Interview with Rush singer/bassist Geddy Lee
Championed by Dave Grohl, the Canadian prog-rock trio are still going strong after over 40 years
'I do, actually,' retorts Rush singer and bassist Geddy Lee when asked if 45 years down the line, he thinks the prog-rock icons are better than ever. 'I think we’re playing better than we ever have - there’s something that happens to you as a musician when you've been playing for over 40 years . . you do reach another level.'
It's mind-boggling to think that the Canadian trio - who formed in 1968 - have, somehow, dipped toes into the next echelon of musicianship. Also starring esteemed drummer Neil Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson, Rush are already regarded as some of the best rock players around - and have been for decades - with classic albums such as 2112 and Moving Pictures showcasing some perplexing chops and song structures alongside stellar melody and thought-provoking lyricism. In the live arena meanwhile, there's mandatory drum solos and a flurry of bewildering fretwork action - all done tastefully, mind you.
The group are currently touring their 2012 album Clockwork Angels - which notched up their highest ever US chart position (No. 2) - and it seems the so-called 'holy triumvirate' are still on the ascendancy.
'I think this has been one of our best tours ever,' says 59-year-old Lee, as he takes the band, and a string section, overseas for their UK leg. 'It’s an interesting setlist. We've tried to make it very diverse. We have brought in some songs that we've overlooked for many years, and there’s the classics too, and songs from the early 70s. And of course there’s a huge chunk of it dedicated to Clockwork Angels.'
The record, which continues the band's foray into heavier prog-rock, is a notable release and one that Lee rates highly. 'I'd say it's probably in our top three records, without question.' So what are their best albums? It'd be like picking a favourite child out of a family of twenty young 'uns. 'Probably Moving Pictures, 2112, Power Windows and Clockwork Angels, but not necessarily in that order. To me, they are the most satisfying records that we've made.'
For the uninitiated, much of Rush's material could seem overwhelming. Some may baulk at the 20-minute length of mammoth concept song '2112' or snigger at overblown song titles like 'Cygnus X-1 Book One: The Voyage Prologue', but there's enough lean cuts, such as the hook-glazed 'The Spirit of Radio' and 'Closer to the Heart', to pique mainstream interest, pack out arenas and shift over 40m albums worldwide.
Indeed, the band were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by an exuberant Dave Grohl, and it has been suggested that it is now 'cool' to be a Rush fan, despite their geeky progressive leanings. '[The Hall of Fame event] was an emotional evening and one that we did not expect,' admits Lee. 'After years of not making such a big deal out of it, it sure felt like a big deal once we were there.' Many punters queried why it took so long to invite the trio into the Hall of Fame - but that's not something bothering the bass hero. 'There's some bands not in it that should be; groups like Yes and Deep Purple, and hopefully that's something that will be corrected in the next couple of years.'
Rush's Clockwork Angels tour is scheduled to run through to August, and any thoughts of a new album are staying firmly off the radar until after the jaunt concludes in North America. Right now, the sole focus is on their live show - something they seem to take great pride in. There's video set-pieces and laughs-a-plenty, whilst, in an odd quirk, their onstage amps have been replaced over the years by heavy-duty items such as tumble dryers, fridges and rotisseries. It's evident that they have fun performing to their disciples, even almost 45 years after their conception. "'Playing live is such a total visceral experience, and really as a musician, you’re trained from the beginning to be a live performer. It’s a natural habit for us. I do enjoy it, and if I’m going to spend three hours doing something like that, I’d want to enjoy doing it. We do try to have fun on stage,' Lee adds. 'Three hours is a long time to be up there, so we try to make sure the crowd experiences more than just volume.'
Rush play the SECC, Glasgow, Thu 30 May.