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Subject: 04/17/91 - The National Midnight Star #217  ** Special Edition **

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          The National Midnight Star, Number 217

                 Wednesday, 17 April 1991
Today's Topics:
                 1984 Geddy Lee Interview
----------------------------------------------------------------------

Reprinted without permission from _Keyboard_ magazine, September 1984

GEDDY LEE OF RUSH
By Greg Armbruster

	Laser light beams burst from the stage and arch across the 
auditorium, accompanied by a cresting wave of sound that 
physically staggers the tightly packed crowd beyond the security 
barricades.  In response, the audience matches the music's 
momentum with a vast, arms-raised roaring benediction, which all 
but swallows Geddy Lee's high-pitched opening vocal.  Lee, who also 
plays synthesizers and bass, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer 
Neil Peart all seem to twist, jerk, and vibrate as if they themselves 
were electrified, generating a volume of sound that's palpable in its 
intensity.  Like mythological elementals, melody, harmony, and 
rhythm become irresistible forces - swelling, surging, and exploding 
over the audience.  This unrelenting music can literally blast all else 
from your mind and become the center of your consciousness; this 
is white-hot-from-the-furnace heavy metal rock and roll!
	It seems impossible that there are only three mortal human 
beings at the center of this maelstrom, but then groups like Rush 
don't earn the title "power trio" without being able to stand in the 
eye of a musical hurricane.  And when you have a power trio that's 
been fused together by the heat of their talents for more than ten 
years, the resulting alloy is strong and durable - characteristics of 
Rush's continued popularity in a style of music that boasts few 
enduring monuments.
	Forged in Toronto in September 1968, Rush's original roster 
included Geddy, Alex, and drummer John Rutsey.  With musical 
influences like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Procol Harum, the Who, and Jeff 
Beck, it's hard to believe that their sound could fit inside a local 
coffeehouse in the basement of a church.  But they were Friday 
night regulars there until Ray Danniels heard their sound and asked 
to manage them.  "He was sort of a local street-type, hustling kind 
of a guy," according to Geddy in his 1980 _Guitar Player_ 
interview.  Danniels started booking the band into Ontario high 
schools.  When the drinking age in Toronto was lowered to 18, he 
was able to shift them into rock bars where they could be 
appreciated by an older crowd.  However, their desire to play 
original material at high decibel levels severely curtailed their 
performance opportunities.  So for six years the band paid its dues 
in small venues around Toronto, finally culminating in their first 
record, _Rush_, and a U.S. tour in 1974.  It was just before this tour 
that Rutsey finally called it quits and was replaced by Neil Peart.
	Then the real odyssey, encompassing eleven records and as 
many major tours, began in earnest.  First opening for groups like 
Aerosmith, Kiss, and Blue Oyster Cult, then headlining their own 
tours, they continued to perfect their special blend of intricate, 
Zeppelin-like heavy rock for a growing audience of appreciative 
fans.  An important metamorphosis of their sound came in 1977 
with the release of _Farewell to Kings_, when Geddy Lee added 
synthesizers to the band's instrument arsenal.  This change 
immediately expanded their textual capabilities, in the studio as 
well as onstage, and more than anything else inspired their musical 
growth in new directions and allowed their three-man sound to 
keep pace with the ever-increasing orchestrated complexity of 
progressive rock music.
	Geddy's decision to play the synthesizers himself was not 
made quickly.  After all, his responsibilities already included bass 
and lead vocals.  But he had first played the piano as a child, long 
before picking up the bass in high school.  "It was your basic 
suburban story," he remembers, "where you're very young and your 
mother thinks you should play the piano.  I must have been nine or 
ten, and I remember going to lessons twice a week for a couple of 
years at the most.  When I was really young, my sister took piano 
lessons and I was intrigued by the sounds.  I was able to listen to 
the parts she was learning and figure them out by ear.  I always 
trusted my ear, even when I was pretty young, and my ear has 
been my bread and butter."  And when his ear dictated the need for 
another sound in the band, the synthesizer was the obvious choice.  
Also, it could be triggered from footpedals, which would allow him 
to continue playing bass at the same time.  Of course, one 
synthesizer led to another, Alex joined Geddy on his own set of 
Moog Taurus pedals, and now a stack of keyboards rises from each 
side of the stage:  electronic orchestral towers buttressing Rush's 
soaring musical architecture with load-bearing sound supports.
	On their most recent record, _Grace Under Pressure_, and the 
accompanying tour, Geddy has taken another step forward with his 
keyboard playing.  For the first time, the bass has come off the 
shoulder and he has revealed his growing talents as a multi-
keyboardist, triggering pedals and sequence switches with his feet, 
and grabbing a multitude of sounds, lead lines, and bass runs with 
both hands.
	Although guitar, bass, and drums are still the foundation, 
keyboards are playing an ever-greater role in Rush's musical epics.  
In fact, Geddy Lee scored high in our 1981 _Keyboard_ Poll in the 
Best New Talent category.  We talked with Geddy backstage just 
after a sold-out concert at the Cow Palace in South San Francisco.  
His soft-spoken articulate manner belied the monstrous sound 
within which he and his companions had so recently reveled 
onstage.  His opinions about synthesizers and their use within the 
band show a remarkable understanding of keyboards in popular 
rock music and their importance in the continued success of Rush.

                          *  *  *  *

	With all the keyboards that you play, do you now consider 
yourself more of a keyboard player than a bassist?
	Well, it's funny;  I still think of myself as a bassist, but I put 
more effort and more time into playing keyboards.  Of all the 
instruments that I play at home, I end up playing keyboards more 
than anything because it's such a challenge.  It's also more 
satisfying than playing bass on my own.  Although I love playing 
bass, I'd rather play it *with* somebody - a bass is a lonely 
instrument on its own.  But with keyboards, especially synthesizers, 
you can put up a sound and bathe yourself in it.  Who needs anyone 
else?  My actual ability on keyboards is somewhat limited, and I 
don't consider myself a keyboard player, although I do like playing 
the synthesizers.  I look at myself as more of a melodic composer 
with the synthesizer.  As a keyboard player I can't play a lot of 
complex chord changes or move through a very complex structure, 
but I can find lots and lots of melodies.  I can write lots of songs on 
a synthesizer.  I can zone in on the sound that I want and make it 
speak for the mood I want to create; that's my role as a synthesist.

