Originally released on 12" vinyl as "Rush Limited Edition Interview Picture Disc" (BAK2083) in 1987, reissued on CD as "The Story Of Kings" (CBAK4055) in 1992
[Transcribers Note: I found this Rush Interview Picture Disc in a local import store. I snatched it up quickly just because it looked cool and not really for the interview it contained with Alex around the Hold Your Fire time period. The interviewer(s) had quite an accent, so I had a little trouble making out what was said in a few places. If you see something like [...] or (?), it means I was totally unable to make out what was said or at least tried to guess at what it was supposed to be. I hope you have as much fun reading the interview as I did in trying to get it down on paper!.]
I didn't speak very much English until I started school.
Was it difficult when you started school?
Uh, no, no. I was young and I mean I wasn't totally non-English speaking but it just wasn't important. And then, of course, at five years old you learn very very quickly. So, I managed to retain most of it.
What's your real surname?
Oh, which part of Yugoslavia are you from?
My father's from Shovutz(?)...
...and my mother's from Zrenjanin. Very close, sort of opposite I think from each other in different directions. But uh...
You've been there?
Yeah, I was there in 1965 or '66. But, the name that I use on stage is just an English translation really.
So it's quite simple and it's a lot easier to spell and say. There's a tennis player now, [Slobodan] Zivojinovich...
Bobo, and it's funny because when I was young, I mean I heard my name mispronounced every time. And watching him play tennis and hearing him get his name mispronounced was pretty funny.
Well, you know about Karl Malden.
Yeah, Stefanovich, I think.
No, Sekulovich, that's right.
Well, he made a film in Yugoslavia a few years ago.
Well do you know about him that in every film he has to put in a Yugoslavian surname? When he's calling somebody he has to put one in.
Every movie, that's his trademark. Karl Malden.
He's very, how would you put it? He's very much, very proud of his background and he's quite, from what I understand anyway, he's quite involved in church things and community things, charities and all of the stuff to do with Yugoslavia.
Do you do that yourself or do you pursue...
...just the rock 'n roll lifestyle, whatever that is?
Yeah, well I probably have a couple of different lifestyles. But uh, not so much like that, not as involved as he is in something like that. I'd love to play in Yugoslavia. We've never been to that part of Europe before. It'd be a great opportunity to see things.
An Italian paper asked me why you've never played Italy.
No one asked us. Maybe if there was interest for us to play there then perhaps we would.
They say there is incredible interest for you to play there.
Mmm, you should relay that to your manager.
Yeah, we're gonna, we're planning on coming to Europe in April and perhaps we'll look at doing some different places. I'd love to play in Yugoslavia and Italy and maybe even behind the Iron Curtain. I know it's a little easier now to play gigs there. And see in the past there hasn't been like a very big interest in bringing us there, and it's expensive to tour, so for us to go into a very small hall doesn't make sense. Big show, have to scale it down, we'd just rather not do it.
Ok. We finished with Yugoslavia. Picking up a point that you were mentioning or that he mentioned. Rush never seems to me to be the archetypal rock-and-roll band. You never came across as being that to me. Am I right?
Yeah I think just the fact that we've been together from the start for nineteen years and touring together for thirteen years like with this line-up, we must have done something different and right because there just aren't any bands that last that long, very very few anyways. It's always been important because we're also close friends to retain a family feel to the way we approached our organization, our music, our business, everything. We're very good friends with the crew. A lot of guys in our crew have been there for 7, 8, some guys 13 years. Management... We've been with them from the beginning, 19 years almost.
Everyone's in the pension scheme...
Yeah, that's right, they don't want to quit (laughs). So we've had this very family orientated outlook on working together. And we've also been fortunate in that we've had commercial success in doing things the way we want to do them. When you have that, the record company doesn't want to do things differently. Your management doesn't want to do things differently. Something's right, so you're allowed the freedom to continue that way. And if you can do things the way you want to do them, there's no point in stopping.
Having not been, obviously, with you touring and stuff like that, the other thing is I've never really heard any gossip or scam about Rush. Did you actually miss the [hay?]?
