When Rush vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee sat down to look at the historical video clips assembled for the second DVD of the band's 30th anniversary DVD release, "Rush: R30," he was amazed, bemused and even a little bit embarrassed. "I wish somebody had told me in the '70s that my glasses were horrible," he said after watching some vintage interview and performance footage. "They were eating my face completely."
Much has changed for Rush since the '70s - aside from Lee's glasses. The band, which formed in 1974 in Toronto, has undergone multiple shifts in sound and style and, along the way, discovered new ways to present creative, adventurous and melodic songs that capture a broad array of atmospheric and emotional responses from their loyal fanbase.
Rush's accomplishments over the past 30 years have been more than considerable, aside from having sold over 40 million records worldwide and played over 5000 shows to millions of fans. The band was at the forefront of the heavy metal and progressive rock explosions, played synthesizer-fueled rock long before its heyday and addressed philosophical and literary topics that were virtually unprecedented. As musical pioneers, Rush blazed new trails for hard rock, prog-rock, concept rock and synth-rock, and along the way conceived innovative instrumental techniques that have been widely emulated.
Not long after their first gigs in the 1974, Rush developed a reputation for being one of the most exciting and accomplished live bands, and fans flocked to their shows to see how they would recreate their spellbinding music onstage. To document their concerts, the band has released five multi-disc albums, each of which captured Rush in a different stage of their development, and all are well worth owning. But only Rush: R30 offers a truly comprehensive overview of the band's entire career. The deluxe set includes plenty of the Rush's best '70s material on both DVD & CD including "Working Man," "Xanadu," "2112" and an overture of "Finding My Way," "Anthem," "Bastille Day," "A Passage to Bangkok," " Cygnus X -I" and "Hemispheres." Then, there's the early '80s hard rock of "The Spirit of Radio," "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight," and the more melodic synth-pop such as "Subdivisions," "Mystic Rhythms" and "Between the Wheels," which the band hasn't played live in 20 years. The release also includes tracks from the band's most recent discs, including "Earthshine" and covers of "Summertime Blues" and "Crossroads."
For Rush, however, their accomplishments are mere statistics - data that has allowed them to continue doing what they do for more than three decades. And despite their clear gifts, they remain humble and consider themselves lucky. In reality, their gift is their fans' good fortune.
We recently sat down with Geddy Lee to talk about "Rush R:30," the balance between technical proficiency and emotional resonance, remaining valid in changing times and the most loyal fans in rock.
The first disc of R30 is around two hours long and captures a show you did in Frankfurt, Germany on September 24, 2004. What was special about that gig?
Geddy Lee: All the shows in Europe on the last tour felt pretty special because we hadn't been to many of those cities in between 10 and 20 years. So, for every concert there was a gathering of people from across Europe. I remember in Frankfurt there were even people from Japan. It was an interesting opportunity for us to say thank you to the people that we don't get access to as often as we probably should. And that spirit in the venue really fired us up.
How does the DVD differ from the one you released in 2003, "Rush in Rio?"
It's quite a different take on our show. Rush in Rio was a moment in the sense that we were in a new culture at a very large venue in a very unusual and captivating atmosphere and working with gear that we just picked up so that we could get some film and record it. It was not what we would call state of the art. It was about the vibe. This performance from Frankfurt, Germany was an attempt to capture the show in a more high tech way using high def cameras and a recording truck and much more attention to detail. SO we focused more on the show, less of the venue, less on the crowd. Whereas Rio is kind of this extravaganza. We brought the picture in a little bit to get more into the songs and the playing and the colors of the show and it turned out quite different. It's quite good. I'm very pleased with the way it came out and I think fans will find it a very interesting contrast to Rush in Rio.
The set includes some of the cover songs you recorded for the 2004 EP Feedback. Were those fun to perform onstage?
They were a blast. I love playing those songs live. It was just us being in cover bands for a few minutes. It was really a nice moment for us onstage and I think the fans enjoyed it as well.
The second DVD on R30 is a comprehensive retrospective of your career. Is it a documentary?
