This summer, Rush will be hitting the U.S. and Canadian concert trail on their Time Machine Tour, which will see the trio perform their 1981 classic Moving Pictures in its entirety. They’ll also be road-testing new material they’re working up for their 19th studio effort and promoting their new documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage (watch a clip by clicking the box to the left). Frontman Geddy Lee tells Rolling Stone the fresh tracks are “upbeat, hard rocking songs” with a Rush trademark: “typically absurdist arrangements.”
Will you release some new songs to coincide with the tour?
I’d imagine — because we don’t have time to do more than two at the moment — we’ll probably release one as soon as it’s ready, before the tour starts, and then probably release the second one as the tour starts. But our hope was to really get something down on tape, so we could play these songs live and road test them in a way. We’re still kind of throwing titles back in forth, but one is called “Caravan.”
Why tour in the middle of recording an album?
Everybody was kind of itching to get on the road and try and get in “peak playing form” before we recorded the bulk of the record, just to see what that effect is. In a way, we have this tendency to take a long period of time off, and then we kind of get our chops together and then go record. We thought it’s kind of ass-backwards really, because when you finish a long tour, you’re in such amazing playing shape that really, that’s the time you should go in and start laying down tracks. But of course, you’re exhausted by then, so we’re trying to figure out if there’s another way of attacking it.
We thought it would be fun to put together a tour that was sort of “future/past,” because those are some of the themes that are floating around the lyrical content and visual content that we’re using for these new songs. So we thought, “Let’s go out and do this Time Machine tour, where we can go mine our past, and at the same time, point to the future, try some new songs, and get us in shape.
Do you think playing Moving Pictures in its entirety may influence the new material?
It’s hard to say, I think it’s going to be an interesting challenge to play some of those songs, especially “The Camera Eye,” a song we haven’t played in years and years. Obviously, we’ll probably do a slightly newer take on it. You never know what effect bringing older songs back has on you. There are times in the past that we thought, “There is no way we can make this song work,” and then you get into rehearsal, you start playing it, and you’re really pleasantly surprised how much you’re enjoying it. And sometimes it takes on a whole new life.I think we’ve stopped being kind of cynical about our past in a way, and sometimes having a second look at an older song gives it a whole new story.
Would you consider Moving Pictures Rush’s best album?
It’s certainly our most universally accepted, most popular album. If that means best, then I guess so. But obviously, Rush fans and different members of the band have different favorites. It’s certainly our most popular record, and it’s also the one that I think has aged very well.
What are some memories of the Moving Pictures sessions?
It was wintertime, and we were holed up in a small studio in Quebec. Really, that studio became our home for a few years, Le Studio, just outside of Montreal. A beautiful environment, and a great working relationship that we had with people at the studio, and our producer, Terry Brown. Got a lot of fond memories of making that record.
What about recording the song “Tom Sawyer”?
“Tom Sawyer” was in many ways the most difficult song to record on that record. I remember even though the writing of the song came together pretty quickly, putting it down on tape was a little difficult. We were trying different sounds, and going with a whole different approach to lyrics — the kind of spoken word thing, getting the right sound for Alex’s guitar, and so on. It was kind of a dark horse. And then in the mixing, it all came together. When we finished it, we were so pleased with what happened, because we kind of had the least expectations of it, because of the difficulty we had. I think a lot of musicians probably go through a similar thing, where they have this one song that they beat themselves up over, and then the next thing you know, it’s their biggest song.
How has the forthcoming Rush documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage, turned out?
It’s hard for me to watch myself up on the screen, talking for two hours. It’s really kind of funny to look at a lot of the old stuff — they found some amazing, really obscure photographs and movies. It’s kind of nice to see other people talking about us in a kind of objective sense. I was pretty amazed that certain people were Rush fans, like Billy Corgan, for example. He was very well-spoken in the film, and seems to really understand where we’re coming from. That was quite a surprise for me.
Lastly, who would win in a battle, By-Tor or the Snow Dog?
Well, always By-Tor, if you ask me.
Because I’m By-Tor! [Laughs]