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Just Like 'Clockwork'
by Jeb Wright
CANADIAN POWER TRIO RUSH RETURNS WITH A NEW ALBUM, 'CLOCKWORK ANGELS,' THAT BRINGS THE BAND BACK TO ITS ROOTS
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Transcription by Eric Hansen
TOGETHER SINCE 1974, GEDDY LEE, ALEX LIFESON AND NEIL PEART HAVE BUILT A BAND THAT'S LASTED LONGER THAN A LOT OF MARRIAGES. And if
Rush's new studio album and touring
schedule are any indicators, the band
has no plans to throw in the towel any
Rush has returned to its roots in many ways, as "Clockwork Angels"
tells a story. For the most part, the
music is hard rock with a touch of prog.
Peart, Lifeson and Lee as Rush are, once again, a band where the sum
than the individual parts. Lifeson offers
a more direct approach to his playing,
leaving behind many of the thick textures
he has experimented with over the
last several years. Lee is flawless on bass,
and his vocals sound as strong as ever.
And Peart remains one of rock's most
talented drummers and lyricists.
Goldmine caught up with Lifeson,
who shared track-by-track view of the
new album, as well as Alex's Greatest Riffs.
Goldmine: Before we talk music,
the album art is great. I love that the
clock says 12 minutes after 9, which,
if it is PM, means the time is 21:12.
Where do you come up with this
Alex Lifeson: Hugh Syme is a very
clever and able designer. He has done
great work for us for many years.
He is so inside that he is a member
of the family. He works
very closely with Neil
on all of the artwork.
He has done some
artwork for this
Did you get
what he was doing
I see all of those
things, and, of course, it
made me smile; I got it.
Angels" is fresh, yet it
hearkens to some of the
hard rock you've done
way back in the past. This
is a very good album.
of it. We spread this one
out over a couple of years,
and it ended up being a very
nice way to work. We were
not sure of it at the time,
but in the long run, it has
worked out really well. It gave
us a bit of breathing space, as we wrote
in groups of songs. I think that always helps to get a little bit of variety. When
you get into the studio and you record
everything together, then it brings that
consistency through it. I think we really
achieved an interesting dynamic. We
have a lot of songs that are different
from each other. I think a lot of the
songs are very cinematic and part of the
I never thought Rush would
ever do another full-blown conceptual
We did a number of strictly
concept pieces, but a long time ago
we decided that we'd run that format
through. We moved away from that in
the late 1970s. At the same time, all of
our records are all thematic and loosely
connected; sometimes it is broader
and sometimes it is narrower. Nick
[Raskulinecz, the producer] was really
pushing for something like that - not
specifically a concept, but a story. We
sat down as they were doing lyrics, and
Neil was talking about formulating this idea, and it came in little groups,
but we had the concept. We did lots of
rewrites, and five songs came out of it.
We tend to work that way. A lot of lyrical
ideas came as we were putting the
musical idea together. The first batch
we did consisted of five songs that we
wrote several years ago. "Caravan" and
"BU2B" were two of the first songs we
wrote. "The Garden" came from that
time, as well. When I think of the songs
on the album, I think of them in the
little groups that we wrote them in.
Peart is such a great lyricist
that I wonder, after all of these years,
do you come to just expect his work to
There is really a lot of work that
is involved. He writes a lot. He writes
his travel logs, and he writes his novels,
but he also has his website where he
writes a lot. When it comes to lyrics, he
will have an idea, and it will go through
three or four major rewrites. Ged might
say, "I am really responding to this one
line; can we rewrite the idea based on
that line?" To his credit, Neil never
complains, and he does it. There is a lot
of work that goes into those lyrics in
Let's go through the album
track by track. The first one is "Caravan" I wonder: Did the perspective of
the tune change a lot from the demo
stage to where it is today?
I would say that the song stayed
pretty true to the very early demo. We
didn't re-record anything from that first
batch, but we did re-mix it so it was
more connected to the sound of the
album as a whole.
"BU2B" is simply an amazing
song. I love the guitar sound on that.
How many tracks did you do?
I think I tracked that one up
quite a bit. I used my Les Pauls and
my Telecasters, which is a combo that
I used to use quite frequently. It really
was heavily layered with guitars, and
that was the idea for that song. The
rest of the album, I really wanted to get
away from that, and I tried as much as
possible to keep it simple. I think that
is one of the refreshing aspects of the
record. It is not as dense or layered as
"Snakes & Arrows" was. It has a lot of
space in it, and you can hear the drums
clearly; you can hear the bass and the
guitar; everything can be loud at the
same time. There is less competition
when it is not quite so dense.
