Rush: Up Close

A 3-Hour Radio Interview/Music Profile

With Dan Near, Media America Radio, January/February 1994, transcribed by Ken McWatters, edited by pwrwindows

[Transcribers Note: First, an apology. I didn't get every second of the interview on tape, as I was cutting out commercials and some songs on my tape, sloppily at times. Where there is an omission, it will be designated by: ... before the text. The show was broadcast in three parts, so indications of where the parts begin are included. Ending credits (read at the end of each part) are included at the end of this transcription.]

[Webmasters Note: Ken's original transcript of this radio broadcast was exact, complete with "uh"s, "um"s, "I mean"s and "ya know"s. I removed these for better readability.]

Part 1

[The Necromancer (Under the Shadow) plays in background]

Dan Near: And you have tuned into another exciting adventure of Up Close. This time around, we head for the Great White North to catch up with Canada's finest, Rush, and their latest album, Counterparts. Here's Rush bassist and vocalist, Geddy Lee.

Geddy Lee: Usually when we go to make a record we don't know what's gonna come out. You kinda have a vague sonic idea but you don't really have a very specific idea.

Dan: Guitarist Alex Lifeson.

Alex Lifeson: We discussed at great length the direction of the record, on the last tour, on the Roll The Bones tour. A number of times I remember having long discussions on the bus about where we wanted this album to go, what we wanted to do with it. And, of course, this is without having written anything, so we were really talking in an abstract way about the feel of the record.

Dan: Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.

Neil Peart: The onus is on us, as songcrafters, to take what we want to say, and the music that we want to play, and convince people.

Dan: Welcome to Part 1 of Media America Radio's presentation of Rush: Up Close.

[Everyday Glory is played]

Dan: From Counterparts, that was Everyday Glory, words by Neil Peart, music by Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee.

[Animate plays in background]

Geddy: We're always listening to new stuff, and I think we always allow ourselves to be influenced by something exciting that's going on; I think all musicians do that. The shift of more interesting hard rock was coming from America, bands like Soundgarden, even the Chili Peppers, to a certain degree, and so on and so forth. They were doing interesting things in a hard rock vein, and they had a big, kind of aggressive sound. And I would say that that was inspiring to us, to see interesting things being done with that form of music, that we feel very familiar with. So I would say it had a catalytic effect on making us more determined to get a bigger sound.

[Stick It Out is played]

Dan: Stick It Out can be found on Counterparts, along with Double Agent.

[James Bond music plays in background]

Dan: This is a job for Rush's double agent, Neil Peart.

Neil: I had been reading Carl Jung last year, and I got interested in the idea of the unconscious, and I started to watch how my own worked. And I noticed that sometimes if I had a difficult decision to make, I'd be weighing up the pros and cons, and my conscious mind would be doing a lot of thinking and worrying, and then suddenly one morning I would wake up, and I would know what to do. And a friend of mine was working on a book about the secret war between the CIA and the FBI and asked me to be his reader, as it were, as he went along. So in reading that, I read a whole bunch of books on background of the CIA and the KGB, and got totally into the world of espionage. So I thought of using the imagery of espionage, and the whole romance of cloak and dagger, and the third man, to illustrate the idea of the unconscious. So espionage and Carl Jung kind of got mixed up together in my head and with nightmares and dreamstates and so on and it became a perfect musical vehicle. As we've found over the years, in so many different contexts, dreams are a great vehicle to carry musical and vocal ideas along too.

[Double Agent is played]

Dan: Double Agent, from Counterparts. Up Close will take you back to the days when Rush was just a fly-by-night organization. That's right after this.

[Fly By Night begins, then fades to *commercial break*] [Here Again plays in background]

Dan: Alex Lifeson on remembering the rush he got when he first heard one of his songs on the radio.

