For the past two decades, Canada's finest musical export, Rush, has been on the cutting edge of rock and roll using technology and life itself as tile catalysts to create the music and the sound that is unique only to this band. Indeed, Geddy Lee's voice is unmistakable, Indeed, Alex Lifeson's guitar work is unbelievable, and indeed, the lyrics of drummer Neil Peart are undeniable. Rush has been one of the few bright spots in the world of music the past two decades, along with Genesis and Yes, that's been able to take their ideas and adapt them to the musical environment around them without losing their individuality or identity that made them unique in the first place.
As Rush 'rolls the bones' for the next decade, the band has once again set new standards and redefined musical parameters to suit the unique musical balance that only Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart fully understand. The results, as usual, have been nothing short of phenomenal, and for the legion of fans that have stayed true to Canada's finest import, the results, as usual were just what they expected.
Is Rush a smarter band because it has learned to control the elements around them instead of the other way around?
Geddy Lee - That's always a tough question to answer. I would say that we have immediate control of the elements around us. But once again, the moment you let a record out of your hands, it's out of your control to a large degree. Then you can only hope that you can exert some kind of influence. Whether that actually happens or not depends upon a lot of things.
When Rush started out, you were a very heavy band. Were you a product of the environment around you?
I think that we always did what we wanted to do, and in that sense, almost every band is a product of its time in one way or another, The times were changing and so were we. The style of music that we had been working with, the very heart of it has always remained the same, but the influences on it and our goals as songwriters/musicians, have been changing, Our music is always in a fluid state and that explains the stylistic changes that have appeared over the last few years, Through the earlier stages, we were suburban kids that were trying to have our own sound. I think our music reflected the frustrations of that upbringing and as a result those early albums were very raw and had a desperate kind of an edge to it.
Did the albums Hemispheres and Farewell To Kings set the stage for Rush to head into the '80s?
It was more than that. As we got more adept at using our instruments and more successful, our focus shift slightly to other things. With us, the better we got with our instruments, the more adept we were to go through phases as musicians. When you know you can play really well, you want to show that, and I think that the challenges of being a technical band were very important to us during that Hemispheres, Farewell To Kings phase. That seemed to be the main priority to us. After that phase, I think that we got a lot of that out of our system and our needs were more in a sense of trying to be better songwriters, more concise songwriters, and trying to absorb and reflect the changes that were happening in rock music at the time. Records were being made quicker and there were more rhythmic influences that were obviously influenced and pressed into a of [sic] pop music that was affecting us too. So I think that we have always mirrored things around us to a degree, but some of those have been self-imposed things.
All The World's A Stage was the first of your three live albums correct?
Yes, that was the first one.
Did that album sum up the achievements of Rush, Fly By Night, Caress of Steel and 2112, thus allowing you to close the chapter on that part of your musical history, and move forward from there?
I think with this band, for some reason, every three albums we seem to enter into a new era by ending the previous one with a live album.
It's interesting that Rush can sum up a period in their musical careers with a live album, and then go forward from there and musically evolve without losing their audience, and then repeat that cycle three or four albums down the road with the same results.
Yeah, it seems to work like that doesn't it? I don't know if that's a pre-determined thing or if it's coincidental, but it really is true. Maybe it was accidental at first and now we plan it in, but live albums do serve a lot of purposes for us, and because we keep going on as a band, it's a problem to deal with. Most bands don't last this long and they never have to deal with these situations, It's like, 'Oh, we're still here,' so obviously we can't go on stage and play 15 albums worth of material. Some have to stay and some have to go. You are always going to lose some songs forever, so we chronicle them on a live album so that way they'll be preserved for somebody's interest anyway. We come up with these situations most bands don't encounter because they don't last this long to deal with them.
When did Neil start taking a more active role in the songwriting process of Rush?
Well, when he first joined the band, we invited him into that process.
That's interesting because all of Rush's material in the beginning seemed to be long and complex music that concentrated on the technical aspect of the music rather than the lyrics itself.
You have to remember that before Neil joined the band, our lyrics were very last minute and always seemed to be a necessary evil. We were very much motivated by music ourselves, and not so much by the lyrics. That was the way we spoke by the way Alex and I put the music together and when Neil came into the band, he just joined that thing without knowing what it was. The more we got to know Neil, the more we realized that his input, No. 1 lyrically and eventually rhythmically and musically, were important. Alex and I have never had this belief of the two of us, it has always been a three-way thing and it was our suggestion to Neil that he become involved in the lyrics and it was something that he had never thought about before. And once he started doing it he grew to like it and realized that it could be an important expression for him.
