The Nov. 14 release of "My Favorite Headache" (Anthem/Atlantic) is a milestone in the notable musical career of Geddy Lee. The album marks the solo debut of Rush's vocalist/bassist/keyboardist, as well as the first real breath of music from any of its members in three years.
"I never felt I was stifled or frustrated in the context of my band. The three of us have always had a very good creative arrangement," Lee explains. "But, on this long hiatus, I found myself itching to write."
Lee is referring to the indefinite break the progressive hard-rock trio has been on since last performing in its native Canada in 1997. Sadly, that year, drummer Neil Peart lost his 19-year-old daughter. Her passing was followed by the death of his wife in 1998.
The time off was quite an adjustment for a band that has consistently pushed the boundaries of music for more than 30 years and sold more than 35 million copies of its 22 albums worldwide. The work ethic which fuels that kind of success doesn't diminish during a leave of absence. So Lee got together with Ben Mink (known for his work with k.d. lang), an old friend who often joked with him about writing together. They collaborated on a few songs and sent them to Val Azzoli, co-chairman/CEO of Atlantic Records, who suggested making a record. They were joined in the studio by Pearl Jam's drummer, Matt Cameron, and several other guest musicians.
Lee's compositions strongly mimic Rush's catalog in terms of structure and lyrical content. They unite rock, blues, techno, classical, funk, and punk into progressive masterpieces accentuated by clever sound effects and his signature, rapid-fire bass pickings. Their words tell stories that intertwine throughout the album and contemplate the human condition. Standouts are "Window To The World" for its lyrical ambiguity, "Working At Perfekt" for its desperate urgency, and "Slipping" for its wistful sorrow.
The title track showcases an intense bassline, hard-rock guitar work, and dramatic time changes. It describes a man enduring a rough time in his life but denying to himself that anything is really wrong. Lee describes this character as "a glutton for his own punishment."
"It's very easy for smart people to justify their problems, to rationalize them so that they're not problems," he observes. "I think that's just a way of hiding from life. The song is tongue-in-cheek, but it really addresses something I see is common with people. When things aren't going their way they love to indulge their inability to grab life." The song was shipped to active and heritage rock, alternative, metal, and college radio stations; at least 100 spins were detected the week of Oct. 2.
Lee operated as a jack-of-all-trades on "Headache." His contributions include bass, vocals, piano, guitar, percussion, and programming elements. Production credits are split among himself, Mink, and David Leonard. And for the first time since penning most of the verses on Rush's 1974 self-titled debut, Lee wrote all of the lyrics.
"I've been involved with one of the greatest lyric writers around. So, of course for me to come out on my own and start doing things, I was quite sheepish about it at first," he says, referring to how Peart customarily handles Rush's lyrics. "[But] it was a very positive addition to what I do. To be able to write melodies and express myself lyrically at the same time gave me a whole different way of approaching singing. I found that a lot of the different vocal effects and different vocal nuances I achieved on this record were partially because I could shape what I was saying myself.
"I love working with Alex [Lifeson, Rush's guitarist] and Neil, and I have no problem to do that again at any time, but it was very good for me to get in there with some different ways of doing things and without feeling the overwhelming weight of the band per se," Lee continues. "Just to be a couple of guys fooling around without that kind of expectation was really interesting. Watching somebody else approach an overdub and learning different ways of approaching recording, just a totally different dynamic?that was very refreshing for me."
Lee anticipates Rush will re-enter the studio in early 2001. Although he misses touring and working with the band, the hiatus yielded another blessing besides "Headache." "A tour is very daunting from the point of view of what you have to give up in terms of your relationships and your home life and your interests," he says. "On the other hand, it's definitely a side of me that I love to indulge, so I look forward to that happening. [However], staying home with my family for three years, there's a lot of benefits to that. You plug back into the community, and to get much closer to my children and my friends and indulge my interests, I'm quite happy to be a homebody for a while."
David Burrier, Atlantic's senior director of product development, notes it might be a bit tricky alerting fans about "Headache," so one tactic Atlantic employed was sending a press release to about 250 fan Web sites. "People who have grown up loving Rush and are now 28-, 35-plus-years-old don't always know when new stuff is coming out. It's [about] letting them know, 'Hey, Geddy Lee has a record.' " However, the initial response Burrier has received is "extremely positive."
Bill Banasiewicz, author of 1988's "Rush Visions: The Official Biography," believes Lee's album is ideal to tide over fans who have been waiting for a new Rush set since 1997's "Test For Echo." "I think it's fantastic. I think it's the perfect cure for the in-between-Rush-album blues," he says.
Segments of an electronic press kit containing an hourlong interview and in-studio footage are being edited for viewing at atlantic-records.com and myfavoriteheadache.com. "Rush has never let a camera in the studio before, so having [this] is something really new and unique," Burrier says. The CD-ROM-compatible set will allow access to the entire interview via the Web. The Anthem/Atlantic set is being distributed through WEA in the U.S. and Core Music in Canada.
Many details are being worked out regarding what promotions Lee will do in both the U.S. and Canada, since his schedule is contingent upon when Rush begins recording. Besides interviews with syndicated radio shows, Burrier hopes to orchestrate in-store appearances and retail store giveaways of autographed Fender bass guitars in major markets (Fender endorses Lee and carries a Geddy Lee Limited Edition Jazz Bass), such as New York and Detroit.