Welcome to Geddy Lee: Yesterday and Today. The world album premiere of "My Favourite Headache". Geddy Lee: Yesterday ... (a big montage of Rush Tunes and MFH plays in the background) ... and Today.
Intorduction: Welcome to a very special hour featuring the brand new solo debut from one third of Canadas musical ambassadors to the world: Geddy Lee of Rush. Now with special guest Geddy Lee, heres your host Jeff Woods.
JW: Who hasnt got a memory of Rush? The albums: AFTK, Hemispheres, 2112, Moving Pictures just to name a few. All the worlds indeed been the stage for Rush. In a career spanning for decades, Rush are among the worlds respected and successful bands -- Canadas most successful band internationally too. Beyond the release of the last live Rush album Different Stages, fans of the band have not heard new music from Rush since 1996s Test For Echo. The good news: Rush do have plans to get together in the new year to write again. And in the mean time, weve got this brand new Geddy Lee album to digest. In the next hour, Rush revisited, and Geddy Lee: the solo artist
GL: The approach that I took making the record was very musical a lot of layers, and its kind of a record thats done in the style that we used to make records in. Its the just the approach we took was you know, lets just make the best music we can and not be afraid to layer it. And if its a little more work to get into, maybe thats a good thing in the end. When Ben Mink and I decided to go down this road at least writing together, we thought...well well just start slowly. He came to Toronto, we sat down in my home studio and we worked for about ten days and threw some ideas together. So we carried that on over the next kinda year and a half. I would go out to Vancouver. Wed spend a week to ten days working on other stuff. So that progressed like that going back and forth from Vancouver to Toronto for like I said about a year and a half and so. And then finally I started getting really impatient because the songs started turning out better and better and better. And I said "look we gotta make a decision on what were doing here. Are we making a record for ourselves? Are we going to package this stuff up and send it around to other artists and maybe theyll record it?" So we decided to take five songs and send them around to a couple of people only and see if they could give us some input as to whether we should do a record or whether we should form a publishing union, that kind of thing and it was Val Azzoli who used to work for us at SRO Management here and now hes running things at Atlantic Records, who called me up right away and he said "Listen, Ive been listening to the songs and I think you should go make a record. I think youve got something to say here, so go do it."
JW: Tell us about the title track "My Favourite Headache".
GL: Well thats a dark comedy, that song. Its one of the wilder tracks and its got a great spirit and Im very happy that that song surfaced because its kind of unusual and there was a lot of experimenting that went on with that song rhythmically and in the way that Im using my bass (Intro to MFH plays) Its also the first time that I tried playing electric guitar with any import on a song, so the more obnoxious stuff that you hear on the song is usually me (laughs).
JW: And what a great way for a bass player produce a solo record
GL: Yeah I figured that would be cool you know, What the Hell. I cant avoid it. It is a bass players album. Lets start with the bass.
(My Favourite Headache plays)
JW: Geddy Lee, the title song from his debut solo album My Favourite Headache. An album essentially comprised of three main players: including Geddy Lee on bass and some guitar parts, and collaborator, guitarist Ben Mink (known by some for his work with K D Lang, known by Rock fans from his days with the Toronto band FM).
GL: Well, thats how I met Ben. He was playing in FM and they were opening a show for us at Varsity Stadium here in Toronto and we became friends really quickly. We had similar upbringings, similar backgrounds and similar absurd sense of humour that kept us buddies for years. Our biggest fear when we were making this record was "Is just going to screw our friendship up? Are we gonna stop making these inane jokes throughout the project once we get quote serious about working together?" I think it really was a serious fear we had that we were going to screw it up so we kind of promised each other that no matter what happens, we cannot let this interfere with our being buddies otherwise its not worth it.
JW: And it all worked out evidently.
GL: It worked out great. He was happy to be involved as co-producer and co-writer and play lots of instruments and he didnt suffer the requisite ego shortcomings that demanded that we had equal billing that kind of thing, so it seemed to make sense to do it under the guise of a solo record.
JW: Filling the drum seat on this new Geddy Lee album came by way of suggestion from the producer/engineer known for his work with the Foo Fighters and Soundgarden Adam Kasper.
GL: He said "Have you thought about using Matt Cameron?" And I said "Yeah, well I hadnt gotten to his name yet." But we had just gone into that process of looking for drummers. And he said "Well I think that Matt would be great." So Ben and I pulled out all our Soundgarden records and started listening and it was like "Well yeah!". So good. Hes got such great tone and dexterity, it would be great to work with him. So we contacted him and he was really enthusiastic and said "Look, Ive got three weeks where Im free and then I have to go to Europe with Pearl Jam." So Ben and I just looked at each other and said "OK" and called Adam Book the studio, "were coming." And we went to Seattle. We spent about two weeks there. They treated us very well. It was a really nice way to start the album in earnest as an official kind of start point. So we did his drums. We only expected to get four or five songs down with him; but it was working so well, we just kept pulling other songs out and saying "well weve got this other song here, you wanna play on it?" and hed go "yeah sure!" And before we knew, we had ten songs with him on it and they all sounded really great from a drum point of view.