The tune "Working Man," seemed to be a pivotal song for Rush throughout the '70s. Was it?
That's true, it became a very important song for us, I think the No. 1 reason "Working Man" became so popular was because of its aggressive musical style and what the song said in very simplistic way legitimized it in the eyes of the people.
Did Neil start taking a more active role in the songwriting with Hemispheres and Farewell To Kings?
It started really with Fly By Night. Neil started writing lyrics, and I think he wrote about 60 percent of the lyrics on that album. From that point on, he was involved in the songwriting process and he just got better and better at it. We went through very different phases of three-way input, but we all have specific things within the songwriting method that we do. We all have specialties that we lean towards, and out of that, the roles when it came to individual songs sort of become defined. Lyrics just happened to become Neil's role. Now I'm not saying that any of those roles are self-sufficient, we all have input with the music at all times, especially myself and Neil's lyrics because I have to sing them. There's a lot of dialogue going on back and forth on whatever we're doing at the time.
Has it been easy for you to focus in on the visions or observations that Neil makes with his lyrics?
Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it's not. When it's not, I have to determine in my own mind how comfortable I am with what he is trying to say and can I give him any input to say in lyrics what he is trying to say face to face. I think that is the most difficult thing about a lyricist because you write on your own. You're alone with your thoughts and you put it down on paper and you feel that this is what you are saying, but maybe it's not clear what you are saying, maybe it's hard to be objective to see that. Sometimes you need a mirror to look at, something to bounce your ideas off. The same things happen musically for Alex and myself, we need somebody to bounce off what we are doing every once in awhile to see where we are, to see what we are doing. Sometimes you lose sight of what you're doing.
The music that's produced by Rush is like a dialogue between Neil and yourself, and when you two can't communicate musically, Alex comes into the picture to fill in the gaps. Is that a fair observation of the band and the way you work?
No, I don't think so. It doesn't work like that. Actually, Alex and I work hand in hand to put the music together and Neil will add his specialty, lyrical ideas, and the three of us sit down and hash out the problems that we have and try to make them all work. That's how Rush writes a song.
How difficult has it been for Rush to maintain that standard of musical excellence that the album, Moving Pictures, set for the band? And don't get me wrong, I'm not criticizing the content or the integrity of your musical accomplishments before that.
No, I understand what you're saying, I think that when you talk about musical integrity, that thing either exists in you or it doesn't. That's present from day one, I don't think anybody thrusts you into that. But in terms of success and in terms of spotlight, Moving Pictures was probably our highest point in terms of breaking down barriers, especially in breaking down barriers to accepting radio, From that album on, we had quite a different image on the radio level and since that album, radio has supported us to a large degree very well.
I bet that was a strange feeling to adjust to?
It was, but it meant very little to the internal workings of the Band. The day-to-day writing and thinking about what we are doing and how we are doing it - that's a long-term thing. From the beginning, we've always looked at our careers as a long-term thing. I guess the best way of putting it is this. We've always looked at our having a career and not trying to make just a couple of records which I think is a big difference between us and other bands. A lot of bands have individuals that have outside careers and the band is just something that they're in when it's convenient for them. We view Rush as being our career, and we take a very active part in it.
Is that one reason it takes the band a long time to put out an album?
We have always been concerned with the long-term view. Because of the slow way we work and the patience we have, there was never a hurry in the band to have a big hit right away. We knew we'd have some records that would be more successful than others, but basically the goal was to try and make a lot of records, to try to keep working on what we are doing, and to keep learning about the different aspects of what we're doing to the point that we end up with a very long career.
This past decade the two bands I've admired the most have been Rush and Genesis for the very fact the two bands have kept their musical integrity intact despite radio's formats. You haven't conformed to your surroundings, the surroundings have conformed to you. Has it been that easy?
I don't think that it's ever easy, but the more success that you attain on doing things your own way, the easier it becomes. For some reason, people want proof that you know what you're doing. As soon as you give it to them then a lot of pressure goes off of you. I would say that we probably had more pressure put on us before 2112 than any point since then.
That seems rather odd that 2112 was a turning point for Rush?
