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Subject: 06/13/91 - The National Midnight Star #264 ** Special Edition **

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          The National Midnight Star, Number 264

                  Thursday, 13 June 1991
Today's Topics:
              Bass Player magazine interview

Date: Sat, 8 Jun 91 11:13:46 PDT
Subject: Bass Player magazine interview

Reprinted without permission from the pages of 
_Bass Player_ magazine, November/December 1988.

Geddy Lee -- Bass Is Still The Key
By Robin Tolleson

	One might imagine a five-time poll winner on bass like Geddy 
Lee of Rush talking about the virtues of taste and technique.  But 
the 34-year-old Lee now laughs that he tries to be as obnoxious as 
he can in the limited time he's allowed to play the bass guitar 
with Rush.  Maybe that's one reason he wins polls -- he goes for 
broke at least twice a tune, scampering up and down the neck of 
his bass with reckless but calculated abandon.

	Geddy Lee may joke about his frustration at having to play a 
lot of bass parts on keyboards or pedals, but he's used sounds 
from other sources from the very beginning of the band, even 
before MIDI.  Certainly one of his strengths has always been the 
variety of bass colors he gives Rush.  It's interesting that you 
never know where Geddy's sound might be coming from -- his hands 
or feet, a keyboard synth, guitar of some kind, or footpedal.

	One minute the bass sound is crisp like a Rickenbacker, the 
next it's a low rumble that pins your ears back, then a roar like 
a church organ.  His bass parts are compositions in themselves.  
There's a different sound for each mood or time change in Rush's 

	Several years ago, in the course of a Blindfold Test with 
the great jazz drummer Tony Williams, I decided to cross him up 
and play something different than the Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, 
and Chick Corea tracks I had been feeding him.  I let him listen 
to Rush's "Limelight" [from _Moving Pictures_].

	"This is the first one that I've really liked," said Tony.  
"Even though it's a 7/4 here and goes into 3 over there, it feels 
really relaxed.  I get an emotional feeling from it.  I like the 
bass playing and the bass sound.  The groove is good, and that's 
the bass and the drums."

	Williams' compliment underscores a basic fact.  The 
musicians who come in contact with Rush have a healthy respect, if 
not a fondness for the band.  And the average listener just gets 
turned on by the grandness of it all, even if they don't know how 
well the group is traversing the odd time signatures.

	The members of Rush all take their music very seriously -- 
they're all repeat poll-winners in music magazines -- and they've 
improved since their early, more heavy metal-influenced days, both 
as players and songwriters.  And Lee would deserve credit for 
expanding the group's sound as much as anyone, with his 
integration of bass pedals and synths into the musical picture.

	Drummer John Rutsey joined Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson in 
the original Rush.  They played mostly high schools around Ontario 
at first because they were too young to play the clubs where the 
legal drinking age was 21.  When the age was lowered to 18 they 
began doing showcases in Toronto, and found a loyal following and 
a record deal with Mercury/Polygram in 1974.  Two weeks before 
their first tour of the U.S. later that year, Rutsey announced he 
was leaving the group, and Neil Peart answered their frantic ad 
for a drummer.  The trio has been the most consistent progressive 
hard rock band in the business ever since.

	_BASS PLAYER_ got the opportunity to speak with Geddy Lee 
while he was busy working with producer Peter Collins on Rush's 
upcoming live double-album.

				*   *   *   *

Q:	Who were your first musical influences?

A:	I was first influenced by bassist Jack Bruce.  Cream was one 
of the groups that I loved when I was growing up and first got 
into music in a more serious way.  We used to play Cream songs way 
back when.  What I liked about Jack was that his sound was 
distinctive -- it wasn't boring, and it wasn't typical.  And he 
was very busy.  He wouldn't keep his place, which I really liked a 
lot.  He wouldn't keep quiet as a bass player.  He was obtrusive, 
which I like in a bass player.

