Snakes and Arrows: Tour Book

Past, present, and future all come together on this stage—sometimes in the most unlikely ways.

The story began last December, when the three of us met in Los Angeles with our Snakes and Arrows coproducer, Nick (“Booujzhe”) Raskulinecz, to talk about the coming year. We had deliberately not discussed any plans before that meeting, only agreeing that we wanted to do something together. We had several possible choices ahead, and we would outline them together and decide.

In late 2006 and early ’07 we had recorded Snakes and Arrows, then toured in the summers of ’07 and ’08, and taken some time off in 2009. So far, so normal. Now the typical thing to do would be to start writing songs toward making an album, then launch a tour behind that in 2011 or so. However, these days an “album” is an abstraction dearer to artists than to audiences, and it didn’t seem necessary to follow that timeworn pattern anymore. “Crisis is both danger and opportunity,” goes the old Chinese saying, and we were kind of excited about doing things a different way.

We definitely wanted to work on something new, and talked about just writing and recording a couple of songs. We could follow the wishes of our manager, Ray, and do a little touring in 2010 as well. Geddy brought up a project that has long appealed to him—collecting all of our instrumentals into one album, and perhaps writing a new one to go with them.

“Maybe something a little more extended,” he said, and my ears pricked up. Years back, we had done our share of long works, lyrical concepts and instrumentals (always remembering the subtitle of “La Villa Strangiato” from 1978, “An Exercise in Self Indulgence”), but lately we had tended to make our songs, if not concise, at least more compressed. So that, for example, an instrumental like “The Main Monkey Business” on Snakes and Arrows was enormously complex, but worked through its movements in six minutes, instead of nine or ten.

At that suggestion, wheels started turning in my head. Now that we were talking about doing something a little more ambitious musically, I wondered if it wasn’t time to think that way in terms of lyrics and concepts, too. The chorus line in “Caravan” seems apt: “I can’t stop thinking big.”

I told the guys about an idea for a fictional world that had interested me lately, thinking it would make a great setting, maybe for a suite of songs that told a story. A genre of science fiction pioneered by certain authors (including my friend Kevin J. Anderson) had come to be called “steampunk,” seen as a reaction against the “cyberpunk” futurists, with their scenarios of dehumanized, alienated, dystopian societies. Our own previous excursions into the future, “2112” and “Red Barchetta,” had been set in that darker kind of imagining, for dramatic and allegorical effect, but I was thinking of steampunk’s definition as “The future as it ought to have been,” or “The future as seen from the past”—as imagined by Jules Verne, for example, in 1866, when he was writing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

When I was nine or ten, my dad took my brother and sister and me to see that movie at a Saturday matinee, and images from it had always stuck with me. The fearsome destructiveness of the Nautilus had a kind of monstrous beauty, contrasted with the cultured opulence of Captain Nemo’s quarters, and the massive pipe organ on which, he played with mad rapture. The captain may have been insane, but it was a romantic, idealistic bind of madness—his mission was only to destroy ships of war, because his beloved family had been killed in wartime.

The guys seemed intrigued by the concept, and at home in Southern California, I started working on a story and some lyrics along those lines, set in a world driven by steam, intricate clockworks, and alchemy—“a world lit only by fire” (title of a history of medieval times by William Manchester). Early in January, 2010, I was able to send a bunch of pages of lyrics to Alex and Geddy in Toronto, and they got together in Geddy’s home studio, “messing around,” jamming and seeing what came out. Their individual temperaments are perfect for that approach—Alex the consummate improviser (you will hear him noodling on the guitar and play something great, then ask him, “Wait—what was that?,” and he’ll look up and say, “Um, I don’t know”), and Geddy the patient editor and organizer, sifting through their recorded rambles for the best parts, then stitching them together into an arrangement. He would also look through my pages of lyrics for things that seemed to go together, then tweak the music to suit, and send me requests for lyrical alterations to fit the growing song.