	Today, do you have to be a "keyboard player" to play 
keyboards?
	Obviously not [laughs].  I find that more and more people who 
aren't accomplished musicians as keyboard players are synthesizer 
players, or synthesists.  However, a guy who doesn't have any 
musicality is not going to make anything worthwhile.  If you 
haven't got a musical sense or a musical feel, you can have all the 
toys in the world but you're still going to come up with nothing.  
What I believe in most as a musician is musical sense, or musicality, 
not how many notes you can play, or how many schools you've gone 
to.  What can you do with the knowledge that you have?  Some 
people with very limited technical knowledge can do amazing things 
- - they can speak musically.  Actually, you can make music with 
very few notes.  After all, there aren't that many notes to begin 
with.

	Are your synthesizer solos composed or improvised?
	I write those melodies.  For any melody part I'll try to pick 
the right notes and the right pacing, just like I would write a vocal 
part.  Those synthesizer breaks in "Xanadu" and "The Trees" [from 
_Exit...Stage Left_] I don't really think of as solos.  I consider them 
melody bits or parts.  The only real keyboard solo I think I ever 
played was the Minimoog lead on "Countdown" [from _Signals_] and 
I don't think I'll ever do that again.  I do a little improvisation on 
keyboards, but not much.  I stick to business with the keyboards.

	What inspires your melodies when you sit down at the 
keyboard?
	A lot times the sound inspires me.  That's why I'm so in love 
with the PPG that I have now - it's almost like a magical instrument.  
It's got such a wide variety of interesting sounds.  I prefer sounds 
that are like acoustic instruments but have something of their own; 
something undefinable.  Whenever I stumble over one of those 
sounds, the melodies just pop out of me.  As soon as I hear a sound 
and start playing around with it, things come to mind.  Of all the 
instruments I've had, I think the PPG drives me the most to write.

	What other features sold you on the PPG?
	What I liked about the PPG was the fact that it was a digital 
*and* an analog synthesizer [digital oscillators with analog filters].  
Mind you, there's nothing like an analog synthesizer when you want 
a powerful sound.  Analog synthesizers like the Oberheim OB-Xa 
and the Roland JP-8 have an organic punch to them that I find 
difficult to get out of a digital synthesizer like the PPG.   But they 
have their own unique areas where they shine.  The PPG has a 
crystalline sound which sparkles.  It has a very 'invisible' sort of 
sound that the guitar punches through very easily.  I guess the 
structure of the wavetables and the combination of waveforms that 
go into making the wavetable and the digitized sound itself imparts 
a more 'transparent' quality to the sound.  Analog synthesizers 
seem to be a little more 'sludgy' and soak up more space.  I find it's 
harder to get that crystal clarity out of them.  With the PPG, I can 
take a digital sound and apply all the standard analog techniques to 
it.  The PPG is also very 'user-friendly,' as they say in the computer 
world.  It's laid out very well - very applicable to the player.  Some 
synthesizers are great for the studio, but not so practical for a 
performance.  The PPG stands on its own as a performance 
synthesizer, and it can be used for sampling sounds in the studio 
like a Fairlight by adding the Waveterm.  Although the composition 
page on the Fairlight is probably a lot more extensive, the PPG is 
developing in that area.  Besides, I just love the sound of it; it really 
has inspiring sounds.

	How do you go about looking for those unique, special sounds 
that inspire songs?
	I usually start with some other sound that gets me going.  
When I'm in the studio, I'll go through a hundred sounds until find 
something that's a trigger for me.  When I find something that's in 
the ballpark, I start playing with it; change the shape of the 
envelope, start changing the wavetable a bit.  I play around with a 
lot of variations until I get the sound that moves me.  Then, once I 
get a sound that's close, I start playing around with the acoustic 
environment, because how it's recorded is very important.  When 
you put a synthesizer directly into a  [mixing] board and then directly 
onto tape, the sound is not moving in the air and sounds sterile.  For 
me, it's very important that it go through some sort of speaker.  I 
like putting it through speakers and miking it.  If you go direct, it 
sounds too close.  I want to push it back a bit and hear it bouncing 
off some walls.  It feels a little more like it's a person playing an 
instrument in a room.  It's coming from some sort of environment 
instead of *blotto* - there it is.  If you go direct, you have to use 
toys like reverb and chorus units.  There's also a very interesting 
unit out now called the Quantec Room Simulator which puts the 
sound into a space where you can define the dimensions of a room.  
It's a pretty sophisticated toy, but putting the signal through a 
speaker in the studio and miking it works just as well.

	Do you change the size of the speaker cabinets in order to 
alter the sound?
	Yeah, on this album [_Grace Under Pressure_] we 
experimented a lot with small cabinets.  Sometimes we put the 
synthesizers screaming loud through two big JBL monitors and 
miked them from twenty feet back.  We used that effect on "The 
Enemy Within" for the melody parts.

	Other than reverbs and chorus units, what other effects 
devices have you used?
	I used a vocoder once, but I didn't have good success with it.  
I couldn't get it to work very well.  I like to use effects, but not for 
their own sake.  I'd rather be concerned with ideas rather than just 
effects.  Ideas stand out, but if you need to use a toy to help 
accomplish or enhance that idea, then that's fine.  To use a toy for its 
own sake, as aural candy, is fun sometimes; but if you've got a good 
idea, you don't have to junk it up with toys and effects.  I'm not a 
guitar player and that's why I think that way.  Guitar players all 
think the other way:  Got to have effects and toys, and this, that, 
and the other thing.