We're not like a group of priests going on the road you know. We've had our good times, and we like to party and go crazy. But that's never been what's important to this band. What's been important to this band has been the music and the way we present our music and the way we make our music. So we're coming from a different space. It's a different lifestyle for us. We work very very hard on the road. We tour a lot. We look at it as a career. Whereas for some of the bands... I'm not saying that when we were younger it wasn't like that. We were excited about it and we wanted to have a good time. But a lot of times for a lot of groups it's a lifestyle and it's an ideal. It's to go out sex, drugs, rock-and-roll is the ultimate, have a good time for 5 years, then it's over. But for us, we've always been musicians before being a particular rock band.
I can confirm that, the attitude really 'cause as I was saying earlier here, last time I actually did speak to you before but you wouldn't remember it. I think we were all teenagers then about 8 years ago. /* This last line really doesn't make sense because Alex would have been roughly 26 8 years ago (he's 34 in this interview as is revealed later). That certainly wouldn't make him a teenager. */
We did an interview a long, long, long time ago. Not just you, it was the whole band. In a hotel somewhere, I just can't remember. But there's no change in your attitude really.
You were like that eight years ago.
I think we've always been like that. We try to make the most fun and everything out of it and we love what we do.
You DO enjoy it.
Oh yeah, yeah. We really enjoy making records. This record, this last one especially, Hold Your Fire, was the most fun we've ever had recording. One of the most satisfying.
That's what I thought this morning. Just reading the piece that Neil wrote. Seems like you had bags of fun travelling,...
Yeah, we did.
...riding by the lake.
The other thing was we were so well organized and we ran everything so efficiently. I think he might mention in it too we finished early. And we never ever finish early. We always finish late; go over. But this took less time to do more songs to record than the last record which we thought was fun to make. So, it's still a labor of love for us. And we still enjoy touring so long as it's not TOO crazy as it has been at times in the past. We prefer to work a little less than we used to and spend a little more time at home with our families.
A last part of the work that you've done was trying to break into the States primarily. It seems like you conceived that in a very short period of time. Or at least it seems to me, maybe it was really hard work. I don't know.
Yeah, it was very hard.
So I suppose having done that and achieved that, which is like a security for you really, you just rest of your career you try and enjoy it as comfortably as possible.
Hmm, that's not quite right. I think it's easy to enjoy it and be comfortable as possible but it's dangerous at the same time in that you get too comfortable and then you don't take chances. You don't want to try something new for fear that it's not going to do well and that you're not going to have this Mercedes or whatever, you know, next week. I think with our records we try things and sometimes it doesn't work, sometimes it works. On an album like Signals for instance... Moving Pictures was one of our biggest records. It sold a lot of 3 million or something, and that's a lot of records to sell. Signals was a very difficult record. It didn't sell quite as well. It didn't sell nearly as well as that. But still it did very well. But on it, we tried things that I listen to now and know weren't right. But we learned from it. We learned that there were aspects about that record that we have to change. And then with Moving or with Grace Under Pressure, it was totally the opposite from Signals. And it was another experiment in a different direction. So we're constantly trying new things and experimenting with new things. If they sell well, great, if they don't, so what. At least we're trying something different. We're trying to be different. We're trying to push ourselves, challenge ourselves musically. For me, this album Hold Your Fire is the best parts of all those records for the last 3 or 4 albums. And I hear elements of all those records in this record. It's satisfying because I think I can look at it and say well good, we learned the best lessons from those experiments and we put 'em on this record. Maybe next year I won't think that. Maybe next year I'll think this record's not very good. Which I hope I do. 'Cause then you know you're gonna try something even better the next time. But this has always been our attitude and, you know, sure our lifestyle has become more comfortable. But when it comes to our music, we're very demanding on each other as well as ourselves.
You recorded in all these places from Surrey to areas in Montserrat and so on, and on the other hand having your first album on your own label mostly out of desperation.
I presume so. How do you look upon that big gap between all these 13 years? Did you get used to the new lifestyle? That you can jet around and make the album everywhere?
