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Subject: 04/19/91 - The National Midnight Star #220 ** Special Edition **

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          The National Midnight Star, Number 220

                  Friday, 19 April 1991
Today's Topics:
         _Keyboard_ interview with Geddy (March 89)
             1984 Interview with Alex Lifeson

This is a somewhat special special edition; I'm putting two interviews
in this together.  This now reduces my backlog of interview transcriptions
to nil.  (And there was great rejoicing.)



From: "David C. Copley" 
Subject: _Keyboard_ interview with Geddy (March 89)

                             Geddy Lee: 
                Rush To Perfection on _A Show of Hands_

                 (reproduced without permission from)
                    _Keyboard_, March 1989, p16-17

    Three may be the lucky number for Rush.  The trio's latest release,
_A Show  of Hands_, marks their third attempt to mix the excitement of
concert  performance with the cleanliness of studio technology.  Their
two previous  albums left the band feeling unsatisfied: On _All the
World's a Stage_,  recorded in 1976, they considered the sound too raw,
while _Exit Stage  Left_, from 1981, seemed too slick and overproduced.

    But now, according to triple-threat bassist/keyboardist/vocalist
Geddy Lee,  they've finally got it right.  _A Show of Hands_ [Mercury
836346] features  the best performances from their last two tours, each
recorded with  crystalline clarity. "Spontaneity is the most elusive part
of performing,"  he explains.  "When you've got a tape machine running
during a show, every  little thing you do that might not be exact shouts
at you and breaks your  concentration.  We tried to overcome that on this
album by taping so many  shows that after a while we were bound to get a
good one."

    Though they captured more than 20 concerts, the bulk of the double
album  was taken from the last of these gigs.  "We played the last three
shows in  Birmingham, England." Lee recalls.  "On the second night, we
filmed a live  video.  It was a major shoot: 12 cameras, 60 people
running around  backstage.  That made us so uptight that on the last
concert, after they  had been taken away, we felt incredibly relaxed
onstage.  It was almost  like an off night.  So we played very

    Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart exhibit their
usual  precision and finesse on _Hands_, running through a selection of
their  greatest hits like Michael Jordon icing the Miami Heat defense. 
Perhaps  the most impressive single element on these cuts is Lee's
seamless segues  between bass guitar and keyboards.  Planted behind his
PPG Wave 2.2, with  a Roland D-50 on one side, a Yamaha KX76 on the
other, and a Steinberger  bass dangling from his neck, he jumps from
strings to keys, keys to  strings, while tapping out additional lines on
Korg and Moog pedals and  singing those trademark stratospheric high
notes.  Despite the obvious  disaster potential, Lee goes through this
routine night after night with  nary a slip.

    "On our Power Windows tour, things got so complicated that I thought
it  would be impossible to remember everything," he laughs.  "So I had
color  charts made up by a friend of mine.  We assigned different colors
to each  block of the KX76, so when we did, say, `Big Money', I'd flip
the chart,  and there were these color-coordinated blocks of this synth
or that sound.   Well it turns out to be a lot easier to memorize than I
thought it would  be.  If you can memorize a thousand notes in a song, it
isn't too hard to  memorize four different colors."

    On some songs, such as "Force Ten," Lee's choreography is so
intricate that  he's literally dancing.  With arms and legs flailing
through Rush's  typically ornate arrangements, it's obviously harder to
play accurately.   Fortunately, Lee's KX76 helps him cut down the
clinkers.  "If I'm going  back and forth from playing very fast bass
lines to throwing my hands on  the keyboard to hit one sound, it's easier
to assign that sound to three  adjacent notes.  That gives me a margin of
error.  I don't want to worry  about being too precise if I'm just
triggering a sample.  Rather than  trying to hit a C in the middle of a
frenzied part, I'll assign the same  event to the C, D, and E."

    Along with his onstage setup, Lee marshals a powerful array of
offstage  synths and samplers in trying to duplicate the band's rich
studio textures.   Given the care he puts into orchestrating his parts on
record, this is no  simple job.  On such songs as "Mission," from _Hold
Your Fire_, the  arrangements are largely built around synth textures, so
approximating them  onstage is crucial.

