World-Renowned Music Producer TERRY BROWN Remembers His Storied Career in 25 Questions: “The Way RUSH Sounded Was Unique, I’d Never Heard Anything Like It!”

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The career of music producer Terry Brown will always be indelibly linked to that of Canadian power trio Rush. Having worked with Jimi Hendrix, The Who and many others, Terry’s affiliation with Rush helped to shape the trio’s sound, and captured their wildest ideas into musical form, during what many define as their “golden era”. From the band’s debut album all the way to “Signals”, they forged a sonic alliance that would take Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart to the highest possible echelons of prog music.

After his tenure with Rush, Terry went on to produce a wide array of artists, and remains active to this day. Albums such as Voivod’s “Angel Rat”, Fates Warning’s “A Pleasant Shade of Grey” and IQ’s “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” carry his stamp, and he always seems to find a way to bring out the best out of the musicians he’s working with. With hundreds of albums on his resume, Terry is still busy, and is currently working with artists such as Tiles, Blurred Vision, Discipline and more. He remains involved with Rush: most recently, he restored a concert of the trio at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario, on March 25, 1981, to be included as a bonus of the band’s “Moving Pictures 40th Anniversary Edition.”

Sonic Perspectives collaborator Rodrigo Altaf spoke with Terry to learn more about the experiences and memories forged through decades while working with Rush and many other bands. Find a transcript of their chat below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and  subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new interviews and contents we publish on a daily basis.

Tell me about your formation years, and how did you get to become a producer. What drove you in this career path? Did you ever intend to write and play your own songs?

I started my career at the original Olympic Studios, in London, back in 64 and found myself working with some amazing artists and writers from day one. Any thoughts I had of pursuing my career as a musician were quickly dashed by working with players of an extremely high caliber. I helped to put together the original Morgan Studio, (with a lot of help), in London before leaving for Toronto where we built the first 16 and 24 tracks studio in Canada. After a while it seemed that I was offering substantially more than my engineering talents to various acts that came through the door so I decided to try my hand at producing, which fortunately it was a good move.

What are your memories of working on Jimi Hendrix’ Axis: Bold as Love?

Working on the opening cut of “Axis” was a thrill, but I should point out that it was only one evening session. I used to hang with Jimmy when he visited the studio during the day, but Eddie Kramer was his engineer and that night Eddie had a previous engagement that he couldn’t change and asked me if I would step in and take the reins. Of course, the rhythm section was killer and we cut a track which at the time I had no idea would make it on an album. When we started to overdub guitar Jimmy produced a 4-foot horn which was strapped to the side of his Marshall stack! Needless to say, it was quite a challenge getting the sounds that he wanted.

When you worked with Rush, was all the material they brought in usually completed or did you have to help them expand or contract some songs? What was the song they brought that you changed the most?

The band always came to the studio well prepared so initially it was about sounds and performance, but then making records requires a lot of subtlety so there were always changes that were made as we proceeded to fine tune before settling on a performance that would endure.

It’s no secret that Neil, along with the other members, could be somewhat stubborn when it came to altering his already conceived drum parts. What was it like sharing your thoughts about those kind of band issues in the studio? 

I can’t say that the word stubborn comes to mind when I think of working with Rush, especially Neil. We always had a great relationship in the studio and certainly if I felt that something was inherently wrong, I would be quite confident to say so, but those moments were few and far between.

When Rush’s “A Farewell to Kings” was being recorded, what was the feeling like, recording in England, free from the pressure of the record company, since 2112 gave some semblance of artistic freedom?

Firstly, I was never pressured by the record company or the production company. I was very fortunate to have a free hand in how we went about recording, how long we recorded and the final mix. Having said that recording at Rockfield in Wales was a real treat in a beautiful rural setting. We were treated really well, fed a really great early dinner before recording, which tended to be all night, and Pat Moran our engineer did a wonderful job of capturing the sounds for us.

Was there ever any discussion at any point after Rush’s “Signals”, about you possibly working again with the band?  

No, I always thought that at some point it would be great for us to revisit our production partnership together, but the opportunity never presented itself. Having said that our relationship has remained good, especially over the past few years when I have had the opportunity to re-mix some of the live material for our 40th anniversary releases. The new moving pictures box set contains almost 2 hours of live material which I mixed with the approval of Alex and Geddy.

How difficult was it for Rush to transition from recording bed tracks “off the floor” as a band, to tracking individual performances? Whose idea was it? Do you feel that what was gained by such an approach overcame any losses?

I am a firm believer in this approach, but bear in mind we would still cut the tune as a trio off the floor before venturing into the world of overdubbing. Our focus at this point would be on Neil, then, with a template to refer to, it was just a question of putting in the time to get performances of bass & guitar that exceeded those live off the floor and yet still locked in the feel of the original take.

What qualities about Rush made you want to keep working with them after the first album? What did you see or hear in them that made you interested?  

I loved the way they sounded and their enthusiasm was infectious. The way they wrote appealed to me, Alex’s tightness, his sound & ability to double guitars, Ged’s bass playing coupled with the sound of the Ricky and his vocals to top it all off – I’d never heard anything like it!

I would love to know your thoughts about developing artists over a period of several albums as Rush were allowed to back in the 70s before they started really having major success. How do you view your role as producer in terms of having played a part in Rush’s development? 

It’s a rare thing for a producer to be able to make nine albums with any given band, I think we grew together. The boys were always pushing themselves to exceed their previous release and I had to keep up – it was a great relationship.