Alex: I think it was Finding My Way, from the first album, on a local station in Toronto. And I was thrilled; it was really, really exciting. I just never thought I would ever hear something like that. The fact that we had a record was a big deal; we were a bar band at the time and putting a record out was really a big deal, going into a studio. And I remember thinking, going into the studio, all the musicians I like, and all the bands that I like, do this. This is what they do. At one time sure, they played bars, and high schools, or whatever, but to go into a studio and record something, and make something that's permanent; that was a big deal. And then of course hearing it on the radio followed that. And again, because it was in Toronto, it meant even more to me, 'cause this was hometown.

[Finding My Way is played]

Dan: Finding My Way from the self-titled Rush album. Here's our cousin from the north, Alex Lifeson.

[Best I Can plays in background]

Alex: When we started out it was impossible for a Canadian band to play south of the border, to do anything south of the border. There was no interest at all; all the major companies had outposts here, and they had no power, they had no deal power, nothing like that, so everything had to be done through the States. And it wasn't until really the independent labels came out, that the Canadian music, especially the pop or rock music industry, really started to grow.

[Fly By Night is played]

Dan: That was the title track from Fly By Night. Rush breaks through to the Top 5, thanks to the Spirit of Radio, right after this.

[*commercial break*] [Anthem plays in background]

Geddy: This station called CFNY in Toronto, and their motto was "The Spirit of Radio." And they were totally free-form, at the time when all these big programmers were coming in, and consultants were telling all these stations, and all these station managers, how to keep their jobs. 'Play these records and you'll keep your job.' So there was this one station that was playing anything; and you'd hear very abstract things, you'd hear very hard things, or classical. It sort of reminded us of what it used to be like when FM just started, and guys like Murray the K were on the air. And it was really great, and everybody was so into it, and you'd live by the FM radio; you'd always have it on. So it reminded us of that, and we started thinking about what happened to that, those kind of ideals for radio? And it was like radio is great, until people realize they can make money at it, and then it all changes. So that's what that song was about.

[Spirit of Radio is played]

Dan: That's from Permanent Waves in 1980. The Spirit of Radio. Here's Rush's wordsmith, Neil Peart.

[Jacob's Ladder plays in background]

Neil: I certainly do have things that I want to say, and feelings and thoughts that I would like to convey to people, but at the same time I don't consider them all-important. They are there, and vocals really yes, are sounds; it's an instrument, and it's a series of tonalities, and consonants and vowels, which are important. And I give due care to that as well. And I work together with Geddy a lot on the singability of lyrics, and even working on my own, the quality of euphoniousness. They should sound nice, and they should sing well.

[Freewill is played]

Dan: Permanent Waves' Freewill. Permanent Waves was a number 4 album back in 1980, Rush's first to break into the top 40. Now grab your popcorn; Geddy, Alex and Neil will be starring in the Moving Pictures in just a moment.

[Tom Sawyer begins, then fades to *commercial break*]

Dan: Neil Peart has definite ideas about what makes Rush's sound unique.

[Natural Science (Hyperspace) plays in background]

Neil: The hyperactive rhythm section, just from the ground up; that's certainly one element. Geddy and I are both much busier than the average bass player and drummer, both individually and together. We do a lot more, and our sounds are very distinctive. Again, following upon the same thing; because we're active, we have a strong voice just on our instrument. So I think that sticks out, just the activity going on, and then Alex's sound and approach is unique. Again, as a combination of the effects that he uses and the way he approaches them, and his style of playing the chords that he chooses, are unique. We often describe chords as being "Alex chords," this certain thing that he likes, and same for me; my style is based upon what I like; what I like listening to is what I like to play. And when I put all those things together, they become my style, as such. But of course, they're a combination of a hundred other people's styles, really.

[YYZ is played]

Dan: YYZ from Moving Pictures. Geddy Lee.

Geddy: Who is today's Tom Sawyer? That song to me is just about something in all of us, sort of an ability to do things at a certain age, that appear to be very brave and courageous, but, really, they're because we don't know all the answers, and we're not educated enough to realize that you can fail. So, that's the sort of spirit that song speaks to, when I think of that song.

