[Webmasters Note: Parts of the interview were later included as the three parts of "It's A Rap" on the "Roll The Bones" UK singles in February 1992.]
Announcer: Welcome to the Roll The Bones Radio Special! I'm John Derringer. Join me for the next hour as we explore Rush's latest album, Roll The Bones, with the three individuals behind the music. Geddy Lee.
Geddy: I don't know how we got this image. Maybe we wore too many robes in the '70's. They have this super-serious image of us.
Announcer: Neil Peart.
Neil: Anyone who's been a fan of ours for any amount of time knows that the only thing to expect is no expectations. Anything can happen, and if we like it, it will happen.
Announcer: Alex Lifeson.
Alex: It's just as much fun as it ever has been in the best of times.
Announcer: After more than twenty years and nineteen albums, it's rather remarkable to find a band as full of enthusiasm as Rush is. Guitarist Alex Lifeson feels the group's rekindled spirit started with the 1989 album, Presto.
Alex: And then when we started working on this record, that enthusiasm carried over. And it was really then that we started to think in a much longer term. Rather than record to record, we were thinking three, four, five records into the future. And that's exciting for us; it's been a really long time, but we've learned over the past year or so, that touring can still be fun if it's done properly and you have the right attitude about it. And recording was never really a problem; we always enjoyed recording. But we're becoming more efficient at that, and we're enjoying it more because of that. You know, we're better prepared and we're taking a slightly more laid-back easy attitude about it, rather than being so microscopic and meticulous about the placement of every single note and beat. We're kind of kicking back a bit and letting the feel come through, and if it's not as perfect and exact as maybe our approach has been in the past, it doesn't really matter any more. You sit back and listen to it, and really when it comes down to it, someone who's listening to the record's not gonna really notice those things. The approach with this one, and it's evidenced in the fact that we did all our recording in two weeks rather than two and a half months, that this attitude is a much better attitude and you still get the results and still have fun and you feel more up through the whole process of recording, because it really is a very concentrated, exhausting thing to do.
Announcer: Rupert Hine co-produced Roll The Bones with the band. Alex feels that Rupert, and Peter Collins before him, were central to helping Rush develop a new attitude to recording.
Alex: That was the same idea with Rupert, and even more so in this record. I think we learned that from both those guys. We applied it more on Presto and with this record, we went into this record with that attitude, and again Rupert stressed that he felt this was the important thing, that the vibe was there and the feel was there. He said, "Neil, don't get so caught up in recording." I mean he was up for taking anything from the guides and using it on the record. And they were just recorded on a small eight-track Tascam portable recorder, a couple steps up from a cassette player. So, you know, that didn't matter to him; it was really the feel. And I think we locked into that.
Announcer: Drummer Neil Peart is also Rush's words man.
Neil: I would say as many lyrical ideas come from conversation or TV, some little twist of phrase that I like and write down, so that by the time I start to write lyrics, I have pages and pages of just little jottings. And some of them don't make any sense to me any more, but there they are. "Roll the bones" is a perfect example; that phrase has been in my notebook for at least ten years, just waiting to find a home, and finally this time I had the theme of "Chance" and I thought, "Yes! Roll the bones, perfect!" So it came out, but still, I have ideas in my books still that are even older than that that are still waiting to find a home. So, again, the discipline comes in just forcing yourself to write it down, which a lot of times is very inconvenient. If you've got your arms full of suitcases and stuff or if you're just about to go to sleep, there's that classic moment between waking and sleeping when everybody knows a lot of things go through your head. And it takes enormous discipline if you're really tired to get up and jot something down. It's like, "Oh, I'll remember it in the morning," but of course you don't. So that's the discipline factor of it. So inspiration isn't really so much to do with it as it is I can sit down on the first day of lyric writing and go through pages and pages of stuff and see what connects. And it becomes just craftsmanship then and having the patience to sit for three days, looking at a sheet of paper that you don't really believe in sometimes. Quite a few songs on this - well "Dreamline," the opening track, was the very first one I think I started working on, months before we started working together. And I just didn't believe in it at all, but something kept compelling me to keep going, and I knew I was all lost in this imagery and I couldn't get everything to go together and I thought it was just garbage. And I sat for the first three days working on it, but I didn't believe in it, you know, I thought, "No, it's junk." Every day I'd read over it: "Junk." But at the end of it I came up with something that was satisfying to me.