Well, the first album was recorded in I think about 5 days, 6 days total time for the whole record. It was re-mixed completely, two songs were dropped and two other songs recorded all within this 5 day, 6 day period. We were on a very tight budget but it was very very exciting. Unfortunately, nobody wanted the band. All the record companies in Canada at the time said: 'Rush will never amount to anything. They're not the kind of band that's gonna sell records and be around very long.' So if we wanted to release a record, the only way we could do it was to pay for the studio time ourselves, start our own record label, and sell it that way. Distribute it through a major distributor, but have it on our own label if no one else wanted us. And it started off ok, locally. It started off well locally, but it wasn't really going to go anywhere. A friend of ours who worked for a major label, but he was just like a promo man, he took one of the albums and sent it down to a radio station in Cleveland, Ohio. They started playing it as an import and they got amazing phone response. Everybody wanted to know who it was, where can they get the record. They wanted to start importing records. The program director called somebody at Mercury records, Cliff Braceteen(?), and said 'Listen, I think you should check this record out cause I'm getting great response. You might want to sign this band. As far as I know they're unheard of. No one's heard of them.' So he heard it and said 'yes', called the next day and we basically had a deal the next day.
So the money you spent was well invested...
Over the long term it was. It came about a year later that the payoff was there and it was never intended to be a calling card to America. We wanted to release a record because we thought it was time for us to make a record, locally. But then we had this big American record deal and it was very exciting. Then a six year period started of very very hard work. Touring, of being deeply deeply in debt and selling a respectable number of records but not an enormous amount. So the whole lifestyle came much later in our career, and quite gradually.
So when did you start living comfortably? When was that? What period would you say that was?
Living comfortably?... probably around '81 around then, around the time of Moving Pictures. Not to say that, well there was a bad period around '75,'76. Very difficult. No money and living in a small apartment. Just barely paying rent. All that stuff. At the time you don't think it's a big deal though, that's just the way it is.
Did you ever do any odd jobs to make up?
Yeah, I did some plumbing, not in the last while, but in the earlier years of Rush. I worked in a gas station, played on the weekends, but through the week I pumped gas. And I also did some plumbing. My father had a plumbing business and I worked with him sometimes to make a few bucks. But you never look at those times as being hard times. You look at them as being THE times. That's just the way it is. And it's no big deal.
Can you fix a tap if it goes wrong now?
I love to fix a tap when it goes wrong (laughs). I love it. We built a new house recently. And I got in there, and I was doing a few things, and my father came over and he did the plumbing, he had to. I wasn't allowed to get another plumber in, he had to do it. So I helped him with some things and we worked together. It's fun to do. I love doing mechanical things anyways, working with cars and things like that. So, it's good fun.
Do you, you have a family you said.
Yes. We all do.
Yeah, two boys.
Not so young. My older son is going to be 17 in a couple of weeks and the younger one's 10.
So are you an encouraging father, for music, does he play music? Or is he talented? Or does he play in a band?
He's been in bands for a couple of years now.
I've only been in one band in twenty years and he's been in about 4 or 5 already in 2 years. But, he doesn't take it, he's not committed to music the same way. When I was 15, that's when we started in Rush and right from the start we wanted to write our own music and we wanted to play every chance we got. For him, you know, they went and they took promo shots and they did their hair up and wore make-up and they all threw in some money to take these photos in a photo studio. They never played in a gig. They never had any intention of playing any gigs. They knew how to play 5 songs. But they like the image of being in a band. When I was younger, in our whole area in our whole community there were maybe three groups. Everybody knew who they were and we knew each other. Now in a school you have maybe 10 or 15 bands for each school. And it's mostly kids who like for Christmas they got a Casio keyboard or something like that. And you know people have a little more money now, instruments are a little cheaper, it's easier to get. And it's just the image of being in a group is more attractive to them rather than being in it for the music or wanting to create music. But I encourage him to play. I wanted him to take classical guitar lessons for a while because he was interested in guitar, because it's a good place to start. It's a good place to learn technique and discipline. Not that I want him to be a classical guitarist, but it's a great instrument to learn and it's very satisfying to sit and play on your own and to be able to learn, play pieces.
Can I ask you a personal question? I promise not to write it if you don't want, if you don't want me to. But, how old are you Alex?
