Still Living In The Limelight

By Tim Masters,, November 10, 2010

Since forming at school in the late 1960s, Canadian rock trio Rush have been a permanent - and extremely noisy - fixture on the musical map.

Their self-titled debut album in 1974 had a strong Led Zeppelin influence.

But it was Rush's second album, 1975's Fly By Night, that carved them out as virtuoso rock intellectuals influenced by sci-fi and fantasy.

The line-up of Geddy Lee (bass and vocals), Alex Lifeson (guitar) and Neil Peart (drums) has remained unchanged since 1974, making Rush one of the most stable acts in rock history.

"It's easier if you're a three-piece and you stay alive," says softly-spoken frontman Lee, famous for his high-pitched vocals.

The 57-year-old musician has travelled to London to collect the living legend prize at this week's Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards.

"We're pretty fortunate that we still like each other and we still have so much fun together. It's not a pretence," he continues.

"That's what fails a lot of bands. They really don't like each other anymore, their egos have clashed numerous times and they are just doing it to make some money."

The living legend award puts Rush alongside such past recipients as Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne, Jimmy Page, Alice Cooper and Lemmy.

Yet Lee admits he is not entirely comfortable with such accolades. "As a Canadian, I'm slightly embarrassed," he says.

"Obviously musicianship awards mean the most to us. That was the whole reason we got into it.

"You try not to think of yourselves in terms of legendary status - it's extremely unhealthy. I try to look at it as a thank you for a long career."

The Rush discography reveals a band content to reinvent itself, paying little attention to passing musical trends.

Their breakthrough record was 1976's album 2112, which included a 20-minute song sequence set in a dystopian future.

It ended with the chilling announcement: "Attention all planets of the Solar Federation - we have assumed control."

The progressive rock themes continued until 1980, when the Permanent Waves album - and hit single The Spirit of Radio - took the band in a more commercial direction.

Rush reached their commercial peak with 1981's Moving Pictures, which marked a much heavier use of synthesisers on songs like Tom Sawyer.

UK tour plans

The band has just completed the Time Machine Tour across North and South America, which saw Moving Pictures played in its entirety.

"It's our most popular album and it's the one that seems to have passed the test of time most gracefully," observes Lee.

"I'm not sure we're quite ready to put that tour away," he adds.

"Now we're thinking we might come back in spring and play some shows in Britain."

Rush have always avoided the summer festival circuit in the UK, though Lee hints there might be a change of heart over major events like Glastonbury.

"For a while we steered away from big festivals, because you've got to be prepared to strip it all down for that kind of show," he explains.

"But we played some festivals this summer in Canada and in the US and they went really well. So it's got us thinking that maybe that's something we would do over here in the future."

'Rocket sauce'

The last couple of years have seen an upsurge of interest in Rush in the cinema and on TV.

The band featured in 2009 comedy movie I Love You, Man, while a Rush documentary called Beyond the Lighted Stage won the audience prize at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

It was made by film-makers Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn, who also made Iron Maiden documentary Flight 666.

"Scott and Sam said we think there's an interesting film here - we're not sure what the story is, but we know it's there - which I thought was refreshingly candid," says Lee.

"We immediately tried to talk them out of it, saying 'don't come back to us in six months when you discover how boring we are.'"

A memorable celebrity endorsement comes from Jack Black, who praises Rush's "deep reservoir of rocket sauce".

"A lot of bands use it up in one song," observes Black. "These guys... were shaking it literally for decades and still there was sauce coming out!"

Movers and shakers

As the documentary suggests, a lot of Rush fans from the '70s and '80s are now movers and shakers in the media industry.

"Certainly it was true with our appearance on Stephen Colbert's show [in the US]," says Lee.

"His director is a big fan and kept inserting these jokes. Every time Stephen mentioned [US talk show host] Rush Limbaugh, he threw a picture of us up there!"

Rush's career has spanned the eras of vinyl, CDs and now digital downloads - there's even a Rush iPhone app. But Lee mourns the loss of the 12in format.

For one thing, it was the perfect showcase for Rush's memorable sleeve art.

Take the 1978 Hemispheres album which features a naked man prancing on a brain, watched by a bemused man in a bowler hat.

"There was something about how you had to take care of an LP in order for it to play music for you," says Lee. "It was something precious.

"Music's become increasingly more disposable, and I don't like to think that music is disposable in any way."

Rush are currently working on their 19th studio album, Clockwork Angels, due out sometime in 2011.

However, one of the most unusual Rush-related releases of this year is Nelly Furtado's cover version of '80s Rush song Time Stand Still.

'Really sweet'

So what chance is there that Rush will reciprocate with a cover of I'm Like a Bird?

"Interesting idea!" Lee chuckles. "She was part of a Canadian film called Score: A Hockey Musical. We got a call that she wanted to sing that song.

"It's really sweet of her to do that. I don't know how she came about choosing that song, but she obviously responded to it."

And as Rush continue into their fifth decade, there is anecdotal evidence that the band's largely male fan base is evolving.

"That's changing!" says Lee. "I see many more women now at our shows.

"I've actually seen women fans with boyfriends that they've clearly dragged to the show. They're not pleased to be there, while their girlfriends are singing every word."

The Marshall Classic Rock Roll of Honour takes place at The Roundhouse, London on 10 November.

2112 and Moving Pictures - Classic Albums is out now on DVD from Eagle Rock Entertainment.