Announcer: Neil Peart tells us about the album's title.
Neil: Roll The Bones is the perfect title, because through all of the thoughts that I go through on the album, about all these nasty things that happen, and all these terrible things that could happen to you: a drunk in a stolen car could run over you on your way home tomorrow night, and you could have the best-laid plans for what you want to do, but there's still that element of chance that it could all go wrong. But the bottom line of that is, "Take the chance, roll the bones." If it's a random universe, and that's terrifying and it makes you neurotic and everything, never mind. You really have to just take the chance or else nothing's going to happen. The bad thing might not happen but the good thing won't happen either, so that's really the only choice you have.
Announcer: Geddy Lee's vocal style has undergone an important transition on Roll The Bones.
Geddy: It's intentional and it's something I've been working on my entire musical career, is to get to a point where I can say from record to record that my vocalizations, or whatever you want to call them, is improving and is more in my natural register, which is something that seems to be comfortable for me now. It seems to be where I feel we have the most musical range, is in that natural singing/talking range. So, it's an intentional thing and I think it's helped the melodic character of the band tremendously, because it's opened up just so much scope. There's so much more music available to us when I sing in that range, and when songs are written in a more carefully chosen key. That has a lot to do with it as well.
Announcer: One of the more "interesting" numbers from the new album is the title song, which contains the group's own unique take on rap.
Neil: Yeah, that started off as a lyrical experiment for me; I was hearing some of the better rap writers, among whom I would include like LL Cool J or Public Enemy, musicality apart, just as writers, it was really interesting. And it struck me that it must be a lot of fun to do that; all those internal rhymes and all that wordplay and everything. That's meat and potatoes for a lyricist; it's stuff you love to do and can seldom get away with being so cute in a rock song. So I thought, "Well, I'll give it a try," and I submitted actually I think the song "Roll The Bones" without that section to the other guys and got them to like it, and said, "Well, I have this other thing I've been working on, and see what you think." You know, not knowing how they'd respond, but I'd had the fun of doing it and I've been rejected before; my notebook's full of things that haven't made it too, so that was the situation there. And they got excited about the idea, but then how to treat it was the other question, and we did think of trying to get a real rapper in to do it, and we even experimented with female voices, and ultimately found that that treated version of Geddy's voice was the most satisfying as creating the persona that we wanted to get across, and was also the most satisfying to listen to. And with the female voice in it, it wasn't as nice texturally going by, where Geddy's voice treated like that became a nice low frequency sound, and you could listen to it just as a musical passage without having to key in on the lyrics or anything, just let the song go by you. And it was pleasant to the ear, so I think that was probably one of the big factors in choosing that. We'd even been in contact with people like Robby Robertson; we thought we'd like to try his voice on it and had contacted his office, and so on. John Cleese we thought of; we were going to do it as a joke version, get John Cleese in it: "Jack, relax." Get him to camp it up, but again from the musicality and longevity factors, that would have got tired quickly; that's the trouble with jokes.
[Roll The Bones played]
Announcer: Neil feels that his passion for cycling carries over to his lyric writing.