JW: The "Present Tense" is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Tell me about it.
GL: I think "Present Tense" was the first song that Ben and I wrote together that put us back in touch with the whole rock side. I think we kind of entered into the project slowly and a little sheepishly so we started with more acoustic oriented things and a little quieter songs and then something happened the day we sat down. Id been thinking about this song I think for about three nights before, you know as I was lying in I was kind of putting the chord structures together for the choruses of that song and I was really kind of fired up about it and then Ben finally came from Vancouver and we sat down and I said "Ive got this idea thats been just cooking in my head for three days, lets get right at it." So when we put it together, something about it just snapped us into action and I think it was great. It was a great moment where we realized that we could go down this road where the rock that we can write together feels honest and feels legitimate.
(Present Tense plays)
JW: What does it feel like having your name for the first time on a solo record? As opposed to your name under the banner of Rush?
GL: I wont for no attention in this life. Ive been very fortunate and being part of Rush all these years has been just a great experience for me. So I was fairly satisfied on the ego front. You know, Ive always prided myself in being part of a three-piece. I loved the idea of me being in a band. And Ive never felt the need for more attention. I didnt ever really want to step outside the band and draw attention to myself so its odd that I eventually found myself in this position, but its a bit weird for me. You know sometimes when Im doing interviews and things like that its a big odd for me because Im used to fighting the good fight for the team you know. And not to have the same kind of team was strange, but I rationalized it in this way. I love the music that Ben and I put together for this. Im very proud of it. When I go out and promote it or talk about it, I feel like Im doing it for the songs for the music itself so that makes me feel a bit more down-to-earth about the whole thing.
GL: Musically, Ive never been frustrated working with Alex and Neil. Whatever ideas I am excited about, they accept and they contribute to equally. So its been really a pretty healthy and democratic partnership over the years, so I dont have a whole closetful of songs that have been rejected by Alex and Neil that Im waiting that Im waiting to make my true statement with. This really came up as a matter of the hiatus that Rush was on and I had a lot of time away from music. And I needed to write. I needed to get creatively busy. I found that it was very bad for me personality-wise and on a happiness level not to express myself to go so long without a creative outlet. So, Bens involvement was coincidental with the amount of time that we happened to find ourselves having and so that is why this record exists: as a result of me needing to work and having the happy coincidence of having my friend available to write with. Not out of any great deep-seated frustration.
JW: One of the eleven songs on the album: "Working it Perfekt".
GL: If I had to pick one song from the record as my favourite, I think Id pick that one. To me Im really pleased with way the whole bluesy-rock attitude of that song is married with this VERY unusual almost Russian string section that comes in the choruses. Those strings are really working it, theyre really pushing the chorus. There is a lot of tension created by them and at the same time there is a kind of cinescope attitude that it brings to it and the song is about that whole torture: the kind of yin and yang of writing music or painting a picture, or just you know obsessed with trying to get it right and how easily you can fall off the mark and how success is often measured by society in very extremes and how success is necessarily about the extremes. Its about the stuff between the extremes.
(Working it Perfekt plays)
JW: New from Geddy Lee thats "Working it Perfekt" P-E-R-F-E-K-T. In the past, Geddy has commented in the past that its hard to put the music hes made with Rush in context with the rest of the musical world. Blessing or Burden?
GL: Its a blessing really. The fact is that having success comes slowly and having the opportunity to make many records is really more important than being part of the mainstream and making your three or four wildly successful records and then feeling like theres nothing left to say. Weve been fortunate that our success came in tiny, tiny increments and we learned so much about making music and we always had another hill to climb and I think it still feels like thats the case for us. You know, certainly in Canada and parts of the United States we are more associated with successful mainstream bands, but there are lots of parts of the world that we are still kind of unknown or everybodys favourite secret or whatever. Im thankful for that really because its kept us interested and its kept us from being swallowed up by the industry. So weve been lucky.
JW: Let me take you way back since were going sort of down that road. You were in grade Eleven when you left highschool?
JW: How confident were you then leaving to be in Rush with Alex that you were making the right decision
GL: I was supremely confident and supremely ignorant. I didnt even know what it was I was after really. You know, its kind of like running away to join the circus for me. But I loved being in a band and it was one of the first things that I ever found in my life that I thought I was good at doing. And at that stage of your life, its important to know that youre good at something anyway. Its the same old thing you know, fighting the good fight: leaving school and going to prove something. Even though I didnt know what it was I trying to prove or where it was I was trying to get to. It just felt like the right thing for me to do.