In early March we met in Toronto at Geddy’s house, and listened to the five songs they had completed. Booujzhe also came back into the picture at that point, delivering his opinions and suggestions for the work in progress, and together we decided to focus on two of the songs, “Caravan” and “BU2B” (the guys thought my original title of “Brought Up to Believe” was too unwieldy, so I found it musing to render it in modern social-networking textese). Those songs also happened to be the first two pieces of the projected story, now titled Clockwork Angels.

In April I returned to Toronto for two weeks, when we finalized the arrangements, and I started working out drum parts. With reference to the “compressed complexity” mentioned earlier, it is noteworthy that “Caravan” alone took me three days to learn just as “The Main Monkey Business” had. Playing through it time and again, gradually “absorbing” its bumps and wrinkles and smoothing them out, I was grumbling to my drum tech, Gump, about my bandmates’ tendency to add and drop random beats here and there in the arrangement, whenever it suited them. “I do wish they could learn to count to four three times in a row!”

Then came Booujzhe. I have explained before that his nickname came from his habit of airdrumming outrageous fills, “Blappada-blappada, dubba-dubba-dubba, rat-a-ta-tat, booujzhe.” (Onomatopoeia, like.)

He was soon at it again. In the middle of “Caravan” there was a linking section where Geddy and Alex did a climb down, then up again, and I had laid out of that part, just accentuating the downbeats between. In those spaces, Booujzhe started miming an absurd fill, tumbling all the way down the toms in triplet-feel flurries, then rising all the way back up again, to follow the guitar and bass. I just looked at him, incredulous. He gave me his usual comment, “Hey—I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think you could do it.”

Geddy looked up over his glasses and said drily, “He wants to make you famous.”

I worked it out and played it, and Booujzhe got all excited. All I could say was, “I’m so ashamed.”

Like the end section of “Far Cry,” which Booujzhe had likewise encouraged me to solo over, it was not something I would ever have suggested myself, but it’s one of the reasons we like having a guy like Booujzhe around—to push us, encourage us, make us do crazy stuff.

So now we needed a studio where we could properly record this new music. Part of the collateral damage in the decline of the established music industry has been that many recording studios have closed, and the only good room for recording drums we could get at short notice was in Nashville—Blackbird. However, as we put down the drum and bass tracks in the first two days, then moved on to overdubs and mixing for another ten days, it proved to be a great studio, and we loved the results.

During all this time, going back to January, we had also been planning the Time Machine tour—trading suggestions for old songs to resurrect, as well as dreaming up a whole new stage presentation. Inspired by artists like Steely Dan and Todd Rundgren, who had recently been performing some of their older albums in their entirety, I suggested that it might be cool to do that with Moving Pictures—one of our most popular albums, we had never performed the whole thing before—had never played “The Camera Eye” live.

Other recent tours have actually given us more freedom in choosing songs. After presenting such a broad retrospective on the R30 tour in 2004, we felt liberated from that “responsibility” on the Snakes and Arrows tour in 2007 and ’08, and played more of the newer songs. This time we felt free of those, and along with adding our two new songs, “Caravan” and “BU2B,” and the Moving Pictures set, we tried to find some unusual oldies to spark up the song list-for ourselves and for our fans.

The time machine was now set to past, present, and future.

While I put together some ideas for cover art with Hugh Syme, for the song releases and the tour, Geddy was working with his film collaborators Dale and Allan on the rear-screen movies, recruiting Alex and me as comedic “actors”—to pursue our long-term goal in live performance: “More Comedy, Less Music.”

While we never seem to get away with “less music,” it’s true that as the years go by we do have more laughs.