    "That whole song was made up of some very complex pads, which added
up to  what seemed like a very simple sound," Lee remembers.  "We had six
or seven  pads, each one slightly different.  I had a choral sound from
the  [Sequential] Prophet VS, and a slightly higher brassy sound from the
DX7.   I think [studio keyboardist] Andy Richards added a couple of
sounds from  his Fairlight and PPG.  Then our producer, Peter Collins,
recorded an  English Brass band playing those chords with their lovely
muted sounds.  In  the final mix, we put all those things together.

    "When we do `Mission' live, it's a sample of those chords in
combination  with three other keyboards I'm playing.  It's a really rich
sound, and you  can hear the vocal quality quite well.  Toward the end of
the song, I raise  it up an octave, and suddenly you can hear the
different characters of each  keyboard.  That `Whiter Shade of Pale'
organ sound becomes more prominent  too."

    Vocal samples abound on _Hands_ as well.  "That's an actual 30-voice
choir  on `Marathon,'" Lee notes.  "We didn't want to just use a tape of
a choir  singing, so we divided the choir up into many different samples. 
I play a  fairly simple keyboard part, but it triggers each segment of
the choir  sample when we need it.  It's a very long chorus at the end,
with two key  changes, and at each key change the arrangement changes
slightly.  With the  first one, an orchestra joins the choir.  For the
last one, it's the same  choir mixed with some strings.  And every three
bars or so I'll change a  note to bring in another part of the choir. 
That's a lot of sampling time,  so for that tune we had to use three
[Akai] S900s."

    In past interviews, Lee has modestly quibbled with those who consider
him  one of the top keyboard players in rock, protesting that his
technique has  been too rudimentary to warrant serious praise.  Now,
however, that may be  changing, as this fleet-fingered bass player has
finally gotten around to  taking piano lessons.

    "I have to tell you, it's really boring," he admits.  "I'm supposed
to  start each day by practicing the Hanon exercises, doing scales in
contrary  motion, and that kind of thing.  But it's already helping me. 
The other  day, as I was working with a friend on one of his projects, I
noticed that  my fingers were subconsciously falling onto the right keys
for a change."

    But why start studying piano now, in this day and age of rapid-fire 
sequencers?  Lee shrugs and laughs.  "Maybe it's a reaction to appearing
in  too many _Keyboard_ polls."

---written by Robert L. Doerschuk for _Keyboard_ magazine


[ Sorry to whomever submitted this - I somehow lost the "From:" line ]

Subject: 1984 Interview with Alex Lifeson

Reprinted without permission from _Guitar for the Practicing 
Musician_,  July 1984.

Alex Lifeson of Rush:  Still in School
By John Stix

     Most people try out new songs on their friends in the basement.  
Most bands warm up for recording in rehearsal halls.  It's safer.  But 
then, Rush have never played it safe.  So last fall, when it came time 
to warm up for the recording of their album, _Grace Under Pressure_, 
Rush went looking for an appropriate hall.  Never known for a small 
sound, they chose Radio City Music Hall, in New York City!  Certainly 
their music is big enough to fill the Grand Canyon.  But the question 
has never been how can three guys make so much sound - but 
rather, how can the same three guys make so many different sounds?

Like so many of the finest groups, Rush is defined by distinct 
periods.  The early albums were Zeppelin clones.  The middle period 
shows the heavy trappings of the British art rockers.  More recently, 
keyboards and a stripped-down sound have brought Rush to the top, 
firmly defining them as the premiere modern metalists of the 80s.  
_GUITAR_ spoke with Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson about these 
changes and how he's been able to grow on the guitar without 
growing old.

Alex:  Songs like "Oh Pretty Woman" from John Mayall's _Crusade_ 
album bring back memories of when we started.  I would spend 
months trying to figure out songs like this, early on in my guitar 
playing career.  Mick Taylor's sound was exceptional for that time.  
He had that grit and sustain, and the right kind of smooth distortion.

GUITAR:  Has anything come to replace the kind of intensity that you 
displayed the years before and during the first few albums?

Alex:  That intensity is an exuberance to play the guitar really well.  
When you hear these great solos, that gives you something to get 
going with.  When you achieve a certain level of competence you 
start to open up a bit and not be quite as intense.  In the context of a 
group you become more sensitive to your position in that band.  For 
me as a guitarist, as the group evolved, it became more important to 
become part of the group rather than the guitarist or the bassist or 
the drummer.  The idea was to become a complete unit.  So that 
maybe you're not playing a million notes a second, but something 
that fits the context of what's going on.  In that sense there is a 
change, a shift to a different kind of intensity.  It's something you get 
in time.  You can definitely hear that original guitar intensity on the 
first few albums, certainly the first.  That was in '70 or '71, and our 
influences were pretty apparent.  The guitar did play more of a lead 

GUITAR:  Was Rush a trio because you wanted to follow in the 
footsteps of Cream or Hendrix?

