Neil Peart – A Day in the Life

SKF NOTE: My Neil Peart interview transcripts bring back fond memories. Neil was always fun to interview, due in large measure, I believe, to the interviews always feeling like two guys having casual conversation. The interviews felt that way because they were that way.

I spotted a few favorite Neil remarks last night while reading transcripts. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges circa 1989 or 1990.


Scott K Fish: What’s a typical day-in-the-life of Neil Peart?

Neil Peart: There’s an on-the-road me, a songwriting me, recording me, and an at home me. They all have different paces of life.

When I’m on the road I work late, sleep late. Often I’ll bicycle ride in the afternoon — maybe the whole day.

I go to mid-afternoon soundcheck for a couple of hours — often by bicycle.

Have dinner. Then read or work on my current writing project. Do the show. Get on the bus. Proofread the writing I did, and read, or do what everyone else is.

I sleep usually until we get to the next destination at 7:00 or 8:00 a.m.; scramble off the bus into the hotel room. Catch another few hours sleep.

It’s the most routine, although the most unrooted, the most difficult in which to establish a routine. Over the years we’ve worked hard to get our routines.

Geddy and Alex play tennis every afternoon. I do something solitary. So our time is worth something. You waste less time traveling by bus.

When the drums are recorded I’m in the studio early, checking, tuning, and everything. Electronics get sorted out. We’ll do one song or two a day. I’m always setting up for another song. When the engineer gets there, I’m ready to start. I like to get it done quickly. If you slog through it a thousand times it starts to lose its life.

I take about two hours to get a drum track — which is pretty good. That includes getting all the sounds happening: playing the song enough to make sure all the parts are happening, and then playing it perfect!

After that, the bass track gets voiced in. I’ll go outside with the Walkman and listen to the demo several times. Demos are often a very good reflection, in every sense, of what I want on the record.

Recording Presto, we finished eleven bass and drum tracks in nine days. That was terrific. We first put down a guide track pf guitar. bass. keyboards, and vocals. I played to that. Once we finished recording the drums we replaced the bass and guitar.

So it was done as a band, initially, and then, as individuals.

SKF: Are all of you in the studio at the same time?

NP: In the premises. But not recording at the same time. I like the freedom from pressure, knowing I’m not wasting anyone else’s time. If I want to stop halfway through and start again — or anything — I never feel it’s infringing on anyone else.

SKF: Now, a day in the life when you’re at home?

NP: I’ll be at the YMCA three times a week, weight training, and swimming a mile. If I’m at the cottage I’ll bicycle my usual 40 miles three times a week. Alternate mornings I get up early to get in some writing while the family’s still asleep.

SKF: Were you always so organized? Was there a time when you were Mr. Party?

NP: Never. I was always introverted. I was never physical as a kid or as a beginning musician. Drumming was the only sport I could ever do. Frustratingly, I’d try out for teams and never make them. I was too weak. But, I used to hike and take bike rides with my brother. As a teenager, I didn’t even do that. Just drumming. Through drumming I gradually built up stamina.

As a band, as individuals, we never wanted to become just a band. Not just musicians. My interests became like an hour glass. As a kid, my interests were wide. I was a voracious reader. Drums took over when I was thirteen. I was well into my twenties before my life opened up with other interests. I became interested again in reading, for instance. I never read as a teenager. Just drums, drums, drums.

At school I played on the desk. I got home from school and went on to the drums. I’d think about drum beats [while] lying in bed. It was like an addiction.

I have the discipline that brings the will that makes you want to do it. You’re not saying you should practice your drums. I’d say, “Oh, great. Time to practice.” I don’t remember ever feeling forced to practice. My parents were great. I could usually play two or three hours a day between school and supper. And longer on weekends. The neighbors were really understanding too.

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Camellia Akhamie Kies: Exceptional Drummer

SKF NOTE: Last night, quite by accident, I came across the Guitar Center video profile of drummer Camellia Akhamie Kies. I was expecting the-same-as-every-other-pop/funk-drummer. Boy, was I wrong. I can’t remember the last time I was this moved by a drummer.

Camellia Akhami Kies does a great job telling her own story in this video, so I won’t repeat it. I love her rhythms, her sounds. I love her use of electronic and acoustic drums. And her experimentation with many different types of drum “sets” is refreshing.

I did buy her album today, I Choose Love. After a fair listening I will probably write about it.

Meanwhile, Kies does have a good Facebook page with several interesting percussion videos. She also has her own Akhamie music production company.

I’m looking forward to tracking her career. What a great start.
Posted in Interviews on 10 Nov 2020
Camellia Akhamie Kies

How did your unique approach to drum kits evolve?

My husband and I were living in a small studio apartment in Corpus Christi, Texas, and I didn’t have enough room to set up a full drum set. We had a separate garage that had a lot of our household goods stored in, and I found a little space there. I thought, “You know what? I can get a drum set!” But there wasn’t room for a traditional drum set in that space. I looked around, and I thought, “All right. I’m gonna be able to get a cajon in here,” and I remember sliding my kick pedal up to the cajon. I grabbed a hi-hat, and I grabbed the Roland SPD-30 and Roland SPD-SX I was using at the time. That’s what I started creating on a hot summer day. It was, like, 100 degrees, with no AC in the garage. That’s when the sound, my sound, really started to evolve from that hybrid setup.