	Do you use your synthesizers much for sound effects?
	Yes, especially on past albums there were always a few parts 
where it was strictly sound effects.  There are a couple of moments 
on this record where the same thing happens.  In one sound I use a 
combination of a plucked string with a breaking glass.  Jim Burgess, 
who was helping me with the PPG programming, created this sound.  
I used it on "Red Lenses" to go along with the rhythm of the drums, 
which are playing a real accented part.  On those accents, I would 
hit this sound.  But when you hear it on the record you don't notice 
those two things individually, you just feel the effect.  In 
"Afterimage" I used a combination of a vocal sound and a human 
voice and played a few random melodies that overlapped the main 
part, which created some emotional peaks and valleys.  There's 
nothing like doing that spontaneously; I think that's part of the 
magic of making records.  When you're playing a part with a sound 
that you love, almost anything you play sounds beautiful.  Listening 
to a piece of music that's well structured and trying to 
spontaneously fit notes in to make your emotions rise, that's the 
magic of recording I love best.

	Do you feel that same magic during the mixdown?
	Yes, but mixdown is more painful.  For me, the two really 
creative areas in making records are the bed-track stage and the 
mixdown.  The bed-track stage is very exciting because we're 
human beings playing together and going for that magical take, 
where all of our performances come together.  Mixing requires so 
much concentration, and you really have to take yourself out of the 
studio; you have to separate yourself from the song.  It's always a 
battle for me because I'm so close to everything.  I know every part 
of every instrument so intimately, and yet I have to act as if I've 
never heard those parts before.  You have to have a fresh objective 
sense because now it's not just a bunch of parts, now it has to 
become a song on a record.  I think a great record is one that's 
mixed to sound like it's finished.  It could be no other way than the 
way you hear it.  That's what we go for when we're mixing, and 
sometimes we're successful and sometimes we're not.  If you can 
have enough strength to hang on to a song until you've gotten the 
most out of it, that's the key to mixing.  You have to be determined 
not to say, "Well, it sounds okay; that's good enough."  There has to 
be someone objective there, and that's why I don't think we could 
ever produce ourselves.

	Had your former producer, Terry Brown, finally lost that 
objectivity?
	For all intents and purposes, he was in the band; he was one 
of us, and that was great.  We made a lot of great albums together, 
but ten records is a long time working with the same attitudes.  
Sometimes you have to have a radical change.  Sometimes you have 
to shake yourself and make sure you're not falling asleep at the 
wheel, or falling into bad habits, or just taking the easy way out 
every time.  You want to have some fresh input that says, "That's 
not good enough.  Maybe it was last year, but not now.  Why  don't 
you try something different?"  That's what we wanted, and that's 
why we changed producers.  Finding Peter Henderson was a step in 
our development, but I think we'll still keep looking for different 
things from here on in.  You have to have that freshness, that 
excitement.  It's very easy to get complacent in what we do, and 
that's the real tragedy.  At this stage, we'll do anything we can to 
avoid that.

	After eleven albums, haven't you pretty well defined the Rush 
sound?
	It's a sound that's always in a state of flux.  Every once in a 
while we reach a point where we solidify all the experiments.  The 
_2112_ album was the first solidification and _Moving Pictures_ 
was the second.  There always seems to be a transitional period 
before we assimilate everything.  Neil [Peart] thinks that _Grace 
Under Pressure_ is another solidification point, but I don't agree 
with him.  I think we're still on the way to some other place.  Then 
again, right after each record I feel like it was close; that we're 
getting closer to the record that's still in us.  That's good, though, 
because that means we're still caring and we still want to do it.

	Isn't there a problem sometimes transferring a fresh studio 
sound or a new musical direction to the stage?
	Yeah, sometimes you have to hold back in the studio.  If you 
have the PPG and the Waveterm [digital sampling], you're so 
limitless in the studio.  You can put in so many sounds that you 
don't really hear and you're not really aware of, but they subtly 
evoke a mood.  They're all part of the overall sound and mood of 
the song.  In the studio you do that with four, five, six, or seven 
different tracks.  Onstage it's just you and your instruments; you 
don't have any tracks.  So you have to have a sound that speaks for 
all of those subtle studio sounds in a different way, and that's 
difficult to do.  That's probably the only frustrating thing about 
making records.  Because we're a live band we sometimes have to 
draw a line.  And in a sense, maybe that's good, because it keeps our 
music from being over-produced.  Sometimes we'd like to be able to 
just go nuts on something, and from time to time we'll do a song in 
the studio that we agree not to do onstage.  We'll never play it live, 
so let's go and have some fun.  Of course, if you write something 
that's that good, you want to play it live if it turns out well.  We're 
doing a song on this tour called "Witch Hunt" that was originally 
written as a studio song.  We wouldn't play it live because we 
wanted to be able to add extra keyboards and other things.  We felt 
that we could never reproduce it live so we never played it.  Then 
just on a whim, we tried it in rehearsal and it sounded fine.  We'd 
grown so much since writing it and had acquired all these new 
keyboards that it works now.

	What synthesizer did you start with, and how did you first 
use it with the band?
	The first thing I got was a Moog Taurus, then a Minimoog, and 
it all grew from there.  I got the Taurus because I wanted to play 
double-neck guitar, and I wanted to keep the bass going while I 
backed up Alex [Lifeson] on rhythm guitar.  When I picked up the 
Minimoog and started plunking around on it, I realized it required a 
different attitude to write with it.  I started writing melodies on it, 
like the "Farewell To Kings" intro, and my music began to evolve.  
On _Farewell To Kings_ I used a little bit of Minimoog and Taurus 
pedals just to have another sound besides guitar, bass, and drums.  
It was so refreshing to add a texture that we could drone behind 
our sound - we didn't use it blatantly.  That feeling and pulse in the 
background was really how it started.  Then when we went to a 
very tight three-piece, it didn't feel so dry and empty.  But as I 
started getting more and more keyboards, I started writing more on 
them, which was a big difference from our earlier material.  A lot of 
the songs we do today were written on keyboards.

