Peart – Drum Machines Are for a Songwriter (1985)

SKF NOTE: This excerpt is from my 1985 interview transcript with Neil Peart for Modern Drummer’s Tenth Anniversary issue published in January 1986. My assignment was to ask Neil to look forward and back, ten years in both directions, with a special emphasis on styles, drummers, and drum gear taking center stage within the last ten years. And then, to give readers a best guess as to what might lie ahead in the next ten years.

The Linn Drum and electronic drums were a radical change at the time. I was surprised to hear Neil say that his band members used drum machines to write songs, to produce song demos to share with Neil, on which he could build his actual drum parts.

Here’s Neil, in 1985, explaining how Rush makes it all work.

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Neil Peart: Drum machines are for a songwriter. As a songwriting tool they’re invaluable. You can’t begrudge them. They help the drummer out a lot by giving an accurate picture of what the songwriter really wants to hear. During the last album these things have come more clearly into focus.

Being in a three-piece band where the other two guys write the music, basically, and I write the lyrics, a lot of times, when I’m off working on the words, and they’re working on the music, I’m not there to be a rhythmic part of it. But they can program a drum machine to give me some idea of how their thinking goes. It becomes a springboard.

I could never play a song the way a drum machine would — particularly because I’m a hyperactive player — but I certainly use it as a foundation, and often a very interesting one. Sometimes it points me in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise have explored. Sometimes they come up with something on the drum machine that sounds deceptively simple, but ti can be a springboard into interesting areas.

Scott K Fish: So, sometimes Alex and Geddy will cut a song demo with a drum machine?

Neil Peart: Oh, invariably. Especially since, in our case, we have to work apart. Many bands or songwriters have to work on their own. They don’t want to have to call the rest of the band in just to put the song in shape.

So it’s a tool in that respect, of making it easier for a songwriter to work at making his presentation to the rest of the band — especially the drummer — that much more clear.

The drummer certainly should be free to take that foundation and have a lot of fun with it and be free with it. I think it’s accurate communication at its best for the songwriter himself, and also for the songwriter to communicate with the other musicians.

If it’s used in that respect I’ve found it to be very healthy and even helpful sometimes. I think it’s starting to lose a bit of its presence on records; that more and more you’re hearing real drums.

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