Geddy Lee is the distinctive lead singer of Rush, Canada's preeminent rock trio. Their latest LP, Farewell to Kings, has just been released on Mercury Records. Scott Cohen talks to Alex Lifeson in Issue Number 168.
Cohen: Is persistence a key to Rush's success?
Lee: "Perseverance" is a better word.
Cohen: Did any one member persevere more than the others?
Lee: No, the three of us had an equal weight on our shoulders.
Cohen: Do you think there's a magical power in "three," like in the Holy Trinity?
Lee: I think there is, like three-in-one.
Cohen: Is one person in the group more serious than the others?
Lee: If I had to pick one serious person I'd have to pick Neil Peart. No, he's not serious either. Everyone's serious. We all stick to what we are.
Cohen: Who spends the most money in the group?
Lee: Peart's very loose with money. I'm very loose with money Alex is sort of loose with money.
Cohen: Do you like to work with others or alone?
Lee: I like to do as much as I can alone.
Cohen: Do you ever go home and play your own records?
Cohen: Will you listen to your records the way an athlete looks at movies of past games to learn from his mistakes?
Lee: I would think so.
Cohen: Do you ever sit back and enjoy it?
Lee: Only after a lot of time passes. When you're making an album you're so involved, you can't listen to it - at least I can't. I was just listening to our third album last night and a lot of it I liked. A lot of it I thought we could have done better. But I realize that at the time we were writing it, it was an amazing accomplishment. Now I look back upon that album and what I see that could be better shows my growth.
Cohen: What do you listen for in other people's music?
Lee: How it's produced.
Cohen: What is an example of a well-produced album?
Lee: To me a well produced album is Supertramps' Kama Sutra [sic, 'Crime of the Century'?] or a lot of music Todd Rundgren produced - he's a real genius.
Cohen: That's a big word.
Lee: He's a pretty big guy. An excellent guitar player. Everything he tackles he tackles well. At one point I liked the Beach Boys. Every band gets to a certain point where they're really well produced. Ian Anderson is a great producer.
Cohen: What do you think a producer does exactly?
Lee: Well, what I would do from my point of view is to listen to what the band has to offer. I'd like to recognize what the band wants to say, and you can only do it with a band that knows what it wants to say. Then I'd try to interpret that and basically try to help the musician hear what he's trying to say. Now, there are some producers who produce the way a film producer produces. He takes care of the whole business scene, makes sure the right session musicians get hired... all that stuff.
Cohen: Sometimes the producer's ego is stronger than the artist's. I myself sometimes do that in interviews.
Lee: I thought you were going to ask questions like "When did you first get laid?" and we were very negative about doing it because we got the impression that you did a gossipy type of interview.
Cohen: You should see the letters I get from the readers - some of them think I'm a total pervert.
Lee: You see why it is?
Cohen: I see why it is. I get a lot of nice letters too, for the same reason. If you were a record producer, could you also see setting things up so you don't have to depend on a record company?
Lee: The worst thing in the world is to have to answer to somebody. For us, the most frustrating thing in the world is being told what to do. We feel we know what we're doing. We know our music and how it should be presented to the world. We know who we're trying to appeal to and we know us - and there's no one who knows us better than us. That's why we have an excellent manager - because he understands us and exactly what we're trying to do. He doesn't touch us. He just let's us do what we want to do. He takes what we've done and tries to present it to the world in a way that he believes we would want it presented.
Cohen: Who makes the business decisions?
Lee: Every business decision about this group is discussed between our manager and ourselves.
Cohen: What kind of things do you discuss?
Lee: We discuss our tour schedule, when we're gonna record - anything to do with timing and touring, who we're going to work with - we try to get as much control over this as possible.
Cohen: How did you meet your wife?
Lee: How did I meet her as a wife, a girlfriend or a person? I knew her from a couple of years before. Her brother used to play in our band. Once I was set up to meet her as a girlfriend. We got married a year ago; we'd been together off and on for seven years.
Cohen: People must ask why you got married after seven years?
Cohen: Why did you?
Lee: We were in love with the idea of having a wedding. So we had a wedding and we were married.
Cohen: Did it take seven years to plan the wedding?
Lee: No. One day we thought about getting married, romanticized about having the wedding, got carried away...
Cohen: Where did you go on your honeymoon?
Cohen: How does your mother feel about what you do?
Lee: When I first started playing my mother was very against it. She had come out of the war, out of a concentration camp - and she wanted me to be what her people could never be - to grow up and have the security of being a doctor and this and that. "My son should never go without shoes," is what she thought. "Always have something to eat." The first years I was doing this she couldn't understand it at all. It was a very intense situation. Then she saw me on television - and she could relate to television - and she said, "My son's on television." Now my mother's overjoyed at my success, not simply because we're artistic or anything, but because I'm feeding myself and I don't look like I'm going to be out of a job. But she still worries. Now she says, "How long can you do this?"
Cohen: How did your parents get from Europe to Canada?
Lee: My parents were in Poland at the outset of the war, and the Germans came in, and every man they thought could be a threat to them they took out and shot. As the war moved on they were taken to a concentration camp. As the war got a little heavier, they were all moved to different concentration camps. My parents were sent to Auschwitz where they survived, which they thought was a miracle. When they got liberated - when the war was over - they didn't know what to do. They still lived in the concentration camp, as most people did, trying to collect themselves. When they liberated them, they thought they were the only people left in the world. Can you imagine that? They thought they were the few survivors. They were slowly informed that the world was still going on. Then they couldn't understand why they were saved. How could it happen? How could God let it happen? They gathered up what they could and came to Canada. They were going to go to New York, but someone said it was nice in Canada.
Cohen: Was "perseverance" a key word to their survival?
Lee: I would say so.