Speaking to Rolling Stone earlier in October, Geddy Lee confirmed what fans already knew, that Rush have “zero plans to tour again.” The bassist and singer also speculated about his musical future, hinting that he might at some point work on some new solo material. “I’ll probably find myself bored and wandering down to the studio to try to enliven my own life, and if something of a positive nature happens down there, I’ll take it to the next step,” he said. “But beyond that, I could only guess.”
To date, Lee has only released one solo LP, 2000’s My Favourite Headache. In a promo video from that year, which includes both interview and studio footage, Lee discussed what it was like to make music outside of the band he’d already been fronting for more than 30 years. “I have never had a great desire to make an individual statement,” he explains. “I satisfy so much of my musical self in the context of Rush, so I don’t have any great frustrations from that point of view. But once in a while, you wonder, what’s it like out there? What’s it like to work with other people?”
One of those people was Ben Mink, a Canadian musician who co-wrote the album’s songs with Lee and played various instruments. Rush fans might recognize him as a sometime collaborator of the band; during their final tour in 2015, he joined them onstage to reprise his original violin part to “Losing It,” a 1982 deep cut. Another was Matt Cameron, who joined Lee in the studio during a three-week window before a Pearl Jam tour to record drums for 10 of the album’s 11 songs. In the video, Lee calls Cameron a “wonderful musician and a profound addition to the rhythm core of the record.”
Overall, the album’s melodic, hard-driving sound wasn’t too far from what Rush were doing at the time. But Lee says he got a chance to explore a few new ideas. One was multi-tracking his bass on various songs, including the title track. (He jokes that Mink refers to his unorthodox technique on the instrument as “flamenco bass.”)
One other major difference between My Favourite Headache and Lee’s Rush work is that the bassist wrote all the lyrics himself. Lee did contribute lyrics to a handful of Rush songs, but once drummer Neil Peart joined the band in 1974, he wrote almost all the words from that point on. “For me, the hardest part was starting to write lyrics and then it became the most fun for me of anything to do with this project,” Lee explains.”
The album’s title came from a story that Mink told Lee about his parents. According to the bassist, it represents “this thing that you have or you love to do or you need to do that you love but it pains you at the same time.”
Lee recorded My Favourite Headache during a time when Rush’s future was uncertain. The band was in the midst of what would be a five-year break from the road following the tragic deaths of Neil Peart’s daughter and wife in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Lee was technically the last member of the band to release a solo project, with guitarist Alex Lifeson putting out his only solo album, Victor, in 1996 and Peart releasing Burning for Buddy, a two-volume Buddy Rich tribute that he produced, in 1994 and ’97. (Lee has made cameos with various other artists over the years, including one on the McKenzie Brothers’ hit 1981 comedy album The Great White North.)
My Favourite Headache came and went without a tour, or even one live show, to support it. But in the video, Lee sums up the experience in a positive way. “The more I got into making the record, the more I realized how beneficial it is for me to do this,” he says. We’ll find out in the coming years if he intends to give it another shot.