Neil Peart: Progressive Progress

Cutting Basic Tracks

Once in the studio, Raskulinecz would also help the drummer push beyond his comfort zone. After they had the safety of a good take down — Peart would record four or five takes per song — the producer would send him back into the drum booth with a simple order: “Go out there and just go crazy.”

“I realized that nothing is lost, that I had a good performance there, so if I went out and happened to do something in the course of that flail-through that was useful, then great. I can hear myself on this record when I just barely make it, but I love that. You can tell that guy has never played that figure before, and that’s so exciting to me. Nick has that same instinct; he loves to catch me that fresh and raw.”

Raskulinecz also pushed Peart to abandon his signature mega-kit and play a basic 4-piece on the instrumental track “Malignant Narcissism.” “He was adamant about that,” Peart laughs. “But to me it doesn’t make any difference: if you have a bass drum, snare, and hi-hat, you can play a song. Add a couple of toms and some cymbals and you’re laughing — I don’t find that a limitation at all.”

Technique Tune-Up

Peart has always been excited by fresh challenges, finding new ways of pushing his technique to the limits. Famously, in the early ’90s, he decided to reinvent his style by hooking up with drum guru Freddie Gruber. “It was kind of a point of crises for me then, where I was able to play really precisely to click tracks and sequencers, but to me it felt so stiff that I was frustrated with it. It wasn’t how I wanted to sound. I wanted that looseness. I want that feel thing. Just by chance Steve Smith introduced me to Freddie and I spent a week with him in New York and got some exercises and guidance from him. He’s a guru kind of teacher — he’s not going to teach you how to play a certain pattern or teach you a polyrhythm — he’s more like a movement coach. ”

One of the important things Gruber taught him was to “get off the head.” “He said to just hit it and get out of the way — that’s one of his dictums and I took it very much to heart. I realized the actual striking of the drum is only a tiny fraction of the whole motion: that stick goes up in the air, whips around, and then comes down and hits that drum for a microsecond. I learned to think about all the other stuff that was happening, and the bounce is a big part of that. Hit it as hard as you can, but by the time it’s sounding you’re off of it, you’re somewhere else.”

A byproduct of this technique is that Peart doesn’t have to change heads nearly as often as he used to, ostensibly saving his endorsement company a small fortune. Bouncing as he does off the head, it’s rare for any of them to become pitted. As a result, the majority of a single set of heads lasted the entire R30 Rush tour, and even in the studio for the recording of Snakes he barely changed a head.

What’s more, Peart didn’t use a barrage of snare drums to record Snakes. Where he would normally use six or more snares for different tones, he ended up using the same 14" x 5.5" drum for every track on the album — thanks in part to his new DW Vertical Shell Technology kit. “Normally the plies of a drum go around the circumference of the drum horizontally; John Good at DW started experimenting with running the grain vertically, top to bottom. When I first heard the difference I was in the factory and he just took two naked 13" tom shells, one done with the conventional grain, the other with the grain vertical, and just hit it with his hand: it was a full tone difference. It was just remarkable, the pitch that it had, and this was just the resonance of a piece of wood with nothing on it. I’ve used it on the album, and the snare drum is the most versatile snare drum I’ve ever had. I had all my other snare drums there but never for a moment felt a desire to try them.”

On The Road

With album number 18 in the bag, the rest of Peart’s year will be taken up with touring. Is he looking forward to it? “You’re asking that on purpose!” he laughs after a long pause. “I have very mixed feelings about touring: I love the preparation, I love the rehearsing, and I like it for about a week — until we play a really good show. Then I figure ’Okay, the job is done.’ Recording for me is the summit of what we do; touring, you’re trying to work yourself to the perfect pitch of performance, and then do it every night 60 times. It can’t possibly be as satisfying in that sense, but I find other ways to make it rewarding.”

Which for Peart means heaving his beloved BMW bike onto the tour bus’ trailer and getting the driver to pull over at a truck stop after the gig so he can hit the road. “I take off in some totally other direction, and if it’s a show day get there before sound check, and if it’s a day off I can go hundreds and hundreds of miles off our itinerary through all these little back roads. If you go on a conventional tour, every move is mapped out for you. I’m totally outside of that and I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

As for whether we’ll see a 19th Rush album, again Peart is happiest not knowing what’s going to happen. “I’ve really no idea, I’m glad to say. One year is enough of a future for me and this year is well mapped out already. I honestly have not given one moment’s thought to anything beyond that. There’s going to be so much to get through in preparing for and surviving this tour that I’ll worry about the future later.”

Next page: Geddy Lee talks about playing with Peart.

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