Neil: I think the observational part of it does, and certainly I have a much better picture, not of only the world at large, but certainly of the United States, 'cause on tour on a day off I'll most often be riding between cities if they're close enough. Or I'll get our bus driver to drop me off 100 miles from the next city, ride the rest of the way in. Or on a day off I'll go ride around the city and it is a whole different way of seeing things. When you're on a bicycle, people don't feel threatened by you; I pull up at a stoplight and people will start talking to me, where if I were in a car, or if I were walking down the street they would never do that. But somehow if you're on a bicycle you're a harmless eccentric and people will pass the time of day with you. I always make it a point to leave really early and then stop for breakfast in some little town in Ohio, or Indiana or Wyoming, or wherever I happen to be. But I'll always choose a little farming community and go into the local diner and just sit there and listen. Hear the things people are talking about. The incognito aspect of it is really nice but also you're seeing real people in their real every day lives. And I think for a writer's perspective, that's what a rock tour can be very alienating. The thing Roger Waters has written so eloquently about is that alienation factor, which cycling for me has been the escape from, because when I'm out there, I'm just another guy on the road.
Announcer: One of rock's more inventive and ambitious lyricists, Neil feels there is one major theme to all his work.
Neil: One of my ongoing themes through the years has been innocence and experience, and the transitional phase, which of course is adolescence, and the price that you pay of knowledge. And it never ends. I don't think that transition for instance... I love the woods, and I have a cottage in Quebec and I always go out hiking and skiing in the winter and everything, and it wasn't until recently that I learned that the entire southern Quebec and southern Ontario were completely logged a hundred years ago. So any time you see some woods, they're second-growth woods, and many times the trees are only forty or fifty years old. Well, having gained that knowledge in the last few years suddenly I look at a forest and I see a bunch of young trees now, I don't see a primeval forest; I don't see essential nature. So I'd rather have the knowledge and the experience of knowing that to be true rather than an innocent falsehood. I'm not very self-referential in lyrics, and when I do write about that innocence/experience dichotomy, or about childhood or something, it's usually from a character point of view. "The Big Wheel" is a good example on this album; where it seems to be autobiographical, but it's really not. It's where I've looked for a universal of that trade-off between innocence and experience, and that song certainly addresses that. Not in the circumstances of my own life so much, or if it is, it's not important that it be autobiographical, that's just by the by really. Very much I want to find universal things that others can relate to, and that's a thing that's part of everyone's life, so I think that's probably one reason why I'm drawn to it. And then so much of it is drawn from observing people around me too, so that becomes a factor in it too; how they responded to life, and how they take to it. How they adapt to that innocence and experience thing.
Announcer: Neil is a dedicated craftsman when it comes to his writing.
Neil: I like to think it's more gaining technique really; it's ten more years of practice and learning. "Ghost of a Chance" is a perfect example; I've always shyed away from love songs and even mentioning the word in songs because it's so much cliche, and until I thought that I'd found a new way to approach it, or a new nuance of it to express, I was not going to write one of those kind of songs. "Ghost of a Chance" fit right in with my overall theme of randomness and contingency and so on, but at the same time it was a chance for me to write about love in a different way; of saying, "Here are all these things that we go through in life and the people we meet, it's all by chance. And the corners we turn and the places we go and the people we meet there." All those things are so random and yet through all of that people do meet each other, and if they work at it they can make that encounter last. So I'm saying there's a ghost of a chance it can happen, and the odds are pretty much against it, but at the same time that ghost of a chance sometimes does come through and people do find each other and stay together.
[Ghost Of A Chance played]
Announcer: The roots of Rush go back twenty-four years, not many bands manage to survive that long. Neil and Geddy offer some insights into what's kept them together.
Geddy: I think it owes a lot to how loose the structure of the band is musically. We've always maintained that any idea, regardless of how different stylistically it is, it's still valid if everybody likes it. You know, if everybody wants to do it, let's do it. So there's never been this great hidden desire or this frustration of, "I can't do this in the context of my band. What I really want to do, I have to do on my own." That doesn't exist here 'cause what you really want to do you can do in this band. So that's really helped that out alot.