After 2112, we seemed to break down a lot of barriers. And when I say a lot of pressure, I mean pressure from within our own circles. I still don't think that people that we work with in terms of management and those immediately around us were convinced that, These guys know what they're doing?'
And 2112 unlocked the doors to the future?
2112 seemed to be the answer to that, and I think from that point on, even though there is always pressure, external pressures, I think that it solidified our immediate circle to the point where the people that we worked with closely believed we knew what we were doing. Now, whether we did or not I don't know, but the fact that they believed it made it easier for them to fight the secondary pressures from that point on.
Have you ever gotten the feeling at some point in the last 15 years that some people genuinely wanted Rush to fail?
Yes I have, Of course your fans don't want you to, but people love overnight success stories and they like slaying dragons, or 'I told you so's.' They like seeing people that have been successful for a long time all the sudden not be successful. I guess that it is just the pettiness that exists in those people,
Your last live LP, A Show Of Hands, sums up Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire. I guess that meant that Rush was getting ready to usher in a new era?
It's part of our secret agenda. I don't know. It accomplishes a lot for us at that moment. It bought us some time to figure out what we needed to do. When you've been a rock band for 15-20 years, it's really hard to get enough time away from it that you can actually try to regain some sense of perspective on your life. I think that's very important to us at the moment and also, like I said, we have a lot of records and songs that disappeared from our shows and it was time to put some of those on vinyl so that we can update our live presentation. Really, your live albums come to represent your performance history in a way. So, every once in awhile we need to update that. We have changed over the last five albums, and A Show Of Hands, summed that up.
Throughout the 70's, "Working Man," to me was the anthem of Rush. In the 80s, it was "Closer To The Heart." That song is over ten years old now, and it seemed curiously out of place with the other songs on that live album you released.
It seems to be a song to us that never really gets old. There seems to be a sentiment in that song I think. It's always fresh and bears repeating and at the same time, it's a song that structurally has always remained a bit fluid and one of the few moments where we allow ourselves some improvisational time on the stage. So it's important for that reason to our show, and I think as a result of it, people always respond very strongly to that song, regardless of what shape it takes. So, for all those reasons, we felt it was important to have it on record.
Do you understand people who say they have grown up with Rush over the years?
Well, I know for myself, when I was a fan, bands that I liked I felt very close to them. You are very loyal to what you consider to be your teachers, and the bands that I loved and the musicians that I respected were teachers to me. Some of them could do no wrong. I think that you go through that period of admiration until they start doing something wrong to you, and they dare to break out and become something different than you want them to be. That is always a little disappointing from a band's point of view. You are loyal to them for a particular reason and now they are suddenly saying, 'We'll, I'm changing, sorry. I've got to go.' That's tough for a fan to deal with and you feel betrayed, even though you haven't been. People grow so nothing remains the same. That's what nostalgia is all about. They can't, break away from that period of their life and they keep on rehashing it and rehashing it. I don't know if that answered your question?
Well, when you, Alex and Neil started playing together and making music, where you all like students learning a craft?
When you are a student, I don't think that you look at yourself as a student. When you are in the public eye, you'd like to think that you have mastered enough to warrant being there in the first place. But, in a sense, you are always a student, and I think that we are still students now. But we have this experience behind us.
Was the advent of musical technology a blessing in disguise for Rush?
We happened to be around during that age of technological wonder really and its application to music, and yes, we have benefitted from it to a large degree. I also think that it has tied our hands together because being the kind of technocrats we can be, we've been raised on these things so much, you can paint yourself into a corner sometimes if you're tied to every imaginable machine possible up on a stage. You use these tools, but in a sense, they use you too. I think that you have to always wrestle with that question as to who's leading who.
Why did you have 'til Tuesday's Aimee Mann on Hold Your Fire? Wasn't that the first time you'd ever used an outside voice on a Rush song?
It wasn't the first time that we had ever used an outside musician, it was the first time that we had ever used an outside voice.
Had Rush's previous album experience using other musicians make any difference to broadening the band's musical outlook?
Yes, it had opened up possibilities to us we'd never thought about before. We used Andy Richards on keyboards that past two studio albums, and we even had string arrangements on Power Windows. Working with other musicians showed us that we had been living a bit too insular within our group and that working with other people was exciting. It added things to our music we didn't realize could happen. So when it came time for that song, there was a part in it that seemed very obvious that it needed another voice and we decided it would be nice for it to be a feminine voice and we looked for the right voice. In Aimee, I think we found the right one.