No, it's a collection of odd bits from the past going all the way back to 1974. There's television appearances, videos, a strange collection of obscure songs we put on film for some reason or another. And it's really funny to look back from then to now.
What are some of the live clips?
Various songs from "Finding My Way' through "La Villa Strangiato." One of the bits and pieces is a film of us doing "Xanadu" with our regalia of the day - absurdly prophetic robes and all.
Was it strange to watch the old interviews?
It's just really weird to look at yourself when you're 21 and 22 doing interviews and thinking that you're so smart and so complete already as a young pup, and then seeing how you've changed over the years. And there are snippets of us in various states of hair and clothing. You kind of watch us grow up on film. Some of it is really funny to look at and some of it is painful to look at.
How have you managed to stay together for 30 years?
It's hard to answer. Luck is part of the answer, and that luck has presented itself in the fact that we've been lucky to have the kind of personalities that accommodate each other. We like each other and it just works between the three of us and we all have equal say in everything; we're one of the smallest democracies working today. Also, we always bring a very healthy sense of humor to whatever we do. And that tempers the difficulties and the serious side of things and keeps it a fun experience. Without the fun you just can't keep doing something for 30 years. The other thing is we've been fortunate that we have a sound that has found an audience and that audience has been so dedicated that they've created an atmosphere or a level of success that has enabled us to carry on.
What is it about your music that has engendered such loyalty from your fans?
It's hard to say specifically. There have been different periods of our lyrical and musical past that have touched these people in some profound way. It's given them some sort of comfort or inspiration or just hitting them at a time in life where they can relate to what's being discussed. And that has stayed with them and had enough of an impact that they've been curious to see us continue. Our crowd is amazing. They've invested their emotions in our music and they've invested their time and money into making sure that we understand that they want us to continue.
You have been very influential on many of today's more adventurous rock bands. Do you hear your sound in their music?
I don't hear our sound, but I get nuggets of some of our attitude from time to time. I was listening to Mars Volta the other day, and somebody told me they're big fans. There's times where the music is just really wild and they do rhythmic things that remind me of the way we used to think and still do from time to time about throwing riffs together. There's an adventurous spirit there that I would like to think was helped to grow through some stuff that we did at one point in our career.
In the 1970s, there were lots of amazing progressive rock bands that played very technically complex music. Was that what you were born from?
actually, we were influenced by all the great trios - Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, in a sense were a trio, and even Zeppelin. Those were the rust big rock bands that we wanted to emulate. And as our tastes got more obscure, we discovered more progressive rock based, bands like Yes, VanDer Graaf Generator and King Crimson, and we were very inspired by those bands. They made us want to make our music more interesting and more complex and we tried to blend that with our own personalities to see what we could come up with that was indisputably us. That took a while, but I think 2112 was the first record where we accomplished that and created a sound for ourselves.
You've always been considered musician's musicians. How do you manage to balance technicality with accessibility?
For many years our attitude was playing first and the playing is the highest priority and we'll structure songs in a way that provides an opportunity for us to play intricate stuff. And as we got older, that formula became limiting and we felt we weren't really learning how to get the most out of feel. There's this thing called "feel" that sometimes requires you not to play a million miles an hour. The purpose of that change is to get more emotional resonance out of your music. So, we started trying to make our music more melodious and have more emotional impact, but to still hang onto those technical things that we just loved doing. That's been the battle that we've raged internally. Trying to make our music grow and be more all encompassing, and at the same time not sacrificing the level of musicianship, is sometimes very hard.
The most dramatic shift in your career took place between the hard rockin' guitar style Moving Pictures and the poppier, more electronic album Signals. What triggered that?
I think we were just ready for an experiment and also there was the advent of new keyboard technology that I was really interested in. So, we decided we would try to make ourselves into a four-piece rather than a three-piece and Signals really represents that. It was an experiment that lasted for a number of years. I think we started rejecting that fourth person in the band right around the time we did the Counterparts record. That was the beginning of relearning how to be a trio.
What are the advantages of being a trio?
