Photo: Andrew MacNaughtan
I saw a few shows on the 2008 tour, including Milwaukee, a really special show. I was glad to see you added "Ghost of a Chance" to the setlist.
When we bring back these old songs, it's so refreshing because it's with a whole new sonic approach and a new arrangement. I'd like to do that more often because it was really very satisfying to play that song every night.
Who brought "Ghost" to the table?
Well, we wanted to mix up the second half of the tour a little bit, and because we had "Entre Nous" and "Circumstances" in there, we wanted to come up with something that was a little more obscure, and that one seemed to be a pretty good candidate. I think Geddy brought it up. And we all went, "Oh! Well, I hadn't thought of that. Let's try that." We all spent our own individual time relearning it and getting comfortable with it, and then we went in to rehearse, and the very first time we played it we went, "Yeahhh! This is fun!"
It's always been one of my personal favorite tracks.
It's so nicely dynamic. The parts are quite different from each other, and it's a nice solo to play. [Geddy Lee had high praise for Alex's work on "Ghost of a Chance," as he told me in Toronto when the song first came out on Roll the Bones back in 1991: "It's one of my favorite guitar songs on the record. That song's solo and outro are among the best things Alex has ever played. It's just very expressive guitar playing."]
It's cool that "Ghost" appears in the "Oh, Atlanta!" bonus section of the Blu-ray release. [It's on Disc 3 of the DVD release.] Was that always the plan to include the four "extra" songs?
Yeah. Once we got into the tour, it seemed to be a bit of a problem to create something that was on the level of the recording from Rotterdam, so we thought, "Let's do it a little more guerrilla, let's have a simple setup, and just do these few songs representing the entire tour." So there's more of a bootleg feel to things there.
If you don't mind, I'd like to backtrack a bit to discuss what you did with the studio record of Snakes & Arrows (2007; Anthem/Atlantic) - specifically, the surround mix. I want to find out how you felt about how that mix turned out, because that's the first studio effort you had your hand in, surroundwise.
It's a different environment to be in. Again, Rich and I work really well together. He gets a basic feel of what we three are hearing in our heads. So it's just a matter of sitting in and getting a sense of the placement of everything. I think the important thing with 5.1 is not to get too fancy-schmancy with it, but to create this full-room sound environment rather than tricking it up with stuff "whipping" all around, and that sort of thing.
We've talked about that before. Some people like to do gimmicky mixes: "Look, I've got something cool in the rear channels!"
Yeah, exactly. And it's understandable because, you know, when you're in that mode, you want to make it something special. But when you switch from a stereo mix to a surround mix, it fills the room, and ideally, I think that's what you want to capture.
I think the Arrows studio 5.1 mix works really well in that regard. A lot of people err on the side of hard center-channel vocal mixes, and you didn't do that. What I think was key was that you gave a sense of space to the vocals so that Geddy was in the middle of everything.
Right! We're very sensitive to that. There's a lot of program that goes on in the center, and you can't just completely separate it. Otherwise, it tends to be a little "pasted" on top.
A lot of times, Neil [Peart]'s drumwork was also well "placed" - if we can use that word - and that seems to stem from the working rhythm that you and Rich have established with each other. Did you guys have different challenges since this was the first studio project you did?
No, not really, because we already had a couple of [DVD] surround projects under our collective belts. A lot of feeling each other out had happened much earlier with those previous projects. We already have a sensibility that we share when we go in and work together. He knows what I want to hear, and I've come to know what I expect in what he's going to put together as a starting point. He's got such a great sense of basic sound that you're caught up in the quality of the mix itself.
How did Geddy and Neil react to the mix? Were they reticent about doing a studio-project surround mix initially? Did you have to convince them?
I think they were up for it, but not too opinionated one way or the other. There's a great deal of trust between all of us.
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