[Tom Sawyer is played]

Neil: ... just being musicians on the road. And composing has to be set aside as a separate part of our lives now. We have to be musicians for 6 months of the year, and composers for 3 months of the year, kind of thing, and then vegetables the other 3 months.

Dan: Does the high pressure get to the band, does the discipline pay off? Exactly what kind of vegetables do they become? Tune in for parts 2 and 3 of Rush: Up Close to find out.

[Credits are read, Limelight plays in background]

Part 2

[Animate plays in background]

Dan: If you joined us for Part 1 of Rush: Up Close, you heard about the new album Counterparts, and traced with us the roots of Rush up to 1981's Moving Pictures. We'll continue with that album this time, but first, bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee will expound on the personal turmoil that has racked the band since its founding back in 1969.

Geddy: I would say for the most part we've been on an even keel. We're cursed with this kind of logical, rational thinking. So, when we have a problem, we kind of talk about it and it gets worked out. We're almost too down-to-earth; and we make bad press, because we're [chuckling] too reasonable, I think sometimes.

Dan: I'm Dan Near. Welcome to Part 2 of Media America Radio's Presentation of Rush: Up Close.

[Limelight is played]

Dan: Limelight from 1981's Moving Pictures.

[YYZ plays in background]

Dan: Like most bands, Rush wants to create the perfect album. However, as guitarist Alex Lifeson can tell you, sometimes, enough's enough.

Alex: You do have to know when to stop. Otherwise, you'll spend years working on something and, I think Def Leppard is an example of that. Their records certainly have sounded incredible, incredibly produced, well-produced. But they've spent, two, three years making a record; they get to the guitars and they decide they want to redo the drums, and redo the drums, and then they decide they want to redo the guitars, and then the vocals. During the vocal tracks, the drums don't sound right again, and you can go on, and on, and on, and on, and on. I think if you've captured the initial energy and excitement of the song, and you've kind of kept that in mind, once you've put all those elements together, and you've gotten them to a point that you're happy with, that's really representative of that period, then you have to move away from it.

[Red Barchetta is played]

Neil: ... for instance, when we were first experimenting with keyboards and Geddy would be too busy with keyboards and the rudimentary foot pedals of the time to be playing bass, so Alex would be taking a bass player's role, in songs like Subdivisions, and through that period. So he and I developed a relationship as a rhythm section, which guitar players and drummers do not do; but during that period it worked so well for us, because Alex and I developed an understanding of each other's approach, and of playing sympathetically to each other, which we still use, even though we've long passed out of that phase. The knowledge, and the relationship between us, was gained forever, basically. So now we still draw upon that, and I still follow him sometimes, and he still listens to me more, I think, than many guitar players do; so that becomes valuable in the long run.

[Subdivisions is played]

Dan: Subdivisions helped create the popularity of Signals, which in 1982, was the second in a run of six consecutive top-10 albums for Rush. Next, Rush: Up Close will feature further developments in that direction. Now, don't take a chance on missing out. Stay right where you are.

[New World Man begins, then fades to *commercial break*]

Alex: New World Man was the first single that we ever had that had quite a wide appeal, especially on radio, where it wasn't only those kind of stations that played harder stuff. As a musical piece it was a departure for us, it was something a little different and a little "poppier," I think.

[New World Man is played]

Dan: Signals' New World Man, Rush's only Top-40 single to date. Here's the band's lyricist, Neil Peart.

[Afterimage plays in background]

Neil: Sometimes we've been misread as being too dark or sometimes apocalyptic, but they've usually represented shifts of style. And Grace Under Pressure was an album of ours that was perceived as being dark, but it was a transitional album for me especially as a lyricist, and introduced a whole new note of a real-world compassion, where suddenly I was looking around at friends of mine, and strangers too, and seeing their lives. And feeling that my life was fine at the time. A lot of people read these things, 'oh, he must have been having a rough time then,' and quite the contrary. My life was fine, but I was seeing a lot of trouble in my friends' lives, and the mid-'80s were difficult times, economically, and people were losing jobs, having trouble getting work, having relationship problems and all that. So those things do get down into your writing, and sometimes you feel that you have to address them, even if they're not tearing you apart.

