Test for Echo: Tour Book

Official Guide Book and User’s Manual

By Neil Peart

Is there anybody out there?

That’s what the title is all about. Everybody needs an “echo,” some affirmation, to know they’re not alone. Sometimes that can be life’s most precious discovery—somebody out there who feels the way you do. You ask yourself “Am I crazy?”, “Am I weird?”, and you need some affirmation: the echo. While the answer to those questions may still be “Yes!” it’s good to know that you’re not the only one. You are not alone . . .

And we’re not, either. During the making of this record, my partners Geddy and Alex posted some goofy “Inspirational Slogans” on the walls of the studio. Like this one:

individually, we are a ass; but together, we are a genius

Like most Inspirational Slogans, it’s hyperbolic (and goofy), but expresses a humble truth. Another previous discovery to make in life: we do our best work together. And have the most fun, too. (That’s the “genius” part.)

We had taken a long break from being “a genius together.” After the “Counterparts” tour ended in May of ’94, we took almost a year and a half away from the band, and during that time Geddy and his wife produced a baby girl, Alex (as “Victor”) produced a solo album, and I produced a tribute to the big-band music of Buddy Rich. We worked; we traveled; we lived our lives; and it was fine.

All of those activities kept us off the streets and out of trouble until October of ’95, when we assembled at Chalet Studio, a country retreat just outside Toronto. From my little writing-room at one end of the house, I looked out over the fields and autumn-tinged treetops all the way down to Lake Ontario. With this pleasant backdrop to my computer’s screen, I began sending a stream of lyrics to the small studio at the other end of the house, where Geddy and Alex hunched over guitars and computers.

In past writing sessions, the two of them often “built” the songs as they went, matching verses and choruses and roughing out the arrangement on a demo tape. At that point we would all listen to the song, and discuss what was good and what might be improved, both musically and lyrically. So much comes clear in that unforgiving form (guitars, vocals, and drum machine) and for me, with my lyricist hat on, the first time I hear the words sung is a revelation. Unsuspected nuances—-and flaws—and thrown into sharp relief.

But this time they chose another method: as the musical ideas emerged, they would go through the lyrics and try to match up a verse or a chorus, record that fragment, then move on to something else. They didn’t want to get bogged down in the “jigsaw puzzle” of assembling whole songs, but rather keep the momentum going with a flow of fresh ideas. Fair enough, of course—whatever works!—but this reporter was growing a little anxious when a couple of weeks went by and he still hadn’t heard anything.

However, I continued “feeding the machine” with more lyrics and when I needed a “left-brain break,” I could go have a bash on the small practice kit in the hall outside my room. During our hiatus, instead of getting away from drumming, it had actually assumed a new importance in my life—after thirty years of playing the “traps” (for “contraption”), I was able to step away from performing and really explore drumming, and it became a revelation to me.

So, as the days went by I was doubly eager to hear something new. The left brain wanted to know if any of the words were working out, and when I switched hemispheres and practiced my drumming, the right brain wanted some songs to work on. Finally the day came when Geddy and Alex were ready to play me some completed music, and called me into the studio. All a little nervous, we glanced around the Lerxst Sound console and played the tape.

Nothing to be nervous about—I loved what I heard. Wearing my lyricist hat, it was gratifying to hear those endlessly fussed-over words come alive in song, and wearing my drummer hat, it was inspiring to hear so many musical directions to explore, and all the possibilities for rhythmic fun and games. This was going to be good.

Now we began the process of refining the arrangements and developing our individual parts. And now it began to snow—in Biblical proportions. An early blizzard struck on the first of November. Artic winds swirling in a deep blanket of snow over the woods and pastures, and that seemed to be the weather forecast until the record was finished—six months later. No coincidence that the Artic theme pervades our cover art, for it certainly pervaded our working environment.

By early December the songs were nearly all written, arranged, and recorded (to varying degrees of refinement), and we were joined by Peter Collins (with his snowboots). In previous years, Peter had been our co-producer on Power Windows, Hold Your Fire, and Counterparts, and once again he came through for us, suggesting many small-but-critical improvements to the arrangements and our individual parts. Perhaps Peter’s greatest contribution is his instinct for pointing us in directions we would never have imagined.

Which, of course, is exactly why you have a co-producer.

As the process continued, Peter kept his ears on the “overview” of the songs and performances and let the three of of us, and recording engineer Clif Norrell (Faith No More, R.E.M., Catherine Wheel, etc. . .) worry over the “inside” stuff—the nuts-and-bolts of equalization, relative balances, and mathematical precision, Clif’s experienced and sensitive cars helped to translate the sounds we imagined into the sounds we heard (no small feat!).

At the beginning of January we started recording at Bearsville Studios, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, and naturally we arrived there on the very day of the “Blizzard Of ’96.” Back in Toronto, we moved into the cozy little world of Reaction Studio, and still the snow kept falling (for forty days and forty nights). By April, Spring ought to have been sniffing around, but the flurries continued as we moved into McClear Place, ready for the final mix.

