CHARLIE KENDALL: Most of us will admit to dreaming about meeting someone we admire and, occasionally, we're given the opportunity. But imagine meeting and becoming personal friends with the members of your favorite rock band, seeing them at work and at play. A case in point is Source Correspondent, Bill Banasiewicz. For the next two hours we'll share moments of Bill's adventures with Canada's premier rock band. You're invited to join us within this inner circle, because you have got a 'Total Access Pass To Rush'. Today, Rush are one of the biggest names in Rock. Their climb to the top has been long, but steady, thanks to a core of fans so loyal other bands would have to envy. Eight years ago, Bill Banasiewicz was captivated by the music of Rush and since then have seen them perform over 100 times. Eventually, even the band took notice and gave Bill a nickname, 'The B-Man' and a credit on their latest album, 'Grace Under Pressure'. What you'll be hearing are excerpts from Bill's days with Alex, Geddy and Neil on the opening dates of Rush's 84-85 Grace Under Pressure World Tour.
8 a.m. aboard the Rush tour bus travelling southwest somewhere between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona. Bill, with Drummer-Lyricist Neil Peart.
BILL BANASIEWICZ (B-MAN): The new album is titled 'Grace Under Pressure'. How did you come up with that title?
NEIL PEART: I'm not really sure. It's one of those phrases that sort of creeps into you. I've run into it several times in the descriptions of heroes, in the literal sense, as having exhibited grace under pressure. And it also seems to turn up in the sports world a lot to, as being a particular quality of someone whose good in the clinch. It applies as much to life as to sport and just thinking about a title early on in the writing of the songs, I sort of came upon that phrase again and thought how well that applied to all the songs that were written at the time and sort of suggested it to the other guys. And, with all those kind of decisions, we never make it...we never say 'yes, that's the title'. They just say 'ok, that sounds good', and then you leave it for a while and sort of let it ferment in your mind. And it was the kind of title that got better to you the more you thought about it. And I found with Geddy and Alex and also with other people that I told the title to, they'd go 'Oh yes, that's nice'. And then about two weeks later, they'd say, 'You know, I really like that title'.
B-MAN: Alex, on the 'Grace Under Pressure' album it seems you've found your sound as a guitar player. Seems like you're really stepping-out and kinda going for it, instead of a new direction.
ALEX LIFESON: Yeah, the emphasis has come around to the guitar more with this record. Like with 'Signals', we brought the keyboards out a little more and the guitar fell back into the rhythm section. This time around, we wanted to move it around a little bit more and get a different perspective. The way we write reflects that. Geddy and I will sit down when we get lyrics from Neil and work to the lyrics or vice-versa; we'll work on a musical idea and then go through his lyrics to see what fits that piece of music best. The lyrical content is very emotional. Neil's asking a lot of pretty important questions and heavy weighted questions. The music really needs to reflect what's happening lyrically and vice-versa.
B-MAN: Yeah, for example, in Afterimage, the chorus 'I Feel The Way You Would' has like a call and response with the vocals and the guitar.
ALEX: Yeah that's a good example. I can still feel the hair on my neck go just from the emotion of it. The voice and then the answer from the guitar; which is exactly what we wanted to achieve with that. That's exactly what it's supposed to do.
CHARLIE: By midday the Rush caravan has arrived in Tucson for the second show of this tour. Settled in the hotel, Bill's got some questions for Geddy and Neil.
B-MAN: Do you consider 'Grace Under Pressure' to be a concept album?
GEDDY LEE: Good Question. I don't think it's a concept album unless you say it is. That's the big difference these days. There's a lot of people making concept albums, but because they're not saying they are, then nobody looks at them like that. I'm not saying either. I mean, whenever we're putting a record together there's always some kind of recurring theme or recurring themes plural. Because our records are written over a short period of time there's so many common denominators. A lot of that is subconscious and some of it is conscious, but in every Rush album you can find sort of threads that overlap, lyrically. That's a nice device for Neil. He likes to use that a lot, to have songs relate to each other, and it makes an album feel more cohesive in one sense.
NEIL: There's something about the word red, for a start, that I really like. It's simple, it's three letters, it looks nice, it sounds nice. Red Alert, of course from Distant Early Warning, was just the obvious word to be in there, it's what the song is about, basically, that everything's on red alert inside and outside of people. And Red Lenses was just a play on Rose-colored lenses. Except these were eyes of anger rather than eyes of idealism...or both at once. There's an inherent idealism in the stance of the character in that song.
CHARLIE: 8 a.m. Up early. Hotel room in Tucson, Arizona. Bill with Neil Peart.
B-MAN: The thing I find fascinating about Rush is that, each of the albums get better. They progress on musically and lyrically. They just keep getting better. And since 1976 each album has just been steps above the previous one.
