THE FOUNDER MEMBERS OF RUSH, singer/bassist GEDDY LEE and guitarist ALEX LIFESON, have been making music together for twenty two years. Drummer NEIL PEART joined in '75 for their second album Fly By Night, and doubles as the band's main lyricist. The longevity of the relationship owes a great deal to their disdain for Rock stardom's tawdry trappings.
Rush it seems prefer tennis to cramming their nostrils with illicit substances. They would rather be at home with their families in Toronto than attending wild parties. (Does anyone in Toronto ever hold wild parties?). Like that other notorious Rock 'n' Roll Hell-raiser CLIFF RICHARD, Rush believe that it is better to be boring than dead.
"I don't think we ever considered ourselves Rock Stars," muses Alex. "Perhaps it's part of the Canadian character. Canadians do tend to be a little reserved. But we've always been outside the Rock circus... There are responsibilities attached to being a parent.
"It's one thing to be on stage and have 20,000 people screaming at you... but you still have to get up at 7.30 next morning to get breakfast for the kids...When we've toured it's always been pretty much like one big family... it keeps you from getting isolated, and stops the focus being on you as some kind of Rock hero."
"Success has been a slow, steady climb. We've always written and recorded what we thought was the best we could do... In retrospect, some of the things we did were not so great. Certainly, when I listen to some of our older records, I think, 'Thank God we've improved.'
"Geddy and I have been friends for a long time. I don't see Neil as much when we're off the road, but on tour we all spend ninety per cent of our time laughing together. That's really important, when you're in the kind of career we're in, and subject to all the pressures of touring...Some bands we've worked with arrive in different cars and buses, they have separate dressing rooms. They get on stage, jump around together and smile, then backstage, spend all their time backstabbing. It takes all the fun out of music."
Presto is the band's first album for Atlantic and seventeenth since forming. After parting company with Mercury, they suddenly found themselves with time on their hands for the first time in years.
"We had a seven month break. When we actually came to write and record, everything came much easier. We were revitalized. We'd normally spend a week to write and arrange two songs. With this album, we came in with so much excitement and enthusiasm. I'd done a little work at home and so had Geddy. Neil had three or four sets of lyrics...so we had some material. We wrote three songs the first week, three the following week, and we finished on the third week...That meant that the remainder of the time could be spent on arrangement. That was unheard of for us - we'd been through two or three stages of arrangement by the time Rupert came along."
Rush & Rupert
The Rupert in question was RUPERT HINE, a producer/singer/songwriter who has also found the time to produce acts as diverse as TINA TURNER, THE FIXX and CHRIS DE BURGH.
"We'd set aside ten days for pre-production," recalls Hine, "but it was finished in two days. It was as if it was all delivered to me as a package, ready to go. I said to the guys; 'I'm not sure you're getting your money's worth out of me'."
"The band are true professionals, who understand so well what gives them their own unique sound. I may have suggested losing a bridge here, inserting an extra chorus there, but ninety per cent of their arrangements were great...I provided backing vocals on one or two tracks, War Paint being the most obvious example. Me and Geddy sang a line I'd come up with. I always make it clear before producing an album that I don't expect a writing credit for any ideas I come up with. Otherwise acts will become wary of producer's ideas...understandably. If they've got a money-grabbing producer inventing so-called 'great ideas' to chip away at their royalties, it's a pretty ugly way to make a record.
"I see production as broad psychology... it's to do with maneuvering the spirits you're working with. I try to keep energy levels at a constant high, and if something doesn't go well, I'll put it off till another day and concentrate on something else. The artists you're recording should be made to feel that everything's going well at all times, because their performance depends on how good they're feeling."
Hine's approach obviously paid off, as Lifeson describes making the album as..."One of the happiest recording experiences of my life. We went to a studio in Toronto and spent two days putting down all the guide tracks. Stephen Tayler (the album's engineer and Hine's recording partner) is a brilliant, brilliant engineer. He got good drum sounds in a matter of minutes.
"At the end of each day I'd get a copy of the track which would be bass and drums... then I'd take that back to my TEAC eight-track at home and work out a basic guitar arrangement. I'd do everything to a time code, so if we got anything we thought we could keep on my version, we'd just drop it into the master. I did the solo from 'Chain Lightning' that way... recorded it backwards at home, and we just popped it into the mix. The orchestrated guitars in the second verse of 'The Pass' were done in the same way.
"When we're writing, we normally separate ourselves. Geddy and I set ourselves up in a corner with the TEAC and work from eleven in the morning until five in the afternoon. Then Neil will pop in and we'll discuss arrangements and lyrics. Then we'll break for dinner and continue working through the evening. It's really quite loose...but we're all there at all times. There's a lot of group work on lyrics and song arrangements.
"If we suffer a creative block, we just struggle and keep at it. Often you'll find that an idea wasn't working for a reason - i.e. the idea stank! We only ever write as many songs as we need and for Presto, the goal was eleven. We never write twenty songs and choose the best. We feel that all eleven are the best."
"As far as guitars are concerned, I use Strats or Signatures. Live, I stick with the Signatures. They're made in Canada. They started developing them about five years ago, and I was involved from the start. The particular guitars I use are a Strat design, with a very transparent sound to them.
"The amps I use vary a little prior to going into rehearsal, but at the moment I'm using a Gallien-Krueger 2000 CPL into a Series 400 Mesa Boogie 2 power amp and two twin-twelve GK Celestion cabinets. I used to use Dean Markleys, but I had quite a few break down on me...
"Many of the guitar sounds on Presto are arrived at by combining different instruments. The riff on Superconductor was a Strat and Signature doubled. In the second verse we added an Antoria, which really fills out the bottom end. It's a beefy-sounding guitar; always useful when you want something thick and bassy.
"For the acoustic guitar sound I had in mind to double the Washburn, which has a very rich sound, with a Dove, which is a little softer. Then I have a Gibson G55 which I keep strung to a natural tuning. I added that during the verses to notch the song up dynamically. When we came down to mix, we found the Dove was drowned out by the fatness of the Washburn, so all you finally hear are the Washburn and the G55. Everything went so smoothly that when we went in to record the guitars at Toronto, I was finished within the first week. So consequently, we finished all the recording three weeks ahead of time...It was so great. Such a relief. We spent a few weeks enjoying the summer, and when it came time to mix, we'd forgotten the songs, everything sounded so much fresher. Stephen worked quickly that he'd go in at noon, set up the mix and we'd come in at four to provide our input and be left standing around, saying "Well... that's pretty great..."
"Throughout recording, we'd play games to wind down. An album takes a lot out of you. You become socially retarded... you're so focused on what you're doing that it's important to play games. At the studio where we did the basic tracks, they had volleyball, so we'd take out a bottle of Scotch and play volleyball until three in the morning. Of course, it'd get more interesting as the game went on, and the bottles became emptier!"
Ah. So you do Rock 'n' Roll, then. When you're not playing...
"Tennis! On tour, me and Geddy play tennis for two hours a day. That's the whole point of being on tour...to improve our game! It's very boring being on the road at this stage of our lives. Getting up on stage is great and satisfying, but it's the other twenty-two hours, sitting in a bus or a hotel room, that are a bit of a grind. Geddy and I have been playing tennis together for about ten years. Neil gets his bike out and cycles for fifty miles. We're all fitter now than we ever were.
"In the early days we did drugs. It was never a problem for us...we always kept it at a recreational level. But as you get older you're not as resilient as you were. It's a lot tougher to wake up with a hangover when you're 36 than at 26. We're all straight nowadays, because drugs tend to affect your playing. Playing has always been a great responsibility for us."
Music, that is. Not tennis.