JW: What do you figure the odds were then for you to have done as well as youve done and maybe compare that to the odds today if you were to be in the same position?
GL: I dont know, back then a billion to one maybe I dont know? Seems when I think about those times, its hard to believe that Im still the same person that that kid was: trying to get out of the suburbs of Toronto. It probably feels very similar to musicians, young musicians today. Im sure its just as daunting to them, but they have just as much blind, ignorant belief that they can get out there and they can do it and they want to do it and they want to try it. I think thats part of the way peoples psyches are made when theyre young. They are not built to accept everything, to see everything, and I think if you were built to see everything at a young age, there would be too much reality for you to deal with and you wouldnt do anything. When youre older, you second-guess everything you know too much. So its good to be naïve. Bravo to our naïvete. It forces you to go out and reach for it.
JW: Theres one from the past. "ere fourteen thousand dollars in debt. Were tired and playing this tiny place isnt helping matters." Do you remember the time and place? It was you.
GL: No I dont. Was it last week when I was talking to my wife?
JW: About 1975 at the Whiskey A Go Go in L.A. Remember the time you were playing alongside, well in Rush, playing alongside Kiss in some bigger shows, but you had a smaller club night to do that night and it was an early time of frustration obviously.
GL: I remember that because it was part of the tour where suddenly we were in L.A. and as cool as it was in those days, to be in L.A. we had been there for quite a while and all these days had fallen out and it was becoming harder and harder for us to get onto a tour and so we were kind of floating on this island of no work but we were having to stay in this expensive town and we didnt have much money so it was kind of a test of I-dont-know-what to try and keep an optimistic view in the face of no work.
JW: Not since the very first Rush album have you been responsible for the words. And now youre singing your words. Whats that like?
GL: Well, at first it was strange territory for me. The last song I think Id written in Rush was I think Cinderella Man [what about Different Strings?] At first a little daunting, a little embarrassed to expose some of my thoughts and feelings on paper. Working with Ben was great in that attitude and the fact that he was a good friend and if I was going to go out on the line, I was going out in front of someone who I didnt get embarrassed in front of. So he was a great sounding board for me and I think once I got the first couple out of the way, and then I had time to live with it and realize "well, these arent so awful bad!" then I started getting into the concept of it and I really found it to become important to me, especially at that time. Once again, youve got to put it in context with having all three years away from having any kind of real creative work of any intensity. I guess I had things cooking inside me philosophically and creatively that needed to come out and I found that after a certain time, I really looked forward to putting my ideas down on paper and then taking them in the studio and trying to wrestle them with the music and try to make that into a statement of some sort and even though I found the statements not to be very heavy, and a lot of them are kind of thinking out loud, it became to me almost the most important part of the whole deal after a while. The feeling of being able to write music and get back in touch with the verbal side of myself and connect that with the melodies made it feel more complete in some way.
JW: How has making a song of solo songs with your lyrics, how has that affected your vocals?
GL: You know I think it has affected them in a not subtle way. There is something about having to structure the cadence of these words in the context of the rhythms that are coming from a place that is more connected to me. I think it affected how much room I had to open up my voice and to experiment with my voice so in some ways I think thats made these words sound a little different. Its a hard thing for me to explain you know, but basically when somebody hands you a set of lyrics, you shape them, but theres a given structure there. So I write my melodies with Neils lyrics according to the structure Ive been given and if Im finding difficulty, of course hes more than happy to shift things around for me; but theres no flexibility like having your own words there and not feeling any ownership problems about it. So if Im not happy about the way a melody is going, I just scrap the whole rhythmic idea of it and try a whole different rhythmic approach so theres something in the license that you have with your own lyrics that you wouldnt do with someone elses lyrics because you have respect for what theyve put down that has opened me up to make these words fall a little differently I think.
JW: Just before we play it, well talk a bit about the song "Runaway Train".
GL: I love this song. And Im really pleased with the way it turned out. I think its one of the better mixes on the record. For me. This is a rock tune in the spirit of rock tunes that I grew up. Theres some guitar riffing that Ben pulls off in this song. Its a song kind of addressed to circumstances in personal life that get tough. And when you start to beat yourself up and find yourself in self-defeating relationships that the only way to get yourself out of is to activate yourself in some way and get in touch with your need and your desire to live and to stop being the passive person thats allowing this to happen to you. So that is kind of what this songs about.