	Can you trace the path of keyboard influence in you albums?
	I guess _Farewell To Kings_ was the first one, where we used 
the synthesizers for string washes and texture fills.  By the time we 
did _Hemispheres_ I had added an Oberheim Eight-Voice.  That's 
when I really started to get keyboard crazy.  "Truths" from 
_Hemispheres_ and "Camera Eye" from _Moving Pictures_ were 
both written on keyboards.  With "Spirit Of Radio" and "Natural 
Science" from _Permanent Waves_, I started using a lot of 
sequences.  I wrote those little melodies on keyboard and wrote the 
bass and guitar lines to fit the sequences.  "Subdivisions", 
"Chemistry", and "The Weapon" [from _Signals_] were entirely 
written on keyboards.  After _Signals_ we realized that we had 
gotten so keyboard-heavy that Alex was getting frustrated as a 
guitarist.  His role had been relegated to fundamental parts a lot of 
times because the keyboards were so dominant.  So with our latest 
album, _Grace Under Pressure_, we transposed the parts I wrote on 
keyboards for the the guitar, and I went back to the bass.  As a 
result, a song that started on keyboards ended up with no 
keyboards in it, or at least for part of it.  That helped put the guitar 
back in the proper perspective for our band and yet still utilized the 
keyboards in a more subtle musical way.  Also on this album, we 
put a lot of time and thought into experimenting with the kinds of 
sounds we wanted.  We tried to find sounds that had a different 
character and [frequency] range than those of the guitar.  That was 
part of the problem with _Signals_:  The guitar and keyboards were 
sharing the same range too much, and it was a struggle.  They were 
each fighting for their fair share of sound.

	Do you mean range not only in terms of notes but in sound 
and texture as well?
	Absolutely; especially with a sound like ours, where three 
very busy players are trying to put in a lot.  Somehow our sounds 
have to be pushed apart from each other in order to hear them, 
otherwise it just becomes this mess of midrange.  With _Grace 
Under Pressure_, I tried to move the keyboards out of the guitar 
range on every track.  I tried to let the guitar be natural and 
breathe, and at the same time find something for the synthesizer 
sound that had character and was unique.  But there's so much good 
synthesizer music around today that it's very hard not to use 
synthesizer cliches.

	Which synthesists do you listen to?
	The Fixx and Tears For Rears; they make really synthesized 
records.  Almost everything in them is synthesized in some way or 
another.  Peter Gabriel and Larry Fast have some pretty high-
quality stuff that's state-of-the-art.  I also listen to Simple Minds, 
Ultravox, Talk Talk, the Eurythmics, and Kind Sunny Ade.  Lately, 
I've been listening to Howard Jones' _Human's Lib_ [Electra, 60346-
1].  I think it's a real contemporary record, keyboardwise and 
vocally.  I like the new King Crimson album [_Three Of A Perfect 
Pair_, Warner Bros., 1-25071].  When you have musicians like these 
educating people, discovering sounds, and utilizing new techniques, 
it really sets the pace for synthesizer players.  I feel that I can't 
just go into the studio and use some token sound.  A lot of thought 
should be given to try to find new sounds that are fresh and 
different.

	Are you a self-taught synthesist?
	Yeah, but a friend of mine, Terry Watkinson, who was a 
keyboard player for a group called Max Webster, used to sit down 
with me and explain the fundamentals.  He used to draw little 
charts for me; he was like a tutor I had on the road.  He did a whole 
tour with us and I picked up tips about playing keyboards.  At that 
time, I had one of the first Oberheim Eight-Voices with the different 
modules; it was huge!  But before I brought it into the band, I used 
to have it set up every night in a tuning room backstage.  I used to 
play with it and try to figure out some of the fundamentals of 
synthesis.  As far as the mechanics of playing keyboards, I had 
played the piano years and years ago but I'd forgotten everything 
about it.  So I had to learn all over again and try to figure out what 
to do.  Since I learned over again on a synthesizer, I have a real 
difficulty playing piano because now I'm used to the spring-action 
keyboard.  Playing piano is a lot more disciplined than synthesizer 
playing.  If you have a strong sense melody and some musicality 
you can get away with a lot more playing a synthesizer than you 
can playing a piano.  You can't just scoot by on a piano.  It's a 
demanding instrument and you have to make the thing work.  On a 
synthesizer, the sound can have a feel.  It's so electronic that all you 
have to do to make it live is apply some musicality and write the 
melody.

	But you still had to develop some keyboard technique in order 
to play the synthesizer onstage.  How did you improve your 
abilities?
	It was through practice and writing.  I try to write things that 
are more difficult for me to play.  With _Grace Under Pressure_ I 
tried to write moving bass parts that were independent of the 
right-hand parts.  So in my own way, I'm working very hard to 
develop my right/left independence, with a lot more movement in 
my left hand.  You see, playing the bass is different because you're 
in sync.  Although your hands are doing different things, 
rhythmically they're in sync.  Whereas, the difficult thing about 
playing keyboards is the rhythmically you have to be out of sync, or 
independent.  Also, I have to look opposite ways.  My first tendency 
when I started playing keyboards was every time my right hand 
went down, my left hand went down.  As a result, all my parts were 
together.  And even though I've gotten my right hand to the point 
where I can make a lot of chord changes and do that pretty 
smoothly, I'm still working on my left hand.  Trying to get it to 
work in the "holes," or independently, while the right hand does 
whatever.