"Clockwork Angels" has a
killer little blues section in the song
that at first does not seem to belong,
but it ends up being one of the best
parts of the tune.
I was just messing around at
home, and it was an idea that I brought
in while we were writing. We worked
on a bunch of stuff one day, and later
that evening, Geddy opened up the file
and had a listen to it. He was really keen
on making a couple of small changes to
it. Generally, that song is pretty much
what I had written. I had that little
section, and it is a good exercise for me
to do at home. I go from the meat of
that song to that section. In my demo
version, I had images of pedal steel
guitar and lanky sort of notes. When it
came time to work it into "Clockwork
Angels," we made it more of a straighter
It is a very emotional section
of the song.
I think the emotional content
on the record is quite evident. There are
a lot of moments where the record is
quite emotional, and that is how we felt
when we were making the album. We
had a great time making this record; it
was such a positive experience. Every
day was a joy to go into the studio and
write, and I think the music reflects that
very positive and optimistic attitude
that we were feeling.
"The Anarchist" sounds like
the drum interplay was the genesis
of the song. How do you and Geddy
write around what Neil is doing?
Actually, it was the opposite.
The drum pattern on that song is one
that I put together, and he connected
with it. It really was the starting point
of the song. I think I come from a
different place than Neil does, and
sometimes he will find what I do as an
interesting approach that he would have
never thought of himself. It gave him
a launching point. We're all sort of like
Have you done this throughout
When we are in the writing
mode, the pre-production period before
we start recording, I tend to work with
Neil. As he is devolving his drum parts,
I am usually the one who does that type
of programming. He works more on the
arrangements of the songs. We all have
our little jobs and they do cross over,
but it is very much a joint effort.
"Carnies" is a song that is
not your normal Rush song. When
you come up with something that is
outside of the norm, do you give it
a second thought whether it should
make the album?
Not at all. We like to come up
with different things that people won't
expect. This song is an integral part of
the story. It has a heaviness to it that is
really kind of refreshing and fun, and it
is really where our roots are. When you
get to the chorus, it feels like you're at
an amusement park and are on a carrousel
or something. That is the kind of
motion that we wanted to capture.
"Halo Effect" seems to be
included for the overall story of the
It gave us a little bit of a breather,
as well, as it was primarily acoustic.
It was a very interesting arrangement
for us to develop. I think there are some
great melodies in there.
"The Seven Cities of Gold" is
the definition of a cinematic song.
You almost get a sense of the
protagonist seeing the city in the distance
getting closer and closer. We used
that to build the energy and to show
how the city is chaotic and dangerous. If
you put yourself in the character's place,
then you see he is from this small, little
world, and he is now walking into this
big city that represents the whole wide
world, including all of the opportunity
and all of the danger that exists in it. To
my ear, I think we captured that, and
you pointed that out. It is very cinematic,
and I quite like that song.
On the original demo, Geddy
played guitar, and I played bass. When
it was recorded, Geddy played the bass
but he learned my bass part. He said,
"I would never play this song like this"
I learned something from him from
the way he played the upstrokes on the
acoustic, as I tend to use mostly down
strokes. I found that with the Nashville
tuning that the upstroke had a particular
effect on the song and the shimmering
quality. The song eventually evolved
and became a different thing, but it is
still great when you can evolve and influence
each other on our instruments
just by looking in a different direction.
"Headlong Flight" is the best
song on the album. Your producer
said that you did that solo in one take.
I can't quite remember, but I
think I did. I know it came very quickly.
It could be a one take there.
"BU2B" is a segue into "Wish
Them Well,"' which was a very tough
song for Rush to finish.
We loved the lyrics from the
very beginning, but the music that
Geddy and I were writing was just not
happening. The first version was one of
the original five songs. The first version
was very airy, esoteric and had a lot of
delays and things. We tried to make it
work. We played it a million times, and
we moved things around but it was not
working. When we went away from it
for a while and took a little time, we
made a clear decision that it was not
working, and that we loved the lyrics
but not the music. We trashed everything
we had done, and we started fresh
with it. The second version was still
kind of dark but it was a little heavier.
We were still really struggling with it,
and we wiped the slate clean again.
Something finally clicked, and we fell
into this strident kind of approach
that was very straight ahead and had
that classic rock sort of vibe to it. We
finally got to the point where the music
reflected what was happening in the
The last song is "The Garden."
I know this was one of the first songs
written but, musically, it sounds like it
was written to end an album.
