Shawn Hammond of Premier Guitar recently conducted an interview with bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson of Canadian rock legends RUSH for the November issue of the magazine. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Premier Guitar: Geddy, how would you describe Alex‘s evolution as a musician up to this point?
Lee: I think he’s underappreciated for the kind of complexity he brings to his guitar playing. Not only is he an amazing soloist — and always has been — but he’s developed a very interesting rhythmic and harmonic style of chord creation. He’s constantly searching for ways of bringing more musicality into the chord itself, and he’s always experimenting with different tunings. I think he’s evolved into a very interesting and deep guitarist. Y’know, we grew up in a period when it was all about the soloist — he loved Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore and all those guys — and, of course, he was very influenced by that and became a great soloist. But when you’re playing in a three-piece band, you have to develop good chops to help fill in the sound, be able to spread the chord out. And that’s kind of pushed him to develop a great sense of arpeggiation and developing the technical side, where he’s got all these layers of guitar sounds that he can draw upon to sound like more than one guitarist while he’s playing.
Premier Guitar: Alex, same question for you about Geddy.
Lifeson: As a singer, he’s evolved in many ways. He’s really become a singer. In the early days — and, again, it was a different time, a different physicality — he screamed more, he hit those high notes. That was the unique quality he had in the way he sang and how he delivered lyrics. Now I’m more drawn into the way he sings, particularly on this record. There’s something that’s very compelling in his singing — the nuances, how he translates lyrics into vocal parts. It’s really a skill, and I get to watch it all the time. He works really, really hard on it. As a bass player, he’s always been amazing. [laughs] He blows me away when I sit and watch him play. I wouldn’t know how to quantify his evolution and development, because I think he’s always been very busy, he’s always been all over the place — but at the same time, he knows when to pull it back and, y’know, sit down and let everything circle around him.
Premier Guitar: In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Neil [Peart, drums] mused a bit about how much longer he can pound the drums with the sort of stamina that RUSH requires. It seems ridiculous to think there will be a day anytime soon when he can’t crush most drummers on the planet, but what do you see for yourself whenever that day comes?
Lee: I didn’t see that interview, but I know what he’s getting at: How much longer can we go out there and play three-hour shows at that peak level. And I can see it in him. Last night, we were at the end of a very long day of rehearsing — I don’t think we’ve ever worked so hard prepping for a tour, we’ve really put in a serious amount of hours — and I could see he was tired. We were almost three hours into the set, and we were deciding whether to do one or two or three songs in the encore, and there comes a point when you just have to accept that you’re approaching 60 and that maybe three hours of blistering rock is for a younger man. That’s what he’s getting at. So maybe it’s just inevitable that RUSH tours down the road — if all goes well and there are RUSH tours — aren’t three hours long. [laughs]
Lifeson: That’s a very valid, prurient question. We’re thinking about this all the time. Every time we go to rehearsals, I think, “Wow, this has really been hard work this time. Why has it been so difficult?” And I know why it’s been difficult — it’s not the physicality so much as it is the mental work required to put “Clockwork Angels” together, plus all this other material we’re doing, plus working with a string section — two cellos and six violins — which, by the way, is absolutely awesome. But, y’know, it’s hard for him. We’ve been rehearsing for seven weeks, and I think we’ve had four, maybe five days off in that period — plus, he started rehearsing a month before we did. So he’s been playing constantly for months now. He’s going to be 60 next week, and it is a huge toll. I mean, he has an amazing stamina and he’s a very strong individual, but what he does is very, very difficult and very demanding. Hopefully, we’ll get through this tour with no problems — I’d like to think that we will, and that’s certainly our plan. But eventually, one day, we’re not going to be able to do it anymore. That’s a reality, and I don’t think we should get too caught up in it. When it happens it happens, and that’s it. We’ve had a great run, we’ve left a great legacy that we’re proud of, and who knows what’ll come after that? I mean, I think my fingers will still work for a little while longer. [laughs] I like to do stuff at home, to work with other people and continue to be musical, but there are other things in life, too — especially when you’ve dedicated so much of your life to touring. There’s no doubt that we absolutely love what we do, and we know that we’re very, very fortunate to have been able to do this. But eventually it does come to an end. I don’t want to be 70 years old jumping around onstage. Maybe if we’re still making great music, sure. But I kind of doubt it by that point. Most 70-year-old rock musicians I see now are not really that enjoyable to watch.
Read the entire interview from Premier Guitar.