As a young guitarist, I spent hours and hours each day learning and practising as many for days sometimes, dropping the needle of my record player on the same spot over and over, slowing down the speed of the turntable to 16rpm just to make sure I had every single note correct before I practiced that particular lick for weeks. The band I was in at the time played all the Rush classics like 'Working Man', 'The Spirit Of Radio', 'Red Barchetta', 'YYZ' and 'Xanadu'. We took pride in being able to impress friends with our versions of songs by the greatest band ever.
"SINCE THIS was my first concert and I didn't have any experience buying concert tickets, our seats were pretty bad. We were up high and couldn't have been further from the stage. It really didn't matter much to me, though. I was pumped just to be in the same building as Rush. When the lights went down and the intro tape for 'The Spirit Of Radio' flew from Alex's fingers into my ears. Even though it was the very same backwards and forwards, it was like seeing God himself. I was completely mesmerized. Granted, the band members looked pretty small because they were so far from our seats. But the incredibly loud sound, the amazing light show, the equipment on stage and the deafening roar of thousands of Rush fans made me realise that I too wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I wanted it to be me on that stage someday!
"THE BAND played my all-time favourite, 'La Villa Strangiato' from the 'Hemispheres' album. It's got one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded in the middle breakdown section. But the version Alex played that evening provided what is still one of the most mindblowing, influential and religious musical experiences I've had. After milking the first half of the solo with melodic and blues-infused phrases of pure genius, Alex then built the finale into an unimaginable climax of warp-speed notes that burst into the arena in a way I'd never experienced before. My face melted! My first ever gig was a momentous and epic experience on so many levels. I can honestly say it changed my life!"