	Have you ever considered imitating the physical freedom you 
have with the bass by playing a remote keyboard?
	That rubs me the wrong way.  I think it looks like hell when 
those guys walk around with keyboards.  It looks 'Las Vegas' to me.  
The only guy who had one that looked pretty decent was Roger 
Powell from Utopia.  He looked believable.  He also plays like a 
maniac, which helps, and I like him a lot.  He's real good.

	In order to improve your technique, do you make it a point to 
write beyond your ability to play?
	I think you have to - that's how you get better.  In the earlier 
days, around _Hemispheres_ time, we always did that.  I'd write a 
part and go, "Wow!  This is tough to play."  We would have to play it 
a lot in order to play it well.  During this period that was all we had 
to do:  Figure out something that was hard to play and in an odd 
time signature.  We would write fourteen different pieces, or bits, 
that were in different time signatures and stick them all together to 
create a concept.  That was all well and good for the time, but in a 
certain sense, it was really an easy way out.  Okay, it wasn't easy to 
play and it wasn't easy to think of, but it was easier than trying to 
write a great song that's got a lasting melody and a moving feel.  
Now, because our technical ability has gotten to a point where we can 
pretty well play anything we can think of, our focus has shifted so 
that feel is becoming more important than a melody, or the use of 
melodies and their combination.  Now we're using simpler rhythmic 
formats and shading the melodies with the keyboards.  We've 
become more fascinate with this sort of classic structure.

	What do you mean by classic structure?  Classical music 
forms?
	Not in the sense of classical music, but classical in the sense of 
a classic rock song.  Two things make a great memorable song:  feel 
and melody - how that song hits you and the melody that it leaves 
you with.  We're in the pursuit of that, and at the same time we're 
trying not to sacrifice the technical chops that we've gotten 
together.  That's what makes it difficult.  Sometimes I think we 
interrupt a great feel by throwing in some busy bit of business 
because we can't play anything that's too simple for too long - we 
start getting hyper.  It's been said that we have a hyperactive 
rhythm section and I think it's true, but there's nothing we can do 
about it.  We have to play like that because it's really us.  
Sometimes it might suit the song for us to calm down a bit and let 
the thing just ride, but boredom sets in and that's it.  You've got to 
play something. Maybe that's our bane; maybe that's the one thing 
that will keep us back from making the ultimate song or album that 
we feel is in us.

	Isn't a "classical rock" song a contradiction in terms?
	There have been great meetings of those two extremes.  I'm a 
big believer in fusing these styles.  That's why a lot of rock and roll 
purists hate what we do, because it's all fusion - we'll use anything 
and I don't care where the influence comes from.  We've taken a 
very symphonic approach to some of our songs in the past.  It's one 
thing for me to say cynically that a lot of our earlier pieces were 
just "sticking things together," but in our own way we were 
orchestrating.  We were taking that symphonic attitude or using 
that structure.  Now we're trying to do it on a shorter, more 
immediate scale, because we seem to be going through a period of 
music where the communication has to be more direct.  And we 
want to remain a band that communicates something.  It's all well 
and good to write whatever kind of music you feel like writing, but 
at the same time you want to communicate.  That's what music is all 
about.  For me, music is two things:  It's my expression , and it's my 
willingness to communicate, or convey that expression.  If you just 
care about the first part of the equation, that you're going to 
express what you want to express and everyone be damned, then it 
doesn't matter what kind of music you write.  It doesn't matter 
what you're expressing in what style.  But if you care about the 
second part of the equation, which is wanting to communicate that 
expression to somebody out there, then yes, you have to be 
concerned with the language of the day.  And I think that people 
today want, or need, or are having a more direct kind of 
communication.  So we're trying to apply all these things that we've 
learned over the years in a more direct way so that we're not just 
talking to ourselves.

	Doesn't this musical responsibility to your audience inhibit 
your writing somewhat?
	No, I don't think so.  It's a real challenge for me to be able to 
put what we want to express across in a contemporary vein.  We're 
going through a period of music where it almost has to be felt more 
than heard.  It seems to be almost more sensory than it is cerebral.  
It's a very direct, spontaneous time, and I don't know if much of the 
music that's being made today will be remembered, or if it will be 
regarded as well-constructed music.  I don't think much of rock will 
shine through and survive like classical music does, because rock is 
popular music - pop music.  Classical music has depth and lasting 
ability.  I don't think pop music does, because it's so much a 
reflection of the times.

	And classical music wasn't?
	I don't think so; not in the sense that it's dated.  If you listen 
to a piece of classical music, it's a piece of *music*.  But if you listen 
to a pop song from 1954, it sounds like a pop song from 1954.  Who 
knows how much of the music that's being written today will be 
worth listening to in ten years, except for nostalgia?  And that's the 
way pop music seems to get categorized.  We're listening to nostalgia 
songs now, ones that I grew up with.  They lasted, but only in a real 
sentimental way, not in a classic sense of music to be revered like 
classical music is.  Maybe some the longer pieces or some of the 
more serious pieces of music for the mid-'70s will be remembered 
as great pieces of music.  Also in the mid-'70s, it seemed that people 
were listening to music more than they are now.  There were longer 
pieces being written and people would close their eyes and get 
inside the tune.  People had more patience for a song and would let 
the song develop.  But now, rhythmically and melodically, it has to 
be very immediate, and the depth comes from the textural 
structure.