NEIL: Well, we were lucky in a sense, that we had a long road to go. I don't mean that with any false humility. But, when we first started out we weren't that good as musicians, or that good as songwriters and had so much to learn, that it was easy for us to learn. So first of all, we had the enormous school of technique to progress through, and that probably took us right on up to Hemispheres and even a bit into Permanent Waves, that we were still learning our instruments as individuals. We were learning our interaction as musicians. We were learning how to write songs, how to create moods, how to create textures, how to affect people in all the different ways that it's possible to make your music communicate with people. And all of that period, that long period, was all of that and once we reached that period where we were confident in our technique as musicians, as songwriters, as arrangers, all of that, the whole school of what being a musician is about, really, then we could get into the process of refinement. And that's the turning point that the Spirit Of Radio represents.
Someone's always telling us that something else we did was better and why don't we do that again. Well, the answer is self-evident of course to any thinking person, that we already did it: why would we want to do it again? And it's necessary for us to keep growing and changing to be doing anything at all really. But you can't explain it to those kinds of people; they still literally want to hear us write a whole album of Working Man, or a whole album again of 2112 or whatever their particular favorite era is. Hemispheres too: again, I was just saying how proud I am of that album, and it's a definitive album of its type. But it's still behind to me, it's not something that's a part of my personal life right now. I'm saying how you kinda disconnect yourself from something once its written and recorded and especially when you stop playing it live.
B-MAN: It's so close, you guys jam in the afternoon. I guess I'm on the inside; I get a rare opportunity...
GEDDY: Well, it's a real release for us, because the tedium of a tour, there's so many things that are planned out and the same every day; as you well know, you've been on the road. But most people I guess, don't realize that so much is repeated day after day. Sound check, show, this and that and all the things in between, that, I don't know how some musicians feel, but myself, I find it very frustrating because I want to... You're playing every day so you're sharp, technically, you can play, you're at your best playing ability, but all you're playing are things that you've played the night before or whatever. And, to have half an hour when you just let it all go, is wonderful. Those jams are very important for our mental well-being on the road. I don't really like jamming with other musicians. You always end up playing the similar kind of things, unless you're jamming with a couple of people that are really outside and are taking you into an interesting area. I used to enjoy jamming with Max Webster a lot, because we sort of knew each other's style a little bit.
B-MAN: Neil, it's kinda funny how the three songs in the Fear Trilogy evolved isn't it?
NEIL: I know. It's really kinda strange how it turned out. It's not meant to be as mysterious and clever as it looks. It was more accidental. At the time of Moving Pictures I had actually sketched out each of the three songs in my note book, and talked to the other guys about them, what I was going to go for. But the easiest one for me to clarify in my mind and to put into words was Witch Hunt, because it was the simplest concept to deal with. And then The Weapon came next because my thinking led up to that point. But in fact, a couple of snatches of lyrics and even both of the verses for The Enemy Within were written as long ago as that. And all the titles and everything were fixed on and I knew what I wanted to write about. But The Enemy Within was the most difficult one to deal with, so it ended up being the last one done. They happened to go in the order of 3-2-1, which is why it was so desirable to play Witch Hunt live, so that we could present them all in the order in which they were intended. Which of course, unless somebody does it does it at home for themselves, will never have happened.
B-MAN: When Moving Pictures came out, Witch Hunt was originally the studio production piece on the record. Are there any problems in recreating the recorded sound live?
NEIL: Big problems. It was a great challenge for us and it's funny how in love with the song we got playing it that way. Because even the new songs of course, we'd played a lot of times, and listened to even a lot of times more, so they don't have the freshness that a song like that, that's been on the shelf for four years has. It's a song we really liked at the time and have continued to have a good relationship with, and I know a lot of my own friends really like that song a lot. But as far as reproducing it, there were so many sound effects on it and things we recorded specially for it in the introduction, that it's just impossible to get a mob yelling and all the chaos that that's made up of. So we use tapes for the sound effects as opposed to the music, and then with what Geddy's equipment has evolved into in the last few years, keyboard wise, he can reproduce what was done on the album.
CHARLIE: Tucson, Arizona, midday, enough time to have some fun before soundcheck at 3 o'clock. Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, is a licensed pilot and has rented a single engine plane for him and Bill to fly. We're on the runway requesting clearance for takeoff.
B-MAN: What is our number?
ALEX: We're November 6 7 9 er 2...
B-MAN: Ok... (Bill sounds decidedly nervous and maybe thinking that maybe this isn't such a good idea after all!)
ALEX: We're just taxing along here, going out to the active runway, which today, for us, is runway two-one which is 21 degrees. It's very hot here: it's about 101 degrees, the winds are light, variable. Don't we have a stewardess to come on and say, "in the event of a water landing we're supposed to use the bottom of our seat backs"?
B-MAN: Yeah right... So when did you first start flying?
