Alex Lifeson: Songwriter, Producer & Musician

By David Barrett, Guitar Connoisseur, May 11, 2016

Guitar Connoisseur: When I think back to your first solo album Victor, the tracks At The End and Victor come to mind, they're so different using ambient textures and spoken word, you surprised a lot of people, even your manager wanted you to make a blues album. Do you think you'll ever make another solo album?

Alex Lifeson: What I enjoyed most about making that album was the variety of the material. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to explore and expand on certain genres of music that were not necessarily open to me within the context of Rush. The workload was relentless, and I seemed to be working on that album every day for a year, but it was enormously satisfying for me as a songwriter, producer, and musician. I don't have the same drive to jump into a project like Victor at the moment, but I do have hours of material that does inspire me to at least consider such a thing.

GC: We talked a while ago about the guitar solo in The Garden from Clockwork Angels and how you recorded it direct, using Logic on your home computer. So often musicians talk about creating a vibe in the studio, and in this case your most memorable solo in recent years was created in a fairly ordinary way?

AL: That solo was recorded one afternoon in Geddy's studio. He had taken a day off, so I came in and updated a few of the songs, getting caught up cleaning tracks and recording newer versions of guitar, keys, and drum parts. I wanted to fill in the "insert solo here" space with at least something. I fiddled with some guitar plug in settings in Logic and quickly recorded a few passes, and then edited them for the final version. After completing it and listening back, I thought , "hmm, that kind of fits perfectly!". The solo you hear on the album is that very same solo, a quick throw away that worked, and this has happened on other songs as well, such as the solo on "Leave That Thing Alone", acoustic verses in "Bravest Face", and the solo on "Bravado" to name a few.

GC: Your guitar sound on the R40 Tour was probably the best you've ever sounded, can you discuss your new Lerxst signature amplifier from Mojotone and what changes were made in how you assembled your rig for that tour?

AL: The R40 set up was basically the same as the Clockwork Angels tour. The Lerxst amps that Mojotone built were used for all the distorted, heavier tones, and a Mesa Boogie MK5 handled the clean tones. Additionally, I implemented Main Stage for spacier sounding effects. I had used a Marshall Silver Jubilee during the recording of CA, among many others, but really liked the tone. Mojotone suggested they build a smaller platform, but include some custom elements. I wanted a smoother top end, bit more bottom, and warmer mids, and they delivered all of those things and more. That amp has been wonderful to play through. It is warm, tough, and powerful. and completely dependable on the road. I have a combo at home that I share with my kids, and gkids, and we all love it!

GC: Can you talk about your Paul Reed Smith signature acoustic guitar, and will Gibson be making an Alex Lifeson EDS-1275 double neck signature model?

AL: The PRS Alex Lifeson Angelus is so lovely to play, it's become my main acoustic both on the road, as well as at home. I have two of them sitting on stands and they sound gorgeous, and are a joy to play, very soft and responsive, not to mention beautifully crafted and finished.

The EDS-1275 Lifeson signature model will release later this fall, and I am blown away by how great it looks, plays, and sounds. It is almost identical to the original, which was donated to Heritage Canada, who were not keen to lend me the original for the R40 tour. The Gibson engineers were allowed to photograph and make notes regarding the original but it was not to leave the property. I used the prototype on the tour and although I'm pretty sure it weighs 467 pounds, I loved playing every night!

GC: You recently acquired a full bodied Gibson ES-175D, and sounded great with it at a charity event in Toronto, are you playing it much now?

AL: No, not really. I always wanted one and have been a semi acoustic Gibson player for decades, but I never really felt comfortable with it. It was fun using it for that gig, and I know you love yours. Currently, it's displayed on a wall in my office, keeping company with my entire guitar family!

GC: Can you discuss your involvement with TableRock Media and the new television show in development?

AL: We are discussing a few options, but I've not made any commitments at this time.

GC: Your approach to guitar has influenced so many of the bands out there today. The Rush documentary Beyond The Lighted Stage really did a great job illustrating this. Is there any aspect of what you do where you feel your fans have got a completely different perspective?

AL: Hmm, you know, I just do what I do, and it is difficult for me to assess or characterize my style or playing. The same guitar in the hands of a dozen different players will sound unique to those players; picking style, finger pressure, hand positioning on the neck, these are all slightly different, one to the next. I think most fans understand that my playing comes from deep inside, and I try my best to stay out of the way. It's like I'm a benign schizophrenic!

GC: With your vast experience as a touring musician in the early days with bands like Kiss and Aerosmith, you must have an endless array of material for an autobiography, any interest in one day documenting these stories, or is it best left unsolved?

AL: Well, that was a very long time ago, and although I do remember some things, I don't think I remember enough to make compelling reading. It almost seems like another life ago, or some story I'd read somewhere as a kid. I do recall there were many hours of intense boredom waiting for the gig…the universal curse of all performers!

GC: You've guested on many records and even mentored a few guitar players, me being lucky enough to be one of them. I've come to realize that often for a musician to grow they need to be mentored in a way that they sometimes don't expect, or even want to be directed. Who was the most influential musician or producer that helped shape your iconic style of guitar playing?

AL: I'd have to say Jimmy Page had a lot to do with the way I play and perceive lead guitar. Pete Townshend had a big influence on how I approached rhythm guitar when I was young. Terry Brown was wonderful to work with in the studio, always alert to sound experimenting, and tone, and was very understanding of how to best get a performance out of me. Dominic Troiano was a player I looked up to when I was 13 years old, and it was at a Mandela show in 1967 that I approached him…well, he was backstage and I was hanging over a wall, but he came over and told me to practice and never give up, then he gave me a Mandela button and a pick. Telling you this I can picture him in his stripped suit, black curly hair, and serious look when he spoke, as if it was last week. It was a short mentorship, but left a resounding impact on me that I still recall 50 years later.

GC: What's your favourite bottle of wine under $25?

You mean, you can actually buy wine for $25???