Geddy Lee - Off The Record

Off The Record with Mary Turner, 1987, radio program transcribed by Greg Sanderson

Geddy Lee: We always wanted to be that, wanted to be the, the hot player, you know? That was our goal early on and then we sorta wanted to be the world's smallest symphony orchestra which we're still trying to do...

Mary Turner: Presenting Toronto's most concise symphony orchestra, featuring Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson. Rush - Off The Record. You're a successful band. You can record anywhere you want in the world, so where do you go? Paris? London? Montserrat? How about all of the above? Sound extravagant?

I guess in our own minds we can afford that kind of luxury to keep ourselves fired up, you know, tuned up. Every three weeks we went to a different studio, and the first two studios were in England; the next one was in Montserrat, the Caribbean; the next one we went home for the first time in maybe ten years; we recorded three, four weeks in Toronto and we mixed the album in Paris; and, through all that time [Chemistry fades into Force Ten: used as bed then faded up for vocals] we were very, you know, stimulated and very interested in the record. It kept everybody fresh and I think it kept giving us a new outlook on the album; and we kept coming in contact with different, you know, responses and for us at this stage I think it works really well to do that, to move around. It is more expensive than your average way of recording, but you know we're very conscientious and I think the money we spend doing that we save in other ways...

MT: Do you think that all the travelling you did gave the album a more international flavour?

I think it gave us an international flavour, I don't know if the album, you know, smells of it or not but it certainly was great for us because it turns the work experience into a whole full living experience [Big Money played as bed, faded up for vocals] which I think is more necessary for us at this stage. You know, fifteen-odd years or whatever its been in Rush I think you have to, you have to stop looking at it as separate from your life because its part of your life, you know, its what you do so you don't wanna just go "I'm going to work and then I'll live", you know, you wanna do it all at the same time. You know, it's gotta be all one thing and that's the necessity for saying, "Well, I could either mix at home or I can mix in this cheap studio around the corner; or I can go to Paris, spend a few extra dollars and have a wonderful new experience mixing, so I vote for the latter, you know? Let's have some fun.

I'm Mary Turner talking with Geddy Lee of Rush, Off The Record. Why name an album "Hold Your Fire"? Had Rush been watching too many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies?

I think it relates to the creative process, the burning desire to do something and how important it is to keep it, to keep your fire lit, you know, and to keep it going regardless of what you have to persevere, you know, regardless of circumstances I think its important to hold yourself together or stick to your guns basically. Its more relating to the personal inner flame, you know, hold it. As the beginning of the song "Mission" sort of explains. That was the intent and the concept of that particular song and the title of the album.

Rush has been recording music for thirteen years and that's a number that makes them feel relaxed rather than superstitious.

I think there was a more confident approach to making this record. I think we were more relaxed in the sense that we said to ourselves, "Okay, this project's gonna take this long, it's gonna take about six months of our lives [High Water played as bed]. I don't want to be intense and do nothing but make this record for the next six months. I wanna plan it out in such a way that I can take time off to be with my family. I can take time off to enjoy the other things that happen to interest me right now and pursue a life that this band is part of and not separated from." Saying that the outset and realizing that the record's not gonna fall apart if you go away from it for a week, you know, and say, "Every three weeks let's take a week off and eventually we'll finish the record in good time because we're very, you know, we know how responsible we are in the studio, very responsible in the studio, we work very hard when there's work to be done so we know we'll do the record in time and we'll do it right so let's not panic and let's have some confidence about it" and I think that shows in the record.

Rush is a private club when it comes to recording. Having outside musicians work on their albums is still a very controversial idea to Geddy, Alex and Neil. So how did Til Tuesday's Aimee Mann end up singing on this record?

That was a really interesting idea for us. "Hell, let's get a girl in here", you know, it was a neat idea, you know, we've been so insular. We very rarely work with other people but, you know, well we've worked with Andy Richards on keyboards on Power Windows, it was very successful and a really, really pleasant experience and we continued on this record. And we worked with string arrangers on the last record, on Power Windows, you know, so all those experiences with new people were very exciting for us. We thought, "we're learning from this, and, let's take it another step further, let's get a vocalist in here to give us a little texture in the vocal department" [Time Stand Still begins, used as bed, faded up for vocals] and we thought we had the perfect part for a female voice which I think it was. And, we listened to a lot of records, liked Aimee's a lot and asked her if she would sing on it which she graciously agreed to do.

