Rush: Working Men Page 2
When asked about this and his band's stance on the ongoing loudness wars in recorded soundie, dynamic range vs maximum volume, much of the latter spurred by the popularity of the Apple iPodLifeson is quick to give his side. "Over anything else, dynamics are the most important thing to us. And it is a bit of a struggle, it is a war. Vapor Trails , for example, was mastered so hot, it really wrecked the album. I can't listen to that record. It's so flat and has so much distortion that we really want to remix that record. It was out of our hands when it was mastered, and the mastering engineer did a poor job. He's the first one to admit it. He really pushed it.
"I think with [Clockwork Angels], when we were in the mastering phase, we really went back and forth a lot," Lifeson continues. "We did test masters. We mixed a couple songs at a time, mastered a couple songs at a time. Unfortunately, in this day and age, you've got to try and find some middle ground. The problem is, the way people listen to music now, they don't listen to one kind of music all the time. It's on your iPod or your iPhone or whatever, and you've got hundreds if not thousands of songs, and I guess you need some kind of level that's standard to everything, and I think that's why there's this kind of push to go louderbut it kills dynamics, and really sucks those moments out of the mix."
While the sonics of Rush albums including Clockwork Angels vary from muddled and squashed to extremely good for rock records meant to jump out of a radio (and so compressed to varying degrees), those records have undergone several remasterings in recent years, most recently and most controversially for the three Sector boxed sets released in 2011. Those contain, in chronological order, the 15 albums Rush recorded for Mercury (now owned by Universal), all remastered, according to marketing info, in hi-rez 24/96 audio. Each set also contains one album on DVD-Audio, remixed in 24/96 stereo and 5.1-channel surround sound. Besides glitches that appeared on several discs (which were replaced free of charge by the band), Rush fansites report that other than the DVD title, the remaining albums in each set were downsampled to 16-bit/44.1kHz. Calls for comment to Universal Music Enterprises went unanswered.
On the website www.rushisaband.com, engineer Andy VanDette had this to say about how he remastered the band's back catalog:
"I wanted to do as little as possible so that the masters could truly speak for themselves. Being recorded in the vinyl era, they were optimized for that medium. People like more bottom end these daysand with earbuds and laptops as the primary playback monitors, it is understandable. I tried to nudge them in a warmer, thicker direction, but not cloud the guitars or the legendary Neil Peart snare. . . Handling analog masters that are over 30 years old makes people nervous. [Laughs.] I cleaned the tape heads after every song to make sure tape shedding hadn't even started. Indeed, some tapes didn't sound as good as othersafter all, they've been sitting on a shelf for however many years. In some cases the 192kHz digital master tape copies from the Rush archive sounded better. I think those transfers would have been made about seven years ago. . .
"Some of the albums weren't as thin toppy as I thought they were going to be. And for some I had a better source than the 1997 remasters. Some are brighter and clearer. Grace Under Pressure I tried for three days to make the tape transfer that I did sound as good as the existing CD. I figured that with the kind of care I put into the transferand having the original sourceit would be a no-brainer; that this would be better than what's been out there. But it just wasn't the case: the tape didn't age well. It had lost lots of clarity. So I ended up using the 192kHz transfer.
"The master for the first album [Rush] was a surprisethere was no shedding off the tape at all. There was still lots of top left. I imagine it had been baked before, and stored well afterwards. .ˇ.ˇ.
"[There were some issues with] All the World's a Stagewhat can you say. It's really hard to make great live recordingseven today. Unfortunately, the original tapes for this one didn't give me much to work with. I was a lot happier with Exit . . . Stage Left. The tape transfer I did sounded better than any of the previous releases that I'm aware of . . . [O]n Fly by Night I was really impressed with how well Richard [Chycki] brought the feel of the original album into 5.1. That classic snare sound remains intact! On A Show of HandsI think that the clarity and punch came out more than in the previous releases."
