My Favourite Headache fills a creative void for Geddy
Considering the images Geddy Lee's name brings to mind--the famous rock falsetto, the bass guitar prowess, and, of course, Rush--it's kind of amazing to think that it's never been featured alone on the front cover of an album. Until today.
Lee, 47, has broken a 30-year Rush streak with the release of his debut solo album, My Favourite Headache.
But if the new disc heralds a leap in confidence for the ever-private Toronto singer, he's not seeing it that way yet.
"It didn't feel like a leap, I can tell you that," Lee says with a laugh, settling in for a recent chat at Rush's downtown Anthem Records h.q.
"It felt more like a crawl. Backing into it. It was tough for me, in the sense that I'm not wanting for attention. And I have no great frustration being in Rush as a writer and performer."
My Favourite Headache, which Lee co-wrote with longtime buddy and famed KD Lang collaborator Ben Mink, was actually born out of Lee's need to express himself creatively in the face of a three-year hiatus from Rush.
The group closed down indefinitely when drummer Neil Peart was struck by double-tragedy: The 1997 death of his 19-year-old daughter in a car accident, followed a year later by the loss of his wife to cancer.
In solidarity with Peart, Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson refused to guarantee the future of the band, telling reporters and fans that their friend's well-being was the priority.
Now that Peart is prepared to return to work and the band has announced its intentions to re-form in the new year, Lee admits that his album stands as a document of a dark time.
"It wasn't written from particular instances," he says. "I was in a very interior period, thinking about a lot of things from my past, and a lot of things about life and how to make sense of it. Life is uncontrollable, it's messy, it's glorious. It's about dealing with the good and the bad at the same time.
"I've been in dark places before, it's part of my personality, but this was the first time I had a vehicle of expression that was that acute. I was able to express myself immediately and more clearly than ever before. My age had maybe led me to a place of clarity. And," he adds, laughing. "I could feel comfortable enough to put my feelings down on paper and read them back and not feel embarrassed about them."
Still, there was no shortage of therapeutic levity during the making of My Favourite Headache.
Lee, a self-acknowledged perfectionist, says the title itself refers to "something that you can't live without but it makes you crazy. For me, that's music."
After years of "threatening" to make an album together, he and Mink literally cajoled each other into an experiment they couldn't walk away from.
"We decided to try one track, and if all went well, we'd take it from there," Lee says. "We were really hoping it would just be a waste of time so we wouldn't have to talk about it anymore. Unfortunately, we liked it."
The pair recruited former Soundgarden and current Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, as well as Our Lady Peace stickman Jeremy Taggart for a couple of tracks, but kept the sessions star- and stress-free.
"It seemed kind of gratuitous to start importing names," says Lee. "We were chugging along nicely on our own.
"Initially, we started writing material that felt very different (from Rush). It was almost subconscious. But as our confidence grew, I started to realize that I can't be afraid to be what I've been for 30 years.
"I'm sure in a couple of months I'll look back and think, 'Well, why didn't I do that this or that way?' That's my bane. I could work on the same thing ad infinitum."