Management by Ray Danniels, SRO Management Inc. Toronto

Tour Manager & Tour Accountant – Liam Birt
Production Manager – Craig Blazier
Production Assistant – Karin Blazier
Road Manager – Donovan Lundstrom
Artist Liaison – Shelley Nott
Concert Sound Engineer – Brad Madix
Lighting Director – Howard Ungerleider
Keyboard Technician -Tony Geranios
Drum Technician – Lorne Wheaton
Bass Technician – Russ Ryan
Guitar Technician – Bobby Huck
Stage Monitor Engineer – Brent Carpenter
Carpenter – George Steinert
Security Director – Michael Mosbach
Nutritionist – Bruce French
Programming – Jim Burgess of Saved by Technology and Ed Wilson
Concert Rigging by Five Points Rigging – John Fletcher, Jacques Richard
Concert Sound by MD Clair Bros. – Jo Ravitch, Anson Moore
Lighting by Premier Global Productions – Rich Vinyard, Greg Haygood, Randy Garrett, Matt Tucker
Video equipment by Screenworks – David Davidian, Bob Larkin, Nick Strand, Bill Quinn
Lasers by Production Design – Andrew Seabeck
Pyrotechnics by Pyrotek – John Arrowsmith
Trucking by Ego Trips – Arthur [Mac] McLear, Jon Cordes, Don Johnson, Tom Hartmann, Dick Albrecht, John Stephenson, David Vancil
Buses by Hemphill Brothers – David Burnette, Lashawn Lundstrom, Marty Beeler, Joe C. Bush, Bob Reetz

Tour Merchandise – Pat McLoughlin

Booking Agencies – Writer & Artist Group International, NYC,
The Agency Group, London, S.L. Feldman & Associates, Toronto

Art Direction, Design and Digital Illustration by Hugh Syme
Photography by Andrew MacNaughtan
Executive Production
all rear-screen films – Allan Weinrib

Set One Introduction Film
Animation and VFX by SPIN
Creative Director/Animator – Mike Spicer
Executive Producer – Lisa Hemeon
Designer/Animator – Rodrigo Santas

Live action segments:
Imported Artists
Director – Dale Heslip
Producer – Jill Waters
Editor – Mark Paiva

Circumstances, Mission, Secret Touch, Between The Wheels, The Main Monkey Business, Spindrift, Witch Hunt, Natural Science,
by Derivative – Rachel Villuens, Markus Heckmann, Greg Hermanovic, Geoff Marshall

Set Two Introduction Film
Animation and VFX by SPIN
Creative Director – Colin Davies
Executive Producer – Lisa Hemeon
Flame Artist – Steve Lowry
3D Artist – Kye Yong Peck

Live action segments
Imported Artists
Director – Dale Heslip
Producer – Jill Waters
Editor – Mark Paiva

Far Cry
Animation and VFX by SPIN
V.P./Director/lnferno Artist – Steven Lewis
Creative Director – Colin Davies
Executive Producer – Lisa Hemeon
3D Artist – Kye Yong Peck
Assistant Designer – Sean Lewis

Armor and Sword
Visuals by Christopher Mills

Workin’ Them Angels
Lewis Hine photos courtesy of George Eastman Kodak and U.S. Photo Archives
Illustrations by Hugh Syme
Editorial by Mark Paiva/School Editorial

The Larger Bowl
Steve Mykolyn & Meldmedia Inc.
Art Director – Ken Reddick
Producer – Michael Dobell
Motion Graphics Artists – Ken Reddick, James Hackett. Mat Den Boer, Milica Stefancic, Sebastian Grebing

The Way the Wind Blows
Electric Company
Visuals by Crankbunny

The Main Monkey Business
Andrew MacNaughtan & School Editing
Editor – Mark Paiva

Swingin’ Serpents
Tandem Digital
Creative Direction & Design,
Motion Graphics – Greg Russell
Motion Graphics – Nick Chomicki

A Passage to Bangkok
School Editing
Editor – Mark Paiva

Alex Lifeson

Excerpt from an interview of Alex by Alex dated May 13, 2007.

Let me begin by saying how lovely it is to see you.
Yes, I know, and it’s terrific to see you, too.

I dunno, but did you get a haircut or something, because, wow!
I trimmed my ears last week, maybe that? It makes a big difference.

Yes. . . Um.

Tell me, what goes on behind those eyes, deep in your brain, out the back of your head and down your leg, around the corner and so on?

What? LOL . . . did I actually say LOL? I promised I’d never do that.

No, it’s okay, you just typed it. Tell us a little about how you prepare for one of your lively concerts, just the parts while you’re awake.

Well, it takes hours of intense thinking and questioning . . . yes, questioning why you’re thinking so intensely so intensely. It’s like a giant circular circle or a snake that’s been man-made into a circle-like circle snake—but definitely not like a flying shark snake, which is usually on days off.