After Peart's personal tragedy, the most life-changing event in Rush's 44 years has to be, strangely enough, not a record but the 2010 documentary film Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, which won the 2010 Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, in New York City. Even hardened critics were charmed. Andrew Pulver of the UK's The Guardian wrote, on June 4, 2010: "A wonderfully engaging and genuinely interesting career profile of Rush, those most derided of prog-rock shriekers, tracing their path from anonymous Toronto suburbia to self-effacing power-trio legends."
"To do a film, a documentary, I don't know, we felt a little embarrassed by the prospect of it," Lifeson says. "When they approached us, we didn't really think there was anything of interest. They assured us that there was a story that needed to be told and people would respond to it. I think [directors] Scot [McFadyen] and Sam [Dunn] did a really good job.
"It's a great story about kids growing up together, loving each other, respecting each other, and living a dream. I smiled a lot through it. I'd forgotten those guys. It seemed like such a long, long time ago. Looking back on those pre-Neil days, when [original drummer] John [Rutsey, who died in 2008] was in the band, it seemed like someone else's life. Seeing my mom there and Geddy's mom, and Neil's parents it all of a sudden put the whole story together.
"It certainly broadened our audience. People that had heard the name but knew nothing about us suddenly became interestedthey really liked the film, and wanted to get some records. One of the most interesting segments of that audience are women. It's always been a bit of joke that there've never been female Rush fans, but truly there have always been some. But now I see girls coming to our showstwo, three, four, five of them together, not with their husbands or boyfriends but on their own. And they're air drumming and singing along. I think perhaps an aspect of that film has brought them in. They look at us and they see family guys, married, been with their wives forever, have kidsfamily is very, very important, and they relate to that. It's very interesting to see that.
"The film has also certainly made our lives a lot less private. We were quite happy chugging along where we were, just under the surface, and we still had our anonymity. I'm not saying we can't go out on the street or anything, but it's really quite different the last few years."
What's perhaps most compelling about the new record, Clockwork Angels, is the continued high energy the three pour into their music. That, and the sense that this is a band that still enjoys being together after more than 40 years.
"That does seem to be the case," Lifeson says. "I can't really speak for a lot of other bands and what their relationships are truly like, but in most cases there's always some kind of tension or conflict. Over the years, we've certainly had our moments when we didn't get along that well, but they were always rooted in some personal trauma or pressure. And I have to say, from my point of view, whenever that's happened, you've always had the support of the other guys. You may not have wanted to be with themyou didn't want to be with anybodybut there was always respect for that space. We've gone through some really difficult crises in our career as a band and as friends, and we've survived that. It's not lost on us that we came through that really difficult period with Neil in the '90s.
"I really love those guys. Geddy's my best friend. Always has been. I see him all the time. We don't just work together, we play together. And it's great to me, on the cusp of 60 years of age, that my longest, closest buddy, I get to play in Rush with him."
Speaking of playing in Rush, how much these days do these three late-fiftysomethings, who no longer have to worry about financial security, think about bagging the huge worldwide tours, kicking back, and enjoying their secure celebrityhood?
"[Clockwork Angels] is obviously becoming an important record for us, and so, of course, we want to do it justicebut it is becoming more difficult. Neil spends a lot of time in training before a tour. He needs to build his stamina. By the end of a tour, I see ithe's just wasted. We all are. The last tour, we all felt it. For the first time, I think we all felt really exhausted early in the tour.
"We're trying to pace it a little better. We're not doing consecutive dates anymore; it's now gonna be day on, day off. That's gonna make a big difference, especially for Geddy recovering with his voice. But there's definitely a physical toll that's taken. It's just physicsyou reach a certain age and you just don't have that same energy level. And you don't recover. That's really what it isyou just don't recover from expending a lot of energy.
"I think we'll do it as long as we physically can. We don't want to be."
A studio band?
"No, not really. That's great and everything, but it's awesome to stand onstage and play. I think, in the future, we might do tours that are shorter and spaced farther between. Eventually we're gonna hang it up, but I think we're playing too well right now to allow ourselves to cash it in."