Neil Peart's first Modern
This interview took place after Rush had released
"Permanent Waves" and before they were going into the studio to record "Moving
Pictures." Later in 1980, Neil would win as "Best Rock Drummer" in Modern
Drummer's Annual Reader's Poll (this was only the second one). He would place
second in "Best Recorded Performance" for "Permanent Waves" after Bill Bruford's
"One of a Kind." After this, Neil would win "Best Recorded Performance" for
every Rush album from "Moving Pictures" to "Different Stages."
CI: Tell me a little about your set up. It's a
beautiful looking set. What kind of finish does it have?
NP: It's a mahogany finish. The Percussion Center
in Fort Wayne. where I get all my stuff, did the finish for me. I was trying to
achieve a Rosewood. At home, I have some Chinese Rosewood furniture, and I
wanted to get that deep burgundy richness. They experimented with different
kinds of inks, magic marker inks of red, blue, and black, trying to get the
color. It was very difficult.
CI: What is the cost of your drum set?
NP: I don't think about it. I've never figured it
out. I didn't buy it all at once. I've just never thought about it.
CI: Do you enjoy the hectic schedule you keep
on the road?
NP: To me, it's just the musician's natural
environment. I won't say that it's always wonderful, but it's not always awful
either. As with anything else, I think it's a more extreme way of life. The
rewards are higher, but the negative sides are that much more negative. I think
that rule of polarity follows almost every walk of life. The greater the
fulfillment that you're looking for, the greater the agony you'll face.
CI: During your sound check, you not only use
the opportunity to get the proper sound, but also as a chance to warm up and
practice a bit.
NP: Well, sound check is a nice time to practice
and try new ideas, because there's no pressure. If you do it wrong it doesn't
matter. And I'm a bit on the adventurous side live, too. I'll try something out.
I'll take a chance. Most of the time I'm playing above my ability, so I'm taking
a risk. I think everyday is really a practice. We play so much and playing
within a framework of music every night you have enough familiarity to feel
comfortable to experiment. If the song starts to grow a bit stale I find one
nice little fill which will refresh the whole song.
CI: Refresh it for the rest of the group as
NP: Sure for all of us. We all put in a little
something, a little spice. The audience would probably never notice, but it just
has to be a little something that sparks it for us. And for me the whole song
will lead up to that from then on and the song will never be dull.
CI: How did you become involved with Rush?
NP: The usual chain of circumstances and
accidents. I came from a city that's about 60 or 70 miles from Toronto. A few
musicians from my area had migrated to Toronto and were working with bands
around there when they recommended me as someone of suitable style. I guess they
tried a few drummers, but we just clicked on both sides. There was a strong
musical empathy right away with new ideas they were working on and things I had
as musical ideas. Also, outside of music we have a lot of things in common.
CI: Where has this tour taken you?
NP: Well, this isn't really much of a tour. By
our terms, most of our tours last 10 months or so. This one is only 3 or 4
weeks. This is just a warm up as far as we're concerned. We've been off a couple
of months. We took two weeks of holidays and then spent six weeks rehearsing and
writing new material. After that kind of break, we just wanted to get ourselves
out on stage. That's the only place where you really get yourself into shape.
Rehearsals will keep you playing well and you'll remember all your ideas and
learn your songs and stuff, but as far as the physical part of it, the feeling
of being on top of your playing, you've got to have the road for that.
CI: This is a warm up for what?
NP: The studio.
CI: At what studio will you record?
NP: We will be going to Les Studio which is in
Montreal. We'll record there and mix at Trident in London.
CI: When the members of Rush are composing a
piece of music, is the structure determined by the feedback you receive
from one another?
NP: Yes, to a large extent. It depends really on
what we're coming at it with. Often times. Alex and Geddy will have a musical
idea, maybe individually. They'll bring it into the studio and we'll bounce it
off one another, see what we like about it, see if we find it exciting as an
idea and then we get a verbal idea of what the mood of it is. What the setting
would be. If I have a lyrical idea that we're trying to find music for, we
discuss the type of mood we are trying to create musically. What sort of
compositional skills I guess we'll bring to bear on that emotionally. The three
of us try to establish the same feeling for what the song should be. Then you
bring the technical skills in to try to interpret that properly, and achieve
what you thought it would.
CI: Your role as a lyricist has drawn wide
acclaim. How did you develop that particular talent?