Q:	I guess it helps if you're in a trio setting.  You might run 
into trouble if you were to start adding more musicians.

A:	Yeah, the freedom of the trio is that you're allowed to be 
as busy as the thing can take.  Obviously you have to use taste 
and discretion where and when you're being busy.  But the thing 
that appealed to me about bass players all along were bass players 
that played more than they were supposed to play, or more than the 
conventional bass player would play.

Q:	On _Hold Your Fire_ [1987], the bass is in some great-
sounding rooms.  There's one section on "Lock And Key" where you 
get a good trebly effect.  I know you used Rickenbackers in the 
past,and that sound reminds me of it.

A:	You can get that sound out of most basses I think, but a 
Rickenbacker has a particular kind of top end, and bottom end as 
well.  It has a particular kind of classic twang to it.  I found 
that I wanted to get a little more subtlety in the sound, and I 
couldn't quite get it out of the Rick.  I wanted to change the top 
end a little bit, get a little different shaped bottom end.  Then 
I moved to a Steinberger, which really gave me a totally different 
sound.  The top end didn't range as high and twangy, and the 
bottom end was quite a different shade.  I liked it a lot, and 
used it onstage, and on the _Grace Under Pressure_ album.  But on 
_Power Windows_ I got introduced to the Wal bass, made by a small 
company in England.  Our producer, Peter Collins, had one and 
suggested I try it out.  I used that bass on _Hold Your Fire_, and 
I'm very pleased with the results and its flexibility.  I use a 4-
string most of the time, but on "Lock And Key" it was a 5-string 
they made with an extra low "B".  I find that low string really 
means more today, because we're living in the world of 
synthesizers that go lower than basses ever went before.

Q:	On "Force Ten" [from _Hold Your Fire_] you do some chordal 
stuff on bass.  What were you thinking of then?  It really pushes 
the tune ahead.

A:	Before I had a visit from Jeff Berlin, who's a friend, on 
the tour I had the opportunity to watch him goofing around 
backstage with a bass, and was just amazed at his knowledge of 
bass chords.  That's something I had never really exploited in my 
playing, so he inspired me to play around more with it.  He 
probably doesn't know it, and would be embarrassed to hear it.  I 
ended up using bass chords on "Force Ten" and "Turn The Page".  
Not so much in the sense of strumming them as using my thumb more, 
almost like a fingerpicking style of playing, which is something 
that I'm still working on.  Just plucking with my thumb and going 
back and forth between the thumb and the first two fingers and 
pulling.  Almost like a snapping technique.  It's opened up a bit 
more range for me.  There's more melodic possibilities and 
rhythmic possibilities too, which is an important role for the 
bass player.  If you can establish not only a melody but a 
rhythmic feel, that's an extra tool.

Q:	During "Prime Mover" [from _Hold Your Fire_] you really dig 
into your part during the guitar solos.  I read how you guys 
compose the guitar solos as a group.  Do you have to wait until 
the solo is composed before you come up with your parts?

A:	We obviously have a chordal structure, and a melodic fix or 
picture of what the part's going to be.  Usually I put it down, 
and between Neil and myself, we get little rhythm patterns going.  
I play around with the melody, and depending on what the tone 
center is and what the chord structures are in that area, I just 
write my part.  Then Alex plays different solos around what Neil 
and I have already put down.  He's quite content to work with what 
we've put down, and in most parts he's around through every stage 
anyway, so he's quite aware of the direction it's going in.  He'll 
go down and wail, and a lot of times he will surprise us.  It's a 
totally different direction than we had expected it, but it's 
always within the melodic structure that exists.

Q:	At the end of "Open Secrets" [from _Hold Your Fire_] it 
sounds like you guys are jamming, almost an improvised thing.

