TORONTO (CP)--There is no force in Canadian music comparable to Rush, the power trio that many believe put this country on the rock map in the '70s and '80s. Geddy Lee has stood at the Rush microphone for 31 years and his wailing, high-pitched vocals are the band's most recognizable sonic trademark.
Only now at the end of a long Rush hiatus, has Lee seen fit to release a solo album. Why now? In three decades, Rush has been a creative outlet that didn't ever leave him wanting more, Lee said recently.
"From a practical point of view I didn't have time to do one of those records. From a musical point of view I was not frustrated in Rush," says Lee, 47.
"I didn't have a whole backlog of stuff that the guys had rejected that was building up somewhere. Anything I wrote in the context of Rush they would do, I was a happy guy creatively.
"God knows I didn't need any more personal attention, I got plenty. So for me to do my own project something suddenly had to change."
That change was unexpected and not at all what anyone would wish upon the band: Neil Peart, the group's virtuoso drummer and chief lyricist, lost his 19-year-old daughter Selena Taylor in a car accident in 1997. In early 1998 his wife, Jackie Taylor, died of cancer.
Rush went on indefinite hiatus.
"Having four years off gives you plenty of time to do work," says Lee, who lives in Toronto with his wife Nancy, son Julian and daughter Kyla.
"Rush is a very busy band, always has been. In the late '70s and early '80s I started doing some outside producing and I was finding that between Rush and the outside work I had no family life, and it wasn't good," says Lee.
"For the sake of my family I decided that I would control my hours and months in Rush and when I wasn't in Rush I'd pay attention to my duties as a father and a husband and a member of my community of friends."
After a while, Lee began to work on songs with Ben Mink, a master collaborator who co-wrote for year with k.d. lang.
"I was really enjoying being home, enjoying my kids, being part of the community, but I was getting creatively restless," says Lee.
The plan had been to put together material for publishing purposes only--songs that would be shopped out for other artists to perform.
"I didn't know what to expect, but sitting down with Ben it was so natural we just had a riot doing it. We were kind of hoping it would be a miserable failure so we could just hang out and be goofy. The two of us can alienate an entire room with our bad humor."
By early this year the project had grown in scope to the point where it looked like they had an album in the making. My Favourite Headache (to be released Tuesday) is definitely not a Rush record, though it certainly resonates with Lee's familiar crisp bass work and searing voice.
"That was the result of Ben and I working together," says Lee.
"There are certain elements that are signatures: the way we play, the way I sing. But your sensibility and your style, the way you hear melodies and things like that can be very influenced by who you're working with.
"When I sit down with (Rush guitarist) Alex Lifeson to write, we have a very different attitude, a very different instinct. A lot of the greatest music we've written together is the result of the tension between those two instincts. With Ben, it's the harmony that works."
When it came time to record, Lee and Mink invited guest drummers Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden) and Jeremy Taggart (Our Lady Peace) to fill in.
With the solo album finished, Lee and the rest of Rush will start to plan a return to the studio, much to the relief of the band's fans, who feared they might call it quits.
Not so, says Lee. Things are more stable than they have ever been; both Lee and Lifeson have solo projects under their belts and Peart, who remarried this year, is ready to get back behind the drum kit.
"Nothing's going on with Rush until next year; sometime early in the New Year we'll sit down and start to write," says Lee.
"I think it's harder to get us all together because everybody's got stuff going on. But we still feel we have something to say musically."
Some facts about Geddy Lee:
Born: Gary Lee Weinrib, Toronto, 1953.
Rush formed: Toronto, 1969
Rush members: Geddy Lee, vocals, bass. Alex Lifeson, guitar. Neil Peart, drums (replaced John Rutsey, 1974)
Solo album: My Favourite Headache (Anthem) Nov. 14, 2000
Collaborator: Ben Mink, Vancouver songwriter and musician.
Guest artists: Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden), Jeremy Taggart (Our Lady Peace)