NP: Well, that's really hard to put into focus. I
came into it by default, just because the other two guys didn't want to write
lyrics. I've always liked words. I've always liked reading so I had a go at it.
I like doing it. When I'm doing it, I try to do the best I can. It's pretty
secondary. I don't put that much importance on it. A lot of times you just think
of a lyrical idea as a good musical vehicle. I'll think up an image, or I'll
hear about a certain metaphor that's really picturesque. A good verbal image is
a really good musical stimulus. If I come up with a really good picture
lyrically, I can take it to the other two guys and automatically express to them
a musical approach.
CI: The tune "Trees" from your Hemispheres
album comes to my mind as you speak.
NP: Lyrically, that's a piece of doggerel. I
certainly wouldn't be proud of the writing skill of that. What I would be proud
of in that is taking a pure idea and creating an image for it. I was very proud
of what I achieved in that sense. Although on the skill side of it, it's zero. I
wrote "Trees" in about five minutes. It's simple rhyming and phrasing, but it
illustrates a point so clearly. I wish I could do that all of the time.
CI: Did that particular song's lyrics cover a
deeper social message?
NP: No, it was just a flash. I was working on an
entirely different thing when I saw a cartoon picture of these trees carrying on
like fools. I thought. "What if trees acted like people?" So, I saw it as a
cartoon really, and wrote it that way. I think that's the image that it conjures
up to a listener or a reader. A very simple statement.
CI: Do all of your lyrics follow that way of
thinking, or have you expressed a more philosophical view in other songs that
you have written?
NP Usually, I just want to create a nice picture,
or it might have a musical justification that goes beyond the lyrics. I just try
to make the lyrics a good part of the music. Many times there's something strong
that I'm trying to say, I look for a nice way to say it musically. The
simplicity of the technique in "Trees" doesn't really matter to me. It can be
the same way in music. We can write a really simple piece of music, and it will
feel great. The technical side is just not relevant. Especially from a listening
point of view. When I'm listening to other people I'm not listening to how hard
their music is to play, I listen to how good the music is to listen to.
CI: When you listen to another drummer, what
do you listen for?
NP: I listen for what they have. There's a lot of
different kinds of drumming that turn me on. It could be a really simple thing,
and I don't think that my style really reflects my taste. There are a lot of
drummers that I like who play nothing the way I do. There's a band called The
Police and their drummer plays with simplicity, but with such gusto. It's great.
He just has a new approach.
CI: Who are some of your favorite drummers?
I have a lot. Bill Bruford is one of my favorite drummers. I admire him for a
whole variety of reasons. I like the stuff he plays, and the way he plays it. I
like the music he plays within all the bands he's been in. There were a lot of
drummers that at different stages of my ability, I've looked up to. Starting way
back with Keith Moon. He was one of my favorite mentors. It's hard to decide
what drummers taught you what things. Certainly Moon gave me a new idea of the
freedom and that there was no need to be a fundamentalist. I really liked his
approach to putting crash cymbals in the middle of a roll. Then I got into a
more disciplined style later on as I gained a little more understanding on the
technical side. People like Carl Palmer, Phil Collins, Michael Giles the first
drummer from King Crimson, and of course Bill, were all influences. There's a
guy named Kevin Ellman who played with Todd Rundgren's Utopia for a while. I
don't know what happened to him. He was the first guy I heard lean into the
concert toms. Nicky Mason from Pink Floyd has a different style. Very simplistic
yet ultra tasteful. Always the right thing in the right place. I heard concert
toms from Mason first, then I heard Kevin Ellman who put all his arms into it.
You learn so many things here and there. There are a lot of drummers we work
with, Tommy Aldridge from the Pat Travers Band is a very good drummer. I should
keep a list of all the drummers that I admire.
CI: Do you follow any of the jazz drummers?
NP: I've found it easier to relate to the so
called fusion actually. I like it if it has some rock in it. Weather Report's
Heavy Weather I think was one of the best jazz albums in a long time. Usually,
just technical virtuosity leaves me completely unmoved, though academically it's
inspiring. But that band just moved me in every way. They were exciting, and
proficient musicians. Their songs were really nice to listen to. They were an
important band, and had a great influence on my thinking.
CI: What drew you towards drums?