Alex:  Not really, it just happened.  John, our original drummer, and I 
played together for quite a while.  I knew Geddy from school.  He 
played in another group but we jammed quite often.  My band got a 
gig in a drop-in center at a church.  The following week we had a 
chance to do the same gig again, for $15 or $20.  Our bass player 
couldn't make it and I called Ged up and it went on from there.  In 
'69 we had a keyboard player in the group.  He went on to become 
Geddy's brother-in-law.  He was in the band for a few months and 
then we broke up.  Later in '72 we had another guitarist for about six 
months.  That didn't work out wither.  We always felt more 
comfortable as a three-piece.  Then John left and Neil came into the 
band.  It's always been a good chemistry for us and we've always 
been used to working in this context.

GUITAR:  Would it be easier sometimes if you had a keyboard player 
in the band?

Alex:  Absolutely, it would be a lot easier.  Over the years you 
become used to having to use your feet, as well as your hands.  In 
Geddy's case he's using both feet, both hands and his mouth.  I think 
in the studio we feel a little restricted in that we want to remain true 
to what we're doing on stage.  Consequently, you don't hear rhythm 
guitar during the solo, you don't hear bass guitar during keyboard 

GUITAR:  When you solo, do you think about the rhythm guitar parts 
that might be there and play over them?

Alex:  When we write a song I think in context of a space for the solo.  
It's left at that.  We work on the arrangement to get it tight.  When 
we go into the studio to get the basic tracks down, I spend a couple 
of days and start doing my solos then.  That is usually the first time I 
think about or work on my solos.  Occasionally, I'll throw something 
down while we're writing just to fill in that space.  Very seldom do I 
use anything.  On "The Weapon" I used a couple of things that came 
out during those writing sessions.  Normally I spend a couple of days 
on solos and work from scratch.  We work on getting a sound.  I try to 
get a feel for what the solo should be doing and then pursue 
different directions.  I might pursue something for hours and do a 
collage.  I'll drop in a whole different section to see how it feels.  
Then I relearn the solo when we get ready to go back on the road.

GUITAR:  The solo gives you the freedom that's not normally written 
into the composition.

Alex:  Definitely, that's what I feed off.  We are such a regimented 
band and basically do the same thing each night.  The solos give me 
freedom to experiment and go wild.

GUITAR:  "Villa de Strange" seems to be your song in concert.

Alex:  I always enjoy playing that solo.  I like the changes and it's a 
very emotive bluesy kind of solo.  It too stays basically the same 
every night.  The band is in the background modulating between two 
notes and it gives me a chance to wail.

GUITAR:  A song like "Countdown" has a bar of 4/4 followed by a bar 
of 11/8.  Was this rhythmic twist the core idea for writing the song?

Alex:  It's more of a feel thing than a conscious effort.  The way we 
write, we have the lyric or an idea of what the song is going to be.  
That idea sets a mood.  By changing the time signature you can 
change the whole effect of the song.  I guess in that respect we do go 
off into those changes without making a conscious effort.  Yet it does 
make the song more complex.  That influence came from the British 
progressive movement and bands like Yes and Genesis.  They had a 
big influence on us.  I guess you're always picking something that is 
around that has an effect on the way you hear music.  As long as you 
can hear those things and apply them, you're growing.  A lot of times 
bands lock into something and stay there and that's the end.  They 
make two or three records of the same thing, which happen to be 
their most popular, and that's it for them.

GUITAR:  I recall from our last meeting together that Steve Hackett 
was your major influence from the progressive movement.

Alex:  Yes, Steve Hackett is so articulate and melodic, precise and 
flowing.  I think our _Caress of Steel_ period is when I was most 
influenced by him.  There's even a solo on that album which is 
almost a steal from his style of playing.  It's one of my favorites, 
called "No One at the Bridge".