[Distant Early Warning is played]

Dan: Rush got a chance to show off their Grace Under Pressure with that one, Distant Early Warning, from 1984.

[*commercial break*] [The Enemy Within plays in background]

Dan: Hi, I'm Dan Near, back with Part 2 of Rush: Up Close. I believe I'll turn the mike over to Geddy Lee.

Geddy: When we finished Signals, with Terry Brown, which was the last album we did with Terry, we were at odds with ourselves. We didn't know if we were going in the right direction; we didn't know if we were pushing the band the right way. So we thought we'd redefine our sound, and get a new producer, and at that time, all the problems finding the right guy to work for us didn't help anything, but it did help in uniting the band. And we did most of the preproduction by ourselves, for Grace Under Pressure, and we sort of got everything together, and we were sort of running the band on our own.

[Red Sector A is played]

Dan: Red Sector A screaming out from the platinum album, Grace Under Pressure, Rush's 13th. With 13 albums, there should be enough outtakes and b-side material for an impressive Rush box set.

[Grand Designs plays in background]

Geddy: What we write is what you get on a Rush album. We don't ever write extra songs. If a song isn't worthy to be on a record, we usually don't finish it, so it gets kinda tossed in the garbage. We may be the only band with a 20-year existence that has no material in the can, 'cause everything we've written has gone on record. So if we all get killed in a car crash or something like that, it would be a great disappointment to our record company.

[The Big Money is played]

Dan: The Big Money, found on Power Windows. We've got Rush live, next on Part 2 of Rush: Up Close.

[Closer to the Heart (from A Show of Hands) begins, then fades to *commercial break*] [Force 10 plays in background]

Dan: Up Close is back with Neil Peart of Rush.

Neil: Communication is what music is, certainly. And the lyrics, and writing the bio, and basically every aspect of what we do, is essential communication. That it can't really be two-way, in the sense of communication, but it can be a successful. It takes certainly two people to make it successful. If you're transmitting an idea, you need a receiver, and for that receiver, you need good media in between. So that's where the craft comes into it too, of carefully refining that idea, or that thought, or that feeling, so that it communicates to a listener.

[Time Stand Still is played]

Dan: Time Stand Still, from Hold Your Fire.

[Three Stooges melody from live show plays in background]

Alex: The butterfly part is long gone. [chuckling] That doesn't happen anymore. Maybe the first night for about 10 seconds.

Dan: That's Alex Lifeson on pre-show jitters.

Alex: For the most part, thinking about something that you wanted to change from the night before, remember when you get to that point in the set that you wanted to do this, or do that. Accent here, accent there, it's down to that. The lights go up, we go on stage; it's very, very quiet in our dressing room before we go on.

Dan: But not in Geddy's head.

Geddy: A tremendous amount of neurotic energy is screaming around my head at that point. And I think you're focusing, and trying to get yourself in the mindset, because every, every gig is a new opportunity. Every time you're about to step on a stage is a new opportunity for you to do a perfect show. And I think that's what you're trying to focus on. And you're trying to find that kind of zen state, that lies somewhere between concentrating too much and not concentrating enough.

[Closer to the Heart (from A Show of Hands) is played]

Dan: Closer to the Heart, from Rush's 1989 live album, A Show of Hands. Ah, the life of a rock-n-roll musician.

Alex: It's a lot less glamorous than I think most people would think. And we certainly had our days in the early days where maybe we couldn't walk so well coming off stage, and sometimes going on stage. But, these days I think we kind of conserve our energy a little more.

[Credits are read; Mystic Rhythms (from A Show of Hands) plays in background]

Part 3

[Chain Lightning plays in background]

Dan: Rush bassist, Geddy Lee.

Geddy: I guess if you look at a band like the Grateful Dead, they're really an enormously popular cult band and, I guess in our own way, we, we are the same thing, 'cause our career has kind of ridden along the mainstream, as opposed to in the center of it. And we've been able to be stay reasonably successful through almost 20 years now. And not be what you call a mainstream band. So I guess that does make us a cult band.