	So today, isn't the role of synthesizers in the Rush sound still 
one of defining background textures and evoking moods?
	They have forced their way into becoming a very integral part 
of our sound. And at times their role is to enhance a fundamental 
three-piece sound.  But at other times they come to the forefront - 
theirs must be the primary sound.  I think that's what gives variety 
to our sound and also adds some freshness.  I don't think any of us 
are content to be a guitar-oriented band any more; not with all the 
music that's going on now and with all the refreshing sounds that 
are being made.  There are real pioneers in rock music today.  Peter 
Gabriel's _Security_ [Geffen Records, GHS-2011] is a perfect 
example.  When you listen to that kind of record and get inspired 
by what can be done, then you can't really be satisfied with 
something that isn't keeping up.  That's the way we feel about it.  
As much as we want to remain a three-piece, we would like to 
move into the areas of exploration that other people are moving 
into. It's hard to hold yourself back, and I think as musicians, it's 
wrong to hold yourself back.  Synthesizers have abridged a gap and 
opened up an area for us.  They have taken us from a strictly three-
piece hard rock band to a band that speaks in the language of today, 
which I think is real important.  The musical language of today is 
rhythmic immediacy, melodic strength, and textural depth.  And the 
texture, the shading and coloring, is what makes you want to hear it 
more and more.

	Are lyrics that necessary, then?
	I think so, because they are the point of the statement - the 
focus.  That's what gives the song meaning.  That's what separates it 
from just being rambling, although I think you can make a 
statement without words.  With words, it brings another level to the 
song.  It's the final communication.

	Just as sounds suggest melodies, do the melodies suggest 
words?
	Sometimes, but more often than not, my job is to draw some 
sort of musical mood out of a lyric.  Usually I'm orchestrating lyrics 
that are already written.  However, with a song like "Between The 
Wheels" [from _Grace Under Pressure_], we came into the rehearsal 
studio and I started playing.  The whole song came out in about 
twenty minutes.  We all started jamming and it became a song 
accidentally, or spontaneously, and then the lyrics were written. In 
that case, the chords that I stumbled onto, and the jamming that 
followed, were so emotive that they inspired Neil [Peart] to write 
the words.  On the other hand, the lyrics for "Afterimage" were 
already written.  They were very personal and it was very 
important that the right notes, the right melody, be found.  That 
was a case of writing strictly to the lyric, and by the way, that song 
was written mostly on keyboards.

	Does your high vocal range often determine the key in which 
the music is written?
	Well, it used to be an afterthought, and I would get into a lot 
trouble because after we wrote the song and I would go to sing it, I 
would realize that I could only sing it very high or very low - 
nothing in the middle would work.  _Hemispheres_ was an example 
of that.  The whole record was written in a very difficult key for me 
to sing  If I sang low, I didn't have any power, so I had to sing way 
up high, and it's difficult to do.  That's partly how I go my 
reputation as a 'high singing guy'.

	You don't sing as high any more, do you?
	No, and that's a conscious decision, because I want to use my 
voice more.  I want to sing more, and it's real hard to sing when 
you're using all your energy to stay two octaves above mortal man.  
It's a lot of work to keep punching your voice up.  Besides, I think 
my voice has a much better sound in my natural speaking range, 
and it's a lot more enjoyable to sing.  I can actually close my eyes 
and just use my voice and sing; I love it.

	Because you've been together so long, do you feel that Alex 
and Neil have become extensions of your orchestral inspirations?
	Sometimes it's that way, and sometimes the drum part is so 
strong that it evokes something for Alex and me.  Sometimes the 
guitar part is the drive; it really goes three ways - there's really not 
one musical leader.   I guess because I play bass and keyboards, 
and sing, a lot of the inspiration for writing our songs comes from 
me, partly because I have so much to do, partly because I have a 
vested interest in almost every aspect of the song, and partly 
because of my nature - I'm more of a workaholic than my partners.  
However, it's remarkably a three-way division, a democracy, and I 
think in terms of me as part of a band.  A lot of times when I'm 
writing a song, I'll write my part bearing in mind that Alex will 
have his part too.  I don't try to complete the thing.  I'll leave holes 
for Alex to inject his ideas, like he does for me.

	How do you practice in order to do three different things on 
stage: bass, keyboards, and vocals?
	Well, I practice in bits and pieces.  At home I like to have all 
my keyboards set up like I have them live, so that when I start to 
work on stuff, I can practice all the motions.  The majority of my 
practice is with the other members of the band.  When we're 
working on a song in the studio, we work on it for a long time.  That 
rehearsal period really gets my chops together. As a musician that 
plays more than one instrument, one thing that helps me is to try to 
keep the melodic thread in common with keyboards, vocals, and 
bass.  If I'm playing bass to a keyboard part and a vocal line, I'll try 
to make them have some kind of connection in my head to the 
vocal.  If I'm singing one thing through a bass change, a keyboard 
change, and a bass pedal change, I try to make those relate in some 
way to the vocal part, whether it's rhythmically or melodically.  
Then it's an easier transition, and I don't have to be three different 
people at the same time.  You can have that independence, but for 
me it works if there is some sort of common thread within it.  In the 
end I think it helps give the song a unifying melody.  I know it's 
helped my bass playing.  A long time ago, I found it difficult to sing 
and play bass at the same time, so I started making my bass parts 
more melodic, which gave them something more in common with 
my singing.  This helped make my bass patterns more musical 
instead of just fundamental roots.  It also made my bass playing 
busier, which I liked [laughs].

	In order to coordinate all your instrumental playing with your 
vocals, you have to know exactly where you are at all times when 
you're performing.  Doesn't thins precise choreography inhibit your 
musical spontaneity?
	It does sometimes, because you have to be aware of that 
choreography a lot on stage.  Many times towards the end of one 
song, I'll have to be thinking about what my setups are for the next 
song.  Whenever I have a breathing space, I flick a switch, or put up 
a patch, or step on a button, or change a dial, and it does take away 
from the spontaneity of my playing.  In the PPG I've got all my 
sounds stepped, so that all I have to do is step on a pedal and my 
next sound is there.  That's such a relief because I don't have to 
think about it.  But with the other instruments, there are a lot of 
changes to be made, and I can't totally put myself in a musician 
frame of mind.  I can't totally just play for the whole song.  At some 
point, I have to snap myself back to reality and think about the 
setup for the next song.  Otherwise, I'd be forever between each 
tune.  I'd have to say, "Excuse me, I'll be with you in about five 
minutes.  I have to throw four hundred switches here."  So I 
sacrifice total musical spontaneity in order to have a smooth and 
quick-paced show.

