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

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How often do you worry about your voice? It's an obvious point, but so much rests on you being able to sing every night, and for a pretty long time.
I worry about my voice 24/7 when I'm on tour. It's like a pitcher and his arm. It's constantly the thing that my whole life revolves around. It's not getting sick, not getting too dry. My diet, my regime, the whole life I have on the road has always got that little bit of stress because I'm always afraid I'm going to get a cold. And it's just such a nightmare when you got a cold or an irritation and you have to do a show. It's just a fucking nightmare. So I live on constant fear of it.

Then there's things you can't control where you get a polyp or something.
Well, I've been lucky. I've never gotten a voice polyp. I've never gotten nodes. But I do get sick, usually every tour, and to varying degrees. Sometimes it's a sinusitis. In the previous tour, I had a really bad strep throat. And I had to do a gig that night in Hamilton, Ontario. I did it and I woke up the next day and my ear was so infected, the whole thing had gone into my ear. I had to fly to Montreal. This is kind of gross, but I had to go to a doctor and he had to puncture my ear. 

This was on the day of a show. I did the show, and I spent the next three days in absolute hell. I got through the show, but it was a nightmare. My worst memory ever on tour.

Did you think about canceling the show?
To me, canceling a show is the absolute last resort. I think we've only canceled one or two shows in our entire history due to illness. One time I broke a finger the afternoon we were going on. I obviously couldn't do the show, but the three of us pride ourselves with a "show must go on" pact. Neil has always gotten banged up in some way or another, tendinitis or something with his hands or whatever, but we just plow through.

The group really hasn't talked about the future?
Well, our manger is talking all the time about the future and we're choosing to ignore him. There has been talk of some sort of anniversary tour that might be the next thing we do, but we definitely have not decided if or when that's going to happen.

So is 2015 the soonest you can see anything happening?
I think so. Something like that. . . The plan now is to have no plans. We have had a great 10 years of tour, album, tour album. I can honestly say that the three of us enjoyed this tour more than any one we've ever done. We left on a high note, but we recognize that we need to pay attention to our families and recharge our batteries. So we decided that we're just not going to discuss anything for a little while.

What's it like knowing that your calendar for 2014 is blank? Is that exciting or just kind of weird?
It's exciting for me because I get to spend a lot of time traveling with my wife. We love to do that. I am officially an empty nester now, so my wife and I have time on our hands. We have all kinds of trips planned, things we wanted to do for years but we put off. This is going to be a busy year for us. I'm totally fine with that 

Fans are always dying to know what the next tour might be like. Let me run some ideas by you so I can hear your reaction. How about an anniversary tour where you play your music in chronological order? You can open with "Working Man" and go from there.
You know what? I never thought of that, but it's a cool idea. Obviously, you have a lot of dynamics to consider with a band like us, but it's a cool idea actually.

How about doing two albums in one night? Maybe 2112 first and then you rotate around a couple of other albums in the second slot?
It's very hard for us to commit to all of 2112. I would love to be able to say, "Yeah, we'll do something like that." But there's so much other music that we'll be arguing about playing. It's going to be hard to dedicate a show to just two albums. I think that fans, in the end, some would love it and some would hate it. It's finding a balance, and that's really hard when you have so many albums.

How about you learn 80 songs and then fans vote before every show? It would make the set change each night.
That can't happen. It's just too complicated. Although we did like shifting up the setlist on the last tour and we did shift it up. We had four different versions of the set we were playing. I can see something like that happening where we do more of that, where back-to-back show are quite different from the previous show. 

Also, in order for us to prep. . . we're really big on rehearsal. For this tour, we rehearsed probably for two months. If you have 80 songs, that's goodbye to your life.

That's certainly understandable. Do you think the next Rush project will be a tour as opposed to an album?
I'm not sure about that. Actually, the only thing being suggested to us is an anniversary tour. But we might find in eight months when we're talking to each other, "Hey, let's write something." When you get the itch to write, you just gotta do it.

Are you happy the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing is finally over? It means people can finally stop asking you about it.
Yes, but I don't think it's ever done because now I get questions like the one you just asked me. (laughs) It's just going to be one of those things. I will say that the night of the Hall of Fame, far beyond any of our expectations, was really a memorable and wonderful evening. I'm very glad to have had that experience because there was much fu-fufra about it, so much intensity with our fans. 

