Fans attending Rush's Time Machine tour this summer can buy Starman stainless steel water bottles, branded guitar picks, new T-shirts, and more. Geddy Lee spoke with Mike Doherty about his band's success in merchandising, and what we can look forward to in the future.
People often say that you're one of the few bands in Canada that's been really succeeded at branding yourselves over the years.
What's weird about it is that we change our logo almost every album. Most bands come up with some logo, and they beat it to death. Every tour, we come up with a different font, different lettering, different imagery to relate to whatever that particular album is. Despite that, we seem to have not alienated our fans. Certain albums have resonated with fans in a serious way, and those have over time turned into recognizable logos, like the Starman, the skull from Roll the Bones, and [the cover of] Farewell to Kings ... but it's not like we intentionally go out there now and use the Starman on every album - it only appears on 2112. Obviously we sell retro merchandise that still has those elements visible on them; fans do respond to that because it might be their favourite album. I think more than anything, the Starman has become synonymous with Rush.
To what extent are you involved with the merch aspect of your business these days?
It's funny you should say that - I'm just finishing a merchandising meeting. We try to make sure that the things that we're selling are of high quality and that the prices are reasonable. Today we were presented with tons of T-shirt designs, and we have to make sure that we all like them and that don't just represent past concepts of tours. There will always be one or two Starman t-shirts available, but the focus is on the current work - there's all this new artwork that we're excited about. The time machine [from the band's upcoming tour] gives us a new idea to explore visually, and we have fun with that, and that's what's kept us current, I think: focusing on what we're doing now.
Is it true you're selling more merchandise now than ever before?
We sell a lot of merchandise, that's true, and I think it's because we have good quality stuff, and our fans are excited when we come out on tour. It's part and parcel of the fact that we don't tour every year; we can't play as many dates as some bands due to the length of our set and our tender age ... It's about setting your aesthetic bar pretty high, and you've got to oversee it to make sure it filters down to every aspect of the business.
Isn't it ironic that the Starman's naked, and yet he's appeared on so much clothing?
We've had some interesting ideas of poking fun at the Starman, 'cause there's bootleg Starmen floating around - there's one with a naked Homer Simpson; there's a famous guy with a hockey stick, so it's transcended 2112. As a Canadian, I'm fond of the hockey man ... We've got some ideas about that, so we'll see what happens in the future. I think the most important thing is that every once in a while you have to have fun with the material.