GUITAR:  Can you recall when you knew you sound like Alex 

Alex:  I remember it in spurts.  I remember in solos that every once 
in a while I did something I felt was truly original, that came from 
me without having obvious influences.  There wasn't any one point 
where I thought, "I sound like myself."  Even now, in '84, I find it 
difficult to do that.  I'd say since _Moving Pictures_ I feel like I've 
moved into my own space.  Style is a difficult thing to define.  I can't 
begin to say what I think my style is.

GUITAR:  Do you have any particular chord changes which you like to 
play over?

Alex:  With each album I have favorite chord changes, which I then 
don't like to repeat on the next album.  Suspended chords have 
always been my favorites.  They seem so broad.  Your harmonic 
content becomes much greater.  It comes from that same school of 
making more out of the music because we are only a three-piece 
band.  The chorus to "Analog Kid" has broad sounding chord in the 
sense of triad rock chords.  The new album has that sound also.

GUITAR:  On this new record the guitar sounds more prominent 
again.  The chords ring longer and the guitar parts in general are 
more clearly defined.

Alex:  That's exactly what we were going for.  In retrospect, _Signals_ 
tried to achieve a focus on the keyboards.  We wanted the guitar to 
become part of the rhythm.  I enjoy rhythm guitar very much and 
try to make the most of that genre.  Unfortunately, somewhere along 
the line we lost it.  We wanted the guitar to be more angular.  The 
usual formula in the studio was to put the guitar down and triple 
track it to layer the guitar sound so it was massive.  On _Signals_ we 
wanted to change things, and unfortunately, the guitar took a back 
seat.  When we started on this new album we wanted to bring the 
guitar back into the forefront and strike the proper balance between 
all the elements.

GUITAR:  So the best mix of keys and guitars is on _Moving 

Alex:  Thus far. I'm not putting _Signals_ down, the material is quite 
good and generally the production is good.  We just tried something 
different.  Ultimately, if we keep trying different things we'll be 
happy no matter what the results.

GUITAR:  Do you have to stop yourself from repeating something 
from the past?

Alex:  You don't have to stop yourself but it's always in the forefront 
of your mind that you don't want to repeat yourself.  After making 
12 records it's hard not to.

GUITAR:  Do you ever want to record a song just to totally rock out 
on the guitar?

Alex:  At this point, no.  I'm making an effort to change my thinking 
about the way I want to do solos and play the guitar in general.  Like 
I said earlier, I want to take up more space and be more harmonic in 
my approach.  With my soloing I want to take up more room with 
less frequency of notes.  I want to be more careful with my note 
selection.  I feel like I've come out of that play as fast as you can age.  
_Signals_ was the turning point for that.  I'd like to pursue it further 
and maybe combine more chordal solos than strictly individual notes.

GUITAR:  I know you would love to forget the first live Rush album.  
How do you feel about _Exit_?

Alex:  Live albums are always a difficult thing.  It's hard to get 
excited about them.  In terms of a live recording it's very good.  I'm 
happy with it in that respect.  As an example of our show it's not as 
good as it could have been or possibly should have been.  Live 
albums give us some breathing space to cleanse ourselves and start 
on something fresh and new.  When we were in the studio doing 
_Exit_, Geddy and I were in another studio working "Digital Man" and 
"Subdivisions" for _Signals_.  We were already geared up for another 
record.  I think that had something to do with the fact that we don't 
go crazy over live records.  I don't know if you'll ever hear another 
live album from Rush.  We enjoy the studio recordings much more 
than we do the live ones.

GUITAR:  Do you enjoy the studio more than the stage?

Alex:  I enjoy playing live, but I don't enjoy touring as much as I 
used to.  After so many years you do get tired and the cliches about 
being in a different hotel every night do apply.  We all have families 
and being away sort of irks you.  There is a whole set of rules and 
points of satisfaction that you get in both situations.  I enjoy both, 
especially if you're well prepared.  For this new record we allotted 
more time than usual so we were in very good shape.

GUITAR:  Do you like to develop songs from working with demo 

Alex:  Yes, I have a 16-track studio at home.  We bring an Otari up 
north with us.  Once we get the songs in pretty good shape we put 
them down on that, overdubbing vocals and keyboards.

GUITAR:  Are you involved in the whole process or just your parts in 
the songs?

Alex:  We're all there for the duration.

GUITAR:  Do you spend time experimenting with the new effects as 
they come out?