I'm 34. I don't mind. I'm 34.
So you got married when you were very very very young.
I didn't get married when I was young. I became a father when I was young and got married later. But...
Are you proud, are you happy that that actually happened?
Now I am...
Because you can, I mean he's seventeen and you're 34 but you are part of a younger generation...
...because you entertain and there are kids out there. Did you...
We're more friends. We have more of a friendly relationship than a father-son. My younger son is 10. It's a different relationship. It's more of a parent-child relationship that we have. With my older son, we did a lot of things together. You know he came on the road a couple of times on some tours, travelled on the bus. He went with the crew on their bus which is, those guys are crazy. And he went and he had a good time and they entertained him and you know he's seen different things. He came to England a couple years ago when we were mixing Power Windows and Geddy's nephew who is the same age came. They know each other, not very well, but they knew, they have the same friends from different areas. And we had to mix, of course we were working all day. So the two of them, they would go out see sights, do things as almost adults. We came home I remember one night from a mix and they went, they got their ears pierced. They were wearing earrings and you know they had a little bit of eye-liner here. Hair's all done up. They stopped at a pub and had a beer (laughs). You know, doing all these adult things and you know I'm not like 'I'm your father, you shouldn't do that.' You know I sorta laughed and thought yeah I would do exactly the same thing. And I did worse things anyways. So, it's, you know, although when you become a parent, a little older, you realize there are some important things in life and you want to motivate your kids to do things, not to sit around and be bums. You want them to use their brains.
That's right. 'Cause that could be boring.
Yeah. 'Cause you realize later, you go (slaps himself), I spent all those years doing nothing. Those great great years when I was 17, 18 years old. When I was at my physical peak or I was really really thinking about so many different things. I could have really done a lot. And it's terrible to look back on your life and have those regrets.
It indicates to me somehow that you have a very strict family background.
Actually I didn't.
Or, or not very very strict...
But a very close family background.
Yes, that's what I meant right, right.
My father worked very very hard. He worked 3 jobs I remember. For years he worked at a, that's stationary engineering. He went in a factory where they had the boilers. And he also was doing the plumbing and he also was driving taxi at night. He had to make ends meet and money was tight. And my mother worked two jobs, and that's the way they were. They were immigrants from Yugoslavia. If they wanted to make a living... And coming to Canada or America in the 50's was very different than coming in the 70's or 80's. Then, immigrants were looked down upon. If you didn't speak English, it was very very hard. You had to work very hard at manual labor to make any kind of...
That's the only thing they could get...
Exactly. And I think this is why we work so hard. We were brought up to realize that if you want to get anywhere, you're going to have to work for it.
How big a family do you come from?
I have two sisters. Actually I have two sisters and two half-brothers as well. So my two older brothers didn't live with us. I didn't meet them until I was much older. But the three of us in the family and my two parents were all very very close.
And how old were you when you actually met Geddy and Neil?
I was about 13 when I met Geddy, 13 or 14, in school. And John, the original drummer, I knew from about 10 years old. And Neil, well 13 years ago. So, actually about a week before my 20th, no, 21st birthday. I remember.
Who dons the writing gloves? And judging by the bio, it's the other two who do the most of the stuff. Or Neil...
No. Typically, a typical day of writing we go for about seven weeks. There's a studio that we use just outside of Toronto, about one hour. Get up about 10 o'clock in the morning, 10:30, have breakfast together, discuss what things, what's happening in the newspaper and what we're gonna do work-wise for the day. Neil stays, now this studio is in a farm, continues writing at the house all day. He has an ashtray with cigarettes like this piled in it. And the floor's covered in paper, and we continue working like this until about 6 o'clock everyday. Then we get together. We discuss the lyrics. We discuss the music. Sometimes he gives us lyrics to put music to. Other times we give him a cassette of the music that we were working on and he writes to that. But that hour, hour and a half before dinner, we all get together, work on the arrangement, you know, make sure the lyrics fit correctly. Geddy's gotta feel that he's singing the lyrics with conviction, like he wrote them, and also that mechanically it's easy to say. And then we take a break an hour and a half for dinner and then in the evening from 9 'til midnight, 1 o'clock we play as a band, the stuff. I think it's important before going into the studio to play the songs like you would if you're playing it live. Then it has continuity and flow. Otherwise it sounds like pieces all put together. And that's a typical day and that goes on for 6 weeks or so writing like that. We work six days a week, take one day off, go home, drive back out the next day, continue working.