Different people have different reactions to this crucial time. For myself, an impatient sort who likes quick gratification, I call it “The End Of Waiting,” while Geddy, still harboring visions of sudden perfection and miraculous transformation, refers to mixing as “The Death of Hope.” For Alex, there are more important concerns: Inventions. Dinner. Louder Guitars.

Mixing engineer Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Faith No More, etc. . .) came on board at this point (with his snowboots), all fresh and untainted by the recording process. Working quickly and intuitively, Andy was able to take all of that music we’d lived with for so long and weave it into new and unexpected patterns. When we heard his mix of a song for the first time, invariably we’d say something like, “Wow —I never thought of it like that before!”

Which is exactly why you bring in a mixing engineer.

And that’s our little story: We took a long break. We made a record. It snowed a lot.

Oh, there’s more—a whole cinematic “back-story,” some of which can perhaps be read between these lines: All the years leading up to where we are today, the eager determination we brought to this project, the dedicated time and effort that went into making it (and not just when it was snowing, either —two summers went into it as surely as did two winters. Or twenty years. Or thirty years).

And, of course, there are all the songs, too, and what’s “between the lines” in them. How the lyrics to “Test For Echo” (a collaboration between this reporter and Pye Dubois, like “Tom Sawyer,” “Force Ten,” and “Between Sun And Moon” before it) give a video-view of this wacky world of ours, and offer this tacit response: “Excuse me—does anybody else think this weird?”

HALLO-O-O-o-o! Test . . . for . . . echo . . . Is anybody out there?

“Virtuality” takes a similarly ironic view of modern life—after all, what the heck is a “virtual song?” And who would want to dance to it? Same in “Resist,” with the adaptation of the Oscar Wilde quote: “I can resist anything except temptation.” Well, really—what else is there to resist?

Like the way I resist the temptation to talk about the music itself, just out of the “group modesty” (although a great baseball philosopher once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you actually done it!”). I probably shouldn’t even mention all the fine guitar solos and vocal performances, and how my colleagues shine on songs like “Totem,” “Resist,” “Time and Motion,” “The Color of Right”—hell, all of them.

“Individually, we are a ass . . . ” Yes, that part’s true enough, but still—after so many years of apprenticeship, I believe we’re finally starting to get somewhere. Together.

Whenever we get there, and wherever there is, I sure hope we’ll look out from that stage and find an audience waiting. Otherwise it will be like Gertrude Stein’s comment on a certain midwestern city: “We went there—but there was no there there.”


Test . . . for . . . echo . . .

Is there anybody out there?

Management by Ray Danniels, SRO Management Inc., Toronto
Tour Manager: Liam Birt
Production & Stage Manager: Craig (C.B) Blazier
Production Assistant: Skip Gildersleeve
Concert Sound Engineer: Robert Scovill
Lighting Director: Howard Ungerleider
Stage Left Technician: Steve Cohen
Centre Stage Technician: Larry Allen
Stage Right Technician: Jim Johnson
Keyboard Technician: Tony Geranios
Programming: Carl Petzelt
Stage Monitor Engineer: Brain Keeffe
Personal Assistant: Peter Rollo

Concert Sound by Electrotec: George Barnes, Charlie Lawson, Mike Humble, Jason Alt
Lighting by See Factor: Ethan Weber, Ed Duda, Phil Karatz
Moving lights: Matt Druzbik
Pyrotechnics: Reid Schulte-Derne, Doug Adams, Randy Bast
Rear Screen Projectionists created by Spin Productions: Norman Stangl
BBC video crew: Jeff Claire, Keithe Marrero, Richard Speicher
Lasers: John Popowycz, Charles Passarelli
Concert Rigging by IMC: Billy Collins, Brian Collins, Richard Farr
Carpenters: George Steinert, Lorne Wheaton
Trucks & Buses: Ego Trips, Hemphill Brothers
Drivers: Arthur (Mac) MacLear, John Mallen, Dave Cook, Don Johnson, Ian Fergusson, David Burnette, Glyn “English” Morris, Keith Kaminski, Paul Hortop
Chief Pilot: Mike McLean
Captain: Douglas Vaillant
Navigator: Phil MacMullin Tour Merchandise: The McLoughlin family, Steve Siket
Booking Agencies: International Creative Management, NYC, The Agency Group, London, The Agency, Toronto
Tour Accountants: Drysdale & Drysdale–John Whitehead, Liam Birt
Program Design and Digital Illustrations: Hugh Syme
Photography: Andrew MacNaughtan
Additional Photography: Dimo Safari, Tony Frederick, Richard C. Negus, Justin Zivojinovich

Alex LIfeson

The old days. Yep, I remember them days. Why, we was so poor we thought “grammar” was my Mom’s Mom! My old Dad got a third part-time job washing trees in the park so’s he could afford to buy me a $50 Conora guitar. Made in Japan when that mean’t somthin’—Cheap!! No fancy-shmancy bells and whistles on that beaut, no sir. Just pure, no sustain, dull, crappy sound—but that was the style at the time.

