Behind the Camera Eye

An Interview With Andrew MacNaughtan

Spirit Of Rush, issue #17 - Winter 1991/1992 and issue #18 - Spring 1992. Transcribed by Jimmy Lang

Webmaster Note: Andrew is interviewed by The Spirit Of Rush's Mick Burnett, Neil Elliott, and Monica Zimmerman in his room at The Four Seasons Olympic Hotel in Seattle, Washington, on March 26, 1990. The interview was not published until over a year later: part 1 appeared in SOR #17, Winter 1991/1992 and part 2 appeared in issue #18, Spring 1992. Pictured below are the covers of both issues, as well as the back cover of issue #10, the current issue at the time of the interview: Andrew asked all three band members to sign sign it for Monica.

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Andrew MacNaughtan is first and foremost a photographer. You will no doubt, have seen his work in recent tour books and promotional shots all over the music press. At tour time he doubles up as the band's personal assistant and Andrew graciously took time out and allowed us to interview him on the Presto tour in Seattle. The following will give you an insight into his own work as well as his involvement with the Rush.

As we commenced, we spoke briefly about giving up smoking. So, as Andrew lit up to prepare himself for his first ever interview....

Hopefully I can give up. Once I get back to Toronto and my normal schedule I'll ... well it's not normal, I have a strange schedule, I do so much back home with my photography, plus other things with Rush - working at Anthem and things like that. I burn myself out quite quickly and get quite tired so .... 'Better have a cigarette, give me some of that energy!'

How did you first get involved with the band and Anthem?

Actually it's quite an interesting story. It's funny because it all came back to haunt me a couple of weeks ago when I brought Sebastian Bach of Skid Row backstage to meet the band; well not to haunt me but, it was a little embarrasing because the band was there. When I was 16 I started up a fan club in Toronto called the Rush Backstage Club of Toronto. I tried to do something like you guys, I was your typical Rush fan, fanatic, but I always tried to apply a positive thing. Instead of just being a fan that would hang out at hotel doors. It is fine to be fanatical about a band believe me, everyone wants an idol, everyone wants things to look up to and follow but, I put it to a more practical use, as you have, and developed a fan club.

So anyway, Sebastian Bach used to be a member of my fan club, and we knew each other from back then, and when we talked a couple of weeks back we had some great laughs. So did the band because Bach didn't waste time telling Rush that I used to do a Rush fan club!

We never heard of it, we would have joined otherwise. Wasn't there an ad in Circus magazine for it?

That's a different one. Mine was just a club in Toronto. It was the same name as the International one done out of Las Vegas, but I made mine specific that it was just Toronto.

Were you a big Rush collector? Did you collect records etc?

Not really. At that time I didn't have a lot of disposable income. I basically collected posters. I pretty well have all the posters from that era and buttons and things like that. I didn't really collect that much, I was just happy to have the records and hear the music. That was the main thing.

I remember at my school, a teacher of mine used to live down the street from Geddy in Toronto. She told me this in confidence and I was about 17 at the time and remember driving down to his house and knocking on the door and asked him for an autograph. He said: "I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anybody where I lived. You're a polite boy...." He shook my hand and that was it.

That was a nice touch by him, and on your way and you didn't wash your hand for a month!

I couldn't wash my hand for a month, exactly. I was just in awe. He was very polite himself. And that almost gave me the energy again to, even though I was doing the club out of my own time and effort, to keep it going because, just that little perk. When you're a kid of that age, things like that are really very important to you. I can understand why fans, Rush fans, are very persistant about meeting the band and all that sort of thing, which is fine, but there's a time and a place for that. The band for the most part is quite willing to do an autograph, as long as there isn't fifty people waiting for them, or they're coming to people's doors and being really obnoxious. I am now really understanding that.

Rush is out there to give, they've already given of themselves, they're producing records that they like, that hopefully you can share their joy that they have put into the music. I think there is a fine line between wanting more from them. And of course, when there's 800,000 kids out there that want the same thing, it just can't happen.

Getting back to the story. The next time I actually met Alex and Geddy was when I went down to Radio City Music Hall in New York, for the Grace Under Pressure tour. Actually before Grace when they were experimenting with the new songs. I got a chance to formally meet Geddy and Alex at the time; which was nice.

Was this in the capacity of photographer?

No. This is before that happened, right before I launched a music magazine. It was a free Toronto based glossy publication and was distributed through record stores. During that period I did an interview with Alex for Grace, and I put him on the cover. During this time I went and shot a couple of shows and got a whole bunch of good concert stuff. The magazine then folded and was bought out by a publisher.