Dan: Some cult band. Rush has 6 gold and 9 platinum albums to their credit, not counting their current CD, Counterparts, which seems to be headed for those same heights. I'm Dan Near, and this is part 3 of Media America Radio's presentation of Rush: Up Close.

[Presto is played]

Dan: That was the title track to 1989's Presto. Like almost all of their 20 albums, Rush used a co-producer to augment their own ears. Here's drummer Neil Peart.

Neil: We don't need someone to tell us what our instrument should sound like; we don't really need someone to tell us if we're playing it right. Those things we've certainly learned over the years. But we do need someone to judge the holistic part of it, whether all those parts are adding up to what we think they are, because they don't always. And a lot of times we very much believe in a song, but something goes wrong in the interpretive part of it, and it just doesn't add up right in the end, and consequently it doesn't reach the listeners that we hope would get excited about it as much as we.

[Show Don't Tell is played]

Dan: Good advice for any writer. Show Don't Tell, from Presto. This is guitarist Alex Lifeson.

[Ghost of a Chance plays in background]

Alex: We're lucky we've had an opportunity to do something for 20 years that a lot of people just don't do; very few people have even lasted as long, as a band, and still feel like they're viable. And I think that's the thing with us, we look at this album as being just as important as any one of our other albums. And it's not something that we created to keep the momentum of the band going or to make more money or any of those things. It's because we're a band, and we like making music, and this is the kind of music we make. And, you know every once in a while you remember that, and it really makes you feel good.

[Bravado is played]

Dan: Showing a little Bravado in 1991, that was Rush, from Roll The Bones. There's more from that crapshoot coming up, on Part 3 of Rush: Up Close.

[*commercial break*]

Dan: Geddy Lee brings us back Up Close with Rush.

[Face Up plays in background]

Geddy: We wanted to be like the Who, or like the Cream, or like the Yardbirds. Those are the bands that we wanted to be like. And you didn't think about duration, you didn't think in terms of time. You just thought in terms of...I wanted to be popular, like them. Or I wanted to make great records like them. That's about the only thing you thought of. And when you first start, just the idea of making an album seems like an impossible thing. Yeah, you can get a band together. Yeah, you can get gigs in high schools. But could you actually ever get to record a record? This was an impossible dream. And once we recorded a record, it was all kinda fantasy land after that.

Dan: Seventeen years to the day after that first album debuted, Rush released Roll The Bones, and this song, Dreamline.

[Dreamline is played]

Dan: The next song I want to talk about is called Heresy. The song asks the question, "All those wasted years, all those precious wasted years, who will pay?" And from reading what Neil has written about this song, he was talking about the fall of all the communist governments in Eastern Europe.

Geddy: Yeah, absolutely. You know that horrible and wonderful moment, all mixed into one, when somebody realizes that they've had their freedom removed for so many years, and they finally get it back, and it must be such a bittersweet moment. And all those years, all those lives that were lost, and all the struggle, all the people that were fighting all those years. And suddenly, it's all over. And what do they do about all the people that did not survive, and were not lucky enough to be around when the wall fell down? It's an unanswerable question.

[Heresy is played]

Dan: More action at the Rush casino coming up, so lay your bets on the table, and prepare to roll them bones.

[*commercial break*] [The Pass plays in background]

Dan: I'm Dan Near, and you are listening to Rush: Up Close. Here, to guide us even closer, is Neil Peart.

Neil: A certain proportion of our audience would be musicians, a certain percentage of them would be thoughtful people, but there's still a lot of people who are not conscious of the elements of a bass player's craft, or a drummer's craft, or a lyricist's craft. And I know for myself, as a young music fan, I never really paid attention to lyrics. If I liked the song, then I might notice the lyrics, but I would never dissect them or anything. So I don't expect that from a listener, either. Really, I think a listener can get a holistic sense, or a Rush fan would get a sense of 'care has been taken here'. That's the bottom line, that they know that when it comes even to the album cover, or our T-shirts, and tourbooks down to the music and the lyrics and the production, every aspect of it, we take personal care about. And, that's the message that I think, however disengaged the listener is from musical values, or lyrical values, they still will know that care has been taken here. There's a sense of quality about all these things, at least, that even if it's never identified in a Rush fan's mind, then I think they're certainly aware of that.

