Geddy Lee and Neil Peart - Off The Record

Off The Record with Mary Turner, 1981, transcriber unknown

Did you always want to be in a rock n roll Band?

Geddy: Well, not always, no. I think at first I wanted to be an atomic scientist - when I was a little kid; and I wanted to be a baseball player. But in recent memory I've wanted to be in a band.

Is there any truth in the rumour that your parents were disappointed when you decided this was gonna be your career?

Geddy: Of course! Parents don't want you to play rock music - they want you to be something real, like a Doctor or a Lawyer or something.

Have they come around?

Geddy: Oh yeah - my mother came around as soon as she saw me on television. She thought "that's nice; a nice way to make a living" - it made sense to her then.


After a couple of years of playing High Schools and bars around Toronto, Rush released their first album on their own label - Moon Records. Right after that John Rutsey, the band's original drummer left; Geddy and guitarist Alex Lifeson set up auditions to find a new one - and Neil Peart turned up and knocked 'em out with his playing. Geddy remembered that when Neil first joined they had no idea that he would soon be the group's main lyric writer.

Geddy: He was just a drummer - a great drummer. When we got out on the road, it was really weird, because we only had a week before our first tour - it was like: get a drummer, rehearse the material and go! We finally had a chance to tour the United States and open for people like Uriah Heep, who were very big at the time, and Manfred Mann, and Rory Gallagher. So it was really exciting but we had very little time to prepare, and we didn't even really know each other. We started doing shows in front of 15,000 people - opening up. It was a whole new world. We didn't know Neil could write, we didn't even think of it really, and as we got to know each other on the tour we noticed that he read a lot of books. We thought -ah, this guy's smart - he reads a lot of books - he can talk, maybe he can write; because lyric writing is an aspect that we sort of dreaded doing - it was like: O.K. you write the lyrics alright? So we figured, maybe this guy can do it. So we suggested it to him, and he said he would try it, and he's done very well at it!

Yes, he certainly has. Did it change your sound - it must have.

Geddy: At first it was very different to have someone who could write lyrics, add some weight (to them) and make them interesting other than simple rock n roll lyrics that you throw together. But it seemed to fit, because the type of music we wanted to write, the music we were starting to write required something a little out of the ordinary, I guess, from a lyrical point of view. So it all fitted in - it was, like, we had found a third member - it was really an equal thing.


In the very beginning you certainly weren't getting a lot of help from critics or radio stations either, but still you managed to build up a big audience pretty fast. How did you manage this city by city takeover?

Geddy: One by one they just seemed to click in our favour - we just toured and toured, there were lots of people we were opening for all the time, and just work as hard as we could. We'd get out and open for anybody who would have us - you need an opening act - we're here, we'll play. One by one the cities in the midwest came around to us, and eventually it spread out, now, to everywhere. The world!


If you had to name a turning point in your career, would it be "2112"?

Geddy: Oh yeah. That's really our first record, our first real record I think. The other records were records, but that was really basic stuff, really groping in the dark. 2112 really achieved the beginning of our sound, that we could call ours anyway.


For Neil Peart performing live is the only way to become a better musician. Neil and Geddy talk about constant touring! Neil, it seems like you've been spending a lot of your time on the road. Do you still enjoy touring and is it still fun for you?

Neil: Oh Yeah. Obviously we wouldn't do it if it wasn't a matter of choice. We still feel that we are very much in control of ourselves, so we just decide what we want to accomplish this year and fit in time off at the optimum times of the year - summer time, we like to be home around Christmas time. So you figure all that out, and you want to record an album, being on the road is probably our prime function - it's the thing we spend the most time at, as musicians it's the best thing for you - playing a lot, playing really hard because we do a long show - so it is tremendously demanding and challenging. That can only be good, it's forcing you to get better all the time. And as parts of the show become simple because of repetition then you are forced to make them more difficult to keep your interest high. Consequently it pushes you as a musician into more difficult areas - and that's a very positive thing. Also just the travelling part of it, aside from the music, is very, well, travel broadens one, it keeps us firmly in reality and it keeps me open, as a lyricist, to new ideas, new influences and interest in things I'm constantly becoming aware of.
Geddy: There's a time in every tour when I want to leave and run away because when the novelty of the tour wears off, about 3/4 of the way through, it's a grind, and let's face facts: you're working hard every day to play well. But I do generally like the lifestyle.

I bet it's physically gruelling, even if you didn't have to do all the travelling every day - that's a lot of sweat you put out up there.

Geddy: Yeah - it's emotionally draining, it's mentally draining, it's physically draining, so it does take its toll on you. At the end of a show you're tired! No bones about it, you're tired. So you just learn how to live on the road so that you can keep up with that; you pace yourself so you're not burning yourself out every night or else by the middle of the tour you're dead. It's all careful training.

The song YYZ, or YYZed I guess you would say in Canadian, this is a song you wrote for an airport?