This kid was ambitious!

Yeah, not your normal teenager. I had these photo's of Rush, I called up Howard (Ungerleider), I knew him through the fan club and met him occasionally, he got me tickets and things. I gave him a whole bunch of my photo's, just to take down to Anthem to give to the person in charge of photo's and stuff. I said that I hadn't a use of them can you use them? It was at this point that they were doing their tour book for Power Windows. The band loved the photos and they had nothing for the tour book, as they had used them up, they bought about 12 shots of mine, and used them in the Power Windows tour book. Which was really great. a great honor.

That led me to shoot on the Power Windows tour. They sent me down to Binghampton, Troy and Syracuse in New York, I shot all that and then onto Buffalo and some in Toronto. They used a lot of those photos as well, they were used for magazine articles as well as the Hold Your Fire tour book, which was great. I started to get my way in there, working with Rush in a different way, other than the now folded fan club. It was getting too large. So, I passed it all onto the Las Vegas fan club.

What did you do then?

I then again started to meet the band a little more because they started to use my photos and I bumped into Geddy a couple of times. I did a lot of concert stuff and more studio work. at that point Anthem signed a band of mine, The Spoons. They did well in Canada with their first two albums. When they signed to Anthem, I was helping them with management as well as doing photography for them. I did their album cover for Bridges Over Borders that got Anthem more aware of my studio work as a photographer.

When I wasn't shooting, I was looking for work, so I came in to Anthem doing part-time stuff for them. I then started doing more photography for The Spoons and other Anthem bands: Gowan, Malcom Burn and Images and Vogue. Working part-time at Anthem and doing my photography I started working for Geddy. At this time Geddy and I started to become friends, through the office and Christmas parties and things like that, and we found we had a lot in common with regards to photography and art and history etc..

He's the band member who gets more involved with the video side of things isn't he?

Yes. He's very creative in that way. He has very strong visual talents, aside from his incredible music talents. So we would do a lot of things together with regard to museums and art galleries. So then as a friend, I asked him to come down and let me do some photos of him in the studio. He agreed and I did portraits of him and he loved them so much; and in fact he said that these were probably the best portraits that he's ever had of himself. Also his family and friends have said that it's the best he's ever looked. That's a very wonderful thing for me, because it's been a goal of mine to one day, get these guys in the studio.

By that time I had asked Alex if he'd be willing to come in and let me shoot him in the studio. Four months later, before they went off to record Presto, he came in. And he really liked the portraits too. So they both spoke to Neil, and I shot him in the middle of recording the album, in Toronto at McClear Place. I went down with my entire system to the studio and tried to duplicate what I did with Alex and Geddy.

We were a little surprised with the pictures of Geddy when we first saw them, with his hair tied back and the shades. It was a bit like 'Oh my God!'

Yes. Well that's the thing. I feel that is what Geddy is about. He's a man with a lot of style, very intelligent, very worldly and he's exposed to a lot of things that are so incredible out there. Things that I'm learning about as well, so much out there with art, history, and architecture and beautiful things that a lot of people just don't take the time to investigate. So, he's got a lot of style, he's a great guy and what you see there, that's him. That's the way he is and if the fan don't like that...

That photo really represents, as a photographer, my style. I have a tendency to do things a little bit more alternative. I like to have a sophisticated portrait. I try and get a really beautiful portrait, as flattering as possible. And when Geddy fell in love with that shot it was great; he said: "this should be used for the album jacket."

When he came in for the shoot, he just happened to have the shades on?

Well, actually no. I told him to put them on. I really wanted something that was different.

You certainly achieved it anyway.

Believe me it wasn't just me, it was him, that's the way he's been wearing his hair for two years now. That's his look, that's his style. It resulted from a discussion beforehand. I said would love to see you, as you, as who you are. Geddy the way he is, he wears beautiful clothes; he's a man with great taste. I told him to throw on the glasses. I mean there's a whole bunch of other shots that I've never had released yet, without his glasses in the same setting.

So, he took them to the band, the band said great. That's how I did it. What's interesting about the whole shoot for the Presto album jacket, those portraits, is they were shot over a period of eight months! I know they look as if they were done at the same time, but they're really different times.

Are there some group photo's as well?

