Global Bass Online December 2000
The Consummate Geddy Lee Interview
The making of MY FAVORITE HEADACHE, recording, songwriting, practicing, the Order of Canada Medal, South Park; The Movie, and Other Stuff.
Each of the three members of RUSH,
drummer Neil Peart, bassist/vocalist Geddy
Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson is
considered a Maestro of his respective instrument.
Induction into a number of magazines' 'Halls of Fame' throughout the
world for Best Guitarist, Bassist, Keyboardist, Drummer, and Band, attests to
Rush's "musician's musician" status.
is renowned for their complex, sprawling, and epic song arrangements, featuring
intricate time, tempo and key changes and deeply philosophical, mystical,
political and scientific lyrics and messages.
The band's virtual hero status in Canada is further born out by a place on Canada's Walk of Fame and for being the first rock group recipient of the prestigious Order of Canada medal. Created in 1967 to recognize "significant achievement in important fields of human endeavor, the trio received that award as much for their community service - raising over $1 million for food banks and the United Way - as for their contribution to the arts. Closing out the century on a high-note, RUSH, by a two-to-one margin, won the JAM! ShowBiz online poll as Canada's "most important musicians of all-time."
Geddy Lee's in-your-face approach to the instrument has probably impacted more
bassists on a grand scale then any other bassist, in the last 20 years.
being recognized by a prodigal singer/bassist, Geddy has evolved into a
multi-talented musician and instrumentalist who just happens to make the bass
guitar his primary instrument on record and on-stage.
As RUSH's music became increasingly more intricate, layered and
grandiose, Geddy quickly evolved into the band's resident multi-keyboardist and
synthesist, on album and on-stage.
Regarding the latter, Geddy's dexterity to operate "all this
machinery making modern music",
and sing, and play the bass (in and out of varying time signatures I think the
band must have invented), is second to none.
the inception of the internet, I wouldn't hesitate to doubt that the very first
topic to be posted to the very first fan-supported RUSH site was probably,
"When do you think Geddy will put out a solo album?"
Alex Lifeson released his solo
project, entitled VICTOR, in January
Drummer Neil Peart has produced several solo projects, including the lauded BURNING
FOR BUDDY concerts, recordings and videos, as well as other recording and
video side projects, including working with Jeff Berlin in 1985, and the 1996
two video set entitled, NEIL PEART: A
WORK IN PROGRESS.
A WORK IN PROGRESS documents the recording of RUSH's
TEST FOR ECHO album, as well as the "work in progress" of Neil
himself, and his "endless apprenticeship" to the art of drumming.
And the world waited for Geddy's solo effort....
Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam and Soundgarden)
and Jeremy Taggart (Our Lady Peace),
provide the driving percussion behind MY
FAVORITE HEADACHE's 11 tracks.
called me on November 13, 2000, at 7:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time), and I am
sure he was grateful this was going to be the last interview of the day.
He had begun his promotional tour along the east coast of the USA on, or
about, November 9, and I could tell he was really tired from several days of
answering a cornucopia of repetitive, if not inane, questions.
Not realizing he could be so tired he was starting to get slap-happy, I
thought I should ease him into the interview with some self-deprecating
know you're totally burnt out from answering a lot of incessantly repetitive
questions for the past several days, so if mine are either too philosophical or
just out right too dopey, let me know."
"Dope, dope, dope away.
Be as dopey as you like."
didn't want to dwell on questions only anal bassists would be interested in,
such as, "So what kind of strings do you use?, Do you prefer Rosewood or
Maple fingerboards? What pick-ups are in your main axe?",
consider Geddy Lee one of the most well-rounded musicians, on par with Sting and
John Paul Jones, plus he is a well thought-out, cerebral guy with a great, dry
sense of humor.
I put together a list of 'outside of the box' questions with two friends
of mine, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and bassist John Myung, both members of Dream
Theater and both incredibly talented musicians who site RUSH as a major
chooses his words carefully and was kind enough to answer questions that should
enlighten all musicians, not just bassists.
Almost immediately, the cheap hotels phone had a weak connection forces Geddy to switch phones so I can accurately record the conversation.
He puts me on hold and switches to the other phone in his hotel room.