Alex:  I've always done that.  My array of effects is pretty complete 
but I'm always finding new things you can do.  My latest additions 
are a Korg DDL and a Noise Gate.  I use the same Marshall stack, but 
I'm trying out the Carvin Twin 12's.  I'm also checking out the Roland 
Computerized Present Effects.  I've spent a great deal of time 
working with my effects so I'm happy with them.

GUITAR:  Did it take you a while to get used to playing a Fender-style 

Alex:  It took me about three years to feel comfortable playing it.  
I've used a 335 or a 355 almost from the beginning.  One night we 
were playing with BOC at Nassau Colosseum and one of the speaker 
horns fell down on my doubleneck and then over my 335, which was 
my backup at the time.  I had to get another guitar, so I thought I'd 
try a Strat.  It was like picking up a large piece of wood.  I didn't 
know what to do with it.  I thought at the time, "This is a real 
mistake."  I hardly ever used it and never felt comfortable when I 
did.  Along the way I put a Floyd Rose on it, took out the back pickup 
and put in an L-500 humbucker by Bill Lawrence and changed the 
neck to one made by Sharp, which is a company in Ottawa.  It's a flat 
rosewood neck, close to a Gibson.  I didn't put any lacquer on it.  To 
clean it I use a piece of .400 sandpaper and just go back and forth a 
few times.  It's nice and smooth and you can feel the wood as you 
move your hand across it.  The only Fender aspect of it is the body 
and the two Fender pickups in front.  The Bill Lawrence pickup has 
such a high output that you can put your guitar on 8 and switch to 
the Fender pickups without having to bring the volume down and it 
will have a nice clean, clear tone.

GUITAR:  How did you adjust to the Floyd Rose bridge?

Alex:  It was a bit of a pain at first.  I didn't like the locking nut, so 
when I switched necks, I didn't bother putting the locking bridge on 
and I haven't had any problems.  I use a bit of graphite on the nut 
and just keep an eye on it.

GUITAR:  Do you ever use the 355 or the Howard Roberts?

Alex:  I used the 355 on the last tour for three songs, but I do use it 
more in the studio.  The Howard Roberts Fusion guitar is the backup.  
It's got a radically different feel to me now that I've grown 
accustomed to using the Fender.  I never thought that would happen.  
I was such a Gibson man all the way.  But I'm happy with the way 
the Fender has worked out.  I've got it to sound much closer to a 
Gibson, with that sustain and meatiness, while retaining the clarity 
and brilliance of a Fender.

GUITAR:  With instruments, amps and effects it's easy to get new 
input because so many new products come out every year.  But 
where do you go to get new musical input that translates to that next 
plateau jump as a player?

Alex:  Nowhere in particular and everywhere in general. I hear so 
much, so many different styles of guitar playing that can influence 
me.  Andy Summers has a good sense of combinations and selections of 
notes.  His playing fits well into the context of their songs.  Edge 
from U2 is right up front, an aggressive, straight-ahead, all-out play.  
Adrian Belew is like the Carl Sagan of guitarists.  With him it's not 
only the selection of his notes but also the selection of his sounds.  
Midge Ure from Ultravox has a sense of feel that I like.  I like the 
way his guitar sounds take up space.  There are so many who you 
can listen to and pick things up from without necessarily copping a 
lick.  It's more of an attitude about approaching the instrument and 
seeing what you can do with it, where you can go.  I've always 
thought Steve Howe was great but I never wanted to play like him.  
Alan Holdsworth is dangerous for me to hear.  I was most influenced 
by him when he was with Bruford.  I started to pick up what he does 
with a vibrato arm and I have to be careful that I don't just copy 

GUITAR:  What would you like to be remembered for in the long 

Alex:  I feel embarrassed by a question like that.  I can't imagine 
what I would want my contribution to be because I don't feel I have 
that much to contribute.  I do what I do the best I can.  I enjoy 
playing.  Perhaps if I could draw a line between being a rhythm and 
a lead guitarist in a group and do it well, maybe people would look at 
my style and say that's a good way to fill up the space and make 
more out of a part.  If that happens I guess I will have accomplished 
something.  It's hard to tell right now because I'm still in school.


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Copyright The Rush Fans Mailing List, 1991.

Editor, The National Midnight Star
(Rush Fans Mailing List)

End of The National Midnight Star Number 220

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