Having worked with Lawrence Gowan way back before he became well known, what are your thoughts about Gowan’s work with Styx?

Larry made some great albums and was always in the company of great musicians and producers. He’s a very accomplished keyboard player, singer and songwriter so seeing this level of success with Styx is very gratifying and well deserved. Styx are great live and continue to make great records, it’s a special relationship.

Can you share some details of producing Cutting Crew’s album, The Broadcast?  The production was excellent as was the songwriting!

A production can only be as good as the sum of its parts. Cutting Crew had a great rhythm section in Colin & Frosty, Kevin’s guitar playing and musical background added another dimension while Nick’s writing and vocal prowess pushed it over the top. We took our time getting sounds and great performances and over the course of a month or two we came up with a hit record.

Do you see that sort of a relationship among band/producer/label as something that can ever come back in today’s music environment? Or is there some other way that the industry can foster artist development that doesn’t seem to be happening so much anymore?

I don’t think that relationship has ever gone away, there is a ton more music available these days in as many genres, but I am still seeing artist development although maybe not to the extent that we saw in rocks heyday. There was a lot of wastage back in the 80s and 90s, now budgets have tightened up, sometimes there is no budget, but band/producer /label successes still break through.

Tell me about working with IQ on their “Are You Sitting Comfortably?” album. Did they contact you because of your work with Rush? How did the sessions go? Did you enjoy the experience and final product?

I think you’re right they did contact me because of my work with Rush, but that’s OK – they had a lot to offer and we had a great time working together. It was just unfortunate that when the record was released the band went into semi retirement and it didn’t get the exposure that it should have.

Voivod’s “Angel Rat” is a curious entry in the list of albums you produced. There was a lot of controversy among the band’s fan base when it was released, but through the years its reputation has been somehow redeemed. Was it a difficult album to work on?

On the contrary “Angel Rat” was a great record to work on – we all had a blast and we got great results, but you’re right it took a while for fans to get their head around this record. I know their record label was not enthusiastic at the time, it seems now it’s getting way more attention than it got when released. In fact, Peter Moore just re-mastered “Angel Rat” for me, so keep your ears and eyes open for that – I love that record.

Next month is the 25th anniversary of Fates Warning’s “A Pleasant Shade of Grey”, so it seems like a nice time to ask you about that masterpiece. What can you tell me about that album – it’s a very dense collection of songs, full of ambition on the band’s part!

So where do we begin, and what else can we say? A very dark and brooding album from Jim Matheos that was quite a challenge to make. Recorded at the carriage house in Connecticut, which was a great residential studio, we put lots of time into this, not least of all with Mark Zonder‘s complex set up & execution of the kit and samples. We were all very focused on sounds and performance and having Kevin Moore as guest on keyboards was special.

Metal / hard rock bands like Lizzy Borden and Fifth Angel speak wonders about working with you. How does your approach to production change, depending on the style of band you’re working with?

My approach to production doesn’t change a whole lot, but I adjust my thinking in order to bring out the best in any given situation, and every situation is different. I like to make any artist or band feel at ease in the studio, that way we can explore areas that perhaps might not be in their comfort zone. Spontaneity is an important aspect, not unlike playing a live gig or cutting a demo – ideas flow

Who are some producers or engineers that you particularly admire?

George Martin would have to be the producer I hold in highest esteem, but you’ve got to love Quincy Jones, Phil Spector or Jerry Wexler and so many more, I learnt a lot about production working with Denny Cordell and Procol Harum. Two very influential engineers I studied with were Keith Grant and Adrian Kerridge. Keith gave me The Who and ‘Substitute’ to record and Adrian gave me Donovan and ‘Mellow Yellow’ – I could never thank them enough for those breaks.

Who are some specific songwriters you particularly admire? Both from the past or more recent.

I have great respect for so many of the songwriters I’ve worked with over the years, but add to those my favourites over the past century and the list is huge!

With all of the technology available, how come many albums recorded in the 80’s have a superior sound to an album recorded in the 2020’s?

At the onset of the digital age a lot of albums didn’t sound as good as the analogue technology used in the 80’s, but as improvements have been made the sonic qualities of digital converters have got better and better. And of course, this is only one aspect of the changes, one cannot forget the flagrant use of autotune and recording on a grid, just two aspects of technology we hear now that were not available to us back in the day. Both these ‘improvements’ affect the way we hear music and certain genres of music don’t lend them selves to be perfected to such a degree. Of course, I could go on, but this subject would require too many pages!

You have worked with so many stellar artists, Jimi Hendrix up to present day bands, the stories should be put down somewhere for history. Would you consider writing a book at some point?

I have considered writing a book a number of times over the past few years, but after reading my brother Phill’s book, ‘Are We Still Rolling’, for an audio-book, it has become somewhat of a benchmark for me and I have shied away from doing my own.

Your last production credit is 2021’s “Unfolded Like Staircase”, from Discipline. What are you working on at the moment?

The Discipline re-mix was a real thrill to work on and now I’m just putting the finishing touches on Chris Herin’s solo album. Chris was the leader of Tiles and coincidentally is now the guitar player in Discipline. Chris had some great tunes that weren’t really suitable for Tiles, but were tunes that he desperately wanted to record. The album is chock-full of wonderful guests from across the musical spectrum – we are pretty excited about this one.

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2 Comments

  1. Stephen Barrow on

    A Farewell to Kings was recorded at Rockfield studios in Wales not England.

  2. John Coetzee on

    Thank you Terry Brown for confirming that Rush was the finest group since The Beatles. Long may their music memories remain.

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