There's less sonic sludge that you have to try to cut your instrument through. We found that our records were starting to get very, very dense sonically and texturally. And they were starting to miss the clearer focus on bass, drums and guitar. I think that's what brought us back to a trio style of playing.
You are the lead vocalist but drummer Neil Peart writes all the lyrics. Is it strange to be the voice for his ideas?
It's a very happy collaboration. I can't sing something I don't have a feeling for and r can't put my heart and soul into a vocal performance if I don't really love what I'm singing. So, there's a lot of discussion and a lot of back and forth between us. He uses me as a sounding board and gives me complete license to dissect his lyrics and use the parts I really respond to and disregard others. That's a wonderful advantage for me as a songwriter to know that if there's only four lines I like from a song he's written that I really can use those four lines. I can put them in the song and give them to him and he'll be happy to try to expand upon that and turn it into something else lyrically. He's a total pro to work with. He attaches very little ego to any of his lyrics. He constantly says, "I'm happy to have written it. I can't control what you guys respond to or what you want to use." He gets the joy in the writing of it.
Many veteran acts either stop recording new material or create half-hearted discs that don't feel very inspired. How have you continually managed to create vibrant, relevant albums?
We don't ever want to be viewed as one of these bands that are just trading on our past. We never wanted to just come out in the summertime to sing our hits. We are always interested in making new music and getting better. There's still a great song out there that we have to write. There's still a great performance we have to capture. And we try to listen to what else is going on in music. There's lots of talented people out there that are making really interesting noises and we want to absorb some of that because they've got something to teach us. So, we keep trying and fortunately we have an audience for that, so we keep experimenting.
Who are you inspired by today?
There are a lot of great players out there, still. I like the Foo Fighters, for example. I have a lot of respect for that style of pop rock that rages. I like what Radiohead's all about. They are really carrying on the tradition of progressive rock music. I love Bjork. I love her musicality and the way she looks at a song.
Have you started working on new material for your next album?
We're just at the stage now where we're circling the wagons and trying to figure out the best creative environment for ourselves, so that's gonna happen over the next three to six months.
What sorts of musical or lyrical ideas might you address?
One great thing about making a Rush record for me is we never know what the hell we're doing. It's really spontaneous and by the time we're finished we go, "Oh, that's what we're doing."
Will there be an "R40" or "R50" DVD?
Oh, man, who knows? But the longer the Stones keep going, the younger we feel.
Neil Peart, one of the most proficient drummers and articulate lyricists in Rock history, generally prefers to let his bandmates - and more significantly, his music - do all the talking. For the release of the historic, double DVD/CD Rush-R30, however, Peart has taken some time to look back at what he, vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, have accomplished over the past 30 years, as well as his ambitions as a player, his development as a lyricist and the chemistry that keeps Rush together.
When you started the band 30 plus years ago, did you have aspirations of grandeur? Did you ever imagine you'd reach the heights you have?
Neil Peart: When I joined Rush, in August of 1974, we were already entering into "Fairy Tale Land." The band had just signed a U.S. record deal, and it included an advance to buy all new equipment. I'll never forget how exciting it was to walk into a music store in downtown Toronto and buy our "dream gear." While Alex and Geddy were looking at Gibson guitars, Rickenbacker basses, and Marshall amps, I was picking out a set of chrome Slingerland drums. Driving away from there with all those treasures in the back of our truck was already a dream come true.
Do you remember your first concert?
Two weeks after I joined, we played our first show together in Pittsburgh, in front of about 11 ,000 people, then continued around the U.S., opening for bigger bands, playing club dates on our own, and even appearing on a few television shows. Eventually that first tour took us all around the United States and Canada, and that was pretty exciting too. Those were heady times, no question, and we were certainly fully engaged "in the moment." It's safe to say we weren't thinking too much about the future. A song we wrote around that time - while riding in a rental car somewhere south of St. Louis - was called "Making Memories," and sums up our state-of-mind pretty well:
You know we're having good days
And we hope they're gonna last
Our future still looks brighter than our past.
