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Subject: RUSH Fans Digest of 10/12/90 (#68)  ** Special Edition **

               RUSH Fans Digest, Number 68

                 Friday, 12 October 1990
Today's Topics:
                    Modern Drummer Interview w/Neil
This is the fourth of five files sent in from:
 Elisabeth Perrin 

                        Interview:  Neil Peart/Rush

                        By: William F. Miller
                          (Reproduced without permission)
                        Modern Drummer/ Dec. 1989

        It was on a Wednesday this past summer when I spent an enjoyable day
interviewing Neil Peart at his lakeside retreat on the outskirts of Montreal.
He had just finished recording the drum tracks for Presto, Rush's first studio
album in over two years.  After Neil picked me up at the airport that morning,
we sped to Le Studio, where he showed me his drumkit and assortment of snare
drums (in the process holding up Alex Lifeson, who was starting work on guitar
sounds).  From there we made our way to his secluded cabin, where the interview
took place.  The relaxed surroundings, overlooking a mountain lake with a
breathtaking view of rolling hills covered with cedar trees, provided the
backdrop for our conversation.
        The following Saturday night I was in a smokey, sweat-filled club in
Jersey, elbowing my way past well-oiled patrons to check out a local band.
Between sets the percussionist in the band, a friend of mine named Chris, came
over to say hello.  During our brief chat, he asked if I had interviewed anyone
of interest lately.  I mentioned seeing Neil days before, and as soon as I
finished rambling, he said, "Hold on, you have to meet someone!"
        "Someone" turned out to be an excitable-looking fellow who immediately
asked me, "You met Neil?"  As soon as I replied, he reached for his wallet.
Inside was a photograph that he always carries with him-not a photo of his
girlfriend, his mother, or his favorite dog, but a photo of guess who:  Neil
Peart.  He said that Neil was his favorite drummer and that keeping The
Professor's photo in his wallet inspired him.  Talk about a fan!
        The reason I mention this story is to show the type of appeal Neil has
with a lot of drummers.  What is it about his playing that has captured the
imagination of so many players?  This was one of the questions I wanted this
interview to answer.  Most of all, though, I wanted to sit down with Neil and
talk drums.

WFM:  In your Modern Drummer cover story in '84, you said that you thought
there would come a time when your playing would get as good as it could, and
then not get any better.  Have you reached that point?
NP:  Yes, I think I have.  It's a funny kind of thing to say, because it won't
read the way it's intended.  It took me 20 years to reach a level of even some
confidence.  I'm not talking about being a virtuoso or being a master or
anything like that.  It took that long to reach a point where I actually
thought I maybe could play, and I think the last five years have seen the
cementing of that.
     This has required a lot of inner evaluation and a certain amount of soul
searching, too, because I had always lived on input and growth.  At the end of
a tour I always felt I had learned all these new things, and every record
marked a significant broadening of my abilities and my choices of techniques.
So now, I feel I've reached my potential.  To make any technical improvements
in my playing would take too much time, and at this point playing a faster
paradiddle doesn't mean as much to me.
     I spent 20 years on technique and on learning the finer points of keeping
good time, developing tempo and shadings of rhythmic feel, and keeping my mind
open to other ethnic music and other drummers, and all of that was just
flooding into me.  When I finally became confident in my playing, all of these
things finally came together.  Confidence really was the key for me.  I was
never a confident player at all-flamboyant, overplaying, yes, but never
confident.  I had to step back from that 20-year quest for knowledge and ask
myself, "Do I really enjoy using all this stuff?"  My consensus was that, yes,
I do like being able to draw from all of these things I've worked on, but my
mental approach to it has to change.
     For me, the center of everything, and what I most enjoy doing, is what
we-the band-have just been through, which is the process of writing new songs
and arranging them.  This includes working out drum patterns and trying to
record the parts as well as possible and as quickly as possible.  That has
been the nexus of it, having to change my mental attitude toward what I do and
having to re-evaluate in the true sense of values of what is important to me
about it.  It's not enough for me to just say, "I want to play my axe."  I've
spent 20-odd years doing that, and now I have other ambitions and interests in

WFM:  So you are saying that you feel satisfied with what you are able to
accomplished on a set of drums?
NP:  I think the word "satisfaction" sounds too smug.  It's basically that I
feel I have the raw materials to draw from to make the statement I want to make
within a song.  I can listen to a demo of a song and really have a wide open
mind and not have an axe to grind, which is another important thing.  Through
all the years of my development there were always things I was looking to use,
because I learned how to do them.  When I heard a song, I would look for a
place to put this lovely new idea that I had.  Now I listen to a song openly
and try to bring to it just what it requires, finding what best satisfies the
song and satisfies me.  I'm not looking to impress myself or others anymore;
I'm just looking to challenge myself, and to me, that's the route to

WFM:  Do you think a certain amount of your inflicting a lot of notes into
Rush's music in the early days was brought on by a feeling of insecurity?
NP:  I wouldn't say it was insecurity.  It was more a hunger, a desire-first to
learn things and second to use them.  That's what I was saying about there
being a dark side to it, because I'm sure there were times when I used rhythmic
ideas that maybe weren't best for the song, but I really had to use them.  But
they all add up to something, you know.
     As a band we've grown through the same levels.  We started with a total
concentration on musicianship, which was for a time all we cared about.  OUr
songs were subject to that.  We explored playing in different time signatures
and odd arrangements, and stringing a whole line of disparate ideas together,
somehow.  Sop we were lucky to spend that time developing together as a band,
instead of just by ourselves.  We were very excited about it, and there was
nothing negative about it or a question of insecurity in a negative sense.