From there it just gets intense.

I see. Fascinating. As are your shoes! They are absolutely to die for. Prada?
Pravda, actually. I bought them in Prague from a street vendor who was having a closing out sale on Soviet footwear. Placing the heel on the front of the shoe was revolutionary.

How Bohemian. LOL.

LOL too.

So, Alexandar, let’s go deep for a moment and travel back to May 12. It’s 7 a.m. and you’re getting up. You walk down the hall, pass a mirror, glance fleetingly. You arrive in the kitchen to the prospect of a coffee. You have the coffee, shake your head and smile, you think, “this is a good coffee day” when suddenly you stub your toe, drop the coffee cup, spill scorching hot coffee on your pants, slip on the wet floor, go flying, smash a vase when you crush the coffee table and break the door off the dishwasher and totally break all the coffee cups. What was it you saw in the mirror? What?

Where do you get all this stuff? That is amazing. Your research department is to be commended. I’m just blown away that you have all that. It’s as if you were there. No really, that’s something else.

The mirror, Alex. The mirror.

Huh? The mirror? What mirror? I didn’t look into a mirror.

The . . . mirror . . . Alex.

No really. There was no mirror. I glanced out the window.

What the, no, I, wait . . .

You’re SOL, buddy

Why you SOB!

Hey. FU!

CUP!!

SO?!

Getting back to something I’d like to explore with you. I’ve watched ice melt and seen the wind die, the Leafs blow, I’ve been a wailin’ on the high seas. If you could be a friendly insect, what would you be, and not hairy or anything?

I’ve always had a hard time answering that question. There are so many insects, maybe hundreds, and really, how do you choose? What are the criteria? It’s not easy, for sure. Maybe a salamander.

You mean like Sal, a man, ‘der? LOL again.

FU.

Continuing on that train of thought for a moment, ask yourself this: where did I leave my keys, you idiot?

In the car at the gas station while you were filling up an hour ago and you went in to get a coffee and . . . oh oh.

If you could go back in time to just that last, say, hour and a half, what would you do differently?

Quit drinking coffee.

I couldn’t do that. I’d go crazy and I don’t even like coffee but no one can make me quit if I don’t want to, though I’m not saying I don’t want to or quit wanting to or just plain wanting to quit.

Exactly. I’ve been saying that for years and I’m finally relieved to know other serious, smart in brain people are making the think in headvoice ideas too. It’s time to take a coffee stand and deciding stuff to make the world a faster place to live in.

Well, we seem to have run out of time. I’ve quite enjoyed our conversation, as usual, and would leave you with this thought to ponder . . . but don’t ponder too long, and when I say ‘ponder,’ I don’t mean, like, PONDER, just think about it with your eyebrows scrunched up and like you’re pondering around. Okay then, what is the absolutely best day of your life?

Next week.

Bold and brilliant! It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you.

Charmed, I’m sure.

Neil Peart

After the 30th anniversary tour, the guys at Drum Workshop and I agreed that the R30 kit ought to be retired. I felt that way because it had been a true centerpiece of that tour (sitting center stage every night, after all), and I wanted to keep that “specialness.” The DW guys, led by John Good (“the Wood Whisperer”), felt that way because they thought they could do better.

In 2006, they built me a “West Coast kit” on which I recorded a few songs for my friend Matt Scannell, as well as Snakes and Arrows. Everybody who heard those drums was blown away by their sound, but John continued to develop his ideas—combining different combinations of laminates for the shells, like his “Vertical Low Timbre” innovations. Just as the West Coast kit had eclipsed the R30 drums in tonality and resonance, these new ones take it to what my teacher, Freddie Gruber, would call “another place.” After I had rehearsed for a couple of weeks on the West Coast kit, my drum tech, Lorne “Gump” Wheaton, put up the new ones, and I truly couldn’t believe how different they sounded—how much bigger and warmer.