A:	It sort of was.  That song went through a lot of changes, 
and by the end of it, we had established this bass riff near the 
top of it.  At the end we got into this groove when we were in the 
demo stage that we knew would be fun.  So when Neil locked into 
that groove and went with it, he felt so good that we just let him 
go.  And I just jammed to what he already put down.

Q:	That's an interesting sequence at the beginning of "Big 
Money" [from _Power Windows_].  Do you do programming?

A:	Usually I'll do a basic sequence as a direction of a part, 
and then when (keyboardist) Andy Richards comes in the studio he 
listens to what I've done.  If he can improve on it, he has full 
license to go ahead.  And the nice thing about working with him is 
he's very open to everybody's ideas.  I can think up an idea that 
I don't have the technical ability to play, but he does, and he'll 
take that idea even farther than I imagined it.  That's a real 
bonus for me.

Q:	Sometimes it's hard to tell if you're playing a bass guitar 
or a keyboard.  On the verse of "Territories" [from _Power 
Windows_] there's a real droning type of bass part.  Then, on the 
B part, you get into a more staccato kind of sound.

A:	Whenever you hear that low bottom end that drones 
underneath, it's usually my Moog pedals.  I've been using those 
for years and they're really great when I have to go to keyboards 
and sustain the bottom end.  Because they have an unobtrusive bass 
that doesn't phase.

Q:	When you started playing bass, did you have any idea that 
you'd end up playing keyboards and pedals?

A:	Not at all, and every year it amazes me more and more how 
much stuff I have on my side of the stage that I have to deal 
with.  Because I really am not a proficient keyboard player.  I 
know my name pops up in these keyboard polls from time to time, 
and it's really unfair, because I really am not a good keyboard 
player.  I'm really strictly a synthesist and sort of an 
orchestrator.  I am learning how to play keyboards better every 
day, and I am presently studying piano.

Q:	You do actually miss playing the bass at times?

A:	Oh yeah, it's a constant frustration too because when we're 
recording, a lot of times I know I won't be able to play bass in 
certain parts of songs because I'll be playing the keyboards.  So 
I'm very reluctant to put a bass part on the record that I won't 
be able to play live.  So it's a battle.  We overcame that a 
little on this past tour, because now technology has finally 
caught up with us.  I can now program certain keyboard chords to 
pedals onstage that can trigger different synthesizers.

Q:	As a bassist, does the technology make it easier, or do you 
just keep coming up with harder things to do?

A:	In the end you're as busy as you want to be as a bass 
player.  You really have to serve the song the best way possible.  
And if it serves the song to be busy, that's fine.  But if it best 
serves the song to be a bit more fundamental and groove-oriented, 
you have to do that.  You usually wait for your moments.  It's 
difficult to be a musician with taste.  I think taste is the most 
difficult thing for a player to acquire.  Sometimes being a little 
more subtle with your talent gets you farther and adds more to the 
song.  Not to say that I've *always* exercised that belief.   
There have been times where I've definitely been out of turn, and 
thrown some notes out that were probably not in the best service 
of the songs groove.  But I think the older I get, and the more 
experience I get at writing and arranging, the more I try to bear 
that in mind.

Q:	It's definitely not something we think about when we're 
young.  It's more going for broke then.

A:	Yeah, and that's good, that's fine.  That's something that 
does come with growing up as a musician and changing your style, 
or just absorbing more knowledge about what songs you want to 
play.  And it's also dependent on the style of music that you want 
to play.  If you don't want to play anything other than a very 
indulgent brand of music, then you don't have to.

Q:	"Grand Designs" [from _Power Windows_] features a great drum 
part by Neil.  Some good bassists might be thrown off by that kind 
of part.

