Neil Peart Looks Back on His First Studio Experience, Offers Advice for Aspiring Musicians
Before Neil Peart joined Rush and made rock ‘n’ roll history, he was just another kid with a drum set and a dream — years he looks back on in an interview excerpted from Pete Vassilopoulos’ forthcoming book Recording Drummers.
Peart’s comments, presented by Drum! Magazine, offer an overview of his career with Rush that’s well worth reading in full. But before getting into the Rush years, Peart describes the feeling of entering a recording studio for the first time with J.R. Flood, the band he drummed for as a teenager. Invited to track a demo for a couple of prospective labels, the group crossed the threshold of what was, at the time, the holy grail for any young act.
“It was a big deal to us and an unforgettable experience to be in a recording studio for the first time. For one thing (it only occurs to me now), we had never heard ourselves play,” recalls Peart. “Impossible to imagine today, but there were no inexpensive portable recording devices in those days, let alone video cameras … and I’m pretty sure it’s true that we had never actually heard a playback of ourselves in any form.”
The demo didn’t lead to a deal, but as anyone who’s ever recorded in a professional studio can tell you, just the act of doing it is an education — from dealing with hearing yourself up close to learning how to cope with less-than-helpful personnel. Peart’s memories should ring familiar to any studio vet, right down to the cutting wisecracks from a grizzled engineer.
An awful lot has changed about the process of recording music since those days — many artists don’t even use studios anymore — but plenty remains the same. “Times are tough for musicians starting out — but they clearly were for me in Southern Ontario in the 1970s too,” offers Peart. “Miracles do happen. Maybe you will be one.”
Miracles come in more than one form too. Not everyone is destined to make a living with their art, but as Peart points out, “Whether or not your music supports you, it can still nurture you. It is not given to every aspiring musician to make a living at it, never mind fame and fortune, but it can still be a rewarding lifetime pursuit.” And no matter your artistic forum, his main piece of advice is just to play — practicing on your own, with other artists, and in front of audiences wherever possible.
“You really cannot play too much, on your own, with a band, and onstage,” Peart adds. “As Picasso said, ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.’”