	How do you synchronize your timing with the sequences?
	Making sure you have the right momentary on/off switches.  
It's very important that the sequencer turns on when you step 
down and not when you lift your foot off.  This sounds like a silly 
problem, but it's a very serious problem when your hands are full 
and you're using your feet to trigger very complex parts. It has to 
be right on or it blows the song.  We found that a lot of momentary 
switches trigger on the way up, and they would always be out of 
sync.  We couldn't figure out why, because I knew I was stepping 
on the foot pedal at the right time.  Anyway, we had them all 
reversed so that as soon as they go down, they're on.  Neil wears 
headphones when we're sequencing so he can play to the sequencer.  
The [Oberheim] DSXs are pretty solid; the control track keeps their 
temp the same all the time.  So as long as Neil can hear that, we'll be 
in sync.  The [Roland] TR-808 is the master clock when I'm just 
using the arpeggiator on the JP-8.  Because it's such a busy thing, I 
will send Neil a click from the 808; the same click that's pulsing the 
arpeggiator will go to his headphones.  So when I'm using a 
complex-arpeggiator part, he doesn't get all that running around.  
He gets the fundamental and syncs to that.  It's a complex setup for 
him but it works.

	When you start a song can you tell if the tempo is going to be 
right when the sequencer comes in?
	Sometimes you know when you're right out to lunch, too!  
Sometimes the sequencer part comes in and, "Whoa, pull back on 
the reins here."  Occasionally we're too slow; it can vary. We're 
human beings, and it depends on what we've been eating or how 
fired up we are.  But Neil works real hard on making sure his 
tempos are steady and there's very rarely a problem of being out of 
sync.  Some songs aren't much of a problem because there's so much 
sequencer.  If the sequencer starts the song, the tempo is 
established right away and we're pretty well locked.  But songs like 
"The Body Electric" [from _Grace Under Pressure_], where the 
sequencers only come in for the choruses, you have to make sure 
that you're playing the right tempo to begin with.

	How do you use your arpeggiators?
	I usually use the arpeggiator for hypnotic bass lines.  On "Red 
Sector A" [from _Grace Under Pressure_] I use it very fast so that it 
has a real hypnotic pulse.  I also use it in "The Weapon" [from 
_Signals_] for a repeating bass line.  I think the arpeggiator is a 
great rhythmic tool.  By using a real 'bottomy' sound, with Neil 
playing charge behind it, all of a sudden it's a real great groove.

	You mentioned earlier that you've been working on left/right 
hand independence by writing keyboard bass lines for your left 
hand.  Do you still rely on the arpeggiator or sequencer to play them 
for you onstage?
	No, when I'm not playing bass, I play the bass lines on the 
keyboard now.  For "Afterimage," I play all the bass lines in the left 
hand, and for "Between The Wheels" [also from _Grace Under 
Pressure_], I play most of the bass lines on keyboards.  This was the 
big step for me on _Grace Under Pressure_ as far as keyboard 
playing. Almost every time I had a right-hand keyboard part, I 
would write a bass pattern for the left hand, even if it was basic, 
just to get into the habit of doing it.  That way I could set up 
different bass sounds too.  On this tour I've been using two 
keyboards at the same time, and I've never done that before.  
That's all part of the development of my hand independence.  I can 
set up one sound here and set up the bass sound there and go for it.  
It's a nice feeling to have those sounds spread out like that.

	As you've gotten better on keyboards, have you considered 
making a solo album?
	Someday I'll do one, but I think it will be more of an album 
with other people I've wanted to play with for a long time rather 
than, "Ta da!  Here's Geddy Lee and what he really does!"  I'm not a 
big believer in guys who do solo albums just to strut their personal 
stuff.  The only reason I'll do a 'solo' album would be to use my 
position to make record with musicians that I know and respect and 
would love to play with but don't get the chance.  Mostly friends of 
mine at home, like [violinist] Ben Mink [who played on "Losing It" 
from _Signals_], or [keyboardist] Hugh Syme [Who played piano on 
"Different Strings" from _Permanent Waves_, and has been the art 
director for all the Rush album covers].  But generally everything 
that I want to do musically I can do in Rush, so I'm not frustrated.  I 
don't have fourteen songs put aside.  Everytime I save something 
for myself, it gets used in the band anyway.

	Is there anything in your musical career that you would do 
differently?
	The only thing I would do is learn a little more about the 
language of music.  I would like to have learned earlier about 
writing music and knowing the written notes of the bass at a 
younger age.  I learned all those things late in life.  I don't think it's 
a necessity but it's a definite advantage, especially when you 
communicate with other musicians.  It was never that important to 
me because I was in a band with the same people for many, many 
years, so we developed our own way of talking to each other.  When 
I first started communicating with other musicians, I realized how 
little I knew, and it was a real hindrance and a disadvantage.

	How would you sum up your musical experiences and advise 
younger players?
	Well, I think as long as you're honest with yourself about 
whatever you do, then the one thing that will shine through is how 
much conviction goes into the piece that you're playing or writing.  I 
think people know when somebody means it and when they don't  
And often that's the difference between me liking a piece of music 
or not liking it.  If you know that someone really believes in what 
they're doing and is putting it across, then it reaches a little farther.  
Be honest with yourself and with whatever you're trying to 
communicate - that's the best form of expression.  And my most 
important piece of advice for young musicians is...always take your 
wallet onstage with you.