Neil: It's a beautiful thing about Rush really, that shouldn't be underappreciated and certainly isn't by us; never taken for granted is that there are no areas of frustration. As far as creative input, I'm writing the lyrics and the other two guys are writing the music, so they have that satisfaction, and also in the final result each person feels that they've put in as much as they had to give; also in personal responsibilities too. Each person is responsible for different areas of the band outside of the music, and takes on the areas in which they're interested and so on. So that's very satisfying and does keep us together; you don't have to go and do a solo album. I'd never have to do that because as much jazz drumming as I like to play I can get into this band. If I want to be a reggae drummer for a few minutes, I can do it in this band. If I want to explore African drumming which I've done a lot in our songs on recent albums, I can do it. There's no frustration about it; all I have to do is figure out a creative way to use it and the other guys will be excited about it. An idea never has to be stylistically congruent with our idea of Rush, or never has to be congruent especially with the public's perception of Rush, because certainly anyone who has been a fan of us for any amount of time knows that the only thing to expect is no expectations. Anything could happen and if we like it, it will happen.
Announcer: Roll The Bones features a sound that is less dense and textured.
Neil: Probably by design from the beginning with us, the way we design the songs and the way we arrange them we had that in mind, and I think it is a trend that will continue; introducing more space and, not sparseness exactly but just less going on. I went back and listened to Power Windows not long ago, which was the first album we did with Peter Collins, and he was determined that we should do lots of different things. And he brought in Andy Richards on keyboards and that, and that record is so dense with ideas and things coming at you, that I found it dizzying. And for us, we get going through it and we know all the songs intimately, so you add this and add that and it all makes perfect sense. But I was listening to it for the first time in a long time, and from a listener's perspective, and it was overwhelming; there was so much stuff coming at you all the time. Which was great for the record and it works, and I still really like that album. Since that time, I think we got over the novelty of trying those things and having samplers and digital synthesizers and so on at our command. The same with electronic drums: when I first got interested in them I got drum samples of every possible drum sound in the world, from African drums to symphonic timpani available, and all kinds of atmospheric sounds; and naturally when you have that it's new and you can control it, and you can do whatever you want with it - you do! So we went through that phase, certainly over Power Windows and Hold Your Fire I'd say, and to a lesser degree with Presto. By this time the novelty has worn off. On Roll The Bones for instance, I only used electronic drums on the little rap section of that song; otherwise, it's all acoustic drums. And not by decision. I had all kinds of plans for how I was going to update my set-up for new electronic use and all that, but I just didn't need it: they weren't those kind of songs.
Announcer: Another important continuing development on the album is the role of the guitar. Alex Lifeson.
Alex: With Presto we decided that the guitar was going to play a more predominant part again, that the keyboards were going to go on second and that they were just going to be filler; enhancements for the coloring of the song, rather than to play a major thematic role. And even more so with Roll The Bones, it comes up a little bit more, and I think this is probably the direction we'll continue, because I think we've realized that the core of the band is drums, bass, and guitar. And that's really what the important elements are, and that's really what should be developed. It feels better to me and it's the same for the other guys; they all say the same thing. Having the guitar up there, there's so much emotion in that instrument and you play off that, everybody plays off that, and it really has to be in that role.
Announcer: One of the album's highlights is the song "Bravado".
Alex: That's a special song for me, that's one of the songs that we lifted some of the guitar parts off the demo tapes we used on the finished record. The solo is a thrown away solo that was just a one-take solo. That song and "Roll The Bones" and "Ghost Of A Chance", but "Bravado" and "Ghost Of A Chance", those two solos I feel are probably among the best that I've done - the most emotive and the most spontaneous, and they were both one-take solos. And we just got used to hearing them and they fit so perfectly, and the bass and the drums kind of fit into what the solo was doing, there was really no reason to re-record it. You could never capture that innocence and emotion in it. And that's what it really boils down to; sound doesn't really matter, you can get a half-decent sound on anything and enhance it and make it a little better, but at the cost of losing the emotion. It's not worth it.
Announcer: When it comes to its audience, Rush enjoys not only an incredible loyalty, but quite the span in terms of age.
