Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson in 1992: "We knew what we had to do, and we did it."

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Rush plays Vancouver tonight, but they haven't been doing a lot of press of late. They sure didn't call me up and say, "Hey Newt, got any time for a quick chat?"

      But that's okay. I know they're busy Canuck prog-rock legends. And how many times do they want to hear me raving about John Rutsey's cowbell on "In the Mood" anyway?

      What I do have for all you Rush freaks out there, though, is this old interview I did with Alex Lifeson back in January of '92, before a show at the Pacific Coliseum. At the time the band was touring behind its 1991 Roll the Bones album, which spawned the hits "Dreamline" and "Roll the Bones". It's not my fave Rush album by any means, but it did go platinum in the States, so other peeps must like it. From what I hear the title track will make the set-list at Rogers Arena tonight.

      It was very cool talking to Lifeson on the phone back then, when he was only 38 years old. Maybe one day I'll get a followup.

      When the Georgia Straight interviewed Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate last month, the singer had some intriguing things to say about an alleged “backlash” against progressive rock, which he felt had been initiated by the music industry in the ’70s. Tate uncovered a plot to undermine the growing popularity of musically accomplished bands like Yes and Genesis, its ultimate aim being to make it easier for talentless recording “artists” to go forth and multiply, reaping bigger profits for record companies.

      When you look around today, the scarcity of progressive rock bands gives credence to Tate’s theory, but not all of the so-called “dinosaurs” of the ’70s are extinct. There is the odd exception, and Canada’s irrepressible Rush is probably the oddest. As guitarist Alex Lifeson explained from Fresno, California, last week, his band’s iron will to make music its own way has never been weakened by outside influences.

      “We made the records we wanted to make, and no one was gonna tell us how to do otherwise,” says the 38-year-old guitarist, whose band plays the Pacific Coliseum on Sunday (February 2). “We knew what we had to do, and we did it.”

      Rush has been doing it since 1974, releasing album after album. And—against all odds—every single one has sold well. So far, the band has released 14 studio albums—as well as three live discs and a compilation—and, commercially speaking, there hasn’t been a stinker in the bunch. But try to decipher Rush’s formula for success and you’ll come up empty, because the group has never had one. Quite the opposite, in fact.

      “There’s always been a fear of repeating yourself,” says Lifeson, “so we try very hard to do something different every time. I mean, there are only 12 notes in that scale.”

      There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, too, but that hasn’t deterred drummer/lyricist Neil Peart from supplying rabid Rush fans with adventurous messages, whether they be inspired by history (“Bastille Day”), science fiction (“The Temples of Syrinx”), politics (“The Big Money”), or the atom bomb (“The Manhattan Project”).

      When Peart’s words collided with the music of Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, anything was possible. And to keep the resulting noise fresh, Lee and Lifeson often relied on the impromptu jams that would occur before concerts while they checked their sound.

      “We had tapes and tapes and tapes of all those afternoon jams,” says Lifeson, “and you could always pick out some half-decent stuff and put it all down to one tape and refer to it when you needed something to act as a spark, or when you needed a piece.”

      There was less reliance on previous jams with the band’s latest album, Roll the Bones, though.

      “With this record, we really sat down and just started playing,” explains Lifeson. “We were much more into the flow of what we were doing at the time. This record picked up where Presto started, in that we wanted to go back to that real core three-piece that we kinda lost by experimenting with keyboards a lot. We’ve gone back to re-evaluating some of the things that Rush was all about, and found that we really enjoyed just rocking out.”

      Though, musically, Rush may have taken “a couple of steps sideways”, as Lifeson puts it, one path the band has not strayed from is its original trio format. And don’t expect the group to evolve into a quartet any time soon.

      “We talked about that in the ’70s,” says Lifeson of expanding the line-up, “but decided that what we really wanted was to put the onus on ourselves to learn to play other instruments and work a little bit harder, if we could. So that’s what we ended up doing, and we’ve never really looked back from that.”

      While Lifeson has taken time out from his career with Rush to produce and/or play with the occasional outside act, the venerable hero of Canuck rock has yet to make his own solo album. Considering his status among guitar fanatics and the commercial track record of his band, one might wonder what’s holding him back.

      “I’ve never really had the desire for it,” he says, “and I think that goes for all of us. Our musical aspirations seem to be satisfied with Rush. We do, occasionally, work with other musicians, but to do a solo project—that’s like looking at the same kind of time requirement that Rush takes to make a record. We already tour a lot and our recording takes a lot of time. I don’t think anybody wants to give that up over a whim, because right now, that’s all it is.