A:	I don't remember any difficulty with that song, as a matter 
of fact.  One of the best things about playing with the same 
person for a very long time is you have this kind of telepathic 
connection in a way.  You know each other so well stylistically 
that there's a whole range of probabilities that you have in 
common.  So if I hear him going in a direction or he hears me 
going in a direction, we can shift to that direction.  I think 
we've figured out a way to complement each other so that it's 
comfortable.  It's something that comes with time and work.  And 
knowing when to simplify and when not to simplify.  Sometimes when 
a bass player is playing with a rhythmically difficult drum part, 
that's the time to simplify, help the part cruise by playing more 
consistently.  That can help knit the parts together.  At the same 
time, if there's another drum part coming up where he's going to 
be more solid and fundamental, that will enable the bass to 
stretch out a bit and get more active.  So it's give and take.

Q:	There's not any ego involved at this point, but it's hard to 
get rid of it when you're a kid.

A:	Yeah, and it's not necessarily the best thing to get rid of, 
because that's what drives you sometimes.  Having an ego is not a 
bad thing.  That's what makes you move, that's what makes you 
happy with yourself.  But when your ego is encroaching on other 
peoples' presence, it becomes a problem.

Q:	Do you and Alex ever both play pedals simultaneously 

A:	Sometimes, when we just want a ridiculous amount of bottom 
end.  That bottom end from pedals really sounds great in certain 
halls, it really fills and gives you a lot of pant flap, as we 
call it.  It shakes your pants.  Moves a lot of air in the low 
range, and sometimes it's that sheer bottom end power that we're 
going after.  But Alex has been a lot busier on the last tour.  
He's gotten responsibility off my shoulders by playing a lot more 
keyboard and foot pedal parts to enable me to play more bass.

Q:	It's really interesting the way you'll combine the pedals, 
keyboards, and your bass together.  Can you remember using all 
three on one song?

A:	Probably "Open Secrets" and "Force Ten" are examples of 
using all those kind of things.  In "Open Secrets" I go back and 
forth from playing bass to pedals, with sequencers going.  In 
"Force Ten" there's a good use of bass chord playing, back and 
forth with different kinds of bass sequencing.  The third chorus 
of "Force Ten" is one of my favorite bass sequence parts on the 
record.  I use pedals in most songs that we do.  Often you'll hear 
bass pedals on the choruses.  On a song like "Lock And Key" for 
example, instead of using pedals, I'm using MIDI to help me play 
the lower end of the piano part -- triggering piano plus a synth 
bass to sustain the bottom end.  When we play a song like "Red 
Sector A" [from _Grace Under Pressure_] live, MIDI enables me to 
use the bass arpeggiator part, and send it to more than one 
instrument.  Then I can get a really nice bass sound triggered by 
the arpeggiator that keeps the bottom end rolling and feeling 
good.  That song sounds better live than it ever did on record, 
just because the technology has allowed me to get better sounds.  
That's another reason for doing this up-and-coming live album.  I 
think some of the versions that we'll be putting on this live 
album are better than the original versions.

Q:	When you're making a decision of what instrument to play in 
a certain part, is the deciding factor always the sound that you 
want, or is it sometimes influenced by the fact that you have to 
be singing a difficult line at that time?

A:	It's usually purely influenced by whether I'm playing 
keyboards or not.  Whenever I *can* play bass I do.  Bass is 
always the first choice.  But there are situations where I know 
that it'll be necessary for me to play keyboards live in order to 
justify that song.  If I know that a bass part underneath it will 
be fairly simple, I might decide to leave the bass out and play 
bass pedals.  If you're just holding very simple notes for a long 
time, in some ways I'd rather have the bass pedals do that, 
because the bottom end is a little more luxurious.  In the past it 
had to be a more difficult decision, because we didn't have the 
technology that we have now, so I'd find myself leaving out larger 
chunks of bass.  But now I think I play the bass up to 75 or 80 
percent of the time.  So the decision is always made strictly on 
whether my hands need to be busy playing keyboards or not.

Q:	Has singing and playing at the same time ever been a problem 
for you?

