Neil Getting Those ‘Lyrical’ Ideas Again
Well, at least we know Neil is thinking about new lyrical ideas. He says in the first part of his two-part article on drum soloing for Rhythm magazine that last October, two months after the Clockwork Angels tour ended, he was driving up to the Drum Workshop outside Los Angeles to play around on some new shells the company had produced when some lyrics popped into his head. “I . . . laughed at myself for having a lyrical idea,” he says. “‘You’re not supposed to be doing that yet!'”
Whatever the band ends up doing, it’ll have to wait until after its 41st anniversary tour next year, which Alex has said will likely showcase some of Rush’s rarer songs.
In any case, Neil’s two-part article is a walk-through of how he composed his solos for the Clockwork Angels tour. Nick Raskulinecz wanted him to key his solo off the midway point of “Headlong Flight,” a daunting challenge, since the song is seven minutes of fast-paced drumming and comes in the middle of a relentlessly fast-paced hour-long set. To make that work, Neil says, he dispensed with his usual approach by having three shorter solos scattered throughout the show instead of just one long one.
To keep it exciting, for both him and the audience, he sectioned off his solos into thematic “frames,” which he filled up differently each time he played it, creating a level of uncertainty that the audience might pick up on and respond to. “In soloing, what is exciting to play has a good chance of being exciting to listen to,” he says.
It’s this kind of excitement, he adds, that will surely keep drum solos—and live drummers, for that matter—a fixture at shows even if live drummers and solos are largely a thing of the past on commercial radio. “Modern pop songs almost never have a single real drum in them, yet in concert, they always have a real drummer,” he says. “For the dynamics, the excitement, the action of it all. They still need us.”
As you would expect from a natural storyteller like Neil, he composes his solos as stories, with each frame a kind of chapter. He referenced the solo he was playing a few years ago, probably for the Snakes & Arrows and Time Machine tours, in which he sectioned off the solo into stylistic motifs, starting with a kind of rudimentary African beat and ending with a big-band flourish, which he created by triggering samples of horns and string instruments. The effect was a kind of tutorial through rhythm styles across time periods and across cultures.
He makes an interesting point about how a “story” came out spontaneously the first time he picked up the drums after his two-year Ghost Rider hiatus. The story was autobiographical. “I arranged to have a quiet, private place where I would be able just to sit down and play,” he says. “(Not to see if I could—to see if I wanted to.) As I got going, just riffing in what I thought was an aimless fashion, I realised I was telling my story. Thinking back over the patterns and moods I had wandered through, I thought, ‘This is that part, and that was that part,’ and so on. It was a remarkable insight, and helped me become ‘reinspired’ on the instrument.”
That reinspiration led to his work on Vapor Trails, Feedback, Snakes & Arrows, and Clockwork Angels. It’ll be interesting to see what it leads to now that he’s starting to get lyrical ideas again.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault