Crossing The Dreamline

An interview with Geddy Lee, August 19th, 1991

By Frank Lancaster, National Midnight Star

On monday evening at 18:20 on the spot, Geddy Lee called all the way from Canada to Germany. At the german end was a very nervous first-time interviewer, fiddling with his recorder.

I'd thought we'd start talking about the new album.


The first obvious question you have when you listen to it, is how did the rap get into "Roll The Bones"?

Well, we've used spoken stuff in the past in various songs, but this time when we were approaching it, we thought we'd have a little more fun with it. At first we weren't really sure... [and here it happened, I was fiddling with the recorder and lost at least two seconds of the interview, I'll never forgive myself] > ...if it would be just a rhythmical thing in the end. It ended up being a bit of both.

Who speaks the rap section.

Oh, that's a mystery guest.

A mystery guest? Not one of you.

Well, could be.

Could be? My idea was perhaps Neil.

No, it's not him.

"Roll The Bones" and "Where's My Thing?" are quite funky tracks. Is this a new direction you're going or does it reflect the new enthusiasm you had with the new album?

Yeah. I don't know. We've had so many new directions over the years. The basic state of the band in terms of musical direction is a fluid one. We're always in a kind of constant state of change. Perhaps what you say, the kind of new enthusiasm we have for our band, is partly responsible for that. I don't know, perhaps it's just the, you know, time of the year! It's hard to really nail it down to one particular reason. But it was definitely a very positive writing session. And I would say that it was an optimistic recording session. And I think maybe that is reflected in some of the groove on the record.

I find the theme of the record split into two parts, the more cheerful things like "Roll The Bones", "You Bet Your Life", which I find especially lively and vigorous, and the sadder parts like "Bravado" or "Ghost Of A Chance". Is this the main theme in the album, life split into these two parts?

I wouldn't say exactly, but the concept of this record in particular is a bit more to do with chance and the effect that chance plays on our lives. From one aspect it's kind of how life and luck seem to be almost like two roads to travel along the same direction and any time one can cross over into the other. Whereas you know, you think you've got your life sort of planned out and then some accident of fate happens and the next thing you know everything is different. So it's kind of a record that in a few different ways looks at that theme of chance and how it plays havoc with our lives. Sometimes with very positive results and other times with a little more trying results.

I find the guitar very prominent on the album. Is it just because the keyboards have been reduced more or was intended that way? It's very variable and there are a lot of solos. Did you concentrate on the guitar more this time?

Well, I think the last two records have been going in that direction. Kind of a backlash against the more computer-style of writing and the more synthesis involved in the band. We've been doing a lot more writing in the last two albums which was bass, guitar and vocals. I think when you start with these three instruments you concentrate on that kind of attitude and that's a naturual result of that. So on this record in particular we decided to use the keyboards and sequencers mostly as an orchestration device as opposed to a fundemental writing tool.

Did you use a Wal bass on this album or one of your older basses?

I'm using a Wal.

Which qualities do you like in the Wal bass?

I like the mid-range and bottom end in particular. It's very easy to get it to sit at a comfortable level in a track. It has to me a very kind of - it's very difficult to describe - fruity bottom end that's quite rich. You don't have to add a lot of EQ to it to get it to be quite present in a track.

Did you use it in all songs?

I have two different Wal basses. One a newer one which has a slightly richer tone and my older one which has a slightly twangier sound and I went back and forth between the two.

How did you get to use a Wal bass?

Actually I heard of them quite sometime ago when I was recording in England. I was quite aware of them because I was a big fan of a band called "Brand X" and the bass player of that band used to use one. But when I was recording Power Windows Peter Collins, who was our producer at the time, had a Wal bass and he suggested that I try it and I just fell in love with the sound of it.

What kind of focus do you have on your vocals at the moment. Do you have a special direction your going?

Well, yes. To me it was very important. Everytime I go in to write a record I have a kind of hidden agenda, one area I like to concentrate more on than others and to me song-writing is really a mysterious thing, is always a challenge everytime round. And this time round I wanted to really - actually it started on the Presto album and continued on this album - focus on writing very strong vocal melodies first, so them being the basis of a lot of the songs and writing the songs around the vocal melody. So there was in my mind a lot of emphasis on what the melody would be and how to layer the harmonies and I really experimented in that area.

The drums on "Heresy" are the most exceptional, on the other tracks they fit very well into the songs, whereas on "Heresy" the drums are more a main instrument. Did you plan this or did it just get into the song?

I think that sometimes you don't plan these things, they just evolve that way. And when it comes time to the mix you just go what you've got instincts in. It seemed at that time that the pulse of the song was very important - it's such a simple song really. It was important that the rhythm had that kind of heart beat pulse to it, which I think echoes the feeling behind some of the lyrics as well.

This is the second album with Rupert Hine, why did you decide to do another album with him?

Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. Number 1: we are a pretty self-sufficient band in a lot of ways, a lot of writing and demoing is done on our own. But it's very helpful for us to have especially somebody who is very well versed in song-writing. And Rupert being an accomplished song-writer himself, he becomes a very helpful input for us to bounce song-writing ideas off us. And also he's been very helpful in helping us establish a slightly looser sound on record than we had in the past. In terms of our performance I think he has been a very good influence.

Peter Collins changed your production manner somewhat, you used to record most instruments in one take and he changed it to recording each instrument alone. Did Rupert Hine change anything in the production techniques?

Not really. The tricks that we learnt from Peter we kept on on these last two records. But Rupert's sensibility as to when our performance is feeling in the groove and when one is a little too stiff, that whole perception of what makes a loose performance, was the most helpful.

You said that as a band you are quite self-sufficient, but it seems to me that there's always a distinct change of the bands sound when you change the producer, or does this just conincide?

Yeah, there's no doubt that when you get a new production team - and I mean not only the producer but the engineer as well - it will have a dramatic effect on your sound. But I think there's still an essence with a band like ourselves that's been around for so long that is always kind of the same. At the same time if you look between the sound of Presto and the sound of this last record, there's also a distinct change in sound and yet it's the same production team. So I think the first record you make with a new production team there seems to be a dramatic change, a more pronounced change in the kind of surface, superficial sound of the band. But from project to project there's always an internal thing that is changing.

Have you ever considered doing an album with Terry Brown again?

Well, you know, Terry was a great friend and a great collaborator for many years. The time that we made the decision to move on from working with him we felt quite strongly that it was for the betterment of our education to keep working with new people. So I think that at this stage we are dedicated to that philosophy of every couple of records to move on to work with new people and to keep learning as much as we can.

Was the switch to Atlantic worthwhile? I heard you were somewhat unsatisfied with the publicity with Mercury?

Well, I don't discuss business matters in interviews.

Well, in Germany we had some adverts for Presto and I hadn't seen any for the earlier albums before.

That's nice to know.

Well, what about touring. You're probably doing a tour in North America.

We're starting to tour in North America at the end of October and we're hopeful that we're able to come over to Europe sometime in the spring.

You reduced touring in the last years. Is it going to become even less or a bit more?

I can't see us expanding our touring schedule anymore. We tour a limited amount for what we consider to be very good and sane reasons and that's kind of the way we are. For us there has to be a portion of the year that is done without touring. In order for us to maintain our family lives and our individual interests, it's very important for us not to tour all year long.

One fan from Australia ask me if you ever considered touring Australia, it's such a long way for him to America.

Well, I think at one point when we were doing Japan, we did consider doing Australia, but at that time there seemed to be not enough interest.

How do you think Presto was received here in Europe as opposed to America. Did it do well or could it have been better?

I think in parts of Europe we seem to be well known and well received, in other parts we still are quite an unknown quantity and obviously had we concentrated more of our efforts throughout the years in touring Europe maybe that would be a different thing.

Yeah, especially in Germany the rock scence is still more influenced by live gigs that videos or such.

Sure, but at the end of the day we only have so much time and so many places to go there's nothing we can do about it. We do the best we can and we go as many places as we can and we just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Someone asked me if you've ever used a fretless bass? He thought that the bass on "Madrigal" sounded somewhat like one.

I've tried one, and much to my dismay I found myself to be not very good at playing it! But I have been able to achieve a fretless kind of sound on certain tracks like the one you mentioned.

Your first singles were "Not Fade Away" and "You Can Fight It". Have you ever considered releasing them again?

(very amused) I never ever for a minute considered it! I prefer to keep them buried in the past.

You always seem a quite democratic band and very agreed with one another. Have there ever been any difficulties when recording an album?

Well, we're not 100% concillatory all the time obviously. I would say that there have been times we've had disagreements but we've always been able to work them out, there's never been disagreements that have caused any kind of deep and serious rift. Obviously you have times when you've been together as many years as we have when you feel that you're closer to each other than other times. That's a natural thing and we've got to periods where you kind of question your resolve because you wonder if you're feeling the same closeness you should be, but at other times you feel very close and very united and very confident in a particular direction you're going through. And I'd say that's probably the situation that we're in at the moment. We feel very positive.

Yes, Neil mentions that in his release notes, that you have a good feeling at the moment and are very enthusiastic.

Yeah, well, I don't know how long it's going to last!

Well, it would be nice if it'll last until you tour here again.

That's right! It'd be nice if it'll last until the tour!

Who's idea was the theme about chance and life?

It was Neil's concept. He's the conceptual man and I don't think that the original intent was to make a concept album, it just concurred to cling together one after the other. And I wouldn't say that every song in the album deals with that but there is probably a majority of songs that do deal with that, seeing how it's relationship and effect on our lives and it's effect on the world. Not to make it sound that gargantuan a concept because it's not exceedingly overt but it does exist in a number of the songs.

Yes, and it is quite a broad theme.


Someone who saw the cover was a bit shocked by it becuase it has a skull on it which is being kick around.

I thought it was quite funny.

Well, the problem is that a lot of heavy bands have these covers with a lot of skulls and bones on them. I found it a bit different from previous Rush covers, was it done by the same artist?

Yeah, same artist. Try to call an album "Roll The Bones" without showing any bones! I found the skull quite funny, I like it.

Thank you very much for the interview.

You're welcome.

At the end of interview I couldn't think of anything more to ask him! My mind was a blank state. Afterwards I realised that he would have talked probably at least another 10 minutes, but I was totally spent. That's how it goes, you have your chance and try to make the best of it, but it always seems that it could have been better. But anyway, life goes on and I'll keep on ROLLING MY BONES.