When we wrote "The Garden;'
we only had those first five songs,
but I think we knew this was going
to be the closer. The sentiment was
about resolution and about reaching a
final destination. As the record came
together then, it really became apparent
we would close the album with it. Ged
and I were working in that first phase,
and I came in the next morning after
we had spent the previous day together.
He told me that he was really itching to
do something the night before, and that
he had done some things. He played the
song for me, and he had that great bass
intro. It was very blocky, but the verse
and the lyric sounded beautiful against
the simplicity of what the lyrics were;
this was just Geddy playing bass and
singing. Most of the song was written,
other than the middle section. I totally
saw what was going on. It was more
intimate, so the acoustic made the most
sense. The arpeggios in the bridges
brought the intensity up a notch, and
they lead into a very beautiful chorus.
Now that we've discussed the
new album, it makes me wonder how
working together with Geddy and
Neil today is easier than it was back
when the band were just breaking big.
Conversely, what was easier then as
compared to now?
Youth is a very volatile thing.
When we were younger, we thought differently
about our songwriting and our
playing. We set a very high standard
for ourselves, and we always wanted to
reach our goals. We put a lot of pressure
on ourselves, and we worked very fast.
We, generally, had very little time to
work on our records, because we were
touring so much. Everything that we
ended up doing had this really giant
ball of energy attached to it.
Today, we feel a very relaxed confidence about our music and our songwriting
and also about our playing. We
absolutely respect and trust each other
now, more than we ever have. I think
that is a very important aspect, working
the way we work and how we put
records together. You have to be able to
trust each other and not hold your own
ideas as the most precious.
We all try to do the best work we can
do as a band. There is no one person
more important than the whole. We've
learned over 40 years that this is the key
to our success and our integrity.
Have you ever analyzed what
it is about Rush that makes Rush
No, not really. That is a good
question, but the thing is, when you're
on this side of the fence, life is pretty
normal. What you do is nothing particularly
special. We set high standards,
so we always try to do our best and play
our best. We always try to do our best
work. All of that percolates through to
the rest of your life and how you treat
other people and how you live with
your family. You have the mark that you
want to leave.
Rush fans know how funny
you guys are, but I think the general
public overlooks that about you. I love
the skits you do in your concerts on
the video screens. The last one, featuring
the band Rash, was hilarious. How
will you top it?
We will come up with some sort of stupid idea; we have no shortage of stupid ideas. We really love doing that stuff, and I have to tell you it is really a riot. [sic]
I have always been a fan of
your guitar soloing. I must admit a
few years ago, I was irked, at you as
you quit doing them on new music.
Did you finally get to the point where
you missed playing solos?
I think you go through different
stages. "Vapor Trails" was really the
first album where I really limited the
soloing. At the time, I truly didn't want
to bring the attention to that point in a
song where the guitar takes over and it
becomes about the solo.
I might have been wrong about it,
but the way I was feeling at the time
was that we were coming back from
this very dark period, and I wanted a
sense of unity where no one was showing
off or standing out. I wanted it to
really about the three of us. I kind of
manifested that whole attitude by not
standing out and soloing.
On "Snakes & Arrows;' I did a few
solos, and there are a lot of solos on this
record. In fact, there are two of the best
solos I've ever done on this record - I
am talking about "Clockwork Angels"
and "The Garden."
The dark time was when Neil
lost his wife to cancer and his daughter
to an automobile accident. It is
amazing he has been able to record. If,
at that time, he would have said that
he was walking away from the band
would you have let him?
I don't think we would have had
any choice. I think the feeling was that
we were approaching the end of the
third year, and things were not looking
that good for the band, and we understood
it. It was very sad. I think we were
probably both disappointed, but there
was nothing we could do about it. The
conditions were very, very difficult. If
Neil had said that he was done with
it, then we would have just been done
with it and moved on with our lives.
The band really was not important at
all during that time. It was all about
helping our friend get back on his feet
and learning to live again.
I have a lot of respect for
him being able to do what he has
done. I can't imagine the pain he
It was awful, but it happened,
and we've moved on, and we are stronger
for going through the whole thing.
I think we are doing some of the best
work we've ever done.
I can't pronounce your given
last name [Zivojinovich], but I wonder
where you came up with "Lifeson."
It is basically an English translation
of my Serbian name. My last name
is very difficult for people to pronounce,
as there are a lot of vowels. My father
certainly went through a lot with our
name when we moved to Canada, and
he actually thought at one time about
changing our name. He didn't do it, and
I'm glad as that is my real name. Lifeson
has been my professional name since I
was, I don't know, 15 or 16 years old. I
seem to get about fine with both.