Yes. The group photo's - the one thing you have to understand, it's very hard to get the band all together in one place. They're very busy people and they hate having their photo's taken. They really find it, not a waste of time, they know they have to do it because it's required when you're doing an album and for press and all that, but they really find it difficult to get themselves together to do a photo session. So basically the next best time to get them to do a group shoot was when they were doing The Pass video. With the new label, they really needed portrait and group shots and stuff for magazines like Music Express in Canada I do.

That's a good shot on the cover of Music Express you did.

That was shot at the same time. What I did is, they flew down to New York, I spent a day with the band on the set for The Pass. About three-quarters of the day was shot outside, on location in this old abandoned school yard. The photo's you see in the Presto tour book are stills from this session. They then went indoors and filmed all the indoor stuff, which is now used for The Pass video. The director, Matt Mahurin went through all the footage and the outdoor footage was'nt up to par as the indoor footage was. So it was decided to leave it up to the director and as you can see the video is fantastic; probably one of their best videos.

Love the song and the video is excellent.

Oh the song is brilliant. It was the first song that clicked with me when I first heard the album. So the outdoor footage was never used. It probably never will be.

It's just stored is it, that sort of footage?

Yeah. That's it, it's just stored. But those stills you see in the tour book is what was shot outside. It was a very cold day, it was freezing. They came off the bus, did one thing and went back in to keep warm. So I shot stills there and they loved what I shot and wanted to use them for the tour book. I think some were used for an ad to promote The Pass single in the states.

Afterwards, when they were doing the video inside, I basically had my entire studio, I had two complete set-ups. The thing is, when you shoot Rush, you get them in, you get them out. I feel very honoured to be able to shoot Rush, because there are very few people that ever have. The top people that have always shot Rush have been: Dimo Safari, Fin Costello and Deborah Samuel.

Loverly portraits she did for the Hold Your Fire album, they were really good!

Deborah is one of Canada's best. I love her work and really have a lot of admiration for her and hope one day I can be of her level. I do have a pretty substantial portfolio - I do have a lot of good pieces in there. And having Rush is fantastic and doing this album jacket is just a dream come true.

Getting back - I had two set-ups, I had the red background set-up, which was shot specifically for the Music Express cover; which didn't turn out the way I'd liked it to. It was the most beautiful portrait I'd done, I was very proud of it. Unfortunately, the reproduction of the magazine all went flat. Really disappointed. The other set-up which had the background painting which was like a cloud scene; I tried to duplicate the album cover in some ways.

If you compare those photo's from the album with the ones you are just talking about, they look as though they were shot at the same time. You did a good job there.

Well, I think it's important to try to keep continuity, but still keep things that are different. I really work hard at trying to do lighting that is flattering. Priority, make people look good.

Do you shoot like 'glamour photographers' and shoot a lot of film then pick the best ones, or do you pose them?

When I did Geddy's session, I did several different things. It basically took one hour to do the whole thing. When I do a session in the studio for a band, I like to go in and spend half to a full day; I like to give the band as many things as they can work with. Enough for an album cover, magazine work, promo shots, single sleeves, posters etc. I like to do at least four different set-ups.

That's good, so they haven't got to come back and do it all again another time with another set-up.

Exactly. In most cases I shoot a LOT of film. I may shoot 25 rolls. With Rush though, you get them in, you get them out!

And take the best advantage you can of the time you've got!

Exactly. Remember, they had been shooting a video all day. They came into my set-ups - I went bang, band, bang - I shot maybe three rolls for the magazine cover. I moved them to the next set, went bang, bang, bang and shot enough stuff to cover them for different things. The whole shoot took 20-30 minutes. That is the way I like to work. I like to have everything ready and they just walk here, walk there, bang, they're out of there. When you are dealing with a band of that calibre, things have got to be like that. It was the most wonderful thing that could have happened to me. Geddy laughs at this, because I am a Rush fan, it's weird, the things sort of happened. I worked towards them, it wasn't as though I didn't do anything to try to get where I am today. Shooting and having my photos on a Rush album, that was my dream come true.

It must have been similar to what 'The B-Man' did then really, the way he worked himself in there? Working for the radio station, and doing interviews, becoming friends and eventually writing Visions.

Yes I would say the same thing. It's a great thing and I have to thank a lot of that to Geddy. He's been very supportive of my work, he's been a great friend, it's been a dream come true. Also I'm keeping this all in prospective now, because it's funny, once you get to a certain point your attitudes change. I mean, yes I still love Rush music, this is what's funny, it's always been the exception to my musical tastes. I listen to a lot of alternative music like New Order, The Cure and Depeche Mode and things like that which probably a lot of Rush fans would go errhh.