One of these drums actually is bigger—the 23″ bass drum, which is another unique innovation of John Good’s. Back in the 70s, when Rush were opening shows, I used to be able to go out front and listen to other drummers. I noticed then that 24″ bass drums had a particular “kick” (for once that word is apt), but I preferred the playability and dynamics of a 22″. John suspected that the 23″ would combine the best of both, and he was right.

The “VLT” approach was also applied to the snare drum’s shell, and it was another revelation—the best I have ever played, for both response and sound. The toms are 8″, 10″, 12″, 13″, two 15″, 16″, and 18″, with DW’s Coated Clear heads. Remo supplies some of the other heads, while the drumsticks are Pro-Mark signature models.

In an earlier Web story, I hinted that “black is the new gold,” and this time the hardware is plated in black nickel. Likewise, “red is the new black,” the finish is Aztec Red, inset with a pair of logos Hugh Syme and I created for the CD package. The Greek symbol ouroboros, or snake eating its tail, surrounds a calligraphic rendering of my favorite road sign: the universal symbol for “winding road” (On a motorcycle or in a fast car, that’s the best kind of “snake and arrow” you can see.) The repeating motif, in gold leaf and metallic gray satin over the Aztec Red, was created by DW’s master painter, Louie Garcia (a true artist).

The cymbals are my signature Paragons, by Sabian, with a 22″ ride, 20″, 18″, and two 16″ crashes, 13″ high-hats, 14″ “x-hats,” 8″ and 10″ splashes, 19″ and 20″ China types-plus our new innovation, the “Diamondback,” with tambourine jingles.

DW once again provided custom shells for the Roland V-drums (the TD-20s), and the electronic stuff includes a MalletKAT, KAT trigger pedals, and a Dauz pad, all running through a Roland XV5080 sampler and Project X Glyph hard drives.

Geddy Lee

O.K. It’s that time when I am supposed to list the ekwiptment that I will be using on the Snakes and Arrows tour. But . . . does anyone really care what devices I use?

Isn’t the real question of interest, “Will you be using your dryers on tour again?”

That was the question I was most often asked during the last two tours. I mean, what is it with this obsession with laundry, folks?

Rather than put myself through all of that once again, I knew I had no choice but to abandon the warm, dry sound of my Maytags, and go into an entirely new direction in onstage amplification.

So, between rehearsals and preparing for my Rotisserie Baseball drafts, I decided to get professional help. After a few sessions, I started to feel much better. (Apparently it has something to do with my childhood . . . I dunno.) In any event, I contacted the ridiculously fashionable new amp designer, Henry Spencer, with the company, Un Peu de Poulet, for the absolute latest in cutting-edge stage gear. Together we have designed what I feel will set a new standard by which all other rock ‘n’ roll shows will henceforth be judged.

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that this is the man who brought you such famous amps as the the HENHOUSE and the MAN-MADE CHlCKEN-which in fact was no bigger than your fist! And he also developed the roasting hot KAPON, which guitarists (especially our own lovely and rapacious Alex Lifeson) have been using with gusto for many years. Despite the obvious negative side effects.

So, I sincerely hope my new amps will finally satisfy my endless hunger for the newest and most perfectly tasty sound source, and I also hope that you, our dedicated audience, will be able to digest the audacity with which we have been devouring this new technology, and appreciate the sheer bravado of such a bold step forward in the ongoing search for revolutionary new ideas with which to whet your cumulative appetites!!

Cheers, santé, down the hatch, and bon appetit, mes amis!

Guitars:
1972 Fender Jazz bass
Fender Jazz Geddy Lee model
Fender Jazz Custom Shop bass
Fender Jaco Pastorius Tribute fretless bass
Fender Jaco Pastorius Tribute Custom Shop fretted version
Garrison acoustic guitars

Amplification:
Avalon direct boxes, model U5
SansAmp RPM pre-amps
Palmer speaker simulator, model PDI-05
Trace Elliot Quatra valve amps
Sampson UR-5D wireless system

Keyboards and Samplers:
Roland XV-5080 sampler/ synthesizers
Roland Fantom-X7 synthesizer
Moog Little Fatty digital synthesizer
Korg MIDI pedals

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~ by rvkeeper on March 12, 2011.

 
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