NP: Just a chain of circumstances. I'd like to
make up a nice story about how it all happened. I just used to bang around the
house on things, and pick up chop sticks and play on my sister's play pen. For
my thirteenth birthday my parents paid for drum lessons. I had had piano lessons
a few years before that and wasn't really that interested. But with the drums,
somehow I was interested. When it got to the point of being bored with lessons,
I wasn't bored with playing. It was something I wanted to do everyday. So it was
no sacrifice. No agony at all. It was pure pleasure. I'd come home everyday from
school and play along with the radio.
CI: Who was your first drum teacher?
NP: I took lessons for a short period of time,
about a year and a half. His name was Paul, I can't remember his last name. He
turned me in a lot of good directions, and gave me a lot of encouragement. I'll
never forget him telling me that out of all his students there were only two
that he thought would be drummers. I was one of them. That was the first
encouragement I had which was very important to me. For somebody to say to you,
you can do it. And then he got into showing me what was hard to do. Although I
wasn't capable of playing those things at the time, he was showing me difficult
rudimental things, and flashy things. Double hand cross-overs and such. So he
gave me the challenge. And even after I stopped taking lessons those things
stayed in my mind, and I worked on them. And finally I learned how to do a
double hand cross-over. I remember thinking how proud I would be if my teacher
could see it.
CI: Did you study percussion further with
NP: Well, it's relative. I think of myself still
as a student. All the time I've been playing I've listened to other drummers,
and learned an awful lot. I'm still learning. We're all just beginners. I really
like that Lol Creme and Kevin Godly album. The L thing on their album stands for
"learner's permit" in England. And that album is so far above what everybody
else is doing, yet they're still learning. I really admire them.
CI: When you were coming up, did you set your
sights on any particular goals?
NP: My goals were really very modest at the time.
I would get in a band and the big dream was to play in a high school.
Ultimately, every city has the place that's the "in" spot where all the hip
local bands play. I used to dream about playing those places. I never thought
bigger than that. For every set of goals achieved, new ones come along to
replace them. After I would achieve one goal it would mean nothing. There's a
hall in Toronto called Massey Hall which is a 4,000 seat hall. I used to think
to play there would be the ultimate. But then you get there and worry about
other things. When we finally got to play there we were about to make an album,
and thought about that.
CI: Your mind was a step ahead of what you
were doing at the present.
NP: Yes. I think it's human nature, not to be
satisfied with what you were originally dreaming of. Whatever you were dreaming
of, if you achieve it, it means nothing anymore. You've got to have something to
CI: Describe your feelings, walking on stage
and looking at an audience of 35,000 screaming fans.
NP: Any real person, will not be moved by 35,000
people applauding him. If I go on in front of 35,000 people and play really
well, then I feel satisfied when I come off the stage. I'm happy because those
35,000 people were excited. If we're in front of a huge crowd and I have a bad
night, I still can't help being depressed. If I come off stage not having played
well, I don't feel good. I don't see why I should change that. Adulation means
nothing without self respect.
CI: You feel you must satisfy yourself first.
NP: I never met a serious musician who wasn't his
own worst critic. I can walk off stage and people will have thought I played
well, and it might have even sounded good on tape, but I still know I didn't
play it the way it should be. Nothing will change that.
CI: Do you feel there are certain things that
contribute to a particularly good or bad night?
NP: I don't think there is anything mystical
about it at all. I just think it's a matter of polarity. I go looking for a lot
of parallels. I find it in that, because certain nights it is so magical, and
the whole band feels so good about how they played. The audience was so
receptive and there's feedback going back and forth, and good feelings generated
by the show. That has to be the ideal. That particular show might happen 5 or 6
times out of the whole 200 show tour. But that is the ideal show. Every other
show has to be measured on those standards. Our average is good. We never do a
bad show any more. We have a level where we're always good. Even if we're bad
the show will be good. Somerset Maugham I believe said, "A mediocre person is
always at his best." And that's true. If you play really great one night, you're
not going to be great every night. As far as my experiences go anyway, I've
never known any musician that was. I'm not. Some nights I'm good and some nights
I'm not good. Some nights I think I stink. I think it's just a matter of knowing
that you have an honest appraisal of what your ability should be, and know how
well you've lived up to it. To me, there's no mystery about that at all. You
CI: What type sticks do you use?
NP: I use light sticks generally. I've used butt
end for as long as I can remember. It gives me all the impact I need. When I'm
doing anything delicate, I play matched grip with the bead end of the sticks.
CI: So you use both matched and traditional
grips depending on the feeling of the music.