The three you mentioned are British bands. Any significance?

Yes. I have a real passion for British music. I try to go over every year and shoot British bands. A few years ago; and I know when you write this down your readers are going to go: ERRHH, you shot those people? - I shot Bros. It was funny, it was like ERRHH Bros, I know they don't have a lot of respect with this audience but, I shot Bros, Wet, Wet, Wet and Hue & Cry.

Wonderful things have been happening especially working with Rush. Shooting them in New York was a very big haul, a lot of preparation getting my equipment there, getting back-drops painted and coming up with the concepts. I got burnt out. I did too much. So this job came up and with the band being friends of mine and Geddy being a great friend and having a lot in common, I asked him if I could do it. He thought about it and asked if I was sure. It's not the most glamorous job in the world, I'm basically their assistant. I'm doing everything from looking after press to getting their laundry sent out. As mundane as that. But it's a wonderful opportunity for me because I'm with a very good friend and we're going good things like seeing wonderful museums together. Also I have a pasttime, I have a passion for shooting architecture.

As well as shooting live stuff for Rush I'm doing things with my pet project. I'm going to shoot some stuff hopefully for the next tour book. I might mount a camera up on the tresses and shoot down on them or something weird like that. Do it by remote control.

There can't be many photographers who have been on the road with them surely?

No, to do as long as I'm doing. It's a great opportunity and the band wants me to take advantage of that. So basically, that is how I got to where I am today, that's how it happened. So you know that the recording of most of the A Show Of Hands album was done in Birmingham. Do you know the reason for that?

Well the assumption being that they were the best tapes?

Exactly. They recorded the entire tour. I know, that's one of my jobs down at Anthem I have to look after all the tapes.

The entire Hold Your Fire tour? They recorded every show?

Basically, yeah. Well not every show, but all I know is I had to file about fifty two-inch tapes. Our file room, our tape room down there is crammed, behind all the security and the safe and all that there's tons and tons of tapes...

How far does that go back?

Right down to the very first single. I've pulled that out, the very first single. It's on a quarter inch tape, like real basic.

Is it the same story for film footage? Have they filmed much over the years?

Oh yeah. That's in a separate room.

The show in Buffalo in 1980 was filmed, we have a small clip of that. Perhaps in the future that may surface somewhere?

I don't know. I don't think so. Going back to A Show Of Hands, what happened was that they were really nervous with the cameras in front of them and trying to concentrate on their performance. It was very nervy for them. So, after the first night... did they film one or two nights?

It was basically filmed at the second show at Birmingham, but the third night they filmed the long shots, the camera's at the front of the stage had gone, so had the boom camera.

I'm not sure how it happened but, basically once the filming was over with and they could play normally, without cameras, that is where they got the material from. The incredible relief from filming, they just played so well. They felt good up there.

One of the highlights of that was Alex's singing on "La Villa".

He sang?

Well he tried to! The piece on the video where they put the radioactive warning on screen. He just sang la la la la and made crazy noises. The radioactive sign was put on the video to blurt out the singing, which was a shame because it was really funny. A lot of people have asked us, What was it? What was he saying? What did he do? Why have they cut it out? And it was Alex just rambling on out of tune, having a good time. It was funny and people have just completely missed the point not realizing it was just a joke! We were watching Neil in Portland. He was having a scream. Near the end of the show, he was pulling faces and smiling at Alex.

Oh these guys are great. On the bus rides they have me peeing my pants. Geddy's witty, Alex is hysterical. They're so funny.

Does Neil ever travel to the soundchecks with Alex and Geddy? Does he always make his own way there on his bike?

I can't comment on that.

A lot of people, probably wrongly, get the impression that Neil is miserable, quiet and self-centered etc.

What I can say is that basically he's a private person. It all relates to the fine line between his life and what he does. He goes up there ad plays his heart out for his fans. He also makes records for his fans and that's all he feels he has to do. He has no obligation to do anything else. It's as simple as that.

People expect it of him though, don't they?

They do. Which is not fair. He writes letters; if he receives an intelligent, good questioned, nice letter, he'll respond to it. Not in all cases. In many cases he doesn't even get them because he probably receives about 8,000 letters over a year. The letters he does happen to get, he does respond to them. He's very good in that way, he'll be happy to send a letter; as you guys experienced.

I read his letter that was published in your magazine, and his comment where he said why is everybody cutting up what they do and criticizing this and that. You know, you don't have to buy the record, I mean come on it's their music. That was the only thing that he was a little bit discouraged by, which he expressed in his letter. Why are people being so negative about what they do?

