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DRUM! Readers Interview Neil Peart

After watching Rush’s latest video, Snakes And Arrows Live, I’ve become aware more than ever of your use of electronic triggering on stage. Do you ever feel like a slave to the technology?

Mike Douglas
Dallas, Texas
Rush fan since 1982

The truth is actually quite the opposite, Mike. I used to feel like a “slave to the technology” in the olden days because I would have to find a place to put those gigantic instruments where I could still reach them, then figure out how to change mallets in the middle of a song, for example, to play those various chimes, bells, and blocks.

It was a nightmare of choreography, not to mention mike placement and mixing. And in fact, I would often have to miss certain notes, just to make those stick and mallet changes in time.

These days, with the pads, foot triggers, and MIDI-marimba, I can just hit or step on a trigger, and the required sound is there, loud and clear. For those “effects” purposes, electronic triggers are much more flexible and useful than all that junk used to be.

Of course, they are no replacement for acoustic instruments. A real, trained percussionist – as opposed to an over-reaching drum set player – is never going to be happy with samples of timpani or chimes. Likewise, I have never given up a single one of my acoustic drums, because they have subtleties that I don’t believe electronic drums will ever replicate. But when it comes to simply producing a sound, triggers and samples are a wonderful tool.

During the Grace Under Pressure tour, back in 1984, I heard you say on a radio interview that “’Tom Sawyer’ will always be the hardest song for me to play.” Twenty-five years later, is it still the hardest song for you to play?

Gary Boothe
Keller, Texas
Rush fan since 1976

Yes, there’s no making that song easier to play – it still takes everything I’ve got. To get the right sound and feel, a drum part like “Tom Sawyer” requires full-force, blunt-object pounding with hands and feet, but there’s also a demanding level of technique, smoothness, and concentration.

Playing “Tom Sawyer” properly – or as close as I can get on a given night – requires full mental, technical, and physical commitment, and I can’t imagine there would be any way to make that kind of output easier. And if you ask me, it shouldn’t be. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be satisfying to get it right!

You’re known for changing your drum kit prior to each album and tour. Have you ever made the attempt to go back to a much earlier setup just to see what might be the result in your playing style?

Ed Dobbins
Baltimore, Maryland
Rush fan since 1980

When I review my setup before starting work on a new album, I consider everything. However, going backward is not an option. For example, I can’t imagine ever moving my ride cymbal back over to my far right, where I used to put it. That was only done to accommodate another tom in front of me, and since then I’ve found other good places for toms, sometimes creating much more interesting possibilities, like having a small floor tom on my far left. Most importantly, I would never compromise what I have come to learn is the essential relationship between snare and ride.

Similarly, I started out using two bass drums, but once double pedals became reliable and responsive, I was more than happy to dump that second bass drum – more room for everything else.

I have actually heard some people lament that change in my setup because they think two bass drums looks cooler. Well, I sure like my drums to look good, all right, but not at the expense of, you know, playing the instrument.

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