WFM:  So you just wanted to see how far you could take it.
NP:  Yes.  It becomes a series of experimentations, and like all
experimentations, there are failures and there are successes, and looking back,
I can judge them objectively.  But all of them went somewhere.  Even  the
failures taught us something as far as what not to do, in terms of the band
anyway.  It wasn't like we were sidemen trying to please someone else.  I
wasn't working in the studios doing jingels.  I didn't have to conform.  All
of us were wide open to do what we wanted.  We had, sand still have, a
different set of parameters than a lot of other musicians have to work in.

WFM:  Do you think yours is the best position to be in, as far as being a
NP:  No question.  I don't think many people would argue with that.  It is
pleasant sometimes to be a sideman, though.  All of us in this band have done
it to varying degrees.  I have a friend who writes TV and film music, for
instance.  He's doing music for a soap at the moment, and it's set in Chicago.
So he was writing a lot of slide guitar stuff with old blues patterns, and he
called me to play on it.  I had to play a lot of brushes, and all I did was
what he told me.  It was great.  There was no weight on my shoulders, no
responsibility, easy.  There's a real joy to that when you're used to having
the responsibility of everything.  The there of us are very democratic in a
musical sense as well as a responsibility sense, and we share the
responsibilities amongst ourselves according to what we most prefer to do.
However, stepping outside of that is a pleasure.  But I have to think that the
ideal is being in a band where you are allowed to do exactly what you want.
It's hard to argue with that.

WFM:  Getting back to what I was asking before, are you sure there aren't any
techniques you'd like to get into on the drums?
NP:  I really don't think so.  Like I said, after 20 years of playing, I've
developed a lot of things that have proven valuable to me-even the rudiments.
There's a track on the new album where I play a pattern that involves eight
different ethnic drums, which I assigned to pads.  I played the bass drum and
snare drum parts with my feet, using my own sampled sounds triggered with foot
triggers.  The pattern I play with my hands couldn't be played without
paradiddles, because I have to have my hands accenting in certain places.
Without knowing how to do a paradiddle I couldn't have done that.
     Double-stroke rolls pop up in my playing all the time, and since I spent
days and weeks banging on a pillow, "Mama Dada Mama Dada," I can do a
double-stroke roll.  It is still a valuable thing to me, and time well spent.
And that's true for any time that I've spent woodshedding a particular approach
or listening to a style of music enough to understand it, like reggae or
fusion.  A lot of it I'll listen to as a drummer, just listening to it to
understand.  It's the same reason for reading Modern Drummer-to read what other
drummers have to say about things, and either get inspired or angry.  But all
of that input is really important, and the time spent practicing is very
     I do get really annoyed with musicians who are proud of the fact that they
don't practice and never took a lesson.  I just think that is such a cheat to
say, "I just play simple; I don't need that."  It's not really true.  You can
listen to some simple drummers and tell they know everything.  It's implicit.
they have a certain confidence and agility on the drumset.  There was a drummer
featured in MD a while back, Manu Katche, and most of his drumming is very
simple, but it is so elegant.  His work on the Robbie Robertson album or his
work with Joni Mitchell or Peter Gabriel is a joy to listen to.  The Robbie
Robertson album is my favorite of Manu's playing, and I think there may be
three fills on the songs he played on the album.  His rhythms are such a hybrid
between West African music and Western music.
     There's an English pop band called China Crisis, and the drummer plays
very simple patterns with very few fills, but again, what he plays is so
elegant, and right for the music, and you can tell he has confidence.  When he
plays difficult patterns he plays them with such authority that they just flow
by you smoothly.  Many drummers try to pull off a more difficult pattern or
fill, and it comes off slightly less than smooth.  I've been guilty of that
myself certainly!  The really good drummers make what they're playing sound
effortless-not labored.  When you have drummers who have spent a lot of time
learning, ad a lot of time practicing and playing different styles of music,
when they do set themselves to play simply, they have a certain authority and a
uniqueness to what they are doing that sets them apart.  They're not just
playing the only beat they know.  And that's what a lot of so-called simple
drummers are guilty of.  They're playing simply because that's all they know.
That's sad in one sense because it's so limiting.  They are victims to the
"less is more" approach because they don't understand exactly what it means.
You have to know what you want to play and what you want to leave out-not just
play the only beat you know.  A lot of times, less is less.
     There are songs on the new album where originally I heard the demo that
Alex and Geddy had made with a drum machine.  Parts of it might have been
recorded to a purely off-the-cuff, moronic drum beat.  When I came to work out
my own parts for the song, I tried everything.  My basic way to work on a song
is to try everything I know and then eliminate all of the stuff that doesn't
work until I pare it down to something that satisfies me.  But there were some
parts of some songs that demanded to be simple.  And it's a reality that you
just have to face.  If it works best that way, it's incumbent upon you not to
mess it up. [laughs]
     I have to find other ways to musically satisfy myself, and I've
experimented a lot, particularly in the '80s, trying to find ways to make
things interesting to me.  Playing a four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern has
been a real challenge for me because I like it.  I've always liked dance music,
but I could not sit there for five minutes and play only that' I would shoot
myself.  So I have to find ways to somehow make it work for me, because I want
to do it but in a way that's going to be technically and mentally challenging.
So I'll take a song that demands that simple part and say, "Okay, if I have to
play a simple pattern, I'll try to find ways to make variations in that pattern
so that it's really long, like a 16- or 24-bar pattern of repeating things so
that I have to remember the simple pattern stretched over a long period of
     Then you get into the question of delivering that pattern perfectly, too.
Again, anyone who has spent time learning and practicing drums knows what you
can do with a simple 2 and 4 beat, and how many different ways you can lean
that, even with metronomic time.  You can push the beat, land dead on the beat,
or pull it back as far as you can.  Working with a click track in the studio,
as I have done for the last several years, I learned to play games with that,
too.  I don't use a conventional click, by the way. I use a quarter-note bass
drum sound.  So if I'm playing along with it and I can't hear it, I know I'm
in time.  That's great because then I don't have to listen to the stupid thing.
It's almost become a subliminal relationship with this bass drum pounding away,
and I just sit in with it.  As you get more confident with a click, you start
fooling around with how much latitude you can get away with.  It's like, "Just
how far back can I pull  this thing?"  So being able to experiment within the
framework of the click is something I like to do.
     A good drummer that I like who plays simply is Phil Gould, who used to be
with Level 42.  He plays very simple, R&B-influenced drumming, but when he
pulls a fill out it'll be a beautiful fill.  And his feel is great.  If you try
to tap along with their downbeat-on-the-3 type of songs, you'll just about
break your hand trying to come down behind the beat as much as he does.  He has
that feel down so well.  It's very satisfying for me to listen to from a
drummer's point of view or from a music fan's point of view.  It feels great,
has tremendous authority, and has the spice of a great little fill leaping out
of it.
     The three drummers I mentioned I can count among my favorite drummers,
although they don't play the kind of drumming that I like playing.  They're
playing the kind of stuff that I like to listen to.  Music that I like to
listen to is not always what I would like to be playing.  For instance, I could
never be a reggae drummer; I would go nuts.  But I love to listen to it; it's
so infectious and I love the rhythm.  But I couldn't discipline myself enough
to shut off my ideas.

