Rush is a Band

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Neil Peart, Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson

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New Geddy Lee interview in German Bass Quarterly magazine

Tue, Jan 27, 2009@3:57PM | comments

The latest issue of German magazine Bass Quarterly has an interview with Geddy Lee in it. The interview is in German of course, but reader kisaki was kind enough to scan and translate the article for us. In the interview Geddy covers a wide variety of topics including the US election, the band's fanbase and longevity, humor as part of Rush shows, the reasoning behind the dryers and the chicken rotisseries, and a lot of talk about his various basses and style of playing. You can read the entire article below the fold. Keep in mind that it was originally in German and was translated back to English, so the dialogue may seem a little off in places.

Barbecue chicken and washing machines: Geddy Lee

In their worst glamor moments they looked more terrifying than their colleagues from Genesis or Yes. They enriched their High-School prog-hardrock with philosophical honky-tonk entertainment from the endless range of a consciousness rich with tetrahydrocannabiol. Rather bad if it wasn't for a radical break with the show frippery during the 35 years of their career.

Today, washing machines and rotisseries like the ones mobile barbecue vendors are using, are standing as an amp-replacement on the stage of the rock dinosaurs. Meant as a counterpoint, but presumably also because one had to free himself from the rigidity of the early days of space-rock. And without the visual overhang it really can be fun to listen to the trio from Toronto playing live, proven by the new Rush-live-DVD "Snakes&Arrows Live". Recorded in Netherland's Rotterdam during two consecutively sold out arena gigs, the newest audio-visual product from Rush corporation impressively shows how to create a bombast sound despite a small band team occupation and which requires the musicians and the crew to be highly focused. In an exclusive interview which happened a day after the election of Barack Obama, bass player, keyboarder, vocalist and Rush frontman, Geddy Lee, tells us what can go wrong in the process.

bq: What was your reaction to Obamas election last night.

Geddy Lee: I was very excited and relieved. Obamas election is a monumental gain for the United States, in order to arrive in modern times on the administrational level and in order to be able to recognize the cultural richness which exists in our neighbor country. Obama is the great transformer of our times. He saved us canadians from the great invasion of Amis which would have fled their country if McCain and Palin had won the election.

bq: Of all glamorous locations of this world at which Rush played during the last tour you recorded your new DVD "Snakes&Arrows Live" in Holland.

Geddy Lee: The band has popularity in many countries, including Holland. Since we were playing two evenings in a row in the Ahoy Arena, for practical reasons we decided to record the the DVD there.

bq: How do you explain the ongoing success of Rush after a career of 35 years considering your being a side issue in mainstream rock?

Geddy Lee: I can only guess at that. There surely exists a spirit in our music which kept our audience in line over the years. I'm pretty sure that we represent the perfect musical vice for a part of our audience (laughs).

bq: How come? So far I considered people like Cher to be a music-vice.

Geddy Lee: (laughing out loud) That's true. But especially the obscure we're representing for the mainstream makes our fans even more devoted. We can not to be seen in mainstream TV and we're not being tootled constantly in the radio. It sounds silly but our fans love us even more for that.

bq: I was surprised that despite your bombastic rock music there is a lot of humor in your concerts. Is humor an important part of your art?

Geddy Lee: To an increasing extent. The band exists for a long time and you can't spend such a long time with the same people if there is no humor involved. You can't survive in a band set-up if there is no common ground which exceeds the music. We have indeed a lot of common grounds but our shared sense of humor and satire is a key factor for the continued existence of our friendship, on which our work is based on. At some point it was inevitable to integrate our humor into our work as well. Besides, I can't expect from our audience to listen intensively for 3 hours during a concert without making them smile from time to time - even if it's only to show them that Rush is not taking themselves too seriously.

bq: You support the important entertainment factor rather with humor, instead of presenting a bombast show?

Geddy Lee: From time to time our music is very hard in its complexity and in my opinion just for listening every audience member deserves a cookie afterwards (laughs).

bq: Why did you decide to place obscure devices like washing machines as an amp substitute on stage?

Geddy Lee: When I came to rehearsals for one of our recent tours our guitarist Alex had just built up his monolithic amp set-up on his side of the stage. That looked like one single gigantic Rock'n'Roll cliché. My bass amp set-up, in contrast, had the epic extent of a suitcase which looked ridiculous compared to the rock-god setup on the other side of the stage. My Roadie and I therefore searched for a possibility to fill up my part of the stage and, at the same time, have Alex's cliché-tower look as ridiculous as it really was. That was the start of it all. And it wasn't even inconvenient to play a rock show and, at the same time, doing the laundry for the whole entourage (laughs).

bq: This time you had chicken rotisseries on the stage as amp-replacement. Did you really grill real chicken during the show?

