Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart has written an extended essay on his personal website, dealing with events of the last year, including coming home after tour, the death of his longtime drum teacher...and the recording sessions for the band's upcoming studio album, Clockwork Angels.
Writes Peart, "Most recently, I had been recording in Toronto with my bandmates, from mid-October until early December. We completed the songwriting and arranging for the album, Clockwork Angels, we started back in late 2009—before going “on hiatus” for the Time Machine tour, and playing 81 shows in North America, South America, and Europe. (Some hiatus.) While Alex [Lifeson, guitar] and Geddy [Lee, bass/vocals] were finishing the writing and arranging in one smaller room of the studio, over in the big room I was working with The Mighty Booujzhe, recording my drum parts. As we prepare to start mixing in the New Year, it is too early to say anything about the results. (I once described mixing as “the end of waiting,” while Geddy calls it, “the death of hope.”) About the process, though, I can’t resist spilling a little. It was our second time working with the production team of Nick “Booujzhe” Raskulinecz and engineer Rich “Tweak” Chycki. Beginning with a confident level of trust allowed us to reach higher, and I recorded my drum parts in a way that, for me, was completely different than ever before. Even right up to our previous album, Snakes and Arrows (2007), my method was to take a demo version Alex and Geddy had made of each song and play along with it many, many times. I would experiment with possible rhythms and decorations, and gradually organize them into an arrangement. At that point, I might start recording demos myself—often with Alex as engineer—and improve them over time, with input from my bandmates and coproducer (Booujzhe, in that case).
"(A reminder about that nickname: Nick likes to suggest outrageous fills for me to play, and he will mime them with wild physical gestures and sound effects: 'Bloppida-bloppida-batu-batu-whirrrrr-blop—booujzhe!' That last being the downbeat, with crash cymbal and bass drum.)
"In recent years I have been working deliberately to become more improvisational on the drums, and these sessions were an opportunity to attempt that approach in the studio. I played through each song just a few times on my own, checking out patterns and fills that might work, then called in Booujzhe. He stood in the room with me, facing my drums, with a music stand and a single drumstick—he was my conductor, and I was his orchestra. (I later replaced that stick with a real baton.)
"Rush songs tend to have complicated arrangements, with odd numbers of beats, bars, and measures all over the place, and our latest songs are no different (maybe worse—or better, depending). In the past, much of my preparation time would be spent just learning all that. I don’t like to count those parts, but rather play them enough that I begin to feel the changes in a musical way. Playing it through again and again, those elements became 'the song.'
"This time I handed that job over to Booujzhe. (And he loved it!) I would attack the drums, responding to his enthusiasm, and his suggestions between takes, and together we would hammer out the basic architecture of the part. His baton would conduct me into choruses, half-time bridges, and double-time outros and so on—so I didn’t have to worry about their durations. No counting, and no endless repetition. What a revelation! What a relief!
"There was this one song, though...
"Here the music stand in front of my drums represents an historic event: the first time I have ever used written notes—or at least numbers. There were two sections of one song that were ridiculously complicated, and I didn’t want to have to stop and learn them in my old way—I wanted to keep playing. So I wrote them down: one passage in which the rapid-fire snare accents went '4-2-4-2-3-2-4-2-3-2-1-y' (16th note push), and a series of staccato punches that went '1-3-1-5-1-4-1½.' (Not exactly one-and-a-half beats, I guess, but a reminder that the last punch was also the downbeat into the next section.)
"By these methods, each song’s drum part was composed, arranged, performed, and recorded in just a few hours, rather than many days, as in the past. Also, each performance occurred only once, with magic—or lucky—moments from a few takes combined into one that was fresh and spontaneous. Now I can learn and reproduce that part, if desired, much as I did by the old process, but of course it’s not the same. I like to believe that a listener can sense when a player is on the edge of his seat, so to speak, playing with urgency, invention, and excitement. Sometimes the listener may share the player’s relief at having got safely back to 'one.'
"Performing to that level was the satisfying culmination of several years of ambition, pursued through studying with Peter Erskine, practicing faithfully for months with just high-hat and metronome as part of my preparation for playing the Buddy Rich tribute concert back in ’08, making 'The Hockey Theme' in ’09, recording two new Rush songs, 'Caravan' and 'BU2B,' in early 2010, and—perhaps paramount in the sense of working toward a goal—playing all of those shows on the Time Machine tour in 2010 and ’11. Study, practice, experimentation, composition, and recording all reach their acme on the stage—nothing is more demanding than live performance, thus nothing does so much for my playing. (A fact about which I remain ambivalent, because until real-time holograms are possible, and accepted by audiences, it demands such long periods away from home.)"
The whole essay/letter is worth reading; head over to NeilPeart.net and check it out.