WFM:  Would you say that overall you prefer to listen to a more simple drummer
than a busier player?
NP:  For me it's more the style of music rather than the style of drummer.  I
do enjoy organized music, and it's one of the things that keeps me from getting
emotional about jazz.  I can listen to it, be inspired by it live, and
appreciate it, certainly.  But when it comes to music for pleasure, I like
music that is constructed and organized, and that time has been spent on the
craft of it.
    Technique, though, is important to me.  I'm really impressed by it when I
hear it done well.  But there is just so little of it around on display, and
what there is tends to be devoted to jazz.  I guess that's just an unfortunate
void that is in modern music.

WFM:  You mentioned earlier that you get the most enjoyment out of arranging
new songs, and coming up with new drum patterns for songs.  How do you go about
coming up with your drum parts?
NP:  I usually work out my parts by myself now.  Geddy and Alex will put down a
rough demo tape of the song in a basic arrangement form with a drum machine.
Then I go up to the demo studio alone and go over it and try what works and
what doesn't.  Gradually I'll refine the drum part down to something that will

WFM:  How much time does that process take?
NP:  It depends on the song really.  It's probably about a day for each song.
That's the best way for me to do it-just immerse myself in one song.  But
that's not to say I work out every single note that I'm going to be playing.
I'll decide where I may want a special fill, or where a specific time pattern
is to be played, but I leave plenty of freedom in the parts for some creativity
in the studio.  I said before that I like organized music, but I also like
spontaneity in its appropiate place.  The studio is the perfect place for that
because you are allowed to keep being spontaneous until you're spontaneously

WFM:  You mentioned that you don't feel you can improve much beyond where you
are now.  How important is practicing to you now?
NP:  I read a great quote recently by a young classical violinist.  She was
asked if she ever practiced, and her response was, "I never practice, I only
play."  And that was not to say that she didn't pick up her instrument and
play, but she never picked it up to practice without playing music.  That's
basically the way it is for me.  If I sit down at my drums informally, I just
sit down and play.  I don't worry about practicing a pattern or something.
I'm a bit worried about the smugness of having arrived at a certain point.
Not by a longshot have I learned everything there is to know, but I've learned
enough to satisfy me.
    I have a little set of drums set up in my basement at home, and I like to
sit down and play with brushes-just playing around.  I have a marimba that I
get on and play.  During a break in the preparations for the new album, I
recorded some basic tracks that I can play marimba along to.  I just picked out
some chords and keys that I like and recorded them.  I have them on cassette so
I can play along any a time I want to.  I enjoy that because it allows me the
chance to play the instrument instead of playing scales or technical things

WFM:  Do you have to practice a certain amount of time just to maintain your
abilities?  Does it go away?
NP:  Ironically, no.  I traveled a great deal last year, and there was a period
of several months where I was continents away from any drums to play.  When I
started to work on getting back in shape playing-wise for the new album, I was
wondering just how far back I was going to have to go to get it back.  But I
found that after so many years of playing, and especially so many years of
touring, the muscle memory is intense.  All I really had to do was get some
callouses back on my hands.  I hadn't forgotten how to do a thing; I hadn't
lost any fluidity or agility.  The smaller fast-twitch muscles in the wrists
and fingers had to be developed a little bit, but it was nowhere near as
difficult as I thought it was going to be.
     It surprised me.  I was never that confident to think that I could lay off
and still be able to play.  I always thought that you had to maintain this
thing.  Before tours, I would always start weeks in advance preparing by
myself, putting on headphones and playing along with our records.  I think that
was more a matter of getting into shape for touring physically, and not
mentally.  After hundreds and hundreds of shows of  very intensive drumming,
you can't avoid playing a lot.  You're putting out full strength all the time.
     I also feel a tremendous amount of responsibility about playing live.
You're up there to deliver, and there are no excuses.  It doesn't matter how
you're feeling or how things are going technologically or whatever.  That
attitude is sort of inbred in me in a puritanical way, that if it's worth
doing, it's worth doing well.  My father used to hammer that into me, but it's
become kind of a credo of my own.