NP: Yes, both. I go back to the conventional grip
when I have to do anything rudimentary because that's the way I learned it. It's
not the best way. For anybody else learning I wouldn't advise that. I've seen a
lot of drummers who could play a beautiful pressed roll with matched grip.
CI: Why do you tape the top shaft of the bass
drum beater so heavily?
NP: That's an interesting trick that other
drummers should know about. I break a lot of beaters off at the head, because
the whole weight of my leg goes into my pedals. And I always break them where
the felt part of the beater meets the shaft. They break right at the shaft, and
then the shaft goes through the head. If you put that roll of tape on there
you'll never break your drumhead. In fact I can still get through half a song if
I have to, until the beater can be changed. The worst thing that could happen in
a show would be for your bass drum to break. Anything else could be changed or
fixed or re-rigged somehow. But, if you break a bass drum head the show stops.
We once had to stop in the middle of filming Don Kirshner's "Rock Concert"
because I broke a bass drum. So we stopped and fixed it. That's all you can do.
It doesn't happen anymore, because of that idea and because Larry keeps an eye
on the heads and changes them.
CI: Who mikes your drums?
NP: Our sound man lan chooses the mikes, and
CI: You have your own monitor mix during live
NP: Yes, Larry mixes that. That's really just my
drums in a separate mix, because we have front monitors.
CI: Are the monitors on your left and right
side just feeding you the drums?
NP: Yes. All I hear is myself coming from those
monitor. The front monitors give me all synthesizers and vocals, and when it
comes to guitar, and bass they're right beside me. There are only two other
guys, I'm fortunate in that respect, so I don't need them in my monitors. I have
direct instruments to my ears which to me is the best. I'd rather have that than
to fool around with the monitors. And the stuff the other guys need in their
monitors I get indirectly, because it's pointing at them, so I also hear it. I
know a lot of drummers who prefer to have the whole mix in their monitors, and
in some cases need the whole mix in their monitors.
CI: Have you ever worn earphones while playing
NP: No, not really, they fall off. I even had a
lot of trouble in the studio keeping them on. I went through all kinds of weird
arrangements, getting the cord out of my way. It's just not worth it, I like to
hear the natural sound.
CI: What are your thoughts on tuning?
NP: Concert toms are pretty well selfexplanatory.
I just know the note I want to achieve and tighten them up.
CI: Do you use a pitch pipe, get the note from
the keyboard or just hum the note you're after?
NP: I've been using the same size drums for
several years, and I just know what note that drum should produce. When you
combine a certain type of head with a certain size drum I believe there is an
optimum note, which will give you the most projection and the greatest amount of
sustain. With the concert toms I just go for the note. I have a mental scale in
my head. I know what those notes should be. By now it's instinctive. With the
closed toms, I start with the bottom heads. I'll tune the bottom heads to the
note that drum should produce, and then tune the top head to the bottom.
CI: How often do you change the heads on your
NP: Concert tom heads sound good when they're
brand new, so they get changed a bit differently. They last through a month of
serious road work. The Evans Mirror Heads are used on the tom toms and take a
while to warm up. It takes a week to break them in. I don't change those much
more than every six weeks or so. They do start to lose their sound after a
while. You start to feel they're just not putting out the note they should be.
Then you say, "I hate to do it but let's change the heads." I like Black Dots
when they're brand new. I used to use those on my snare, and the Clear Dots also
sound good when they're brand new. But the Evans heads don't. It takes awhile.
I've gone through agonies with snare drums. I guess most drummers do. I had an
awful time, because there was a snare sound in my mind that I wanted to achieve.
I went through all kinds of metal snares. And I still wasn't satisfied. It
wasn't the sound I was after. Then my drum roadie phoned me about this wooden
Slingerland snare. It was second hand. Sixty dollars. I tried it out and it was
the one. Every other snare I've tried chokes somewhere. Either very quietly, or
if you hit it too hard it chokes. This one never chokes. You can play it very
delicately, or you can pound it to death. It always produces a very clean, very
crisp sound. It has a lot of power, which I didn't expect from a wooden snare
drum. It's a really strong drum. I tried other types of wooden snare drums. I
tried the top of the line Slingerland snare drum. This one was a Slingerland but
very inexpensive. I've tried other wooden snares, but this was the one, there's
no other snare drum that will replace it for me.
