"You can get bored playing the same songs over and over again. After a while, you're up there onstage thinking, 'Hmm, i wonder how the Mets are going to do tomorrow?"' - Geddy Lee of Rush
Whether you think Rush is a "dinosaur" band or a trio of rock gods, you've got to admire this band as one which has kept on top of progressive rock for over 15 years - and there are still fans waiting in droves outside record stores for that first taste of a new Rush album. With the group's latest Atlantic platter, "PRESTO" already conquering radio with the track 'Show Don't Tell,' none will be disappointed.
"PRESTO" marks the band's 15th. studio album and proves that the instantaneous magic their music has long provided is still there. Having progressed from being a raw Led Zeppelin-influenced metal band to being the leaders of the tech-rock movement, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart demonstrate that Rush is ripening with age - making new fans while holding the interest of older ones.
Not surprisingly, when THE STREET recently sat down with Geddy Lee in New York at the elegant Omni Park Central Hotel, he revealed that one of his main fears in life - especially when it comes to touring - is going on "automatic pilot." In order to keep the band's creative juices flowing, they're taking it easy on their current tour, getting every fourth week off. The turning point came a few years ago when, during a live performance of Rush's "greatest hits" medley, Lee found his thoughts turning to how the Mets were doing as opposed to the audience's reaction!
THE STREET finds Lee to be somewhat of an intellectual - the horn-rimmed glasses a la Buddy Holly certainly balance off his otherwise long-hair rock 'n' roller look. He starts out his interviews somewhat reserved, then suddenly he develops a gift for gab about midway through. What's most apparent is that his approach to touring has mellowed over the years; he's a family man, not a party reptile. Keeping tours short has paid off for him. As he bluntly puts it, "If it's going to cost me three months of my life, I'd rather give up a couple months' profit."
He continues on a serious note that the rigors of touring might have suited him back in the group's early days, but Rush now dreads living out of suitcases even though they travel strictly first class.
He explains, "We make a point of organizing the tours so that we're not cutting ourselves off from our personal lives. We don't say to our families, 'I've got to go do this work now, and I won't be back for five months.' We want to integrate our work with our personal lives - while we're on the road we want to still function as people. We used to do those really rough 11-month tours, but we've been touring since '74, and that's a long time. We've done our fair share of going from airplane to airplane. I don't think we have the physical make-ups to do that anymore. .. . or the mental make-ups. We can't justify in our own minds - or to our wives - allotting that much time to touring anymore."
It's probably the group's ability to know when to take it easy instead of pushing themselves that has probably kept them together for so long - and putting out top-quality product. Lee remarks, "People ask, 'How can you stay together so long?' It's the little decisions you've made along the way that add up and have made it possible for us to stay together for so long. There's an attitude you have to take as you grow older and want to stay in the business. You adjust; you shift gears. If I was still 19 years old, and we were as popular as we are now, I might be saying, 'Hey, let's go nine months non-stop! Bang! Just roll me off the bus at the end, and I'll recover.' But my recovery time and my state of mind is so different now."
Is Lee saying that Rush was never into the rock star "trip," even back in the mid-'70s when they were the only Canadian band outside of Bachman-Turner Overdrive getting attention from American audiences? "No, at least at the very beginning, we were into the whole rock star thing. But I think we learned through experience that it didn't suit us, and that we weren't getting anything out of it...there were too many disappointments. It was just a bit too shallow.
"I think it's been a slow maturing process. We really love what we do, and we love to play well, and the people we grew up listening to were really good musicians in our minds and always performed to a certain standard. You want to live up to that - you want to say, 'That's who I learned my craft from.'
"It's very important for us to maintain that standard, that level of quality. Now, in order to do that, you can't live recklessly. So you become more disciplined. And the longer you're around, the less desperate you are about touring. I find that many bands who have only been around for a couple of years feel like, 'Hey, I might never be here again, so let's play hard and live hard.' I know we felt like that at first, but the longer you're around, the more confident you feel. You think, I will be here again. There will be another tour. There will be more opportunities for me to say something. There will be more opportunities for me to grow. You start shifting gears at that point, you start changing the way you look at things. You start thinking about self-preservation more, as well as how your music can grow."
THE STREET wonders if Lee enjoys performing as much as he has in the past - after all, some people who've been around for 15 years are thinking about hanging up their rock 'n' roll shoes. But not a certain Mr. Geddy Lee, hard rock's most well-known high-voiced henchman after Robert Plant. "I still enjoy performing, but I get bored quicker. I don't know why that is, but I know one thing that bothers me: because we got bored quicker as time went on, we didn't play as well. That's a reason we don't tour as much. At one point we were on that automatic pilot, and there just wasn't as much enthusiasm about playing. That shook us up really badly. I said, 'Here we are, getting jaded now. Maybe we just play too much. Maybe if we made our tours shorter, they'll mean more to us. There'll be more exigency in our performance; there will be more intensity and excitement in what we're doing.'
"Living on the edge is much better for our playing, because once you get bored on the road, it's hard to keep your mind on the game. You can get bored playing the same songs over and over again. After a while, you're up there onstage thinking, Hmm, I wonder how the Mets are going to do tomorrow? (Laughs.) Now, that's not a good thing to think about when you're trying to give somebody their money's worth."
Most fans would probably want to ask Lee how he got that bizarre singing style of his. But if you point out to him that his voice is the most recognizable thing about Rush's sound even though Peart and Lifeson are certainly world-class players, he responds, "Well, it's hard for me to place myself outside the band and see things that way. I see the personality of Neil every time he hits the drums or Alex every time he hits the kerrang, so I associate our sound with those musical personalities. They're very, very difficult for me."
What's in the future for the Rush crew? Well, Lee makes it clear that this is about the only group not dead-set on making solo records. Rush is probably the ultimate group of "serious" musicians and probably the polar opposite of the hard rock groups that have come into prominence in the past few years; they make music, and they go home. They only do videos because they have to in this day and age (Lee refers to them as a "necessary promotional device" and despises having to lip-sync during the making of a clip).
To sum up the Rush philosophy in as simple terms as possible: be the masters of your craft and make music for yourself before anybody else. With their latest disc "PRESTO" which will, undeniably, in the future he referred to as a "classic" Rush album - this philosophy comes rushing ahead.