WFM:  When you've been on a long tour, do you notice that you're thinking less
about every note that you're playing and more about just the spices, as you
NP:  Yes, I'd say that's definitely true.  Ideally, you shouldn't have to think
about what you're doing, but you should always be thinking about what you're
going to do.  You always have to be well ahead of yourself.  And by being able
to think ahead, your drumming has so much more confidence and authority because
you know what's coming.  Mistakes are made in moments of indecision.  The more
playing you do, like during a tour, for example, the better that "automatic
pilot" becomes.  You're not turning your mind off.  On the contrary, you're
turning it on in a much broader sense.

WFM:  I'd like to talk specifically about the new album for a moment.  I
recently heard that Rush is now on a new record label.  How did that come
NP:  Well, we had been with Phonogram since day on, so that's 14 years.  We had
signed several contracts over the years with them, and we'd had good relations
with them.  The band had talked about making a change in the past but never did
it, and then when your last contract with Phonogram expired, we decided not to
renew.  We started to feel a little taken for granted.  we are not a record
company's dream.  We go along from album to album and sell a respectable
amount, but we never have blockbuster hits and we don't go quadruple platinum.
We just go along at our own speed, and it works out great.
     We've never had any really strong radioplay support, so touring has always
been our only mode of exposure.  As far as we could see, we were out there
selling our own records, which is fine , but we thought that maybe another
record company could help us out a bit more, and not make it always incumbent
upon us to sell our goods.  We felt that the whole machinery rested on us-that
if we stopped doing interviews, if we stopped touring for any reason, nobody
else would be doing anything.
     That had a good side to it as well.  In the early days we were left alone,
too.  We were allowed to take four albums before we even broke even.  Most
bands at that time, or especially this time, would not get that kind of
latitude.  We were kind of overlooked.  It was a small company at the time and
they were a little bit disorganized.  Rush has out-lived, it would seem,
countless hierarchies of management at the label.  We just went along through
all of that.  And we also weathered through the "not new band" syndrome, where
the label would get excited about some new band that would last a year or two
and then be gone, but we're still here.  That was the problem:  We were just

WFM:  Do you have any added pressure on you with this album since this is a
situation with a new label?
NP:  No, to the contrary, I think it's up to them to prove it.  We've had a lot
of albums that have done pretty well.  Atlantic, our new label, is convinced
that they can do better for us.  We're not saying, "Sign us because we'll sell
more records with you."  They're saying, "Sign with us because we'll sell more
records."  It's a pretty simple thing.  It doesn't put any pressure on us at
all, any more than we already place on ourselves, which is serious enough.
When you go in with the blank slate and begin the whole process of coming up
with a record, it's a fearsome thing.  In fact, it's something I avoid.  If we
have decided to go to work on some new material, I always try to get away and
work on lyrics to have something ready.  For the most part, when we begin
working on a new project we all have ideas to get things rolling.  sometimes we
do start from scratch though.   I think that can be a very positive approach.
We have gone into a record situation and been one song short for an album, due
to whatever reason, and sometimes good things come from that.  We have even
gone so far as to plan for it, where we will write all the material except for
one song, and then have to come up with something on the spot.  On our album,
HOLD YOUR FIRE, we had written the entire album, and at the last minute we
decided that we wanted a different kind of song.  So on our very last day of
pre-production, we wrote what became the opening song on the album, "Force
So it was done on a self-imposed kind of pressure.

WFM:  How do you feel that the song turned out?
NP:  Oh great!  It's one of my enduring favorites from that album.  Another
song that we did this same way was "Vital Signs" from MOVING PICTURES.  That
song was last minute in the studio!  We had finished everything else for the
record, so we felt free to try something.  It could be anything we wanted it to
be, so that was a refreshing feeling.  So it can be a very beneficial thing.

WFM:  Now that the band seems to be starting fresh, with a new label and all,
how would you describe the music on this new album?
NP:  For one thing, I think we've stretched the parameters a little further.
As records become less and less a part of the modern media, that's given us a
certain freedom time-wise.  We're no longer regimented to 20 minutes a side for
an album.  Records are less than 10% of what people purchase now.  We looked at
the cassette and the CD as the definitive versions, so we thought in terms of
roughly an hour of music.  We gave ourselves the option for more songs, and
more room to poke into the corners stylistically.  That extra latitude makes
quite a bit a difference in how we would normally do things.
     We ended up with 11 songs, and they're all quite different.  With this
album, we started out with a couple of basic underlying ideas to work from.  We
discussed the idea of letting the music grow from our basic unit, which is
guitar, bass, and drums.  On past albums we tended to write a lot with
keyboards and then apply the other instruments afterwards.  We thought it would
be more interesting to be a bit more linear and do the writing around the
guitar framework, and thinking of it as an ensemble as guitar, bass, and drums.
Not be be reactionary-we don't omit keyboards as a point of principle.  To the
contrary, we will probably use keyboards as much as ever, but the focus will be