When he picks up, he states, "I'm
going to have to sit on the toilet and talk.
I'm sitting at an interesting body angle here... you should see
reply, "You will spare me any and all sound effects, won't you!?"
We're both laughing and quickly relaxed once we find our common ground: Bathroom and toilet humor.
- What are the emotions right now?
Is your anxiety level running higher then if this were the release of
another RUSH album?
definitely feels different. Mostly
because if it were a RUSH album, I would be in rehearsal for an upcoming tour,
designing some stage gear or rear screen projection multimedia materials.
I would be in a very different mode and I wouldn't have the same
available time to be so aware of the CD release. I'm excited. The
feedback I have been getting is overwhelmingly positive and I am starting to
feel like it was definitely worth doing. (Laughs).
So, I don't know what is going to happen when the CD comes out, how well
it will sell, etc. But, from a
personal point of view, it was a very worthwhile endeavor.
BUTTNER - There are those fans who would have
anticipated, or hoped for, a 'lead bass' album; a blatant, sell-indulgent
display of your bass playing prowess. When
you realized that the evolution of what you were putting together would result
in a record, did you give any thought as to how you wanted to be seen as an
had offers to do an album as you just described: 'Bassist running up and down
It really didn't interest me very much.
I am moved more by melodies, song structure, and evocative textures.
That is what intrigues me; songwriting and song structure and expression.
There was a time when fast playing and fretboard pyrotechnics on the bass
were important to me and when I am recording a bass track, that is still very
important to me.
I like to be obnoxious and insistent and take some chances with the bass.
When I do a take, I very often try things that I haven't planned to try
to see if I can pull it off.
I feel safe and comfortable to do that once I know that the song
structure around the bass part is very interesting and it satisfies me in a
- As a musician, are you the entrepreneurial type who has
to create a little bit every day, whether it's a line of a song in a notebook,
recording a few measures of a track or do you just tune it all out for periods
of time and create when the mood strikes?
have a lot of hobbies and I can be very remiss in reminding myself to go down to
the basement to work.
When I usually go to my studio to work, I start with something that is
going to take two minutes just to put some idea down and the next thing I know,
ten hours have gone by and my family is screaming at me because
they want me to come up to have dinner with them.
I have such an extreme attitude about work, where I can just completely
be derelict of my responsibilities and then when I am not derelict, I am
indulged in it.
I swing pretty wildly from the two extremes.
- Speaking of 'dereliction of duties', do you ever just
sit down to practice any one instrument, be it the bass, guitar or the piano,
getting lost in playing twiddly-bits, or does the bulk of your practice come
from the creative process?
GEDDY: I like to practice on the bass, but I don't do it as often as I should. I do go downstairs, plug in, fiddle around and have some fun with it. Always, invariably, it leads me to just start writing something. It's hard for me to just practice without writing something. As far as my keyboard playing goes... I'm really just an adequate keyboard player, I'm a really good bluffer! With the help of modern technology, I can compose intricate keyboard parts and then I have to go back and learn them in order to perform them properly. (Laughs). So, I really don't consider myself a fabulous keyboard player. To me, that's not an issue, it's more of using the instrument to get ideas or support the atmosphere of the song. I do love using keyboards and I love writing keyboard parts, but I am not a player in the true sense of the word. I definably do not look at that instrument the same way as I do the bass guitar. I have a piano in the house and I was playing with my young daughter the other day and I realized what a lazy bastard I am. I really love the sound of the piano and it's so gratifying to sit down and play... I should really spend more time with it.
- The lion's share of RUSH lyrics come from Neil, so was
there a feeling of artistic vulnerability in finally committing your own lyrics,
thoughts, observations and emotions to your own music?
It was a very exposing process.
I think that is what I liked about it.
the fact that I was forced to get inside of my emotions and to really try to
figure out a lot of what I was going through.
Most people are like this: They think of stuff during the day.
The mind goes to certain places, they remember things, and they try to
figure things out.
To remind yourself to write that stuff down is a great benefit.
Then you come back to it and you analyze it days later, and lyrically
shape what you felt when you wrote it down.
For me, how I feel about what I wrote down turns into a song.
Above all, forget the songwriter, forget the end result.
That was a very interesting learning process for me as a person!