CI: What has been done to the inside of your
All of the drums with the exception of the snare have a thin layer of
fiberglass. It doesn't destroy the wood sound. It just seems to even out the
overtones a bit, so you don't get crazy rings coming out of certain areas of the
drums. You don't get too much sound absorption from the wood. Each drum produces
the pure note it was made to produce as far as I'm concerned. There's no
interference with that either in the open toms or the closed toms. The note is
very pure and easy to achieve. I can tune the drums and when I get them to the
right note I know the sound will be proper.
CI: Why do you use the same size double bass
drums instead of two different size drums to achieve two different bass voices?
NP: I don't know. I can't see the point of it
really. I'm not looking for different sounds. I don't use bass drums for beats
or anything like that. My double bass drums are basically for use with fills. I
don't like them to be used in rhythms. I like them to spice up a fill or create
a certain accent. Many drummers say anything you can do with two feet, can be
achieved with one. That just isn't true. I can anticipate a beat with both bass
drums. That is something I learned from Tommy Aldridge of the Pat Travers Band.
He has a really neat style with the bass drums. Instead of doing triplets with
his tom toms first and then the bass drums, which is the conventional way, he
learned how to do it the other way, so that the bass drums are anticipated.
CI: Giving it a flam affect?
NP: In a sense. It has an up sort of feel. You
could just be playing along in an ordinary 4 beats to the bar ride and all of a
sudden stick that in. It just sets that apart. When you listen to it on the
track, it sounds strange. It really works well and it's handy in the fills. You
can be in the middle of a triplet fill and all of a sudden you can leave your
feet out for a beat and bring them back in on the beat. It's really exciting.
And I like to interpose two bass drums against the hi-hat too. There are a few
different things I do where I throw in a quick triplet or a quadruplet using the
bass pedals and then get right over to the hi-hat. I'll complete my triplet and
by the time my hand gets over to the hat my foot is already there. So you'll
hear almost consecutive left bass drum and hi-hat notes. If you want a really
powerful roll, there's nothing more powerful than triplets with two bass drums.
I could certainly get along without two bass drums for 99% of my playing. But I
would miss them for some important little things.
CI: Did you go to the Zildjian factory to
select your cymbals?
NP: No, I must admit I've cracked so many
cymbals, that would be futile. I just know the weights that I want to get and if
I have one that's terribly bad, I'll take it back. I go through an awful lot of
crash cymbals. I hit them hard and they crack. Especially my 16" crash which is
my mainstay, and my 18" crash.
CI: Where do you buy your cymbals?
NP: From the Percussion Center. I actually
haven't seen their store in many years. Most of our business is done by them
shipping the merchandise out to us, or Neil Graham comes out from the store. He
brought me my new drums a couple of weeks ago. I know he has a lot of
imagination; if I want something crazy, he'll come up with it. If I want
crotales on top of the tubular bells, or a temple block mounted on top of my
percussion, he can do it. When you present him with an idea, he thinks of a way
to achieve it. He never let me down in that respect. He built my gong stand. The
gong stand mounts on the tympani and is attached to the mallet stand.
CI: With the extensive set-up that you use,
I'm wondering why you do not use electronic percussive devices.
NP: It's a matter of temperament really. I don't
feel comfortable with wires and electronic things. It's not a thing for which I
have a natural empathy. It's not that I don't think that they're interesting or
that there aren't a lot of possibilities. But personally, I'm satisfied with
traditional percussion. I have distrust for electronic and mechanical things.
I've got enough to keep me busy, really. When I look at my drums, the five piece
set up is the basis of what I have. I might have hundreds of toys, but for me
most of my patterns and most of my thinking revolves around snare drum, bass
drum, hi-hat, and a couple of tom toms. But there's more to it than that. I can
add a lot more. I don't understand the people who are purists or
fundamentalists, who would look at my drum kit and say, 'All you need is four
drums.' That makes me as mad as looking down on someone who has only four drums.
I'm not afraid to play on only four drums, but there's more that I can
contribute to this band as a percussionist. I'm certainly not a keyboard
percussion virtuoso by any means, nor do I expect to be. I just want to be a
good drummer at this point in my life. Having eight tom toms to me is excellent,
because I can do that many more variations of sounds. So you're not hearing the
same fill all the time, or the same sort of patterns. There are different notes,
different perspectives of percussion. To me it sounds like a natural evolution.