ALEX: I started in November 1979, and got my license about a year later.
B-MAN: What type of license do you have?
ALEX: I've got a private pilot's license, with a multi-engine rating, a float rating, which is, float planes, and a night rating.
B-MAN: So you try to do this when you have a day off, or as much as you can?
ALEX: Yeah I try to. It's really a lot of fun. OK were clear for take-off!
B-MAN: (High in the Arizona sky, Bill, sounding more relaxed and composed continues with the interview.) So did you always want to fly as a kid, or when did you become fascinated with airplanes?
ALEX: I don't know. I've always thought there's something beautiful about airplanes. Just the fact that a large piece of machinery can fly in the air, it's really an incredible thing. That of course sparked an interest and also the challenge of getting a pilots license while being on the road. It's very difficult to find the time and be able to do it.
This is what's known as a stall. Ok, this is when the airplane no longer flies. It's perfectly safe, so...there's the buzzer (a warning that the engines stopped) and you'll feel the airplane buffet and then it'll break and the nose will come down!
B-MAN: (Gives a slight hysterical scream as the plane starts falling) That's a stall!?!
ALEX: That's a stall, that's just when the air is not going over the wings, the center of pressure moves forward, the wing is not creating lift anymore, so it's dropping, basically, out of the air. Because this airplane is nose heavy with a high wing, the nose tends to drop down first. It's a slick maneuver but it looks kinda scary.
B-MAN: I like it!
ALEX: Ok, Bill's at the controls. Now, Bill, you have to lower the nose a little bit, lower the nose by pushing forward on the column and turn it a bit so you keep the wings level. Put your feet on the rudders. Are they on the rudders? Ok, now watch what happens. That's just to keep your turns coordinated. Ok, one hand, move it forward a bit...that's it. And you give it a bit a right rudder. Keep yourself straight. Level off the wings a bit; that's it! Bill is actually flying the plane! Oh! I'm sick; I can't fly the plane! (Jokes Alex) Bill is actually flying the plane right now!!
B-MAN: OH NO, MY GOD ALEX!!!! (Bill certainly seems to be having a bit of a laugh now he's got over his initial fears)
ALEX: Bill's doing very good! Alright, now let's try and turn to the right. Traffic is clear, ok, now turn. That's it, pull up on the nose a bit right. Hold it right there...that's perfect! Ok, I'm going to take the controls now and we'll head back towards the airport and do some landings and take-offs.
B-MAN: Ok, how did I do?
ALEX: You did excellent. I would rate you a nine out of ten for your first flight.
B-MAN: Alright! Thank you (laughs). Alex is now taking over the controls. I will get my feet off the rudders.
CHARLIE: Having passed his flying test, reporter Bill Banasiewicz is motoring back to the hotel with Alex Lifeson.
B-MAN: This is a great place to start the tour isn't it? The southwest?
ALEX: Yes it's a great place to start the tour.
B-MAN: Come down from the cold of Canada.
ALEX: Yeah, it was a real cold winter and it's sweltering up in the hundreds here. We had a fantastic baseball game last night on the day off. Did some flying here in Tucson, lounge by the pool. Now that's the way to start a tour!
B-MAN: How about that softball game last night? Wasn't it great?
ALEX: That was fantastic. You were there, but I'll tell YOU the microphone about the softball game. We had a big softball game. We had the crew from Gary Moore's band and the band and us, our crew and the 'lighties' and the 'soundies'. We all went out to a baseball diamond, got it late at night, we got the lights up there and we had a small following of people out there and we played softball. It was a fantastic way for everyone to get to know each other, to go out and play some good ole baseball. Have fun, get back to the hotel, have a swim and talk about baseball all night. Eat Mexican food and go to bed at 11.30. It was great! (Laughs)
B-MAN: What do you like to do in your spare time?
GEDDY: Why are you asking me that, you know what I like to do!
B-MAN: (laughs) Maybe I should rephrase that. Like I know...
GEDDY: I like to go to the baseball game with my pal the B-man!!! (Both Laugh)
B-MAN: And after soundchecks and stuff, you actually throw the ball around inside the hall.
GEDDY: Yeah, I like baseball. I like a lot of things, but spring's here, summer's coming. All those teams are out on the diamond playing every day. You gotta watch it, it's good stuff. Detroit's going to win the World Series this year though. That's a pretty bold statement I know! [Webmaster note: The Detroit Tigers did in fact win the 1984 World Series, as Geddy predicted just four weeks into the season!]
B-MAN: I have the first single, on Moon Records, and the flip-side is a Buddy Holly song.
ALEX: Yeah, Not Fade Away. Actually, not too many people have that. That was honestly a very limited run of records, and that particular record was done with the original producer, David Stock, who produced the first album in about two hours and it sounded like it was maybe done in two or three minutes. We just did a version of it that sounded good! It was real powerful, nothing like the Rolling stones version or the original version. It was a lot more powerful. It was a lot of fun to play! And playing the bars, it was a song that always went over really well. We use to close with it or we close a set with it.