[Roll The Bones is played]

Dan: From 1991, that was Roll The Bones. Here's Geddy Lee to take us beyond the bones to Rush's latest, Counterparts.

[Alien Shore plays in background]

Geddy: What is this thing we just did? Counterparts to me is a restatement of certain elements of the band that we felt were leaving our grip. And I think it's a passionate record, and I think the passion is probably the most important element of the album.

Dan: And here's Alex Lifeson to tell us where the passion begins.

Alex: For the most part, once Geddy and I sit down together and start jamming together, that's really where most of the stuff comes. No matter how much time I spend at home, or he spends at home, it's not until we get there that all the stuff really happens. And, we'll pull bits and pieces from those home ideas, but there's an energy that's created between the two of us when we write, and really that's where it takes off from.

[Cut to the Chase is played]

Dan: We'll be coming back at the Speed of Love next, so hold on to your hearts!

[*commercial break*] [Animate plays in background]

Dan: Up Close returns with Rush's Neil Peart.

Neil: I just saw one of Frank Zappa's last interviews the other day, and he was talking about love songs, and the reason he would never write one is he thought they were essentially evil. And that they raise this imaginary ideal of a perfect relationship which doesn't exist in reality. And that's what songs like Cold Fire have to do with, is trying to tell a song about love, not a song of love. And Speed of Love, actually, and Cold Fire are both the same that way, they're songs about love, about the subject of it. Again, demythologizing, debunking; in Cold Fire I have the smart woman telling the guy what love is all about.

[Cold Fire is played]

Dan: Cold Fire from Counterparts. Here's Geddy Lee.

[Leave That Thing Alone! plays in background]

Geddy: My mother tells me that I wanted to be a scientist when I was really young. So, I guess she was right, in a way; I've kinda turned into a scientist but I prefer to look at Alex as the scientist of the band. I think when I was a teenager I wanted to be in a rock band, I wanted to play rock music, and that's it. And I was lucky; it all came true for me. So, fortunately, I haven't had to think of any other options. The fact that we've been able to be a band for this long is tremendously satisfying in itself. Really, it's something to celebrate, the fact that we've been able to stay together through all various things we've been through. And still have an audience, and still be considered contemporary, to me that's tremendously rewarding, just that fact in itself.

[Speed of Love is played]

Dan: Speed of Love, from Counterparts, Rush's 20th album in 20 years. The band is currently touring in support of that album, and there's more. Alex Lifeson.

[Where's My Thing? plays in background]

Alex: The next tour that we do is going to be more of a retrospective tour; it's our 20th Anniversary. We'd like to go out and do an evening with, and break up the set; do the first 10 years, in chronological order from the first album up to, I guess Grace Under Pressure and then take a short intermission and have some film stuff on the band, on the history of the band. I think that a lot of our fans would kinda like to see some candid stuff; and, and then come back and do the second set, from that point up to the present. So it'll be a really great presentation of the history of the band, of that whole 20 year period. And hopefully it'll be the start of the next 20 year period.

Dan: We'd like to thank Ray Danniels and Kim Garner of SRO Management, Danny Bush, Perry Cooper and Lisa Gray of Atlantic Records, and Benny Bennett of Westbury National Show Systems, Limited. Rush: Up Close was produced in New York by Near Perfect Productions, as an exclusive presentation of Media America Radio. The producers are David Bales and Jim Fahe, assisted by Bruce Simon. The executive producers are Dewitt Nelson and me, Dan Near. Up Close is distributed on compact disc and copyrighted 1994, all rights reserved. No portion may be used without the written permission of the producers. Join us next time on this radio station, as we get Up Close with your favorite rockers. Thanks for listening.