A:	Oh sure.  It's not the easiest thing in the world to do.  
You have to put a lot of hours into practice.  As a matter of 
fact, on this tour I had a major problem with "Turn The Page" 
[from _Hold Your Fire_].  It's a very busy bass part, and the 
vocal part doesn't really relate to it very much.  Eventually I 
got it, but it took a lot of practice.  You can do those things, 
but you have to practice them a lot.  You have to split yourself, 
as they say.  Split your hands.  Split yourself in two really, and 
let your hands do something, and let your voice do the other.

Q:	Drummer Tony Williams once commented to me about your 
fluidity going over odd time signatures.  Do you think about 
playing those, count the times, or just try to feel them when 
you're playing a song like that?

A:	When you're first writing them, you *are* counting them.  
Just until you start feeling what the changes are.  You have to 
count any difficult groove at first, but once you know it, then 
your instincts take over and you don't have to count.  You just 
feel the changes.  After a certain point they become more musical 
and less mathematical.  But that's only after learning to feel 
comfortable with a particular time signature.  Like with us, 
playing in 7 is now so comfortable we almost never have to count 
it.  We can shift into that fairly easily.  In the early days it 
was very difficult to make it sound like it wasn't counted, and 
sometimes for effect you want it to sound like that -- if you're 
playing in 9s or something really exaggerated like Genesis used to 
do from time to time, and really emphasize the third beat.

Q:	When you're in the studio, do you use click tracks?  Or do 
you like to play in real time?

A:	Well, Neil almost always plays to a click in the studio.  He 
prefers it.  He doesn't look at it like it's his enemy, like a lot 
of drummers do.  He looks at it like it's only helping me, because 
it's one less thing he has to think about.  So if a click is 
counting the time for him in his headphones, then he has the 
freedom to concentrate on everything else.  And because of the 
intricacy of a lot of his parts, he finds that to be a great help.  
It's also helped him become a much steadier drummer playing live.  
I think it's been very beneficial to him.  But for myself, if 
Neil's listening to the click, I just have to listen to him.  I 
find it a little irritating having a click in my headphones.  But 
if it's important during a song, I will definitely listen to the 
click.  But that's what drummers are for.  Give the click to the 
drummer and then just give the drummer to me.  [Laughs]

Q:	How do you feel about practice at this point?

A:	If I went without practicing when I first started playing, 
my fingers would get really raw when I'd pick up the bass.  But 
that doesn't happen anymore.  I've got permanent calluses now, 
because of playing a lot.  If I don't practice for a while I don't 
play very fluidly.  I just move around the neck a bit more 
sluggishly than I should.  So it's important from time to time to 
pick up the bass to make sure you remember what the hell you're 

Q:	I don't guess much time ever goes by between gigs for you.

A:	Well, I usually have one season where I try to stay away 
from doing anything.  And in between touring and recording, I try 
to take time by myself to get away from it.  Then, when it comes 
time again for me to start writing, I'm just dying to pick the 
thing up and go for it.  But usually before a tour, I start 
practicing on my own well in advance, so that by the time the tour 
starts I have myself in shape.

Q:	What instrument do you compose on when you write for the 

A:	Well, I used to write on guitar a lot, and bass, but now I 
write on keyboards and bass.  I do like writing on bass from time 
to time, because I find that I'm a little more aggressive when I'm 
writing on that instrument.  "Force 10" was written on bass and 
parts of "Turn The Page", "Grand Designs" was written with Alex, 
him on guitar and me on bass.  Whereas "Lock And Key" [from _Hold 
Your Fire_] was written on keyboard.  "Second Nature" [from _Hold 
Your Fire_] was written on keyboard.  "Open Secrets" was written 
on keyboard.  Actually "Open Secrets" was written on both.

Q:	Have you started writing on computer yet?

A:	Yeah, I got my Mac.

Q:	Do you think the Composer software helps songwriters write 
better songs?