B-MAN: On Exit...Stage Left, the recording of that [Closer To The Heart] is just incredible, with the audience singing along to the choruses.
ALEX: That was really powerful. Actually it's an amazing feeling not to be able to hear the monitors or yourself playing 'cause the audience are singing so loud. It was just one of those things... They're a real fired up crowd in Scotland. It was great!
B-MAN: I remember being in Le Studio, the day before you were going to cut your first vocal, and I was asking you what you did to prepare for that. Whether you practiced or not and you just kinda said, 'No, I just go in there and sing it!' And you were really confident. You knew exactly what you were going to do. Was that from all the rehearsal that you do with the album?
GEDDY: I use to be real worried about doing vocals. Getting ready to do vocals I, this heavy thing coming, but, that's a ridiculous attitude really. Because who cares, you should go in, you sing it. If you don't sing well, you come back another day and sing it again. I just figure that a vocal has to be a sincere thing. The performance is the most important aspect of the vocal.
B-MAN: On the 'Grace Under Pressure' Tour, you actually have two drum kits, which surround you in a circle.
NEIL: Yeah, the premise of that, being to accommodate the electronic drums without having to sacrifice my already existing acoustic drum set-up, because I didn't want it to be an 'either or' situation, in the case where if I want to have electronics I have to give up what I've slaved to perfect all these years... I'm just not into stepping backwards in that way. So the only option open to me was to have a satellite drum set incorporating the electronic drums. But they also gave me a chance to put together a very small basic drum set of snare drum, bass drum and a few tom-toms behind me so I can switch from my very humble and modest main drum kit, back to a very small, basic set-up. But still have access to special percussion instruments that make up my main drums.
B-MAN: It's the first album where you've used someone other than Terry Brown. What was it like working with Peter Henderson and how did it come about?
GEDDY: Just to give you a brief summary of events leading up to using Peter Henderson: this last spring we decided that we wanted to try using somebody else just because we'd done ten albums with Terry and we just figured it was time, that we found out what it's like to work with somebody else. We talked to a lot of people and what we would do was, we'd be rehearsing and different people would see us a couple of times a week and we would spend a couple of days with each of them and talk. We met a lot of nice people and we learned a lot about music. And in those conversations with producers we learned more about making records than we have in all the time we've been making records, just by listening to other people's techniques and their attitudes to making records. It was a fascinating time in a lot of ways.
CHARLIE: 4 p.m. Soundcheck for the Tucson show. Let's join the B-Man on stage with Geddy Lee at the keyboards.
GEDDY: There's a lot of overlapping textures, you can do a lot of the same things on the same instruments, but they all have a specific purpose for me. The Oberheim, which I use to use quite a lot but I'm not using quite so much anymore, I still use for certain sounds like... It has a particular character, that I use on sounds like Witch Hunt and Body Electric. It has a little more of a majestic orchestral sound, which I really like a lot, and I can also control that with my foot pedals which are situated under my keyboards and also in front of my front mics. There's sometimes when you look up on stage, and you hear the sound, but you can't see where its coming from. That's because I have this keyboard pedal right in front of my front mic and I can control my Oberheim with that. Just like this (plays an example), which is very handy. It's an invention that we sort of put together and it's worked out for quite a couple of years now.
B-MAN: And that allows you to play the bass as well as the keyboards at the same time.
GEDDY: I can play my bass patterns and supplement that with a keyboard texture. I use it for all kinds of songs, Tom Sawyer, all the way down the line. They also double as bass pedals and they have an incredible bottom sound. And over here we have an instrument I started using on the last tour, and am using a lot more, which is a Roland JP8 synthesizer (plays a few chords from Between The Wheels). You can see it has quite an angry sound and I like that.
B-MAN: Alex, the guitar on 'Grace Under Pressure' sounds incredible. Could you tell me how the guitar sound evolved?
ALEX: You're always looking for something better, sound-wise. Right now, I'm pretty happy with where I've gotten with my sounds. I don't think I would change it much from here. Now I play more 'chordal' things, especially in solos. Evidence of that is in the solo on, say, Red Sector A or Kid Gloves; there's a lot of strumming in the solos. And when you have that clarity in your guitar sound it's easier to make that happen, and that's the sort of direction I'd like to take.
B-MAN: Neil, Rush as a band have been together over fifteen years. You've been a member over ten yourself. What is the longevity of Rush?
NEIL: It's an impossible thing to predict, really. You can only measure it by each album. And the fact that at this point we can still say that we're changing and growing and improving, in all of the important ways, so that the future remains inscrutable and should be. But, certainly we're looking forward to the next album. And it will be another test of the same values that we try to work by.