WFM:  Were there any moments on the new album when you found yourself being
challenged by a drum part?
NP:  I mentioned before the dichotomy of balancing simple and complex, which is
something that is always difficult.  I find simple parts challenging for me.
The most challenging aspect of new music is coming up with the right part or
the right pattern.  Some things just seem to fall together, where I hear the
piece and immediately have an idea, and luckily it works.  However, that's the
     There's a song on the album called "Show Hotel," which begins with a
syncopated guitar riff that appears two or three times throughout the song.
That was about the hardest thing for me to find the right pattern for.  I
wanted to maintain a groove and yet follow the bizarre syncopations that the
guitar riff was leading into.  It was demanding technically, but at the same
time, because of that, we were determined that it should have a rhythmic groove
under it.  It's not enough for us to produce a part that's technically
demanding; it has to have an overwhelming significance musically.  So it had
to groove into the rest of the song and it had to have a pulse to it that was
apart from what we were playing.
     There's another song on the album, called "Scars."  On this song I was
playing eight different pads with my hands in a pattern, while I played snare
and bass drum parts with my feet.  I was using paradiddles with my hands to get
the accents in the right place and on the right pads.  Then I had to organize
the different sounds on the pads correctly so they would fall in the order I
wanted them to.   Then I had to arrange all of that into a series of rhythmic
patterns, not just one.  It was more than a day's work before I even played a
     That was a challenge of a different sort, but it came about in an
interesting way.  When Geddy and Alex did the demo for the song, they put all
kinds of percussion on the track, including congas, timbales, and bongos.  We
talked about bringing in a percussionist to play in addition to the drum
pattern I might play.  I wanted to bring in Alex Acuna, someone who is
tremendously facile in that area, who could make the track exciting as well as
interesting.  I figured he could assign me the simple parts and we could do it
together.  But then they thought, "What if Neil did it all himself using
pads?"  So it happened as I described, with me playing the percussion parts
with my hands and holding down the snare and bass parts with my feet.  It was
very satisfying to me to come up with a part that worked by myself.

WFM:  Is that something you'll be able to pull off live?
NP:  Oh absolutely!  That's the thing, there isn't an overdub on it.  When we
first played the tape for our producer, he thought I overdubbed the whole
thing.  Most listeners will probably think that when they hear the song.
     Sampling has been a Godsend to me, to be able to include sounds in my
playing without having to overdub anything.  I have little triggers placed
around my kit so I can always get to one if I have a special sound that I want
to use on a given song.  Sampling brings the world of percussion to a place the
size of a coin.  Around an acoustic drumset there are plenty of places to stick
a little trigger, and of course there's always room for a footswitch.  You can
always slip a foot off the hi-hat and send off another sound.  I feel it really
adds a lot to the character of what I'm doing.

WFM:  On the last few albums I know you experimented a great deal with sampling
and coming up with your own unique sounds to trigger.  Did you continue with
this on the new album?
NP:  Yes, I did a little bit.  I really did resist getting into electronics for
a long time-long after just about everyone else took it up.  It got to the
point where I couldn't resist it.  But even then I didn't want to replace my
acoustic set.  That's when I came up with the idea of the back-to-front
satellite kit.  Anybody who saw my kit in the late '70s knows I tried to put
everything up there, including all types of percussion instruments.  It just
got to the point where I could not get any more around me.  I wanted more
keyboard-percussion items on my kit because at the time I was really pushing
myself to play more parts on mallet instruments.  I never expected to become a
virtuoso on keyboard percussion, but I thought I could contribute to the band
     All of those instruments are big.  You know, when you start wanting to
have a marimba, glockenspiel, timpani, and chimes, it's just an impossibility
to get it around you.  So when sampling came along, that's when electronics
just won me over completely.  When the KAT MIDI mallet controller came along,
that was what I had been hoping for.  All of the keyboard percussion stuff that
I had been trying to fit in physically and also get reproduced in a live
setting, I was finally able to do.  I used to have my glockenspiel where the
KAT is now in my kit.  We would mike those bells, and that mic' would pick up
only part of the instrument, but it would pick up half the drumkit and most of
the bass sound!  So using the KAT completely avoids those types of problems.
     I sample all my own sounds.  If I happen to need a timbale sample because
I want a timbale on my righ-hand side-my acoustic timbale is on my left-I
sample my own timbale.  On the song I mentioned earlier, "Scars," I sampled my
own snare drum and played it with my foot.  On the last studio album we have a
song called "Mission," which had a syncopated marimba, bass guitar, and snare
drum solo.  When it was originally recorded I recorded the snare drum and
overdubbed the marimba to it.  Live, I assigned both the snare drum sound and
the marimba sound to the same pad, so I can have both sounds!  On the song
"Time Stand Still" I used temple block sounds.  Through the wonder of
electronics I was able to manipulate the pitches of the temple blocks, so I got
the sound I heard in my head for that part.  I have an antique Chinese drum at
home that's too fragile to do anything with, but by sampling, I was able to use
it on the record.

WFM:  Were there any new drum products that you used on the new album, other
than electronics?
NP:  Snare drums have been my main area of research lately.  I tend to go
through periods of examination of the drums that I use, the heads that I use,
and so on.  I'm constantly re-evaluation what I use, and I try not to take any
of it for granted.  As I went through the rehearsal process, I had time to
experiment.  I was going over the songs on my own, not wasting anyone else's
time, so I recorded what I was doing and really listened to the snare drum.  I
tried each of the tracks with different ones.
     I really got to know my little snare family.  I had a rough idea what
each of the drums could do, but I never had the time to really experiment and
find out what I like about each of them.  I have my old faithful Slingerland
snare that has been my number-one snare for years.  I've always kept my ears
open over the years for different drums, but that one always sounded best.
But this time I really wanted to experiment.  I tried a few piccolo snares,
some of the custom-made snares, just trying whatever I could get my hands on.
I had an old Camco snare drum that ws given to me in Japan by Tama, and
suddenly it sounded great to me.  I liked it for years, but all of a sudden it
started sounding real good to me.  I ended up using it on four songs on the
album.  It's a very bright-sounding drum.
     Solid Percussion has a drum that I really like.  It's a piccolo drum that
has a solid note in a usable range.  Most piccolos have tremendous definition
and a great high-end crack, that they don't have much in the way of a bottom
end.  The Solid drum that I have is made of cocobolo wood that gives it a
resonance that carries into lower frequencies.  That must be the fundamental
difference, because I tried another piccolo of theirs made of ply maple, and
it sounded like a good-sounding piccolo, but not as versatile as the
solid-shell cocobolo.  It's a joyous drum to play.  I used that drum for most
of the record.