Just to learn how to do that was something that was pretty key for me.
Then, once I have lyrics, being able to shape them around a song is
nothing new for me, I've been doing that for 25 years.
The soul searching part of it, the spontaneous part of it, that was, and
remains, a really terrific process.
- You're revered as a bassist, a singer and a
multi-instrumentalist 'deity' by many musicians all over the world.
To many, you are the bassist by which all others are judged.
At this point in your life, from what artists do you draw inspiration;
what bass players take your breathe away when you hear or see them perform?
certainly there is the whole 'old school' of them who were the bass players set
in my mind.
John Entwhistle, Chris Squire, John Paul Jones, and Jack Bruce.
These days, I think Les Claypool is a brilliant bassist, of course Jeff
Berlin is still out there and playing... he's a remarkable talent.
- What songwriters make the hair on your arm stand-up?
What bands and what artists are in your CD player these days?
GEDDY:If I hear
STATE OF EMERGENCY by Bjork, that really blows my mind.
It's a brilliant song, she's awesome.
She is not for everyone's taste, but she is damn well for my taste, I
love her. She is a real artist,
she's deeply talented and her voice is as compelling as any voice as I have ever
heard. I like the music that RADIO
HEAD is putting together. I love
Thom Yorke's singing, I love their song structures.
They're a very interesting band. I
like the TRAGICALLY HIP, if we're talking about Rock or Pop music.
But there are a whole range of other things, and things from the past, of
course, that I still find very inspiring. Every
time SOLSBURY HILL, by Peter Gabriel, comes on the radio I remember where I was
when I first heard it, that song doesn't age because it's so well written -
there is something so right about it.
- Even 10,000 listens later, there is something still
fresh about it.
GEDDY: Absolutely! When I hear songs like that, I want to go down to my studio and work.
- RUSH has been considered a Progressive Rock Band for a
long time, therefore, do you consider yourself a Progressive Rock Musician or
has the tag of 'Progressive' worn out?
I certainly identify with Progressive Rock and I certainly don't mind RUSH being
labeled as a Progressive Rock group.
I have always felt I was more accurately a Hard Rock musician.
I don't know that such a thing as Progressive Rock really exists anymore.
If it does, it's being reinvented by bands like RADIO HEAD and artists
like that who are pushing the envelope a little bit.
So, it's a somewhat dated phrase, but I don't think that it's an
Progressive Bands that are still out there, those who attribute so much of their
influence to bands like RUSH, YES and ELP, those who are keeping the genre
alive. Do you listen to them, and
if so, what are your thoughts?
GEDDY: I am not really familiar with them, to be honest, and I have never really spent much time paying much attention. But I would always be interested in hearing what they do. I probably don't go to the record stores as much as I should to find out what is new. Someone was telling me about this whole new MATH ROCK thing that is starting to happen.
- (I spell it out) M-A-T-H?
GEDDY: Ya, it's this whole genre that is born out of ProgRock, where they take all the weird time signature stuff and construct their songs, like math equations. (Laughs). I can identify with that. RUSH used to do some of that stuff ourselves.
- Sure gives 'Numerology' a whole new twist.
there is a need, from time to time, for music that is complex.
That's a good thing.
Maybe we're musically coming back around to a time like that.
- Step out of the role of Geddy Lee for a second to answer
this one: Do you consider yourself
an influential musician?
always feel a little arrogant to think of myself like that.
I prefer to think of myself as a musician who is still learning and
trying to do something every time out.
But, I would be naive not to recognize the number of musicians who tell
me they have been influenced by me and sight me - as well as Alex and Neil - as
a musician who has been a positive influence on their playing.
I don't think you can ignore the facts.
- Tell me about your home studio. What's
in the signal chain?