Geddy: YYZ is the morse code tag for Toronto International Airport, like L.A. is LAX; whenever your bags go to a city there are these three strange letters on your baggage tag which is the code for all the international spies who are moving your luggage around the airport. YYZ - we've come home and left from Toronto International Airport many many times - so it's an important place in our lives.

So you're always pleased to get home, huh?

Geddy: Oh yeah!

It seems that you've made a conscious effort from the very beginning to not be another regular rock n roll band.

Geddy: Well what is a regular rock n roll band?

Well to me the songs all deal with the same stuff - sex, drugs, rock n roll, cars. You guys are some pretty cerebral rock.

Geddy: Well we just figured there's enough people doing that, so who needs another one doing it? We were inclined to write things that were a little more different from your normal rock n roll stuff, and there's thousands of bands doing that anyway - so let's try something a little different. So, yes, it was a conscious effort.


Neil, you guys have been working at an unbelievable hectic pace since 1974. Do you feel pressured into all this touring and recording that you do?

Neil: It's not external pressure, let's put it that way. We don't take orders from anyone, so the pressure that we exert on ourselves is chosen - we feel it is good to work under pressure, it's good to work hard because the results are that much better. That is also where the satisfaction comes from - the only real reward we get is at whatever stage in the song you suddenly say "that's good", and when you've just written a song and are listening back to a rough recording there is a certain buzz that comes either there or after the song is recorded. You sit back and yes, that's the moment of happiness. You realise that that is accentuated by the amount of work that you put into it because it makes it that much better. Working is not just a means to us, to achieve something else, it's also an aim. The big dream for most musicians is just to be able to work, not just to achieve success, most musicians who are really serious about it, to them the end is work, the work that we have when we choose what we put in under certain conditions: we play, we choose when we want to make an album, where and how we want to make that album; that independence is the goal.

You have said that you're not an 'image' band, which I think maybe one reason why the press has been less than kind to you.

Geddy: Well, we're not an image band, I don't know. I guess just saying that makes us an image band. Our image is the lack of image. We're not a lifestyle band, we don't put too much value on what we eat for breakfast, or, our faces aren't that important to us - we're taking a break from our face to coin a phrase! I just don't think it's that important, the important thing has always been our music so let's put the emphasis on that, what we do after the show or who we hang around with or what kind of hairstyles we have or what ever, that's not important.


On the new album there are a lot more, for want of a better word, accessible songs. Compressed, that sort of thing. Was that by design?

Geddy: Well, it's all part of the great improvement plan. It's all well and good to write twenty minute pieces, and we do enjoy that and we still might do that in the future; but it came to a point where the longer pieces we were just doing for the sake of them, and that was getting ridiculous because, you can't stand still. For us to write another twenty minute song was for us to write the same song over again just using different notes. It was like how many different versions of the same song can you write. So it was time to go onto new areas - it was time to say OK, let's not think in those terms right now, let's think in terms of humility, or in terms of writing a good song, let's try to take what we've learned and what we can do in twenty minutes and try and take the most important aspects of that and put it into a five minute song. We still don't write short songs, none of our songs are under 4, 5 minutes; but it was time to be a little more precise, and to try and concentrate a little more on the feel of the song more than on the technical aspect, which I think is ultimately the most important thing about songwriting - the feel. It sure helps to have good chops and to be able to play real well and to know all those notes, but the ultimate thing that someone listens to is the feel of the song, and that's really the emotioinal aspect of it, that's one thing that we concentrated on on this album.


The logo with the star, has that been with you for a long time?

Geddy: Yeah, since 2112, that was part of the graphics for the album; we liked it, it seemed to suit us, its statement seemed to suit us, so we adopted it.

What is its statement?

Geddy: Naked men (laughter). No - whatever it is it's pretty good - I can't remember. Y'know I think it has something to do with baseball!


How about solo projects? It seems a lot of members of a lot of bands feel an overwhelming need to go out and do something on their own. You've been playing with Geddy and Alex for seven years now and no one's done any solo projects, do you ever feel frustrated or held back by the group?

Neil: No, that's why we're fortunate, I don't think there are many other bands that have the kind of freedom that we have in our music in that there aren't any preconceived ideas of what Rush is. So if one of us wants to get into a particular style of music there is room; if Alex wants to do some work in classical guitar which he's very fond of there's no problem working classical guitar parts into our pieces because everything fits as far as we're concerned. Geddy and I, as fans, are very interested in bands like "Brandx" and Bill Bruford and so on, so we want to get into complex rhythm sections and stuff like that. There's plenty of room in our band for all kinds of output, it just doesn't matter what it is stylistically as long as it does excite us in one way or another. So consequently there's no hidden reserves of material that any of us have, there are no songs that we have written and never used. Everything that we write, if it's good, gets used. So a solo album would have to be, for any of the three of us this would be true I think; just to do something really crazy, something really off the wall; because any genuine ambitions that we have can be, and have been, realised within this band.