WFM:  When you showed me your kit and all of your snare drums in the studio, I
noticed that you didn't have any snare drum deeper than a 5" shell.  You're
not interested in deep-shelled snared drums?
NP:  Well, I've tried them, but I just don't like the sound.  The distance
between the heads gives the drum an odd response, at least to me.  They feel
funny to me.  I know they have their uses, but they don't fall into what I'm
     I'm the same way with tom-toms.  I practically had to special order a set
that didn't have deep-shelled toms.  Everyone thinks that depth equals volume
or resonance, or something.  It's something that I've experimented with, and
have found no basis in fact.  I use the standard tom sizes and get a sound
that I'm most happy with.

WFM:  Which snare drum are you going to take out with you on the road?
NP:  Now that's a tough one!  Number one [the Slingerland] has been number one
for a long time.  It really does it all live, but at this point I'm not sure.
I would think that the cocobolo drum is a strong contender because it really
does everything well.

WFM:  Talking about drums, besides your snare drum sound, you've always had an
excellent bass drum sound.  You're probably going to tell me that you changed
your bass drum setup on every album and tour, but how do you have them tuned
and muffled?
NP:  Actually you're right, I haven't changed what I do with them over the
last few years.  In the studio, I generally take off the front heads and use
quite heavy damping.  I'll use those quilted packing blankets placed right
against the head.
     It's a funny thing with damping.  I wonder if I'll get to the point where
I'll be able to get the sound I want without any damping.  Years ago I muffled
everything on the kit-the toms and the snare.  Then, as I became better at
tuning drums, I stopped using muffling completely on toms and snare drums in
the studio.  But with the bass drums, I don't know; it's one hell of a big
barrel with too much out-of-control transient stuff going on.
     For live work, I use both heads on the drum.  The front head has a hole
just large enough to get a mic' inside.  For muffling I use a product I saw
advertised in your very pages.  It's a crescent-shaped muffling device that
just sits inside the drum and rests against both heads.

WFM:  Does that muffle the drums a lot?
NP:  No.  It's a very light foam that lets a lot of the air pass through it,
so the drum isn't completely dead.  The thing I've always liked about
double-headed bass drums is that they have a liveliness that feels great, and
they're much more dynamic.  It's just like the difference between a
double-headed tom and an open tom.  The open tom has one sound, whereas the
double-headed drum has an infinite variety of sounds.
     As for heads on the bass drums I like the clear dots for their
durability. And I just use your typical felt beater.  It's mundane, I know.

WFM:  Speaking of toms, for the longest time you had both double- and
single-headed drums in your setup, and you mentioned in previous interviews
that you like that setup.  However, now you're only using the double-headed
NP:  That's right.  During the last album I recorded a song with the open toms
and then re-recorded it with double-headed toms, and the effects were
surprising for me.  The only open toms I had on my kit were the four highest
drums, the 6", 8", 10", and 12".  With two heads, the drums just came alive.
     I ended up changing my setup a little bit because I was duplicating a
drum size.  My toms used to range from left to right, 6", 8", 10", 12", all
open toms, and then 12", 13", 15", and 18" double-headed toms.  When I
completely switched over to double-headed toms, I got rid of one of the 12"

WFM:  With the upcoming tour are you planning on using the revolving riser
with the two drumkits?
NP:  Yes, because it gives me the flexibility to use both electronics and
acoustics.  I don't have to compromise one for the other.

WFM:  How did you come up with the arrangement of the instruments on the
electronic kit?  I mean, the ride cymbal is practically on top of the snare
NP:  Yes, that's a bit different.  It just becomes inevitabilities.  It
reminds me of Sherlock Holmes, "Eliminate the impossible, and whatever's left
must be the truth."  It kind of comes down to that with putting together a
     A lot of times people think you start with all this equipment and figure
out a place to put it.  For drummers, I think as your kit changes grows, it
does so by one little unit at a time.  When my kit started growing from a
small drumkit into a big one, it was literally one cowbell, one cymbal, one
whatever, found its spot.  Other things would then have to work around that.
You find little ideas that will help you economize on space and let you
squeeze something in.  Putting one cymbal on top of another is a time-honored
one, and getting things in close enough to you so that you can play them with
conviction.  Things have to be in reach and controllable.
     When it came to adding the back kit, once I had thought of getting an
acoustic bass drum and snare drum, cymbals, and then placing the electronic
pads around that, it all sort of fell into place.  As far as having a ride
cymbal above a snare drum, I think it's great.  It makes me do different
things.  And because of where I have that cymbal positioned, as well as the
ride cymbal from my acoustic kit, I have two ride cymbals that I can reach.
I have been playing patterns lately involving 16th notes between two ride
cymbals that I could never do on a normal kit.