The lyrical side of it... The contents. Do you ever?...
That's what we discuss in that period. Geddy has to feel, he has to feel like he's written them. He has to know exactly what Neil is trying to convey and understand clearly what it is. Neil's lyrics are not always very easy to understand. He may have two or three different meanings in his lyrics. I think it gets better with each record, easier to understand, but...
Because you get to know them better...
Yeah. But, and his writing style changes. But it's a lot easier when he's sitting right next to you and you say: 'what the hell does this mean?' and he can explain it. Basically we know from reading the lyrics what's going on and the intent of the lyrics. It's just a matter of getting things a little more understandable, a little more refined in that period. It's the same with the music. Neil will have suggestions or criticisms about a particular music part that Geddy and I have written. And we'll work on that, changing it. It's all part of arranging. And then again, arrangement is taken one step further when we're all playing it together. And for the last week before we finish the writing period, Peter Collins, who's produced the last two records, comes over and again we go to the next level of arranging and song writing criticism. But we know now how Peter works and we write with that in mind. And we've known all along really what we want to try to accomplish with our music. So it's really just a matter of fine tuning.
It's a bit of discipline. Or is it because you are?
It's because we are. And it's because of so many years of doing it and trying to do it a better way each time. It's very expensive to waste time in a studio. It's also very much of a burden on your on just your day to day living. You know, feeling stress and pressure in the studios is a very difficult thing. It slows you down. It makes your performance, I think, it hurts your performing. You're getting too wound up and too tired. You need to be relaxed. And to be relaxed, you have to do things, I think, very...
Orderly, yeah. And the more orderly we are, the more we get done. The more we get done, the more time we have to either relax or to look at things with a clearer mind. With this last record, this is certainly the most orderly we've ever been with this record, you know. Working 'til this time, taking a break, working 'til this time, taking a break. And in the studio we're the same way. We're in, we're up every morning at 10:30, 11 o'clock. Whereas in the old days we'd get up at 5 o'clock at night, have lunch at dinner time, work all night and finish at noon. And those are not productive hours to work. So now we're up early, by 11 o'clock the latest and we're in the studio by twelve.
That's early huh? (laughs)
Well, we work 'til twelve, 1 o'clock, midnight. And then you relax, have a drink 'til 2 o'clock, talk or whatever. You're in bed by 2 or 3 o'clock. So it gives you a good eight hours of sleep. And I think it's important to get that much. I know it's not THAT early but when your hours go into 1 or 2 o'clock, then that's pretty good I think. And take one day off definitely a week and every 3 weeks we take 1 week off and we're happy.
How does this relate, this orderly system to when you truly go on the road, when all hell breaks loose? Obviously all that changes. Or does it?
It changes to a degree in that the outside influences are different. In a studio you're in a studio and you can control things a little easier. You can make a schedule for yourself and stick to it because you know exactly where you're gonna be tomorrow and the next day and the next day. On the road it's not always like that. One day you drive 300 km, 400 km. Next day you drive 800 km. Can't get a hotel tonight. You have to sleep on the bus. You know there are different things...
Does that happen to you?
Not so much anymore.
Yeah I'm sure it used to happen before but now...
A lot of times we do end up sleeping on the bus. We never, seldom, well no that's not true, 300 to maybe 600 km around that is the average for our drives and occasionally you have one that's 800 or 900 km.
But you don't fly...
No. We own our own bus. It's less expensive than flying and it's much more comfortable. You leave when you want to leave. Get on the bus, turn the TV on, pour yourself a beer, have a sandwich, watch a movie, put a tape on, listen to some music, read if you want, go to bed, sleep for a few hours if you like. You know, if it's too noisy in the front you go in the back of the bus.
Do you have a hostess?
No, but that's a good idea (laughs). I'll ask my wife what she thinks.