Yep, I remember them days.

We was so poor we couldn’t afford to think about owning a amp, let alone talk about owning one. I had to borra this one from Very Old Doc Cooper next door, who was born older than his parents. They say he went plum crazy one day and died after eatin’ a whole bushel of ’em. Anyway, back then he used to loan me his Paul amp, which had the same crappy sound that was the style at the time.

My old Dad got even another job as an electrician so’s he could legally get electrical tape so’s I could illegally tape “VOX” on the front of it. Them Vox amps was for rich guys like the Beatles, which was the group I was hoping to join ’cause I heard from some guy that they was good. I never got that job ’cause I also heard that you had to have your own stuff to get in that group. Also, I was only thirteen.

I didn’t have no kind of equipment ’cause there wan’t no other to have. In them days, you had a guitar, a amp, and maybe a real pick. And you always carried your stuff to the gig, which was for free. Why, in them days a “roadie” was when that little kid next door pooped in the middle of the street! You had to be real careful when you walked to the gig, let me tell you.

And, we was so poor we couldn’t afford to have good enough friends at them gigs who would like our sound only because they were our friends. Instead, we had the kind of friends who went “Shut up, you stupid sound too loud, man!”

“Yeah? You shut up, stupid lousy friends!”

Anyhoo, I remember them days. And what days they was.

Neil Peart

The Drums? Well, they’re Stewarts, of course, with an 18″ Capri bass drum I got in a trade from my friend, and featuring the finest Ajax cymbals from Japan. (As my colleague Lerxst pointed out, those were the days when “Made In Japan” really meant something—none of your quality materials and meticulous workmanship then, boy!)

Nowadays, although my drums are red sparkle once again (in the spirit of my “starting over” drumming-wise), there are a few more of them, and they are American-made DWs, right down to the pedals, stands, and even (shock, horror!) the snare drum. “Old Number One,” the Slingerland wood-shell snare I’ve used since forever, has been retired from the field after a glorious career, and a couple of fine DW snares have taken it’s place.

The toms are 8″, 10″, 12″, 13″, 15″ (two), 16″, and 18″, the bass drum is a 22″ (with a pair of 18″ “cannons” on the back setup), mixed in with two 13″ piccolo snares, Akai samplers driven by d-drum pads, Kat midi-marimba, and Shark pedals, and the usual selection of cowbells and windchimes.

The heads are Remo white-coated Ambassadors (just for a change), and the cymbals are by Zildjian, except for one Chinese Wuhan. My sticks are the Promark 747 “Signature” model, in Japanese white oak.

My teacher for the past couple of years has been Freddie Gruber, and I would like to thank him for leading me down the paths of righteousness.

Geddy Lee

What I did on my summer vacation (or, “A Guy’s Gotta Do What a Guy’s Probably Gotta Do!”)

Hey there! Hi there! Ho there! But first, let me point out how difficult it is these days to find shoes like I’m wearing in the above photo—real Beatle boots!

Anyway, it’s time once again for me to ramble on for a few paragraphs. So let me say “welcome to the show,” and also, “thanks.” Why thanks? Well—to be perfectly frank—when you’ve taken a couple of years away from touring and recording, you’re really not quite sure if anyone will still be interested when you decide to come back to it! So, for your continued interest and support, I would like to offer you a laurel, and hardy handshake, and sincerely say thank you.

Yuccch!! Enough warmth! Now—what I did on my two-year “summer” vacation? Oh . . . a lot of domestic-type stuff that is really only of interest to other people that are living a domestic-type model of life. You know the scene: have kids, watch “Pingu,” learn how to feed the family without ordering in, play Fantasy League Baseball, build a house, and of course the obligatory experiments with facial hair. Stuff, I suppose, that doesn’t make for very “copy.” But, you know, a guy’s gotta do . . . blah, blah!

And so it goes that after the calm must sooner-or-later come the storm. And not a minute too soon! Alright, already—I confess! I was ready to write and ready to roll. So here we go!!

Peace, Geddy

P.S. For Those of you who find this stuff interesting, here is my Kwipment List for the Test For Echo tour: Basses: Fender Jazz. Amplification: Trace Elliot Quadra 4 amplifiers, Trace Elliot Gp-12 smx pre-amplifiers, Trace Elliot 1 x 18″ and 4 x 10″ speaker cabinets, Palmer PDI-03 speaker simulator, SansAmp model PSA-1. Keyboards: a whole big bunch! Effects: Commodore Deluxe Skake Maker Trio, Osterizer Deluxe 2-Speed Blender, Proctor-Silex Deluxe Juicit Oscillating Strainer, Frigidaire Deluxe Refrigerator, Beatrice Deluxe #2 Manual Meat Grinder, Morphy-Richards Deluxe Automatic Toaster.

~ by rvkeeper on March 12, 2011.

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