WFM:  Every time I'm at a Rush concert I see drummers in the audience playing
along with you, air-drumming.  Do you try to exactly reproduce your recorded
parts live?
NP:  It depends if it's hard enough.  I mentioned before about difficulty
being an underrated quality, because it's the difficulty of a song that keeps
it fresh.  If we've gone to the trouble of making a song a challenge to us,
then we really don't get tired of playing it.
     Our song "Tom Sawyer" is a perfect example of a song that is a complete
challenge for me to play years after the record came out, because it's
difficult physically and mentally.  So to me, there's no sense messing with
it.  I'm just trying to make it as accurate and as musical as possible.  But
there are other songs that do get tired or we become disenchanted with, so we
certainly change them.  If some songs just are past the point of interest for
us, we retire them.  As far as people air drumming along at shows, I take that
as a compliment that they like the fills.  I spend a lot of time trying to be
able to come up with the right fills, so if they're enjoyed by the audience
that way, terrific.

WFM:  Whenever I've seen you perform, you have an expression on your fact of
sheer concentration.
NP:  I'd call it desperate concentration. [laughs]

WFM:  But your expression is not too extreme when you compare it to other rock
drummers.  And yet, you do things like stick tosses and twirls.  So I was
wondering how you feel about drumming and showmanship.
NP:  I think it's great, as long as its both; the drumming has to be as
important as the showmanship.  When drumming and showmanship are talked about
they tend to be like technique and feel, as if they were mutually exclusive of
each other.  Obviously they need not be.
     Gene Krupa was probably my first seed of wanting to be a drummer.
There's no question that he was very flamboyant.  To me he was the first rock
drummer.  Keith Moon was was another early drummer that I admired a lot, and
he was probably the most flamboyant drummer there has been.  So I think in the
hands of someone who can already play, showmanship is great.
     For me, to toss a stick up in the air is a really dangerous thing.  Who
knows where it's going to come down?  So it adds a certain amount of risk to
the performance, and a certain amount of excitement.  And I like to toss them
high, so it's a challenge.  It's not something you can take for granted; it's
a little moment of tension for me.
     That's an interesting point you mentioned about facial expression,
though.  It seems that when I'm performing there's so much chaos going on
inside of me, and yet when I see a film or a still photograph of myself, it
doesn't seem to reflect the reality as I know it.  I feel like I'm literally a
storm.  My mind and my body are just frantic, completely over the top.  I

WFM:  With all of the years of loud playing that you have done, have you
noticed any problems with your hearing?
NP:  No, I haven't.  I think it's an ill-understood thing, the effects of loud
sounds on the ears.  I've read a lot about it, and most of the information is
conflicting.  The band has a serious ear check every year before we begin
recording an album, because in the studio you're talking about increments of
equalization that are so tiny that we think it's very important, aside from the
obvious reasons.  It may be the case that I'll go deaf when I'm 60-as long as
I don't go blind.
     By the way, I really object to ear protection.  When I see bands that
play ridiculously loud and wear ear plugs, I think it's a stupid thing.  If
you're not going to accept it, why should you bludgeon your audience with it?
I love loud music and always have, and I think there's a certain forcefulness
about it that's irreplaceable and part of the energy of rock that I like.
However, I think you're losing touch with your instrument with ear plugs, and
if you need them to get through a performance, then maybe the music is too

WFM:  Do you find that a long tour affects you emotionally?
NP:  Touring alone does, just because you are isolated away from everything.
We were lucky to have come up through the ranks slowly.  We saw a lot of other
bands headlining, and saw how they handled fame with all its temptations.  I
certainly got to see how dangerous it is for an unstable person to deal with
the whole situation.  I've seen many of them just crumble underneath it.  So
strong character is pretty much an irreplaceable quality to have in this
business.  That is something that doesn't always go with a very creative

WFM:  Does the band have a lot of input into all of the elaborate production
"events" that happen in a Rush performance?
NP:  As I mentioned earler, each of us in the band has different areas that
interest us, so we specialize in them.  Geddy, for instance, is very
interested in visual arts, and he's a big film buff.  He was very influential
with our live concert video, A Show Of Hands, because it was a way for him to
apply an interest.  I've always had a secondary interest in both words and
visual images, so art direction falls into my job description, as well as
being the stenographer for the band, collecting up all of the credits and
lyrics for album covers, submitting them, and making sure they're all
organized.  It's a way for us to help each other and the band so that all of
us don't have to do everything.

WFM:  You just mentioned your concert video, A Show Of Hands.  While watching
it, I noticed that you have to play along with a lot of sequenced parts.  Do
you have any suggestions on working with a sequencer in a live setting?
NP:  It's very similar to working with a click in the studio.  It's really
just a matter of practice.  It's a barrier that drummers need to get over.
Once you get over it, working with sequencers really becomes a second-nature
type of thing.  One difficult thing about sequencers live is being able to
hear them.  I still use headphones a lot for that reason.

WFM:  I thought I noticed a lot sequenced parts where you didn't seem to be
wearing headphones.
NP:  Oh yeah, a lot of them.  I just have them through my monitors.  In fact a
lot of them I trigger myself.  The challenge to it really is that many of our
sequenced parts aren't entier songs in length.  Of course the sequence is the
exact tempo that the record was made to, and playing live, that is not always
a realistic proposition.  But in this case, I have to set myself up through
the whole song so that maybe in the second chorus, when the sequence comes in,
I'm going to lock in with it and it's not going to sound as if suddenly the
whole song slowed down or got faster.  That takes a lot of practice, and it is
just a matter of time.
     Speaking of sequencers, each of us trigger these things live on stage.
The line we draw is that all of those things have to be triggered manually.
It's not like using tapes.  Sequencers, especially in the context that we use
them, are coming in all over the place in our performances.  They have to be
triggered obviously to the millisecond, or they'll be off from what we are
playing.  The dangers that can happen musically are nerve-racking.  We don't
feel as if we're cheating because of the way it's all put together by us, as
opposed to if we were up there playing along to tapes.  We'd never be
comfortable with that.