I couldn't understand anyone who would look at it with bitterness, or reproach,
because I don't neglect my drumming because of that. When I'm not busy drumming,
I have something else to do. And the guys show me the notes to play and I play
them. I know Carl Palmer spends a lot of time on keyboard percussion and I
admire him for that. He's getting quite proficient. Bill Bruford's getting
amazing on keyboard percussion, because he's devoted the time and the energy
that it takes to become a proper keyboard percussionist. I admire that to no
end. I spend a lot of time thinking about composition, and drumming has to be
the prime musical force. I spend a lot of time working with words. I look at
that as a simultaneous education while I'm refining my drumming skills.
CI: Do you use lyrics as a guide to your
NP: Not after the fact. Once we have agreed on
the musical structure and arrangement, it then becomes a purely musical thing.
Obviously, if there's a problem in phrasing I might have to rewrite the
structure. But for the most part I forget about the lyrics and listen to the
vocals. Getty's interpretation is really when it becomes an instrument, so
there's a way I can punctuate the vocals or frame the vocals somehow musically.
CI: What are some of your thoughts on drum
NP: I guess there are mixed feelings. How musical
it is depends on the drummer. I find it very satisfying. I guess a lot of
drummers do improvise all the way through their solo. I have a framework that I
deal with every night, so I have some sort of standard where it will be
consistent. And if I don't feel especially creative or strong, I can just play
my framework and know it will be good. But certain areas of my solo are left
open for improvisation. If I feel especially hot, or if I have an idea which
comes to me spontaneously, I have plenty of room to experiment. I try to
structure the solo like a song, or piece of music. I'll work from the
introduction, and go through various movements, and bring in some comic relief.
Then build up to a crescendo and end naturally. I can't be objective.
Subjectively, I enjoy doing it and like listening to it. It's a good solo.
Nondrummers have told me it's a nice drum solo to listen to.
CI: Do you have any advice for the young
drummers with aspirations of someday playing in a musical situation similar to
NP: I used to try to give people advice but the
more I learned, the more I realized that my advice could only be based on both
my values and my experiences. Neither of which are going to be shared by very
many people. I would say to them, 'Go for what you're after.' I can't get much
more complicated that that. I don't feel comfortable telling people what to do.
CI: Have you ever taught private students'?
NP: No, I haven't. I've been asked to do clinics
which I'm interested in, but fearful of. But I would like to get into doing
that, relating to people on that level. I like to talk about drums. I like to
talk about things I'm interested in. For me to talk about things I'm honestly
interested in, and obviously drums is one of them, is foremost.
CI: What are your thoughts on interviews?
NP: I won't do an interview for a promotional
reason. I do them because I like to get my ideas out. Sometimes, I can talk
about something in an interview and realize that I was totally wrong. And I'll
have had the opportunity to air those thoughts out which most people don't. You
don't have conversations with your friends about metaphysics, the fundamentals
of music, and the fundamentals of yourself really. When I do an interview, I
look for an ideal. I'm looking for an interview that's going to be stimulating,
and I'll get right into it. Just sit for hours and relate. That's an ideal, like
an ideal show. It doesn't happen that often.
CI: Before setting up your kit, your roadie
Larry Allen cleaned and polished each cymbal to a high gloss and cleaned all the
chrome. Does he take this great care as per your instruction, or is this
something Larry does on his own? '
NP: That's a reflection of Larry's care. He takes
a lot of pride in having the set sparkle and the cymbals shining. On his side I
relate to that, but it doesn't affect me really one way or the other.
CI: Do you hear a difference in the brilliance
of the sound when your cymbals are clean instead of tarnished?
NP: No, not really. It's hard to justify really.
To me a good cymbal sounds good, and a bad cymbal doesn't sound good. That's the
way I feel about it. My 20" crash has a very warm, rich sound with a lot of good
decay. I don't think dirt would improve that.
CI: Some drummers feel that as the cymbal is
played, gets dirty, and gets tarnished, it takes on a certain character all its
own. Do you think it is really the aging process which is the factor?
NP: Yes, I think age has something to do with
that. But the cymbal is metal, how can dirt make it sound better? If you don't
want the decay, stick a piece of tape on it. It'll do the same thing dirt will
do. It may be true that dirt is a factor. But it won't give it a warmer sound by
definition, because the note of the cymbal is still the note of the cymbal.
CI: The dirt will only affect the sustain.