It's four o'clock in the morning. A tired musician sits slumped in a seat at the back of a long, luxurious tour bus. The rest of the band has been sleeping unsoundly for a couple of hours. The bus is filled with old cigarette smoke and unfriendly shadows. The only illumination comes from the streetlights as they blur past the windows and the faint glow from the dashboard. The semi-awake drummer taps out a melody with his ink pen on a yellow legal pad. By the time the bus arrives at the next stop on their tour itinerary, he'll have a new song. Doesn't that sound romantic? Well most of the time that's not the way it happens. Put that same drummer in a well-lit room that's not moving and he'll be a lot happier. We'll hear why creativity is often inspired by the glow of a personal computer screen right after this on Rush, Off The Record.

We're back with Rush, Off The Record. Synthesizer has never been a four letter word to Rush. When it comes to technology, this is a band that was born to compute.

Well it was always, in the last few years we've used synthesizer-oriented computers like PPG's, Fairlights, that kind of thing. But this was the first time we had an actual Mac set up, with software made by one of these companies that does music software. Software called Performer. That really turns your computer into a multi-track recording device and a sequencing device. It doesn't store sound, but basically stores notes so I can write, you know, all different keyboard parts and store them in the computer and play them back at will, screw around with them and when I wanna change the arrangement I can just cut and paste the arrangement around as opposed to playing it on tape recorder ten different ways and listening to which one I like best, I can cut and paste ten different versions. So it's very helpful, in a lot of ways.
Neil used it quite a lot, he wrote all his lyrics, or, some of his lyrics for this album on the Mac; he used one as well and he finds it easy because he can then play with words in the same way, you know, cut and paste and drop them out and look at it this way and print it out and look at it and see what works and what doesn't work. I found it difficult when he was starting to give me lyrics that were printed out of his computer because I'm so used to his little hand-written lyric sheets that he gives me, 'cause they're always so cool and he draws these little pictures on the top of them and stuff, you know, he has, for like, you know, thirteen years now; so, I think, I can't remember the song, I think it was Prime Mover or Lock & Key [New World Man begins, used as bed, faded up for vocals] on this album was the first one he actually handed me this, you know, this print-out of the lyrics and it was so weird, it felt so cold to me, it's like, "I feel uncomfortable with this" and I think he just looked around for different fonts until he found, found one that was a little warmer and it was more attractive to me. Makes his job much easier.

Rush: for thirteen years they've been mixing current events with power chords. Is it an atmospheric condition that's kept them together? We'll hear from Geddy Lee after this. Off The Record, I'm Mary Turner.

We're back with Geddy lee of Rush, Off The Record. Here you are on another tour. Did you ever think when you were first starting out in Canada that you'd be doing this forever, for a living?

I never, I never thought that far ahead and I never dreamed that we would be together or this successful for this long. Never imagined it. I don't know what I imagined but I didn't, I didn't imagine this. You know, it's hard. [Spirit of Radio faded in, used as bed, faded up for vocals] You just sorta take it as it comes. You know, you always wish that you could have a nice, long, fruitful career. You don't know what can, what atmospheric conditions are gonna permit that.
I think there's been a conviction in our music that I think a core of our audience has believed in and has accepted and has said to themselves that we're gonna stick with this band just to see what happens and to grow with them until they let me down, I guess, and I mean that's what most people do, I guess, with bands. You listen to them and then when you think they're going off in an area that you're not into then you, you drop out of that scene, you move onto something else, but I think that core has kept, you know, our, we've had a solid core that's kept us around for a long time. That's, you know, I think one reason that we've been, I mean, I'm surprised that we have had such a hard core following for so long because really we've been changing so much and we're not the same band we were, like, eight records ago at all, I don't think. Not on the surface anyway. [Limelight played as bed, faded up for vocals] Certainly what makes us tuck is probably very similar. It doesn't sound the same. It doesn't, it doesn't feel the same. So I don't understand why, why someone could like us back then could still like us now unless they've just grown with us and maybe that's really what the answer is. But I think there must be something in our music every time out that appeals to new people too otherwise we couldn't have remained as successful.