A lot of it was that people were frustrated that the band had not been to Europe for five years and they thought what was going on? You wouldn't believe some of the letters we receive. Neil was pointing out that there was a lot of negative feeling in there, but some of the things we get are unbelieveable. We try to balance it, keep it an open forum type thing. If people want to say things then fair enough and leave it up to the reader's interpretation.

How do they, obviously they sit down and discuss what they are going to play live, but was there any reason in bringing back "Xanadu" and "Red Barchetta" etc. Why those particular songs, are they band favorites?

All I know is they love playing some of the old songs. It's as simple as that. They are so happy to hear the response that they are getting from "Freewill" and "Xanadu". They thought it funny how the fans take a little while to click on what the beginning of "Xanadu" is.

It's funny, knowing the set list and watching people sitting there wondering what it is they are hearing, and when they realize they are up on their feet going mad.

Usually the trigger that Neil found was as soon as they hear the cow bell, they go crazy. The band was thrilled to hear that, they're very happy that the fans are responding well to it.

During "Scars", a screen comes down in front of the band, can you explain the reason for it?

No. I'd imagine only because it's so you can see the projected images from the lights that are displayed on the screen.

Why have they dropped the videos for some of the songs, are they just fed up with them, they've run their course?

It's time to show some new stuff. As you know there are three new videos in "Show Don't Tell", "Superconductor" and "War Paint".

What are you planning to do after the tour?

I'm going back to work for Anthem and throw myself fully into my photography. I have another album cover to shoot. I don't know if you know that in Canada, Hugh Syme won the award for best album jacket for Presto. It was nice that my photos were on that jacket.

Moving on to other areas. The band are a collector's nightmare, there is so much stuff out there. Not that the band has caused it. For Presto the multiple promo CD singles, press-kits and even the "Profiled" interview CD etc. It's ridiculous!

That's true. I'm very fortunate, the one thing I've collected is that I bought Geddy's double-neck Rickenbacher 12-string!

We were wondering if they would bring them out for "Xanadu"?

No. Geddy actually regrets selling it to me. He realizes it's the only one and says he wishes he hadn't sold it to me. I do have a few things but nothing I'm sure anywhere close as a lot of Rush fans have.

There's so much new and old stuff, and it's so hard to get. Bootlegs etc. What are the band's views on stuff like that? We've heard that they don't care about them, also that they hate them.

They don't care. There's nothing they can do about them. Yes they're illegal. I mean bootlegged merchandise is a very serious issue - every show that's played security is sent out to look for bootleggers, that is definite, and they'll be arrested and charged. Simple as that.

What about LP's, videos and tapes and things like that?

They do follow-ups on them. We have in-house lawyers at Anthem, so continuous investigation is done into that all the time and people are caught and charged. So, it does happen and yes the band doesn't care because it's nothing to do with them; it's up to the legal department at the record company. But yes they do care that they exist, because it's a poor representation of what they do, and they hate seeing kids ripped off like that. Rush fans shouldn't buy those things, there's no value to them, they will not go up in value... I don't know you may disagree? But only to a certain level.

Yes, some do. Some are quite valuable now and becoming harder to find and are very expensive.

I don't know why Rush fans bother because, yes it's neat to hear the early stuff but, who cares? Perhaps it's just because my attitudes have changed now towards the band.

We managed to get hold of the first single and LP on Moon.

Very good. The band doesn't even have that.

Really? Do they have any idea how many of each were pressed?

No, I don't know. The band doesn't even know. They just laugh, they can't believe how much those things are worth. They go: "Why do they want to have those records they are so old?"

The first single, the tracks are non-album cuts. Without a doubt it is the rarest Rush record, simply because they are not on that first album.

What's the earliest video you guys have?

Don Kirshner's Rock Concert from October 1974, three songs - "Best I Can", "In The Mood" and "Finding My Way". Also the Hemispheres live promos, "A Farewell To Kings", "Xanadu", "Closer To The Heart", "Anthem" and "Fly By Night".

You have those? So you've seen the "Anthem" and "Fly By Night" ones where they are in front of the castle? The band doesn't even remember doing that. I showed it to Geddy once and he just broke into laughter and just doesn't remember when it was done.

Must have been early '75.

Well, I should start getting ready as show time approaches.

Well thank you for your time, it's been very interesting and helpful talking with you. Perhaps we could do it again on the next tour, hopefully in England?

No problem, my pleasure. And you never know.