Neil: When I look out at our audience when we are playing, I see people in their teens that literally weren't even born when we started touring the United States, and on the other hand I see people who were obviously our age and have grown up with us. We've been fortunate in the communication factor and also because our music is so sincerely open that we've reflected their lives and in some cases been the soundtrack of their lives right the way along; just as we've been the soundtrack of our own lives. So that's pretty gratifying, but we're very responsive to what's going on around us, and in the late seventies, to the tremendous upheavals of punk music and new wave, and then world music after that, and then what's happening now with hip hop and everything. We're listening to that and we're responding to it, and there's a new rebirth of guitar music right now, which is a much shorter step for us to adapt to or to be inspired by, but at the same time it's happening and we're listening to it, and because we're listening to it and enjoying it, it becomes part of our aesthetic of what we think rock music should be. We incorporate all that and then it just becomes part of the melting pot and if we ever need any of those kinds of influences, we can pull them out of our tool box.
Alex: We did an interview not too long ago for a guy from a magazine, and at the end of the interview he asked if we wouldn't mind signing some records. We said, "Yeah, sure," and he brought out some album jackets that he had: Hemispheres and some older stuff. And I asked him, "Who is it for? Who shall I make it out for?" and he said, "Oh, it's for my father. He's one of your biggest fans." And I thought, "Oh, no, his father!" You know, it's been a long time.
Announcer: Geddy offers some thoughts on the future for Rush.
Geddy: I mean with us, I don't really know what's going to happen from record to record in terms of complexity or texturally or whatever. But I think you have to allow yourself a kind of scope, and the opportunity to be influenced by certain things whether good or bad. And we allowed ourselves to be influenced by synthesizers and that kind of orchestration, and it was a fascinating time, and I think we did some really interesting things with that. At a certain point you go, "You know, it's time for a change again" and "I feel like a slave to this equipment and I'm not really enjoying the way I'm using it. I feel like I'm a little bit trapped by it." So whether it's less or more, just the reaction to all that technology was important for us to streamline and get back to some sort of organic style of writing that seemed to be more expressive and less demanding texturally. I think the reason we are still together is because when we sit down to write a record, stuff starts coming out and we get excited about that and that is the reason that that writing period is so enjoyable for us; because there is this creative spark that we have with each other and a remarkably similar musical direction.
Announcer: When it comes to Rush's image, Geddy thinks that while they are certainly committed artists, they also have a fun side.
Geddy: I don't know how we got this image. Maybe we wore too many robes in the '70's. They have this super-serious image of us, and it's so far from what our relationship is, because our sense of humor is really one of the strongest parts of our relationship. If things aren't going good, you know one of us is gonna start cracking a joke about something, and I think you have to be. We really don't take ourselves seriously as people; we take what we do seriously, but there's a time for being serious and I think people that say there isn't are kidding themselves. You know, I'm spending a lot of time out of my life to do this - that's serious! To give up that much of your life for any kind of work, you gotta feel like the work is worthwhile. It's fun to have a laugh and we do have a good time doing it, but there's also a side of it that you have to say to yourself, "This is meaningful, this justifies the amount of time spent on it" because time is the most precious commodity there is.
Announcer: When it comes to pure musicianship, the grammy nominated band has few peers. The instrumental "Where's My Thing?" showcases the band's chops and its sense of humor. Neil was surprised but pleased the song was released as a single.
Neil: Well it actually was; I was really proud of our record company, that they released "Dreamline" as the first track and then they put out "Where's My Thing?" for alternative stations or basically anyone who had the nerve to play it. And it made a great alternative for college radio in the States or alternative radio anywhere that exists, which isn't very far but at the same time it was just a very creative thing for a record company to do, I thought. Not just to be worried, "Ok, here's our marketing strategy," they would say, "Let's do this because it would be fun and unusual, and the song is there." So I thought that was really a good thing to do. A friend of ours says that it's just another version of "Telstar" like all instrumentals are, which is funny. And very true!
[Where's My Thing played]
Announcer: "Where's My Thing?" from Rush. Thanks for joining us for the Roll the Bones radio special. Be sure to catch Rush in concert on their Roll The Bones tour. I'm John Derringer.