NP: Exactly. So if you want a shorter sustain,
get it dirty. My cymbals are chosen for the length of decay that I want. And a
certain frequency range. The amount of decay is especially crucial.
CI: Tell me about that Chinese cymbal you're
using. It sounds great!
NP: I had an awful time trying to get into China
cymbals. I bought an 18" pang, just looking for the Chinese sound. It had a good
sound and I found myself using it for different effects. But it's almost a
whispery, electronic sound. When I listen to its sound in the studio, or on a
tape it sounds like a phaser. It has a warm sort of sound, but it didn't have
the attack I was looking for. So I got the Zildjian China type which had that,
but also a lot of sustain. Larry picked this one up at Frank's Drum Shop. It was
made in China. It's a 20" with a little more bottom end to its sound.
CI: For the size of your set up I was somewhat
surprised to see you using 13" hi-hats. Why 13V?
NP: I've always used 13's. I use a certain hi-hat
punctuation that doesn't work with any other size. I've tried 14's, and
everytime we go into the studio our coproducer Terry Brown, wants me to use 14"
hi-hat cymbals. I've tried them. I'm an open-minded guy. But it just doesn't
happen for me.
CI: Are they just conventional hats?
NP: Just conventional, regular old hihats. We
work with a band a lot called Max Webster, and their drummer and I work very
closely, listening to each other's drums. Webster told me not to change that
hi-hat, because for any open hat work or any choke work, it's so quick and
clean. It just wouldn't work with 14's. The decay is too slow.
CI: Are you talking about that particular pair
of 13's or any 13's?
NP: Well any 13's for me. I've gone through about
three sets of I3's in the last 8 or 9 years. And they've all sounded good. When
I found myself to be one of the only drummers around using 13's, I tried others,
but either my style developed with 13" cymbals or the 13" cymbals were an
important part of my style.
CI: You are using Evans heads on your toms.
NP: Yes. The Evans heads have a nice attack which
gives a good bite from the drums. At the same time you never lose the note. I
play with a lot of open drums, open concert toms. But my front toms and my floor
toms are all closed with heads on the bottom. I never lose the note on account
of that. With certain types of acoustical surroundings, open drums just lose
everything, all you hear is a smack. I get that with my concert toms. I hear
that with other drummers. If you're in a particularly flat hall, or if the stage
area is particularly dead, it kills the note of the drums. I think it's easier
to get a good sound with open drums. I've been talking to people about this
lately, and developing a theory. I think that perhaps, especially with miking,
it's easier to get a good sound with open drums. But I think that a better sound
can be achieved with closed drums. A more consistent sound. I think that over a
range of hundreds of different acoustical surroundings, closed drums have a
better chance of sounding good more often. That's just a theory. It depends on a
number of things of course. I open up my bass drums in the studio, but I leave
the toms closed.
CI: Yet for your live performance, I see you
have left both heads on the bass drums. Why?
NP: I think I get a rounder note, and a more
consistent bass drum sound. And our sound man's happy with both heads on. We
just have a small hole in the front head and a microphone right inside.
CI: I noticed you use a microphone under your
NP: Yes, I use an under snare mike for the
monitors only. Which Ian doesn't use out front. I don't use the over snare mike
in the monitors, because I'm getting all of the middle I need out of the drum
itself. It's the high end that gets lost in the ambient sound of the rest of the
band. The high end gets lost first.
CI: What about in the studio?
NP: In the studio sometimes both, but usually the
CI: In the studio, do you use one mike to
catch the snare and the hi-hat or is that done separately?
NP: Just one mike on the snare alone, and the
hi-hat has a separate mike. It's a logistical thing. We have to go for close
miking. Just about everything is individually miked. There are three overheads
to cover the cymbals, one separate over head for the China-type. I have a
certain set of long, tubular wind chimes that have to be heard at a particular
point so they have a mike. There's a mike for the tympani, there's two mikes for
the orchestra chimes and they also pick up the crotales. There's also a separate
mike for the glockenspiel. If I want to try to inject that much subtlety into
our music, the glockenspiel has to be miked closely or it won't exist. It's
crucial. Miking is a science that I can't talk about with much conviction. I
don't know a lot about it other than a few bits of theory I picked up in the
studio. As far as live miking goes, I'm pretty ignorant I must admit. I'm just
trying to get my drums to sound good to me, and then it's up to the sound man to
make them sound good in the house.
CI: Could you tell me a little about your
NP: There's quite a variety of things this time.