GEDDY: My studio is designed for atmosphere. I have a really cozy, comfortable room that has a great, huge glass door that views my backyard. I'm a big believer of daylight in the studio. I have my Mackie 32/8 console and I am a big believer in using Emagic Logic Audio. I run the full 24-bit system - the whole deal. I'm running it on a Macintosh 9600, the workhorse. Plus, I have a multitude of hard drives. I am in the process of gathering together old compressors: LA4s, 1176s, those kind of things. I have been using LA4s in the studio, that kind of stuff - high quality compression equipment. I also used four Empirical Labs Distressors on mixing the album. They are very useful. After the experience of making this record, I am in the process now of trying to gather a few bits of gear, Neve and other old compressors. The more I work in the digital domain, the more I realize those pieces of gear are essential. Then there is my bass gear which consists of a bunch of Demeter, SansAmp, Palmerson, and Avalon equipment. The bass was recorded direct onto three tracks and I didn't really use any 'real' bass amps, per se.
- How much of what was produced for MY
FAVORITE HEADACHE was tracked at your home or Ben's home and how much, if
any, of what was recorded at home made it to the record?
Quite a bit
of it really. Almost the entire
song, ‘STILL’, was recorded at both of our homes.
We added and replaced some of the original guitars, except the drums, of
course. None of the drums were
recorded at home. The drum
recording sessions were moved to Studio X in Seattle.
Almost all of the vocals on ‘STILL’, and a lot of the backing vocals,
in general, were kept from what was recorded in my home studio.
The entire bass track for ‘MOVING TO BOHEMIA’ and ‘ANGEL'S
SHARE’, was recorded at my home and the bass track for ‘STILL’ was
recorded at Ben's house... recalling just a few parts.
- Ben lives in Vancouver and you live in Toronto.
How did you guys swap files? Were
you sending DATs back and forth, were you e-mailing files?
GEDDY: Both Ben and I have built identical systems. Basically, when I would go to see Ben, I would take a DVD RAM back-up all of my files and, occasionally, just take the hard drive on the plane with me. I would walk into Ben's place and away we'd go.
- In the process of tracking the record, how often were
you in Vancouver and how often was Ben in Toronto?
How long did the whole process of tracking the record take before the two
of you went into a pro studio?
GEDDY:We spent a
couple of years working back and forth.
would do seven to ten days working at my house and then we wouldn't do
anything for two or three months. (Pauses,
then laughs). Then I would go
to Vancouver and work for seven to ten days at Ben's house and then we wouldn't
do anything for two to three months. And
that went on for way too long! Then,
one day, I finally said, 'Ben, c'mon! We have gotta' get this together here, Buddy!
It's just dragging.'
we're both laughing).
earlier in 2000, we said, 'Okay, this is it, we're going for it.' And that's
when we got serious and Ben came to my house and we brainstormed for a few weeks
and got everything pretty well ready-to-rock.
Then, Matt Cameron (former Soundgarden drummer), came along and we went
into the studio and recorded the drums, replacing the tracks that were not
standing up to scratch.
- After playing with Neil for so many years, a drummer by
which all other drummers are judged, what was it like playing with a guy like
Matt Cameron, who is more of a straight ahead rock/pocket player?
How was your playing style effected?
As a bassist, was there more freedom of creativity, inspiration and
experimentation to go crazy on the bass?
GEDDY: Matt really slotted in very well. A lot of the song structures were fairly together when he added his drum parts. I was so impressed with him, I can't begin to tell you. He has such a great sound and impeccable taste and such a strong groove, he is really fun to play with. So, from a bassist point-of-view, it was a really great experience locking in with him. A different experience then with Neil, but none the less, very inspiring.
- So he came in to lay down the drums after you guys had
the basic tracks laid down?
We wrote these songs, and took so long recording them in our home
studios, that we had pretty final structures by the time Matt was available.
So many of his drum parts took the songs to a new place!
He would play to these song structures and afterwards I would like what
he played so much, I would go back in and redo my bass parts, because I wanted
to play along with him.
- Your producer, David Leonard (PRINCE, SANTANA,
BARENAKED LADIES, JOHN MELLENCAMP), who is more a 'go with the vibe' guy,
got you and Ben out of 'micro-managing each note.'
So, as an attention to detail kind of guy, was there any kind of a
creativity catharsis - if you will - in terms of making MY
FAVORITE HEADACHE, compared to how you would go about making a RUSH album?
was great and that is a great question, because David had a very definitive
effect on us.
He's so experienced and loves the idea of being in a collaborative
He instinctively focused on a lot of things that I found important: in
the way the groove of a song works that I don't think I would have thought of
being so inside of it all.