- ------------------------------------------------------------
ON THE ROAD WITH RUSH
Tony Geranios:  Synthesizer Technician

By Greg Armbruster

	Self-taught musicians abound, but self-taught synthesizer 
technicians are exceptions in a field which is constantly expanding 
and calls for skills ranging from wire-soldering to computer 
programming.  Tony Geranios, guitar and synthesizer maintenance 
expert for Rush, has learned his trade on the road, picking up tips 
and service expertise directly from the manufacturers' technicians.  
"That's the best place to learn it," he agrees.  "You can learn 
whatever you want in a teaching situation or on paper, but when it 
actually comes to putting it to use, there are a lot of things that 
don't apply in a real life situation.  I've tried to maintain as much 
communication as I can with all of the technicians at all of the 
companies that have to do with my equipment."
	Before joining Rush's technical staff in August 1977, Tony 
briefly maintained the keyboards and guitars for Blue Oyster Cult.  
He had replaced the previous tech on a recommendation from the 
Cult's sound engineer, his brother George Geranios.  "I was new on 
their crew when Rush started opening for Blue Oyster Cult," Tony 
remembers.  "I had a much bigger keyboard rig with the Cult, but it 
was very basic analog stuff.  I had always worked with Moog 
equipment so I knew a lot about it.  They also had an L-5 Steinway 
piano that I learned how to tune and service, and a [Hammond] B-3 
organ, which I beefed up.  Actually, my brother taught me a lot of 
stuff.  His influence was very important.  At that time, he was 
utilizing an Oberheim module, which came from their Four-Voice 
modular system.  He had interfaced it with the snare drum channel 
on his Midas mixing console and processed the signal through it, 
creating a very interesting drum solo effect that went along with 
the laser light show.  I thought to myself, if you can take a control 
voltage from just the sound of a drum and alter it, why can't I 
trigger other synthesizers with one control voltage?  So when I left 
the Cult and went to work for Rush, I wanted to develop a system 
where Geddy could play the [Moog Taurus] bass pedals and trigger 
other synthesizers."
	Tony and Geddy finally solved the bass pedal/synthesizer 
interface problem when Rush toured with Bob Seger.  "I knew 
Seger's old keyboard player, Robyn Robbins, who had just gotten an 
Oberheim Four-Voice.  One afternoon during the sound check, he 
showed Geddy what was happening with it and then we started 
looking into that synthesizer for the bass pedal interface.  At the 
time it was the only synthesizer that had a split keyboard 
capability, and Geddy wanted to play the lower half of the keyboard 
with the bass pedals and the upper half with his hand.  Also, you 
could individually tune each module.  You could have a horn sound 
on one module, a string sound on another, a wind sound on a third, 
and you could have different types of decay, all mixed into one total 
sound.  With a lot of the newer keyboards you can't give distinctive 
characteristics to an individual module without some sort of 
computer memory involved.  So Geddy ended up with an Oberheim 
Eight-Voice.  It was a white elephant, but it worked, and it was very 
interesting."
	Today, Tony has to take care of Geddy's synthesizer stack and 
guitarist Alex Lifeson's keyboard rig as well.  "Geddy has a PPG 
Wave 2.2 with the Waveterm digital sampling option, a Minimoog, 
an OB-Xa with a DSX [sequencer], a [Roland] Jupiter-8, and a TR-808 
drum machine connected to the arpeggiator of the Jupiter-8," Tony 
reports.  "He also has two sets of Taurus bass pedals, one 
underneath the PPG and the other at the front mike location.  When 
he depresses a pedal, he not only gets the bass pedal sound itself, 
he also gets the program that's up on the OB-Xa.  He can play two 
synthesizers at the same time with just his feet!  in addition, I've 
put switches on the bass pedals which allow Geddy to choose one of 
three octaves on the OB-Xa that the pedals will trigger.  He can use 
the lower octave, the middle octave, or the top octave of the 
keyboard.  Alex has two 120-program OB-Xas with two DSXs.  One 
of the OB-Xas is interfaced with a set of bass pedals like Geddy's 
setup, and the other just plays sequences triggered from a remote 
pedal."
	Even drummer Neil Peart has recently gone electric with a set 
of Simmons drums.  "Neil has just gotten into things you plug in as 
opposed to things you just set up and hit," Tony remarks.  "In fact, 
the only thing we use the TR-808 drum machine for is to trigger the 
arpeggiator on the Jupiter-8 and send a metronome reference click 
to Neil's headphones."
	In the future, Tony has plans to incorporate comprehensive 
computer control over all of the synthesizers, binding them together 
into one integrated network.  "I want to find a digital mainframe 
that we can use between the pedals and the synthesizers, that will 
give us program and preset capabilities," Tony reveals.  "It could be 
preprogrammed for selected keyboards so that you could assign 
different notes, up to 18 different VCOs, to those keyboards, by 
depressing just one of the bass pedals.  It would allow Geddy to 
have an entire chord with various strings and horns mixed in, each 
with different attack and decay times.  This way one synthesizer 
could be used just for strings and another just for horns, and so on.  
That technology is around, it's just a matter of pulling it into the 
music world.  The music industry is a very small part of anything 
that has to do with really sophisticated electronics - it's a very small 
piece of the pie.  Video, movies, and big industries use a lot more 
computer mainframes and software than the music industry does.  I 
want to have sophisticated interfacing capabilities, with real-time as 
well as preprogrammed functions, and a scratch-pad memory in our 
future computer interface system."
	When asked to what extent the limitations of Geddy's 
instruments determine the character or orchestration of a particular 
song, Tony replies, "Well, they're all very careful in the studio not to 
overproduce themselves.  They won't put on a lot of layers or tracks 
that they can't possibly come up with live.  I've always instigated 
hardware changes, like the interfaces we have now, and I suggest to 
Geddy what the capabilities are, especially in the areas that I 
happen to be excited about on a day-to-day basis.  If he sees 
something that would be useful, we'll get down and discuss ways of 
doing it.  And if I can get this computer interface system together, 
then I'll feel very satisfied that I've done just about everything that 
I could do to further the possibilities of Rush's sound, in the studio 
and on the stage."

----------------------------------------------------------

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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 217
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