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Rush Guitarist, Alex Lifeson Talks About His Other Identity...Victor
by Brian O.
For more than 20 years, guitarist, Alex Lifeson, bassist/singer, Geddy Lee and drummer/lyricist, Neil Peart have pioneered a style and sound that has yet to be rivaled. It's also an achievement that this trio known as Rush has managed to grow with the times as well as set a precedence with their own musical art form.
With 19 albums and 30 million copies in sales to their credit, Rush still continues to be one of the most beloved power trios of our time. So, why would Alex Lifeson venture out on his own to record a solo album under the title of Victor?
In 1994, for the first time in their 20 year collaboration, Rush decided to take an extended break from their busy touring and recording lives. Geddy Lee and his wife were enjoying the birth of their new child while Neil Peart was recharging his optical views on the universe. So, the timing was right for Alex Lifeson to embark on an unknown solo journey that would result in the fruition of Victor.
Recorded over a ten month period at his home north of Toronto, Lifeson plays most of the instruments himself. However, he employs local session players, Bill Bell on guitar, bassist, Peter Cardinali and drummer, Blake Manning while adding the vocal talents of Edwin of I Mother Earth, female Canadian singer, Dalbello (who has an uncanny resemblance to Geddy Lee) and even a cameo by his wife, Charlene, rounding out the project's sound.
The result is a stunning cluster of compositions that feature Lifeson stretching the boundaries of his guitar, never before witnessed in the context of a Rush song. His lyrics aren't as otherworldly and microscopic as his counterpart, Peart, however he does manage to create some clever passages that work within the mainframe of this tight package. The following is an interview that took place with Alex a week after completing the final mixes of Victor. I think you'll find it interesting.
METRONOME: Why did you record this album when you're still the member of such a successful band?
Rush works in a certain way, and I think that after so long we've established a pattern that we don't deviate from very much. I've always loved what we've done as a band, but at the same time, when you work with other people, there's always compromise involved. It's the same thing for each of the other guys too; it's a compromise for everyone.
Over the years I've learned that If I do hear something in my head in a complete version, I needed to find another outlet for it. I have a much better understanding of that after getting all this music out of my system and hearing it exactly the way I always heard it. I feel much more balanced in terms of where I want to go with Rush now, or where I think Rush should go.
METRONOME: Why make this album now?
Geddy and his wife had a baby in May of 1994 so he wanted to take a year off. Nobody had a problem with that. We've never had a long break. During the last album, I entertained the idea of doing a solo record when I had the time and opportunity. This was the opportunity - a year off with no other plans. As it turned out, it stretched out to being a year-and-a-half, so it was ideal.
METRONOME: Why did you feel the need to make the album?
I needed something that was going to push me. By nature, I'm a bit of a lazy person. I'll start things but I may not follow them all the way through. I felt that, at this point in my life, I needed something that I was going to stick with, that I could work hard on and that would push me to my limits.
I set out to make a record that was disturbing, that was going to cause people to ask me questions. I wanted it to cause me to think, which was really putting me in an unfamiliar situation. This wasn't meant to be a showcase for my abilities as a guitarist. The challenge I was looking for was in writing songs.
I wanted to make an emotional statement. I didn't want to make a record that would typically be made by someone like me, from a band like Rush where you'd expect 50 minutes of all this textural guitar stuff and wailing away. I really wanted to downplay that.
METRONOME: Was there an overall sound that you were hoping to capture?
I wanted it to sound like a band playing off the floor. I wanted it to have that connection, that cohesion, that harmony amongst all the instruments mixed in the music. It wasn't always easy to do, but I didn't want any one instrument to be the feature. I also wanted a certain energy to what I was doing. There are some bands I enjoy like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, so I wanted to get back to that same kind of mood and coloring in what I was doing.
METRONOME: All the tracks sound very different from one another. Is there a common thread that runs through the album?
Lyrically, the record is linked thematically from beginning to end. I wanted to make a record solely dealing with the issues of love. I know the whole idea of writing about love has been done a gazillion times before, but I wanted to make a record that dealt more with the darker side of love and the things it can cause people to do. It can cause so much grief and angst, and in a lot of cases, it's for nothing. It's easy to talk about but when you're in the middle of that storm, it feels like it will never be over. Those were the things I wanted to touch on.
METRONOME: What was it like playing with other musicians other than your bandmates in Rush?
For the most part, I recorded most of the music myself before I invited the other musicians over. The idea was to develop the songs as much as I could so I wouldn't get people in and say to them, "Just play what you think." Blake Manning, the drummer, came in and stuck close to the patterns that I arranged. With the bass, Peter came in for just a few songs which really had no guide lines. He's such a pro that I left that completely open to him.
METRONOME: Primus' bass player is also featured on the album, right?
Yes. Les Claypool, the bass player for Primus came in to play on "The Big Dance." I'd already done a basic bass pattern but I knew Les would take it way outside and that's exactly what I wanted for that song. I wanted it to be kind of annoying. Les is a great bass player and a very unique one, so I knew he would play something that wouldn't relate to the song. Maybe rhythmically, but his note selection was, just as I knew it would be, totally outside. Lyrically, the song is uncomfortable and the characterization of Edwin's vocal performance added another layer of abrasiveness to the song.
METRONOME: How did you hook up with Edwin?
I met Edwin when I Mother Earth opened for Rush the last time we played Toronto. After working with them and listening to their first CD, I asked him if he would be interested in working on the project. After listening to the demo tapes, he said he was interested, but at the time, his group was working on their next release. To work around his schedule, Edwin came up to my place for all-nighters after spending all day in the studio with I Mother Earth. He did an incredible job!
METRONOME: Tell me about the other singer involved with the project, Dalbello?
I felt it was important to have a woman's voice on the album. I needed someone who could express the emotions and intensity of "Start Today." Dalbello fit the bill perfectly. She was the most professional person I've ever met or worked with. Her sense of everything was so keen, it just blew me away! For me, "Start Today" has become one of the most important songs on the album.
METRONOME: Have you ever written lyrics before?
The last thing I wrote was "Making Memories" which showed up on Rush's second album. I hadn't even tried it in 18 years! I found that I once I got the first couple of lines down, it just started flowing out.
METRONOME: Are you happy with the way they turned out?
It's very difficult for me to be objective about the lyrics. To me, reading them ... they seem perhaps, simplistic; they all rhyme in this day and age of not rhyming. I do think that Edwin and Dalbello really got the ideas across emotionally though!
METRONOME: Were you intentionally trying to make a record that sounded different from Rush?
No. Victor isn't a 180-degree turn away from Rush ... it's a 90-degree detour out into left field.
Thanks to the good folks at Atlantic Records for this interview!