During a conversation with Mitch Lafon and Jeremy White, classic Rush producer Terry Brown talked about working with the band from their first album until 1982’s “Signals.”
Asked if the addition of Neil Peart and his massive drum set made his job easier or harder, Brown replied (transcribed by UG):
“Easier and harder. He had a lot more drums, he was a lot more technical, and a lot of nuances that needed to be brought out. So it was quite a challenge.”
As an engineer, is that a task, when you’re working with that many drums, and that much sound going on, and trying to fit it all into a mix?
“It is if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve got the experience, it’s not that difficult, it’s just a question of doing it properly.
“But even I’ve been working on some stuff recently that’s got three times as many drums on it as Neil had. It just doesn’t stop, it just keeps getting more.”
You’re still recording real drums?
“I still love drums. Look at the picture of Terry Bozio, for instance, sitting in front of some of his kits, it’s hard to count the number of drums, there are so many.”
When you’re recording Neil, at any point, do you just say, ‘Hey, Neil, just get a hi-hat and a snare, and let’s just make it simple!’ Or was that intricate drum sound just so essential to what they did that you just had to have it?
“Yeah, I think you’d have a hard time cutting some of those tracks with a thicker snare. A hi-hat and maybe one crash – you could do it.”
But it just wouldn’t sound right. Can you imagine the Charlie Watts sound in Rush? Come on. Hey, you got my radio engineers paddles on ‘Natural Science’ from ‘Permanent Waves’, so…
“There you go.”
I do want to take up on that paddle thing for a second. You go back to the records, and you hear Judas Priest where they had cutlery and they had to create the sounds. Now we don’t really do that, we go, ‘Oh, I need a sound like this,’ you click a button. How creative and how difficult sometimes was it to get those sounds?
“Not that difficult. You have to be able to come up with the sound in your head first and decide what it is you need, and then you just go out and do it.
“Yeah, I still do that, unless it’s an F1 jet that needs to be for real because it’s seen in a shot, then obviously, as you say, you press the button and you get what you get. But if you’re creating something from scratch, you literally have to do that.”
That’s basically you’re almost like painting a picture in reality.
“Yeah, of course.”
So you’re still very much in favor of getting that sort of natural sound and not using the technology?
“I use the technology all the time but as far as pressing buttons and just calling up samples, no, that’s not my thing.
“I have never worked that way. I have used samples obviously over the years but it’s not something that I gravitate towards in order to create something.”
You’re credited as arrangement on a lot of the Rush records, specifically at ‘Moving Pictures,’ and there’s so much stuff going on in those songs. Are you sitting there and they bring a song like ‘YYZ,’ for example, and they got that big bridge section with the keyboards, I think that’s my favorite breakdown of a keyboard section on any record. Now, are you sitting there and saying to them, ‘OK, we need a keyboard bridge right here?’ What does that mean when you arrange the song?
“Well, arranging can be arranging from scratch, or you can be arranging things once you’ve got a basic template.
“And that keyboard idea was already there but you fine-tune it. You fine-tune the sounds and the dynamics. There’s a lot of little details in arranging that aren’t just chord changes.”
Yeah, when you think ‘classically arranged,’ you’re writing all the charts for every violin note, and every piccolo note. Whereas on the rock record, do you tell Neil, ‘OK, right there on the third beat of bar four, you need to do like a little china hit or something.’ Are you helping arrange it that way?
“You wouldn’t do that with Neil because he’d already had it in there. I might ask him to take one out! But I certainly wouldn’t, no…”
Right. But no, so you’re not sitting there and saying, ‘OK, Alex, you start with the ‘Limelight’ riff and then Neil, OK, the fourth bar, and you’re gonna come in with the drum fills…’ And then the song’s gonna kick in. Is that part of the songwriting process or is that arrangement?
“Those are arrangements, yeah. That’s the arrangement process. And the songwriting is basically melody and lyric and changes.”
So had you not been producing ‘Limelight,’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ they could probably sound completely different than they sound right now?
“Oh, for sure, absolutely.”