It took long enough, but after 22 albums and 31 years of playing with the fleet-fingered Rush, vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee has finally released his first solo effort. The album, My Favorite Headache, comes four years after the Canadian trio's last studio disc, Test For Echo, and three years after drummer Neil Peart suffered the loss of both his wife and daughter--a tragedy that put all Rush-related matters on hiatus. "[Rush] was trivial in the context of what was going on," explains Lee. "We knew there was no timetable for dealing with something like that. When it became increasingly aware that the band would be out of commission for quite a while, I began working on material, but it still took me about two years to decide to make an album.
"There were moments when putting this together felt like a lot of responsibility," continues Lee. "For the first time, I became very aware of having to deal with every little thing myself, and that was a learning curve all its own. I finally started to drive myself crazy during the mastering stage," he laughs, "but I've always been like that--a failed perfectionist to the bitter end."
It's no surprise that Headache--written by Lee and former FM guitarist Ben Mink and featuring drummers Matt Cameron (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam) and Jeremy Taggert (Our Lady Peace)--sounds like a Rush record, but then, old habits die hard. For Rush purists, however, that's a good thing...
LAUNCH: Does the release of your first solo album recapture the excitement you felt when Rush debuted in '74?
GEDDY: No--unfortunately, I've been through too much at this point [laughs]. But what I've lost in naïveté, I've gained in appreciation--especially when you consider how rare an opportunity it is to make records the way you want, and with the kind of people I've been fortunate enough to work with. I'm OK with trading off that raw excitement for the satisfaction of being able to continue to be creative in my chosen field.
LAUNCH: Do you miss that sense of naïveté? Or to go back even further, do you miss the days when you could listen to a record without knowing how it was made, and simply appreciate songs for what they're worth?
GEDDY: I definitely miss that. Music was always compelling and magical for me, but you lose some of that magic when it becomes your career. It's not impossible to recapture those feelings, but I find it harder and harder to get back into that frame of mind these days. When I hear music now, I tend to dissect it rather than let it wash over me.
LAUNCH: What drew you to play music initially?
GEDDY: Well, I was a nerdy kid, and it was the one thing I knew I did well. So in some ways, it was a doorway to self-esteem.
LAUNCH: What were your assumptions about a career in music back then?
GEDDY: Oh, I had no clue--I just wanted to make records and get gigs and play in front of people. I remember thinking, "Can I support myself doing this? Can I make an album?" Anything beyond that was like dreaming about life on Mars--it was so far away and detached from reality that I couldn't conceive it.
LAUNCH: What about the rock star myth of "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll"?
GEDDY: Y'know, I was never one to dream of limousines. I dreamt instead of one day owning my own house and making a lot of records. Of course, there's money and fame and all that, but at that age I didn't understand what it all meant. Your initial thoughts are "I'd love a career in music and it would be nice to impress chicks." Thirty years later, I have a day job with Rush, and now I'm moonlighting on my own.
LAUNCH: How did your parents react when you chose a career in music?
GEDDY: [Smiles] They didn't react well. They didn't make a connection between the music I was doing and being a musician. In their opinion, what I was making was insanity, not music. They were convinced that it would end badly. It was definitely a tough sell.
LAUNCH: When did they realize things would work out OK?
GEDDY: When my mother saw me on television. At that moment, it all suddenly made sense to her. It was very early in our career, and we were doing some little CBC Canadian Bandstand-type show. She saw it and said [imitating mother's voice], "Oh, he's an entertainer--who knew? I thought he was just insane!"
LAUNCH: What career advice are you glad you ignored?
GEDDY: I never paid attention to what anybody said, and that turned out for the best. The single most important album in our career was 2112, and that was a reaction against the failure of our previous record and pressure from the record company to "be more like Bad Company." We decided to make a record that was as far away from that as possible. Who knew it would lead us here?
LAUNCH: Diehard Rush fans have been clamoring for a return to the days of 2112 and Hemispheres--would you ever consider undertaking another concept record?
GEDDY: Maybe. It started becoming very easy to write like that, and that's why we stopped. It got boring to keep stringing together these weird riffs and do never-ending songs. After a while, it wasn't a challenge anymore, and we felt like we were going through the motions. We lost the heart for it and it became a bunch of technical exercises--that's why we shifted gears. It seemed harder to accomplish something compelling in a shorter form.
LAUNCH: Have you ever been hurt by the media's criticism?
GEDDY: At times, certainly. Sometimes I think the criticism has been justified, and at times it's just plain mean-spirited. There are certain publications and rock purists that have never understood what we're about and have not been too kind over the years, and that doesn't feel good. Everybody likes to feel that their music has been considered in an objective context.
LAUNCH: What's the status of Rush at this point?
GEDDY: Neil is doing much better and he's ready to work. We'll hack away at that tree once again in 2001 and see if we can knock it down.
LAUNCH: Did making your first solo album teach you anything new about yourself?
GEDDY: Yeah, it taught me that I'm more independent than I realized, and when push comes to shove, I can still get my sh-t together.