So lack of space led to a whole concept?

Yes—snare but no kick drum, a cajon because a cajon was smaller, and a small hi-hat. I remember recording a video with that setup and posting it on Instagram. People were like, “What is going on? This is super-cool!” I was happy people liked it, because I love it—I love the vibe, and I love the sound. It was really kind of confirming that I was moving in the right direction. It was really cool because it’s how I was evolving, and people enjoyed it. So, it was really great, and I’ve kind of just been continuing to advance that sound and that unique, hypnotic groove and vibe that I have going on.

Full Guitar Center Interview

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“Three Way Split” – A Perfect Philly Joe Solo

SKF NOTE: There was a period of time I was listening to lots of Hank Mobley albums. Both Mobley with other bands — like Miles Davis’s — and albums made under his own name. Way back in the early 1970s my friend in Davenport, IA, Charlie Bloom, put on his turntable Hank Mobley’s “Workout” Blue Note album. That was the first time I really heard Philly Joe Jones. I was blown away by Philly Joe’s solo on the title track.

Long after I had forgotten the name of Mobley’s “Workout” album, I remembered how great was Philly Joe. Not only for what he played, but also for how he sounded.

Decades later, after Blue Note began reissuing albums in CD format, I found and bought “Workout.” It is as great as it was that first hearing in Charlie Bloom’s upstairs apartment.

Little by little I worked my way through much of Mobley’s recorded output. Among those albums, 1963’s “No Room for Squares” sticks out (no pun intended) as a real musical gem. It’s one of those Blue Note records with songs by two different bands. In this case, both bands are first class.

I hadn’t heard “No Room for Squares” in years. Last night I put it on my iPod and, listening while driving, all the magic I remembered from this album came pouring through my car sound system.

Listen to — no, study! — Philly Joe Jones on the opening track “Three Way Split” of this album. What he plays, how he sounds — for my ears he’s perfect. Great fills too. And Philly’s solo, starting at about 6:01 in the video, is perfect.

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Remembering Eric Gravatt and Weather Report

SKF NOTE: I found this photo of drummer Eric Gravatt in the first issue of Different Drummer magazine dated September 1973, which was launched by Harry Abraham. The issues I have are mostly full of jazz record reviews with some short feature stories mixed in.

The Gravatt photo was included in a short piece on Weather Report which was, at the time, made up of Gravatt, percussionist Dom Um Romao, bassist Miroslav Vitous, keyboardist Joe Zawinul, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

According to Drummerworld, Gravatt “has played with many of the greatest musicians and bands of jazz including Woody Shaw, Howard Roberts, Albert Ayler, Sonny Fortune, Kenny Dorham, Gary Bartz and more. Gravatt’s career attracted worldwide attention while he played with Weather Report, beginning with 1972’s I Sing The Body Electric. After the making of the group’s 1973’s Sweetnighter he decided to leave Weather Report and joined the group Natural Life in 1974.”

Eric Gravatt is also the drummer on Weather Report’s Live in Tokyo (1972) album.

In the early 1970s I was intrigued by Gravatt’s drum setup; the compact set with his ride cymbal stand raised high, and the ride cymbal adjusted almost vertically. Of course, I tried using my ride cymbal configured that way, but gave it up almost immediately. Playing that way was too much work. Based on recent concert videos on Drummerworld, Gravatt kept his ride cymbal that way.

The first self-titled Weather Report album (1971) presented a listening challenge. My recollection is, billed as a jazz album, there was no jazz in my experience with which to compare this music. My first step to really hearing Weather Report’s music was to stop looking for a comparison. Then I had to listen as objectively as possible. Some of the music I liked, some I didn’t.

Alphonse Mouzon played drums on Weather Report. The follow-up albums, I Sing The Body Electric and Sweetnighter, were more get-at-able. If the first album was like traveling in a strange place wondering, “Where am I?,” Weather Report’s next two albums with Eric Gravatt on drums had many instances of recognizable territory.

Drummer Herschel Dwellingham plays drums on half of Sweetnighter‘s tracks. One blogger said of Dwellingham, “he’s the drummer that brought the funk” to Sweetnighter. Perhaps the musical territory I recognized in 1973 was most Herschel Dwellingham.

Still, I liked Gravatt’s approach to the drums. And this photo by Lee Tanner brings back some satisfying listening experiences.

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Playing Boring Songs Well

SKF NOTE: You’re a drummer working steady with a piano trio six nights a week in a club. The piano player is the leader, the main attraction. The trio has a steady repertoire the pianist updates sometimes.

You like playing the trio’s songs. They’re all either fun, challenging, or simply enjoyable to play as support for the pianist or bassist.

But there’s always one song you hate. It’s boring. You’ve played it so often you have nothing creative to give it anymore. (Drummer Ben Riley, who spent three years with Thelonious Monk, told one interview he hates playing, I think, “Blue Monk.”)

You have nights on the bandstand praying the bandleader won’t call the hated song. When a night ends without the hated song, a weight rises off your shoulders.

The real professional drummers suck it up; they block their reservations and “go on with the show.”

There’s no faking it, no phoning it in. Audiences can tell when musicians onstage are unfocused. Certainly fellow musicians can tell.

Playing boring songs well is one part of being a pro drummer.

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