      “But what would be interesting is to maybe get involved in some film work. That would be cool, because that’s the way we write this stuff—we try to get a visual picture of what’s being said lyrically and then write it in such a way that it captures some of that.”

      As usual, film and animation will play a large part in Rush’s upcoming Vancouver gig, a show that, at press time, was 2,000 seats away from a sell-out—testimony to the band’s staying power after 18 years. But what’s been the undying attraction after all this time?

      “We’ve always had that no-compromise attitude,” says Lifeson, “and our audience picks up on it. And Rush is a fairly unique band in the way we write out music, the way we work, the way we sound. I think our audience also likes the fact that they’ve grown up with the band, and they’re quite…I dunno…maybe they’re kinda proud of that.”




      Jul 18, 2015 at 12:13am

      just saw them tonight at Rogers arena (july 17th)...was my 20th+ concert of seeing Rush since I was 15 (mu 1st concert was in '77, during their 'a farewell to kings' album at the (now closed) toronto maple leaf gardens....boy were they tight tonight...going to miss them in so many ways....i can honestly say that watching neil peart's skills has been one of the highlights of my life, musicially...he's just given me so much satisfaction in how he can slam them skins, do those fast and powerful fills...thanks Rush for so many wonderful memories.

      Peter Paul

      Jul 18, 2015 at 3:42am

      Awesome reach into the wayback machine.... thank you very much = retrospective connective!

      Sean Hanney

      Jul 18, 2015 at 5:38am

      i first heard Rush when I was 6, putting on my brother's tape of ATWAS and listening to Bastille Day. Instantly hooked, I've been a devout fan ever since and I'm turning 40 next month. I think Alex is right about the pride Rush fans have. Many times as a youth I defined myself by my musical tastes and I would take the criticisms cast at Rush and defend the boys as if I was a part of the band myself. I did and do take pride in them as they've evolved and continue to do so. I missed the MSG stop on R40, but have great memories of other shows (luckily saw them twice on this tour). As the other poster above said, thanks for the memories and for continuing to be a source of inspiration in life. I hope this wasn't your last stop in NY, but if it was I am satisfied and grateful.


      Jul 18, 2015 at 6:42am

      I saw them at the New Haven Coliseum (now closed) days after this interview with Primus, and had seen them the prior December '91. Caught at least a dozen shows myself since Presto tour.
      I can remember most of the dates of those shows. Saw them recently on 6.23.15 in Boston. They put on a tremendously tight show, looked great, had more energy then when I saw them on Time Machine or Snakes tour IMO and at least as much finesse. These 3 have altered the course of my life, many others, as well as influenced so many other artists who wouldn't have written like they are or have as a result, due to Rush's ineffable music. Where is all the talent these days? No one touches them. I'm sad to see them slow down as well, but certainly can't blame them after 40+ yrs. I remember a friend teasing me back in the late 80's about them ending it soon, cause they had been around so long. Never imagined them rocking out like they a did then over 25yrs later.

      John D

      Jul 18, 2015 at 2:57pm

      My first Rush concert was in the mid-seventies at varsity arena in Toronto my hometown. From that moment I was hooked on their music and have seen every show in Toronto since then. I have also had the pleasure of meeting them on numerous occasions. When my oldest son was 10 I brought him to his first Rush concert at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. I am now 64 and still listen to their music on a regular basis. Very few bands in the world have amassed a great family of loyal fans than Rush. I may have seen the last show on June 19th in Toronto, with hopes that they may come back one more time. Thanks for the memories boys.


      Jul 18, 2015 at 10:36pm

      to John D above:
      that varsity show...I think i was there too: it was a 'general admission' meaning we lined up all day...and FM was the opening act (Ben Mink was replacing Nash the Slash who'd left the band...'phasers on stun' is still a killer song of theirs)...that show was a break for the band as they were working on 'permanent waves' and treated us to 2 'new songs' that would later go on to become hits: 'free will' and 'the spirit of radio'.

      that show stands out for me also for how it panned out...we all kept standing near the front of the stage...the guys behind us (rows back) started ripping up the turf (it was a sports field after all) and tossing it all at us, so much so that the wind whipped up and made a hellvua a temporary sandstorm for alex and geddy who kept squinting at all this sand coming into their faces while playing...what a hoot for memories, lol.