We didn't have any big ideas to work on so it's a collection of small ideas.
Individual musical statements. We got into some interesting things, and some
interesting constructions too. We built a whole song around a picture. We wanted
to build a song around the phenomena called Jacob's ladder, where the rays break
through the clouds. I came up with a couple of short pieces of lyrics to set the
musical parts up. And we built it all musically trying to describe it
cinematically. As if our music were a film. We have a luminous sky happening and
the whole stormy, gloomy atmosphere, and all of a sudden these shafts of
brilliance come bursting through and we try to create that musically. There's
another song called "The Spirit Of Radio." It's not about a radio station or
anything, it's really about the spirit of music when it comes down to the basic
theme of it. It's about musical integrity. We wanted to get across the idea of a
radio station playing a wide variety of music. For instance the "Spirit Of
Radio" comes from the radio station at home called CFMY and that's their slogan.
They play all great music from reggae to R&B, to jazz to New Wave, everything
that's good or interesting. It's a very satisfying radio station to me. They
have introduced me to a lot of new music. There are bits of reggae in the song
and one of the verses has a New Wave feel to it. We tried to get across all the
different forms of music. There are no divisions there. The choruses are very
electronic. It's just a digital sequencer with a glockenspiel and a counter
guitar riff. The verse is a standard straight ahead Rush verse. One is a new
wave, a couple reggae verses, and some standard heavy riffing, and as much as we
could possibly get in there without getting redundant. Another song that we also
did in there, "Free Will" is a new thing for us in terms of time signatures. I
mentioned before that we experiment a lot with time signatures. I get a lot of
satisfaction out of working different rhythms and learning to feel comfortable.
CI: What time signatures are you using during
NP: We work in nearly everyone that I know of
that's legitimate. All of the 5's, 7's, 9's, ll's, 13's, and combinations
thereof. There were things on the last album that were 21 beat bars by the time
they were actually completed. Because they had a 7 and a 6; a 5 and a 4; or 7.
6, 7, 6, 7, 6, 5. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction making them feel
good. I don't think that you have to play in 4/4 to feel comfortable.
CI: How did you develop your understanding of
those odd meters?
NP: I remember figuring out some of Genesis'
things. That was my first understanding of how time signatures were created. And
I'd hear people talking about 7, and 5 and if they played it for me I could
usually play along. But I didn't understand. I finally got to understand the
principle of the common denominator. Once I understood it numerically I found it
really easy to pick up the rhythm. Then you take on something just as a
challenge, and turn it into a guitar solo in 1 3/8, and find a way to play that
comfortably and make changes. As I would change dynamically through a 4/4
section. There would be certain ways that I would move it, try to apply those
same elements to a complicated concept. I think Patrick Moraz put it best. He
said, "All the technique you have in the world is still only a method of
translating your emotions." So we're coming back with that acquired technique.
There's a lot of truth in Moraz's statement because now we're finding out as we
have gone through all those, some of them honestly were technical exercises. You
have to say that sometimes you get excited about playing something just because
it is a difficult thing. And certain times we would get into the technical side
of it, but become bored with it. Now we're finding out how to bring those
technical ideas back and put them into an exciting framework. We have a song
that's almost all in 7 and has some alternating bars of 8 and the chorus that
goes into it again is in 4. It's all very natural to play. I can play through
the whole song and I don't count once. The only thing I count are pauses. If I'm
stopping for 8 beats or something I'll count that off with my foot. But when I'm
playing I just don't count, unless I have to, for meter reasons. This is
probably a common experience, but slower things for me are the most difficult to
keep in meter. If I'm playing really slow straight 4's, I count that, but if I'm
playing really fast in 13, I don't dare count, I just play it. We were talking
earlier about music taking patterns as a musician. I think it does that. I have
a program in my head that represents the rhythmic pattern for a 13, or a 7, or a
5. And I can bring those out almost on command, having spent a lot of time
getting familiar with them. It's so exciting when you start to get it right the
first few times and you're putting everything you have into it. That's the
ultimate joy of creating. That joy is such a short lived thing, most of the time
you don't have time to enjoy it. Most times when I write a song the moment of
satisfaction is literally a matter of a few seconds. All of a sudden you see
it's going to work and you're going to be happy with it, and then bang you're
back into working it again. You're thinking how am I going to do this? Whether
it's lyrically or musically, the moment of satisfaction is very fleeting.