What were your goals in the beginning? How do they differ from your goals today?
My earliest goals were really just about playing drums - getting better, joining a band, playing at the local roller rink or teen dance. My goals expanded as my life did, and eventually I wanted to learn more about what drummer Bill Bruford once called, "Life beyond the cymbals." I started reading a lot, fiction and non-fiction, catching up on the education I had more-or-less "dodged" during my teenage obsession with drums and rock music. Later, I got interested in outdoor activities like cross-country skiing and cycling, and those activities incorporated goals of their own - traveling farther, building stamina and new experiences, and seeking out fresh adventures.
You've written books. What inspired you to become an author?
That taste for adventure travel, and all that reading, led me into travel writing. Through the '80s and '90s, a series of "apprenticeship" books, privately printed for friends and fellow travelers, led to my first published book, The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa, in 1996. The writing ambition led to a few magazine stories for periodicals like Macleans, Modem Drummer, and Cycle Canada, and eventually publishing other books: Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road in 2001, and Traveling Music: The Soundtrack to My Life and Times in 2004. Now, in October 2005, I am working on a book about our R30 Tour, called Roadshow: Landscape With Drums, A Concert Tour by Motorcycle. I hope to publish it early in 2006. I've also recently been working on an instructional DVD about drum soloing, called "Anatomy of a Drum Solo." It is built around an explication of the solo from the R30 DVD, recorded and filmed in Frankfurt, Germany. ["Anatomy of a Drum Solo" is being released December 20, 2005 and distributed through Rounder/Universal.]
What was it like to view the footage for the second DVD of Rush 30? Did it take you back to a bygone era?
What that old footage does is make us laugh, really, at how we looked back then, and smile with a certain fond appreciation for our youthful earnestness and energy. We had a lot to learn - but we were learning it!
What do you think you have learned since the early days? How have you changed as a band?
We have learned so much, it's hard to begin to quantify it. But if anyone hasn't learned a whole bunch in 30 years, they haven't been paying attention. From the band's point of view, we certainly worked on our musicianship first, then - armed with that increased facility and confidence in our individual instruments - expanded into paying more attention to songwriting, arranging, and production.
Rush has always been regarded as musicians' musicians. Is there a challenge in keeping the music technical, yet still making accessible rock songs?
There is a parallel track there: making the arrangements interesting and challenging stimulates and inspires us, not just while we're writing and recording, but for the hundreds or thousands of times we might play that song in concert. Along with that, there is our "natural" sense of what we find exciting in rock music, which we always trust that others might share too. That relation doesn't come from us as musicians, but from us as music fans. Two different things, but they don't need to lose track of each other.
You have been praised as one of the most proficient rock drummers. Can you describe your style - what you're shooting for as a player?
The way I play is an honest reflection of myself - I like to challenge myself creatively to come up with lots of different parts for the songs, and make them challenging to play. But at the same time, I am driven by a personal sense of what I find exciting in drumming, and in rock music. Some musicians try to second-guess that instinctive response, and "design" their music to appeal to as many people as possible, but I have to think that must get confusing. It's hard enough to decide what you like, and figure out how to do it, never mind trying to please everybody.
You have written some of the most interesting lyrics in rock music. What inspired you to write mythic tales like "2112" and "Hemispheres."
In simple terms, those early big pieces were driven by ambition. I was grappling with big, metaphorical themes and sweeping allegories, and it's another mirror of personal development too - start out with the grand principles and idealistic dreams, then gradually move on to more concrete, real-life applications of those principles and ideals.
Do you see the influence of your more ambitious music and lyrics in bands like Coheed and Cambria, Tool and Mudvayne?
I wouldn't presume to try to identify our own influence in the work of others - but some of those people have said nice things about us, and that feels good.
After Permanent Waves, your lyrics became less rooted in science fiction. What triggered the shift?
Our music has always been a mirror of ourselves, our lives, and our interests. Any "shift" in my lyrics was thus a gradual, natural one - my reading expanded, I matured, I didn't want to do what I had already done. Those were reasons enough to keep trying different things, some successful, some not - but all sincere.