WFM:  Over the years you've been known for your long, and well-executed, drum
solos.  The solo on A Show Of Hands seems to have been edited.
NP:  It was truncated quite a bit.  It had to be in order to fit within a
certain amount of time.  When we were coming down to deciding what to put on
the tape, whether it be my drum solo or another song, I told them that I would
prefer another song.  And then I went on a bike trip of the Rockies.  When I
came back, I got a call from the office asking me if I'd like to include the
drum solo after all.  We only had a certain amount of time on the CD to fit it
in with all of the songs we wanted to include, so I went in and killed a lot
of the things in the solo that had appeared on earlier recorded solos of mine,
so that the listener would have something fresh to hear.  For the video, I had
even less time for the solo.  But I was still very happy with what was
presented there, and since I got to decide where to edit it, it was no

WFM:  One of the things in your solo that I like were the horn kicks at the
end.  Were you triggering those yourself?
NP:  Yes I was.  There was an interesting story behind that section of the
solo.  I took the idea from a Count Basie CD that I have.  I sampled the horn
hits off the CD and triggered them live, but I didn't feel right about using
someone else's sounds on our record.  I have strict morality about sampling,
and it's one reason why I use mostly my samples.  I don't like think that they
have been robbed off of someone else's records.
     So I went into the studio where they have a Synclavier, which is a
super-deluxe synthesizer.  We analyzed the chording of the Basie samples and
reproduced them synthetically.  So I got all of the intervals I wanted, and it
ended up sounding beautiful.  I could then wipe the guilt off my brow because
I had gone to the trouble and expense of creating those samples.

WFM:  During that section, how did you go about triggering those horn hits?
NP:  With Simmons pads.  I assigned each one to a different pad, and to a foot
switch.  I struck the pad and crash cymbal at the same time so the hits came
off exactly together.  I worked it out so that things were in the right place
so that I could do that kind of drum construction I wanted and be in the right
place for the brass accents.

WFM:  Something I've noticed in your playing over the years is the way you
organize your drum fills within a song.  Many times you arrange them from more
simple in the beginning of a song to much more complex by the end.  Is this
something you make a conscious decision about, or has this just happened
NP:  It's a conscious decision.  I do it because I hate doing the same fill
twice in the same song.  As I expressed before, I do like simple fills.  But
if I do one once in a song, then I feel compelled to do something different
the next time.  Usually there's a relationship between the fills I play within
a given song.  They're either variations on each other, or they're
progressions toward a certain thing.  Let's say the first fill I play in a
song will intimate a triplet feel.  the next fill will state it a bit more
clearly, and on the last fill, it will be no holds barred.  Rideouts in songs
that have fades are always the time when Geddy and I really stretch a bit.  At
that point the main statement about the song has been made, and we've been
good boys throughout, and then the rideout comes and we feel we can let loose.
     A lot of drummers think that playing busy is as simple as playing
everything you know all the time.  But there really is a broader significance
of those things and the application of things.  I know that in a lot of
people's minds I probably overplay, but in my own aesthetic I don't.  And I
don't intrude upon other people.  Just as I am sure other people have firm
rationale for doing what they do, I have very well-thought out parameters for
approaching things the way I do.
     When I was younger, Keith Moon was my idol, and because of this I always
wanted to be in a band that played Who songs.  But when I finally got in a
band that was playing Who songs, it was all so crazy that it didn't suit my
character.  My personality demanded structure and organization, and within
the context of trying to play like Keith Moon in Who songs, it wasn't me.
That's an important dividing point for any drummer-when you find out that the
way your hero plays is not the way you should play.  That was a significant
turning point for me, when I found out that the way I thought I wanted to play
really wasn't the way I wanted to play.

WFM:  Throughout this interview you have mentioned drummers who have inspired
you.  but there are a lot of drummers whom you have inspired.  In fact, you're
probably the most popular drummer...
NP: this room! [laughter]

WFM:  Seriously, you may be the most popular drummer to emerge in the last 20
years.  What do you think it is about your playing that has interested so many
NP:  I guess it's that I play a lot within the context of the band.  We've had
a lot of good fortune being in a band that plays the kind of music we want to
play, and stretches out all over the place.  I suppose my appeal would be to
primarily younger drummers, who would be more impressed by a lot of playing.
It's also that the band I'm in has a certain amount of success, and has given
me a great deal of visibility.
     That's really a tough question.  There are so many things involved.  As a
band we went to the trouble of learning all those technical things that take a
long time to learn.  And, just as I can't help admiring any drummer I hear who
learned how to play all of the rudiments, learned how to apply them, learned
how to keep good time-those things carry a lot of weight with me and will win
the respect of most any drummer.

WFM:  When I watch A Show Of Hands, I'm struck by the amount of fun that you
and the rest of the band seem to be having.
NP:  Again, on another night it would show so much more because, on that
night, we were concentrating so much on trying to be good.  But I'm glad it
shows in that context.

WFM:  You've been in Rush now a long time.
NP:  It's been 15 years this year.

WFM:  Do you really still enjoy it?
NP:  Oh yeah.  I mean there are nights, and there are NIGHTS; any musician
knows that.  But after all of these years there are still really magical,
wonderful performances that we have where there's no other place I'd rather

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