From a historic perspective,
which is more critical for Rush still
being here in 2012: "2112" or "Moving
I think "2112." For us, that
really bought us
our freedom. It was at a time
where we almost lost our record deal.
We were not getting much support
from the record company. They were
very, very concerned, as sales were very
poor on "Caress of Steel."
I hear you, but that is such a
When you look at it from their
point of view, they invested a lot of
time and effort in the band. The second
album, "Fly By Night." did OK, but
the third album should have been the
turning point. We took a step backwards,
commercially, but for us it was
very important for us to do that record;
we learned a lot from it. We came
back with "2112," which secured our
freedom and our independence, and we
never had to look back after that.
Your fans argue about eras
of the band. Some say it was "Moving
Pictures," on back to the first album,
and others say the band matured in
the mid-to late '80s. Do you get a
kick out of the fact that your fans sit
around and debate this stuff?
Actually, it is neat that they do
that. I think it is a wonderful compliment
to us that people are willing to
spend time to talk passionately about
the band; it is quite a compliment.
I have prepared what I think
are Alex Lifeson's Greatest Riffs. I am
starting with "Spirit of the Radio."
That was a riff that seemed to
work, cinematically, for that song and
for the sentiment of that song.
"Limelight" has always been
my favorite guitar solo. There is a lot
of elasticity to it, and it is very, very
Our roots are in that song. It is
a long jam, and there is a lot of frantic
playing. It is a real treat to play live. It
is a great way to end our show. It is our
one moment of free-form improvisation.
We all let loose, and it is always a
little different every night.
"Fly By Night."
I guess that was an interesting
departure on that record, as I used a
very much cleaner guitar sound and a
different sort of melody. It showed the
different direction that we were moving.
During that era, we would
develop long instrumental sections.
We did that on quite a few songs, like
"Xanadu" and "La Villa Strangiato."
"The Trees" were a little different,
because there were a lot of different
dynamics on that song.
We were a hard-rock band, and
we were trying to spread our wings on
That was a really fun way to
assemble that whole album. We looked
at it as an opera. We played all of the
parts in one contained piece, and then
we spread them out as the story was
told. It was really a lot of fun to work on
that and develop that. I still remember
putting those pieces together.
Our three-piece band is one
where the drummer and the bass player
are very active. As a guitarist, you are
always looking for the greatest mileage
in covering the sound and making it
as broad as you can. On that song, that
is why I used those little suspended
chords and left the open strings ringing
out. It gives the impression of two guitars
playing. It is really effective on that
song and other songs. I think that really
is my style, and that song shows how it
"YYZ" is just a romp. It was the
instrumental song on that album, and
we really stretched out on that song.
Geddy and Neil really played great on
that song. I quite like the solo, because
it has a bit of a Middle Eastern flair to it.
"By Tor & the Snow Dog."
"By Tor" was one of those
compositions that was multi-layered
and was very dynamic. There was stuff
coming in and out. It had a lot of really
aggressive parts to it, and it was also
very emotive. I think that was an early
experiment for us when it came to
playing with those kind of dynamics. It
really led to much that came after it.
Rush has the advantage over
so many bands of your era.
There are no potty breaks
during new music by your
fan base. How many new
songs will be in the set?
We are not there yet.
We're still trading e-mails
regarding the set. Right now,
the set is probably somewhere
around four hours
long. Our target is about
three hours and 10 minutes
of music. We need to really
pull it back.
There are a lot of older
songs that we want to bring
back for this tour. There are
a lot of great classic rock
songs that we haven't played
in a very long time. We don't
want to shortchange those songs, but,
of course, you always want to play your
most current stuff. It is tempting to look
at "Clockwork Angels" as the whole
thing but we will see. We start rehearsals
next month, and we'll have a better
idea of how we want to approach that
I have been listening to your
solo album, "Victor;' and I have to ask
if there will be another solo album in
That was a lot of work. Geddy
and his wife were having a baby back
then, and he wanted to be home with
the family. We were off for over a year,
and I get very antsy sitting around, so
I decided to do that record. Boy, was
that ever a lot of work; I worked every
day on that record. I mixed it, recorded
it, wrote it, worked on the cover and
really did everything. It was completely
satisfying for me to do that.
I've got an hour or two of songs that
I've written and recorded over the years
for the sake of doing it and having fun
with it. I might do another one day,
but there are a lot of other things that I
want to do in life, and it really was quite
Having said that, it's a lot easier to
do two or three songs and put them
out and then wait six months and do
it again. You don't have the weight of
an LP doing it that way. Maybe I will; I
don't know, we'll see.
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