Geddy Lee: This is a stage secret which I can't reveal due to certain health regulations in each country which make it hard to grill chicken. Unfortunately we weren't able to share our chicken with the audience.

bq: What will be your next amp replacement?

Geddy Lee: Well, for how long will I be able to pull off the same gag? That's the question. Perhaps I should come up with something completely new. But you have to admit it was a cool idea to furnish the Marshall amp logo with the word Henhouse. I like the smell of barbecue chicken and find it inviting especially as it put vegetarians to flight. Okay, I like basses too.

bq: Even in passion you also were wearing some debauchment on your shoulder, as the cliché-Steinberger from the 80s which sounded not bad ...

Geddy Lee: ... but also not good. The benefit of the Steinberger had practical reasons. At that time I was surrounded by an incredible number of synthesizers and I assumed the missing head of the bass kept me away from pushing aside a mini-moog. The bass did its job but in the end it didn't sound good.

bq: For some years you're playing your Fender jazz bass again. Are you using one of your signature models or the original Fender Jazz?

Geddy Lee: Of course I'm playing the original one, from which the signature models resulted. But I admit that the neck of the original quit its service before the last tour and that I mounted a neck of one of the signature models which let it still sound fantastic. I'm really happy with the signature models because the value for money ratio is really okay. They don't really sound like my bass but they're quite close.

bq: On the DVD you can be seen with a red Fender-bass. What are you using it for?

Geddy Lee: The Fender custom shop gave me a few basses and I most liked the red one because soundwise it's completely different to all the others which can be explained by the kind and the age of the wood from which it was made. My Fender Jazz sounds the way it sounds because when I bought it something with the wiring of the electronics wasn't right. That's still the case up to today because I don't want the sound to be changed. For those songs in which I need a "clean" bass sound I use the red Fender.

bq: And you're still using your stone age Rickenbacker bass?

Geddy Lee: Yes, because it's requested by the fans. Over the years I was asked again and again why I'm not playing the Ricky anymore. Therefore, I decided to grant him a guest role at the end of one song (laughs). The Ricky is really heavy and therefore tough to play, so that I needed the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger if I wanted to use it all the time.

bq: Are you using a lot of effects for achieving the rich bass sound which clearly puts you in the middle of events within the overall sound of Rush?

Geddy Lee: No, not really. Our guitarist has 600,000 effects all around him and is a slave of sound. In order to get my sound right I'm practically not using any effects apart from distortion and top end. I try to let it sound as natural as possible. Our front-of-house mixer gets three bass signals from me which he can mix as he likes, according to the hall's acoustics. But I'm trying to avoid using redundant devices. There is already enough unnecessary coming from my bass-fingers.

bq: If you believe all those heavyrock bassists which name you being an influence to them, we think you're now exaggerating beyond measure.

Geddy Lee: Of course I'm joking a little bit. But too many effects may let my sound appear to be like one single heap of waste. On the other hand the set-up of the whole band on stage is so complex that I'm really not on for additional effects. Everybody in the band has a number of pedals at his place, and each of them is connected to a row of sequencers and prerecorded samples. The usage of electronics is so complex that we really have to be extremely focused in our work. Besides playing his own instrument everybody in the band has to trigger a number of samples for each song. This leads to the fact that everything you hear on the DVD is really live and could be mastered without any post-production. But that also means that our work on stage resembles more a choreography than a mere performance.

bq: So, in fact you are dancers?

Geddy Lee: (Laughter) Yeah, you can see it that way. To be honest, it is extremely difficult to put together a Rush concert and keep it alive. But because of that they are interesting, and the prospect of boredom on stage is practically non existent.

bq: Have you ever used the wrong pedals during a song?

Geddy Lee: A lot of times! Some of our sequencers are really long running and our roadie on stage has to check the sequences, which he strangely not always gets done. And then you hear a keyboard sequence from another song going on forever like in an infinite loop. Fortunately a part of our audience is really high and they then think that this wrong sample is an innovative version of a particular song (laughs out loud). Usually the roadie has to reset the sequencer every time but somehow it seems that none of them is capable of doing so (laughs). On the other hand our concerts keep being interesting for ourselves by this. Besides, we're not using click-tracks on stage in order to be able to improvise, which makes the usage of samples all the more difficult.

bq: Do you have any vices basswise which you actually shouldn't listen to, but you're listening to regardless?

Geddy Lee: As a rock type you're normally not allowed to say this, but I like the popping technique of the funk bassists a lot. Bernard Edwards of Chic was incredible with this. But who cares? Being a musician it is kind of a self-chastisement to let oneself be reduced to one style only. Even jazzers are chastening themselves, although they're always pretending to be so free. Integration is the key word for the whole development of Rush - and it finally should also be our political attitude.

bq: Very nice closing words. Geddy, thanks a lot for taking your time for this interview.

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