And, he's a very talented technician and a great engineer.
The other thing he brought to the table was, rather then approach these
songs in a manner that was more 'assembly line', where you lay the bass down for
guitar for three weeks, vocals for however long... he basically introduced the
concept of, 'Let's put the song up and let's just work on it and we'll mix it
- If you got tired of it, put it aside and move on to
something else, right? So, the
creative juices were constantly flowing and getting triggered through other
stimulation, style and input?
He always made you feel connected to the song! I don't know why I have never worked that way!
I guess, it's just a band routine you get into: Okay, it's the bassist's
turn, and then you give the other guys a day or a week off when it's the
guitarist's turn. But you know
what?! It's much more interesting
to watch a song come to full fruition the way I did it on my solo album...
because the way this record was recorded was the way you write the songs.
So why not take that same approach in the studio?
I guess he used to work that way with Prince for many years.
Prince would even take it one step further where Prince would mix it!
He would write it, arrange it, put some overdubs on it, mix it and...
BOOM! There is your song.
To me, that's a really kinda' cool way to work.
- There is a big difference between touring and
performing. Touring is a necessary
evil and the two are truly at the opposite ends of the like/dislike emotional
scale. How highly unlikely is it
that you will get a bunch of guys together and do a few gigs in support of MY
FAVORITE HEADACHE, outside of an obligatory one-off gig at Alex Lifeson's ORBIT
ROOM? Will there be, maybe, a
regional tour or a few major city gigs in the near future?
Ya, there is a chance.
Of course, it's a slim chance, depending upon if the 'Gods Of Scheduling'
are working WITH me, but it's something I am thinking about.
It would take a lot of effort, I think, to get together, but... it would
probably be an experience that would be worth doing.
But, you never know!
There are a lot of demands on everyone's time right now.
- If you had to put together the consummate back-up band
to do a tour to promote MY FAVORITE HEADACHE, who would you want in the line-up,
for whatever the name of the band would be: Geddy Lee and the Press-on Nails?
(Laughing) Yea!!! That's
a really good title!
- You can send me the royalty check on that one!
give me your address later. Well, I
would definitely want Ben there and either Matt or Jeremy... I would love to
have both Matt and Jeremy in the band, but either one would be an honor to play
with. I have a good friend, Jason
Sniderman in Toronto, who is an excellent keyboardist who I would want to bring
with me. And, I would try to find a
couple of guitarists. It would be
great to bring the guys from THE TRAGICALLY HIP out on the road, Paul Langlois
and Bobby Baker. Both of those guys
are very good guitar players and that would make a pretty cool band!
- As a professional musician, where do you prefer to be?
The studio or the stage?
I like them both, but I like writing more than anything.
- Do you miss the roar of the crowds after four years?
Is there still - pardon the pun - a 'rush' of emotion when you get on
stage, the lights go up and the crowd goes wild?
I think the most enjoyable tour I have ever done in a long, long time was
the last tour, TEST FOR ECHO.
Do I miss it when I am not there?
Ummm.... In an abstract way, I do.
But, in a wearying way, I don't.
I could easily see myself doing another tour and enjoying it, and if that
happen, I don't think I would cry about it.
- Do you envision yourself getting more and more into the
business end of things, possibly management or the production end of the music
business to share your wealth of knowledge with other up-and-coming talent, or
would you always need to be the creative type, writing and recording your own
words and music?
would like to shift more into writing for and producing people.
I love to write.
It's my first love.
I would like to think that Ben and myself have begun a partnership that
will take us into different areas of music that we can continue to write, enjoy
and keep me involved with music other then what I do with RUSH.
Of course, I love what I do with RUSH and I will continue to do it as
long as we all believe it is all worthwhile to do.
These things are all finite and there will come a day when that will end.
Some writing and production projects will be a great way to spend my
elderly rock years.
- 'Geezer Rock'?
I'm not sure what the formal title will be... (laughs).
- You and Jeff Berlin are pretty tight.
The last time we spoke, four years ago, you mentioned that he is a
bassist that you really respect and someone who you would like to study with.
Have you had the chance to study with Jeff at all?
I haven't. I
went to visit him about a year ago, just hanging out in Florida, but we came
very close to working together.