A:	I don't think it's a matter of being better.  I think it's 
just a handy tool.  It's the same old thing.  You can put a Mac in 
the hands of five people, and not everybody's going to write a 
good song.  If you have musical ability you can write on whatever 
you're given.  And if you don't, it doesn't matter how easy they 
make it for you, you're not going to be able to write anything 
that's any good.  I think it's harder on the listener if anything, 
because it's harder to tell the real thing from the pretenders 
these days, because it's a little easier to pretend with the 
technology.  But I think in the long run it's clear.

Q:	The cream rises?

A:	I think so.  You can bluff a song, but not for very long.  
In the end you can't make a career of it.  A lot of people can 
have one great hit record, but it's very hard to bluff a career.

				*   *   *   *

Geddy's Stage Gear

	Geddy Lee plays a Wal bass with a telex wireless.  The 
signal goes from the telex to a Boss GE-7B EQ switch, which 
Geddy's bass tech, Skip Gildersleeve, punches on to boost the 
signal for fast runs up the neck.

	From there the signal goes through a Furman pre-amp to one 
channel of an API SSO (EQ) unit, then to a custom switching box 
that routes whichever preamp and EQ will go to the two BGW 750 
power amps.  The signal from the BGWs goes to a miked Teil 
cabinet, and an Ampeg V4B.

	Geddy has two sets of Korg pedals, one set is positioned out 
front just about center-stage.  From that point runs 65 feet of 
MIDI cable.

	Geddy's keyboard setup includes a Prophet VS II synthesizer, 
a Yamaha KX76 MIDI controller, a PPG Wave 2.3 synthesizer, a 
Roland D50 synthesizer, another set of Korg Pedals underneath his 
KX76, and his Moog Pedals are underneath the PPG/D500 combo.

	Because of the extreme length of the MIDI cables a MIDI 
buffer runs between Geddy's Korg pedals out front and the rest of 
his setup.  There are two MIDI patch bays which route MIDI program 
changes to any instrument as needed, via MIDI patch bays and 

	Everything else regarding the synth setup is controlled in a 
hidden location behind Geddy's amps at stage-left.  There Tony 
Geranios manipulates Geddy's two racks which consist of the 

	Rack #1 contains a Furman PL8+ Power Conditioner with a 
lighting source which condition the power coming in and prevents 
any AC spikes from damaging the digital equipment; below that are 
the two mappers which take any type of incoming MIDI information 
and change it to any type of output MIDI information as needed.

	The J.L. Cooper is a MIDI patch matrix.  On that he uses 13 
masters, and 17 slaves.  The J.L. Cooper box allows him to patch 
any combination of synths and samplers need for a particular song.  
The high-tech box is a master input for all the MIDI.  This allows 
Tony to go between the two JLC boxes, in case of any problems 
(such as one of the main JLC boxes going down).  Underneath the 
high-tech box, is the Akai S900 sampler #1, the A/B mapper backup 
box, the Akai S900 sampler #2, the Akai S900 sampler #3, and then 
the Roland D550 digital synthesizer.

	Rack #2 consists of another Furman PL8+ on top, with two 
more mappers underneath.  Beneath that are two custom designed JS 
broadcast-quality mixers.  Beneath the JS mixers are the Akai S900 
samplers #4, 5, 6, and 7.  Sampler #7 is primarily used as the 
backup sampler.  At the bottom of the rack is another Roland D550 
synthesizer, which also can be used as a backup.

	Along with the racks is a keyboard stand setup comprised of 
one Roland D50 synthesizer (which serves as backup for both rack-
mounted D550s); below that are two Yamaha DX7s (one serving as a 
backup); and below that are two Yamaha QX1 sequencers.  Both 
sequencers contain identical programs and are triggered 
simultaneously from a remote location.  In case of malfunction 
either sequencer can take over the other's part via the 1620JLC 
programming box.  A Yamaha MFC1 MIDI foot controller is used for 
further mapper program changes.


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

End of The National Midnight Star Number 264

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