How have you, Geddy and Alex managed to stay together as a band for 30 years?
There's no easy answer for that, and yet it is basically a simple relation: we like each other, and we like working together. Still, nobody can choose to have an audience for 30 years - like dance partners, they have to choose you too. So we have always been delighted that as we pursued our goals in music, we managed to please enough other people to give us an audience. To say we'd be nothing without them is more than fatuous sentimentality - it's the plain truth.
Rush release their first album entitled Rush. It becomes the best selling debut LP that any Canadian band has ever released.
The band wins JUNO award for the "Most Promising Group Of The Year". The band builds their core audience by constant touring in North America doing as many as 200 dates a year.
2112 is released. The disc sells one million copies and marks Rush's breakthrough in America. The band also releases their first live double album, All The World's A Stage.
After a highly successful tour for 2112, Rush releases A Farewell to Kings, which features their first international hit, "Closer to the Heart."
The album Permanent Waves garners Rush their first serious airplay. "Spirit of Radio" becomes a major radio hit around the world.
Rush releases Moving Pictures, their most commercially successful record thus far, attaining quadruple platinum status in Canada and double platinum in the U.S. The band scores three platinum albums that year for 2112, the live double-album All The Worlds A Stage and Moving Pictures. They are nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental for "YYZ." The group's second live album, Exit ... Stage Left is released.
Exit. .. Stage Left is certified Platinum, Moving Pictures approaches double Platinum. The band releases Signals, which signals a directional shift to a less metallic and more keyboard-embellished sound.
Signals goes Platinum in both the U.S. and Canada. The New World Tour of America sells out to over one million fans.
Grace Under Pressure is released. New co-producer Peter Henderson, who produced the last three Supertramp albums is at the controls.
Power Windows is released. The album quickly goes platinum in Canada and U.S. and eventually becomes the band's 6th consecutive top 10 album.
Hold Your Fire, the band's 14th album is released. The first single, "Time Stand Still," features Aimee Mann of 'Til Tuesday on background vocals.
Rush signs to Atlantic Records worldwide outside of Canada. Presto, is released, and later that year, the live album A Show of Hands.
The career-spanning greatest hits album Chronicles is released. Rush is awarded "Group of the Decade" in Canada, and honored for the most significant contributions to the Canadian music industry both domestically and internationally.
The album Roll The Bones is released to universal acclaim.
The band receive their second Grammy nomination, this time for the instrumental "Where's my Thing" from Roll the Bones.
Rush release their 19th album, Counterparts. They receive the "Toronto Arts Award" from the Arts Foundation of Toronto, which recognizes the recipient's entire body of work through artistic excellence and contributions to the arts and culture of Toronto.
Rush are inducted into the Juno "Hall of Fame," joining alumni Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray and Oscar Peterson.
Test For Echo, the band's 21st gold album is released. According to the Recording Industry Association (RJAA) this places them in a third place tie with Kiss.
The band's fourth live album, Different Stages, is released and features a long lost performance, recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon during 1978's A Farewell To Kings tour.
Rush are inducted into Canada's Walk Of Fame in Toronto
The band's 17th studio recording and eagerly awaited new album, Vapor Trails, is released. In October the band are presented with an RJAA award for over 25 million units sold in the U.S.
Rush are inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. Later that year, the band releases Rush in Rio their first live concert DVD. A three CD set accompanies the release.
Rush launches their 30th Anniversary tour which takes them to North America, United Kingdom and Europe. In June the band releases its first CD of covers, Feedback, which pays tribute to a host of 60' s bands such as The Who, The Yardbirds, Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Love and Blue Cheer of "Summertime Blues" fame. Rush receives a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental for "0 Baterista."
In January, Rush are among the ISO Canadian performers to participate in the "Canada For Asia Tsunami Benefit". The event was billed as one of the largest of its kind in Canadian history and raised over $4 million. The band releases the historic retrospective package R-30, a double DVD/CD set, which spans its entire thirty year career.