He's putting an album together right now and we're trying to make our
schedules work so I can do something with him for that record.
But, something happened... and it never
We're destined, someday, to do something together.
But, I have not studied with him and it's something that I would like to
Note: There will be a special in-depth interview with Jeff Berlin
in Global Bass Magazine when his new CD is released early next year.)
Photo courtesy of Christopher Buttner
- RUSH, according to the record company, has sold 35
million records world wide, which is nothing to sneeze at and I am sure makes
you very proud.
But, moreover, Rush was the first rock group recipient of the prestigious
Order of Canada medal, therefore you were one of the first rock musicians to
receive the award.
Being honored by one's country in such a way is something that very few
people will ever experience.
Can you verbalize what you, personally and professionally felt in
receiving that award, and possibly can you verbalize the feelings the three
members of RUSH experienced as a collective?
of all, when you live in a country like Canada, it's quite different from
America in the sense that it's very tied to traditions that were born in
To be called upon by your government or by your representative of the
Queen, to be given an award like that, which amounts to a good citizenship award
in the highest sense of the term, it's really a pretty tremendous honor.
It's your country's way of acknowledging your contribution of betterment
to your society.
We've never really been big 'flag wavers' or nationalistic, but we've all
stayed in Canada, so there is some sense of national pride.
To be given that award was a very big thing for all three of us.
I don't think there was a cynical
remark from any of us, during the whole plane trip, when we received the award
and when we went through the whole pomp and ceremony.
It was a pretty special time, so it means something very special to all
- Were any of the politicians wondering who you were,
possibly scratching their heads when the three of you showed up for the award
ceremony, saying, 'Huh? RUSH who?!'
politicians, they would never let you know if they were wondering!
I've always appreciated RUSH's very dry sense of humor.
I was very surprised when I saw that you and Alex (Lifeson) contributed a
song to the soundtrack of the SOUTH PARK movie, BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT.
How were you approached by the SOUTH PARK producers, Trey Parker and Matt
Stone, to do the tune?
Matt Stone is a major punter.
He's a big RUSH fan and he actually got a hold of us through our band
photographer, Andrew McNaughton.
They bumped into each other at a party.
I got a call when I was at Ben's house as we were laying down tracks that
they wanted us to record the Canadian National Anthem for the movie.
It was the whole 'Blame Canada' thing, so we called them back, had a
funny conversation, agreed to do the project and Alex and I spent two days in
his home studio and we put it together.
- Long after we are all gone, how would you want Geddy
Lee, singer, songwriter, and musician, to be remembered in the music history
books, and how do you want RUSH to be remembered?
As a comic in all
seriousness, I have to say... that is a very hard question to answer.
I guess, we were people who just dedicated to trying to get better.
Music is all about wanting to be better at it. If you have some magical chemistry that actually find the
music you make compelling, that is a big bonus.
It's elusive and it's hard to know when that is going to happen.
But, I think how I feel about it. Boy,
that's a nice philosophical way to end the interview.
is a Northern
California-based music industry publicist.
Christopher's company, Aarvak
Marketing Communications, specializes in public relations and marketing
communications services for entertainment technology manufacturing industries:
musical instruments, professional audio, recording, video, broadcast, lighting
and stage equipment.
is Christopher's second interview with
Check out his 1996 interview with Geddy, just prior to the TEST
FOR ECHO album release, at:
was solely responsible for breaking the news earlier this year
that RUSH would be soon entering the studio to record their 17th studio album in
his interview with Alex Lifeson for Mackietone
news was so 'breaking' that it was picked up by VH1.com
- http://www.vh1.com/thewire/news/03_24_00/rush.jhtml - then numerous rock
radio stations fed on it, as well.
It has recently been confirmed from Geddy himself that RUSH will be going into the studio to work on songs in
January and February 2001.
Christopher's articles are published in numerous professional
recording and sound
trade magazines, as well as music enthusiast magazines, all over the world,
including Russia, Poland, Singapore, Australia, China, Canada, Mexico, Germany,
India and South America.
He can usually be found glued to his Apple G4 "pumping out
web page is:http://www.aarvak.com
Buy Geddy Lee's CD MY FAVORITE HEADACHE at amazon.com
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