Q&A: Rush's Geddy Lee on Finally Taking a Break From the Road

Bassist rules out 40th anniversary tour

Geddy Lee of Rush performs in Tinley Park, Illinois.
Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images
September 23, 2013 10:00 AM ET

For the first time in well over a decade, Rush have absolutely no idea what they're doing next.  They just wrapped a long world tour in support of their 2012 LP Clockwork Angels and have yet to seriously discuss the future. Their manager wants them to launch a tour next year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of drummer Neil Peart joining the group.

"That's not going to happen though," Geddy Lee tells Rolling Stone at the bar of a swanky downtown New York hotel. "My attitude is that as much as I'd like to celebrate 40 years, we need a break more than we need a 40th anniversary celebration. There's nothing wrong with celebrating 42 years." 

See Rush's Induction Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Geddy opened up about Rush's uncertain future, their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,  the group's upcoming live CD/DVD Clockwork Angels Tour (out November 19th), the new remix of Vapor Trails and why fans shouldn't expect to see a 2112 tour anytime soon.   

You guys just wrapped a pretty long tour. How do you pick the night you wanted to film for live albums and DVDs?
Sometimes it's a very concerted effort to choose a time and a place, as it was with Rio. We wanted to record in Brazil and we wanted that location. And when we chose Cleveland, there was a very definite reason for that because Cleveland was the first city that really embraced us. It was a full-circle thing. But this tour, we didn't make any plans originally to record it, but then after we saw that our work was paying off and we were so proud of the show, we thought, "Okay, we have to record this."

We had a second leg planned in the new year, and at the time we didn't know whether we would change songs or not. The feeling was, "Life is too unpredictable. Let's not record it next year. Let's record it now because at least we know what the show is." So we quickly found a venue that was appropriate, or really a couple of venues, and that's how we did it.

Did you film multiple nights and then pick the best one?
Yeah. We filmed a couple of nights and actually there were a few other nights that we went in and got specific songs. So, even though the bulk of it comes from Dallas, that are moments from other nights.

Does it feel different from a standard gig when you know it's being taped?
Yeah, it definitely feels different. It's hard to ignore, and you can see the cameras. We do have cameras every night for our rear screen projection, but that's a different purpose. You do get a bit of a tight-ass before you hit the stage when you know it's being filmed.

Some bands say they have a hard time delivering the best possible show under those circumstances.
Sometimes you play greater. It can be a good thing. The pressure really makes you play a little harder. 

Did you go back into the studio and overdub anything?
No, there's no overdubs. We have a couple of nights to choose from, so I think the mixers picked and chose the best moments from those two nights. So whatever wasn't 100 percent, we were able to use the other one.

That's great. I hate when bands go back into the studio and clean up live albums. You lose the feeling of a real show.
We've done that in the past for certain songs where we've had train wrecks. We have so many live albums, first of all, that we've had just about every live album experience. The first one was totally raw and totally live and it really bugged us for years that we didn't fix anything. And then with the second one, we fixed way too many things and it sounds a bit sterile in retrospect. And then you learn what to mess with and what not to mess with. You want to present the best possible show for people, but you don't want to get so nit-picky about it that you lose what's interesting about a live performance.

Is the band's plan to do a live album for every single tour now?
Yeah, I think that's pretty much how we do things now.

That's really great for the fans. We want to hear what songs sound like after the band has been playing them live for months and months. They start taking on a new power.
I think that's true. They loosen up too. And you learn more about them as you're playing them, and we had the added interest on this tour of having a string section on songs that we didn't originally have strings on. That was kind of fun for us too. So we really wanted to get it down on tape. For us, even more than an album, a DVD starts to represent an accurate document of that moment in our lives. 

And if you don't document it, fans will with bootlegs and the quality won't be there.
Yeah, exactly, and you can't control that, and God bless them. They're going to shoot on their camera phones and they're going to take their own personal memory away, and that's fine with me. But it's nice to get a properly produced and properly recorded document of the tour, for our own sake and for historical reference too.

I know lots of artists complain that too many people are using cameraphones at concert. Does it annoy you?
It doesn't really bother me. Sometimes there will be a guy who is holding a camera phone and recording the entire song (laughs) and you just want to look at him and go, "Really?" But for the most part, that's their own personal thing that they show their friends. I don't have a problem with that.

It just always shocks me that people pay for tickets to a concert, and they spend much of the time watching through this tiny screen when they can see it with their own eyes.
It's the same thing when I'm traveling with my wife on holiday. We're enjoying some wildlife or whatever and I'm sitting there taking pictures. She's always tapping me on the shoulder going, "Ged, why don't you just sit there for a minute?" It's because you're just seeing it through the context of composing a shot as opposed to just letting it be for a moment.

The string section was the first time you ever had anyone on stage but the three of you, right?

That's pretty crazy. I know back in the day you briefly thought about hiring a keyboardist, but that obviously didn't happen.
No, we were always afraid to do that because we thought it was just kind of us copping out, so instead we created this ridiculous system of pedals and turned into one-man bands. 

There are times I'm watching you onstage and I just can't believe you're doing all that stuff at once.
I know. All we're missing is the monkey and the organ grinder, right? It's crazy. It's mental what we do onstage. I would never recommend it to anyone, but it became our thing. It became a thing I do and now I've become a little addicted to complexity on stage. When I have a song where I don't have much pedal work, I feel like there's not enough going on. It's a real challenge to learn it all and organize it all. I sure feel like it would be real nice to play bass all night.

Are you enjoying the break now? That was a pretty long tour.
I am, yeah. It was the first tour I finished that I wasn't ready to finish, though. I think it's because I was in the best physical condition of my life. I worked really hard at being in shape for the tour. I was anticipating the difficulty of it. Our pacing is a little better. We had no back-to-back shows, and I spent my days off in the most boring possible way, just resting my voice.  So I finished the tour feeling good. I'm usually kind of dragging my ass home at the end of the tour. This time I felt like, "I've still got a month of gigs left in me." But Alex was done in and Neil has a small child at home. He had to get home. So, that's cool. I understand that it's time to knock it on the head.

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