Rush Exchanges Heavy-metal Image For Mature Musical Style

By John Swenson, United Press International, December 1, 1987, transcribed by pwrwindows

NEW YORK - When bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson started working together nearly 20 years ago, the hot new sound at the time was Led Zeppelin.

Five years later, when Lee and Lifeson asked drummer-lyricist Neil Peart to join up, Rush was a power trio that bore more than a slight resemblance to Led Zeppelin in its early days.

But now, 13 years into a career that has made the group one of Canada's most distinguished cultural exports, Rush is nothing like the heavy metal kids they once were.

"It doesn't seem like we've been together for 19 years," Lifeson said backstage after one of the first shows of the band's tour in support of its twelfth studio album, "Hold Your Fire."

Lee pointed out that he could never have envisioned the current incarnation of Rush. "After we made 'Hemispheres' (1978) we might have said this is the point we wanted to get to. But now every record is a surprise to me."

Few bands have mirrored rock's stylistic changes over the last two decades as effectively as Rush. From their heavy metal beginnings, the band evolved through an art rock phase and now play a complicated style more like jazz-rock fusion. "I don't know," Lee said. "I guess it's closer to fusion than to anything else that's around. We just don't seem to fit into any category anymore."

"It's certainly closer to that," Lifeson added, "than Bon Jovi or Cinderella."

"I think it's more melodic," Lee continued. "I was listening to the opening act on this tour, which is a metal band, and I was thinking how far we've come from that. Just in comparing sound checks.

"You hear all these melodies and all this vast array of notes that we're playing now and compare it to the kind of harmonically limited style of metal; that's when I feel like we don't fit into that category anymore. The most exciting aspect of being in this band is the compositional challenge.

"I think the writing stage is the most rewarding, everything else revolves around that. I don't think that was true 10 years ago, it was playing then, but now I look at myself more as a musician in a compositional sense than a musician in the playing sense. This is the part that makes it really worthwhile, why I still do this.

"I definitely wouldn't be doing it if it were still just Led Zeppelin takeoffs. As much as I love to play, if you're just gonna play it doesn't have to be like this. There's a million ways to play. I love those two hours when we're on stage but everything else associated with touring I don't really like very much anymore."

Lee went on to describe the band's painstaking method of constructing songs. "Every year we take more and more time to write," he said. "This year we took two months just to write the demos. We work every detail out before we go into the studio. We have that time to concentrate on our songwriting and we realize how important that is to us.

"In the old days we used to write on the road, in cars, dressing rooms, wherever we could get 10 minutes. We couldn't take two months off to record or we wouldn't be able to survive.

"We work in so many different ways, like we record all of our soundcheck jams. At the end of the tour I'll take them all home and sort through them all and catalog them. Some of them are just great spontaneous energy, you can hear how pissed off you were that day, but a lot of them are really good starting points for songs.

"'Open Secrets' was like that. The main bass riff that opens up 'Turn the Page' came directly from a jam. The main ideas are spontaneous, it's the final arrangement that you sort of hone and craft but the initial burst is some kind of spontaneous energy."

Lee sees "Hold Your Fire" as a potential turning point for the band. "I feel really good about the album. This to me is an arrival record, like we climbed up a hill and now we've gotten to the top and we have to decide where we go from here. At the time we did 'Power Windows' we thought that was the kind of record it was, but it never felt like that afterwards."

Rush has always featured visual elements and sometimes even elaborately staged jokes as part of their live performance. The "Hold Your Fire" shows open with a re-recorded version of the Three Stooges theme. "It's not the original theme because they won't let you use that," Lee explained. "So I hired my friend, violinist Ben Mink, who's a musician extraordinaire and a very big Three Stooges fan, and we had him recreate the original version. The three hellos you hear at the beginning are the three of us talking to him on the phone."