We had played it down to such a huge degree in our minds. We kept saying, "This is not important. This is not important." I was very glad to realize during the event itself that it was a milestone and it's something to savor. I walked away from it very happy, and I think my partners did as well.

What was the deal with Alex's "blah blah" speech. Was he knocking the whole institution or just joking about long-winded speeches? 

I had no idea he was doing that. Let me go on the record to say he didn't tell us he was doing that. In fact, I know he had a whole other speech planned. Neil and I thought he had lost his marbles when he was talking. You can see the look on our faces behind him going, "What the fuck is he doing?" And of course, we couldn't see him act it all out. We just kept hearing, "blah blah blah blah blah." 

I don't know what his pure intent was, but I think it was more a knock on speeches, the whole process of the hall of fame induction thing. 

I thought it was hysterical.
He's a mental case. And he's genuinely one of the funniest people you would ever meet in your life. But I wanted to kill him at the three minute mark. Neil and I were threatening to knock him on the head and drag him offstage.

It was one of those jokes that starts funny, slowly gets unfunny, and then gets funny again as it just carries on and on.
It was very Andy Kaufman.

I loved seeing you play with the Foo Fighters.
Taylor [Hawkins] and Dave [Grohl] are amazing musicians. They come off like good guys because they really are good guys. They're such great people. I thought it was incredibly generous of them to go to all that trouble. That was all them. That was their idea. 

The wigs, the kimonos…They really went for it.

They designed the whole thing. They approached us with the idea, "Would you guys be upset if we did this?" And we said, "Fuck no. Knock yourselves out."

Finally, tell me about this Vapor Trails remix. I've been hearing rumors about it forever. What finally made it happen?
It's kind of a long story, but there are essential building blocks to what lead to a remix. You have to put yourself back to that period of time. We had just gone through a very sad and dark four or five years after Neil's family was so tragically taken from him. When he reached out to us and said he wanted to come back and attempt to work together, we wanted to do it in an environment that was as comfortable to him as possible with as little pressure as possible.

At that time, we had talked to various producers and one of them was David Bottrill. In the end, Alex and I looked at each other and said, "I don't think it's fair to Neil to bring a stranger in the room when he's kind of in a delicate state." We said, "Let's get Paul Northfield. He's not only worked on many of our albums, but is a very close friend, so Neil is comfortable from the get go."

Neil had to learn how to play the drums again, how to get his confidence back. It was a lot of slow baby steps to getting back to us at our peak. The writing process took a really long time. Alex and I would work all day in the control room and Neil would practice and write lyrics. We kind of blocked out a small studio in Toronto and we were there for 14 months making this record. It was a long and emotional and stressful time to the end, because we were close to the finish but we had spent so much time on it. We were way too close to it. 

Had we been wise, we would have said, "Okay, we're taking a two-month break and then bring someone in to mix it when we all have fresh ears." We figured, "The show must go on! People are expecting the record now." The record company had been waiting and waiting for it. So we just pushed through and got it mixed. We went through two different people to mix it because we were so unhappy with it. We just believed in the record, but in the end we were just fried.

Everybody went their own way. I took the record to New York to master it. By the time I had a couple of weeks off to hear it clearly, I realized we had kind of over-cooked the record. The mixes were really loud and brash. The mastering job was harsh and distorted, but by then, it was out of my hands. It was already out. 

It's a terrible feeling that, due to lack of objectivity, you let an imperfect piece of work get out there. But the songs are very strong and people really responded to the record and people were welcoming us back. The sonic defects of it got lost in the excitement of the bands return to functionality. It's always been a bee in my bonnet. We had various people attempt to remix it and remaster it over the years, and it still didn't satisfy. 

After a while, it was hard to get people onboard. "Why are you obsessing over this one record? You have 20 records. Why the fuck do you care about this one record?" I just felt it was so pivotal that the songs required some justice. We gave it one last kick of the can, and Andy from our management suggested that David Bottrill have a go at it. I thought it was kind of strange/full circle that the guy we almost used in the first place is trying to save it. We were on tour and Neil didn't want to have too much to do with it. The album has a lot of very painful memories for him. We said, "Don't worry. We're going to let David just follow his instincts and he'll do it while we're touring."

David just got the record right away and started sending us mixes. Of course, we'd have comments here or there, but generally he understood what it should sound like. So, I'm very pleased with the end result. I think he's finally brought some completion and some justice to some of those songs we'd put so much of our heart and soul into. 

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