(Runaway Train plays)
JW: [missed the first 10 seconds, I had to turn the tape over] (asks about solo tunes compared to Rush tunes)
GL: "Theyre not as histrionic. I think that five minutes is plenty to accomplish that and there was a preponderance and an emphasis on melody writing and layering of melody and that became a focus for me rather than long complex bone structure which is really the area that Rush works in. With Rush, its more the bone structure thats complex and the changes of scene from part to part to part where this is more interwoven.
JW: Lets touch briefly on Matt. We both are fans of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Hes recorded with both. Hes solid drummer. Live, hes amazing. That all being said, its gotta be a predicament, a precarious position for Matt to step into the chair as it were, that typically Neil Peart [he pronounced it Pert] would sit in to play the drums.
GL: Well, I mean, if he was weirded out about it, he didnt tell me. From the first day we worked together. Hes a pretty confident guy. I know that there were times in his past that he probably had an association with obviously our music and some of him and his friends I think were Rush fans back in the old days, and I you know I dont think theres a drummer playing rock around that hasnt gone through the Neil Peart [he pronounced it correctly] thing. So, every once in a while he had a little smile on his face and he was really diggin it and this was a cool thing for him to do; but he really carried himself as a total professional and you know once ... he is really a great drummer I mean...
JW: Hes strong isnt he? Powerful?
GL: Yeah, hes a great drummer. A very flexible drummer and it was really fun to play with somebody different for a change: someone who has a slightly different attitude in keeping the groove going. The grooves were subtly different on this record than they would be on a Rush record. I think they are less angular less acutely angular and his style just kind of slotted right in with it, so I think personally it was a good experience for him. He had a good time. I know for myself it was very refreshing to be in Seattle and to start the record off in a different way than I have in the past twenty-odd years.
JW: Was there ever a time in the process of being in the studio and writing with Ben that you needed the consultation, the advice, the sound of the voice of a Neil or of an Alex? Did you talk to the guys?
GL: I talked to Alex pretty regularly; but I made sure that I didnt go to him for those kind of things. And Neil I would contact every once in a while through letters and E-mail or stuff. I really figured "if Im going down this road by myself, I better be a big boy and deal it on my own" even though there were times towards the end that were difficult in assuming all the responsibilities on my own I figured it was a decision Id made and I had to kind of step up to the plate.
JW: Some listeners assume that given your success here you mentioned in Canada certainly and in the US that there might have been temptation on your part to live in Europe or live in L.A. or New York. Now I dont know if you have homes in other places in the world, but you are typically living in Canada are you not?
GL: Yeah, I live in Canada. I live in Toronto
JW: Has there been temptation to leave for any reason? Or whats kept you here?
GL: Well, yeah theres been a lot of temptation to leave. Its not an easy country to stay in in some ways, because of the political landscape and the onerous taxation and all that. And Ive stayed because I have two children who have a good opportunity here and its a great place to raise kids. I like the city of Toronto a lot, despite its conservative nature. Its a marvelous country and we have a great standard of living in Canada. I think theres problems and theres frustrations and sometimes Im tempted to just say "okay, Im headed for Europe, see you later" and maybe someday I will leave. But right now I see my children thriving here and so I dont want to mess with that.
JW: Beyond the music, what keeps Geddy Lees day interesting.
GL: Gee, I have more hobbies than I deserve.
JW: Start at A.
GL: Well, lets see, I love Tennis, I love of course everyone knows Im a baseball fanatic.
JW: They played "Limelight" at ...
GL: Yeah, Shea Stadium. Yeah, they always play it at Shea. In certain ballparks...someone else told me recently that the third basemen for the Giants or something, theres always a Rush song that introduces him him too. That just gets me. I get a warm feeling when I hear that. Um...I have a lot of passions, a lot of hobbies. I love art, I love wine, Im a big wine collector.
JW: When you say art, do you mean creating or collecting?
GL: Just appreciating and collecting in a very minor way. I wish I was a painter, but Im not. I love to travel. My wife and I do extensive traveling around the world. We both love hiking and biking and we try to pick places around the world that we can go and do those things in and thats really important for me. I always have to have a trip somewhere planned for my wife and I to look forward too and then the rest of the year kind of revolves around that.
JW: Tour plans! Solo tour plans. Putting a band together, going on the road and doing this. Is that something you would like to do?
GL: If I could do it on a small scale and just play small shows in a few selected places I think that would be a lot of fun. Ive had offers from all my fellow musicians on this project Matt, and Jeremy, and Benny of course so its just a matter of me figuring out the logistics and timetables for everybody the fact that I have a schedule to start writing with Alex and Neil in the near future. If I can make all of that work, plus squeeze in you know a dozen shows Ill do it. If I cant make it work, Ill just say "next time".
JW: So its a "Stay tuned" thing?
GL: Yeah its a "Stay tuned" thing
(Closer to the Heart live plays)