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Glittering Prizes, No Compromises
Premiere Guitar Magazine
by Shawn Hammond
Photos by Ken Settle
The guitar and bass legends get existential as they discuss everything from the evolution of their songwriting partnership
to how raging Marshall Silver Jubilees and thumping Orange bass amps brought a raw, gutsy vibe to their new
steampunk-inspired album, "Clockwork Angels."
Click to Enlarge
If there's one band on the planet that's
made it cool for musicians to be ...
well, uncool, it's Rush. Because let's
face it - the intelligent, chops-heavy
prog rock that Geddy Lee (vocals/bass/keyboards),
Alex Lifeson (guitars), and Neil Peart
(drums/lyrics) have become synonymous
with over the last 30-plus years will never
completely escape the stigma of being considered
overwrought, stodgy, and even nerdy.
But with 1980's "The Spirit of Radio" - a
tune that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
ranked as one of the top 500 most genre-defining - the dudes raked in fame and
glory with brainy, multisyllabic bashing of
the very industry and medium that made
their careers possible, and they did it over a
backdrop of swirling pull-off licks, distorted
bass, and tour de force drumming that was
somehow still catchy. Their encore? The
next year they pilloried modern society at
large with "Tom Sawyer" - a chops-laden,
darkly futuristic anthem that even hardcore
deriders of prog can't help but dig.
Today, Rush is arguably the longest running,
most original, and most influential
progressive rock band ever. Their influence
can be heard in major bands ranging from
Pantera to Smashing Pumpkins, Primus,
Death Cab for Cutie, the Mars Volta,
Coheed and Cambria, and countless others.
And yet, through innumerable musical fads
they've remained staunchly committed to
big ideas, grand arrangements, and stellar,
instantly identifiable musicianship - rich,
unorthodox chording, odd-meter riffing,
and ethereal solos from Lifeson, and a
finger-busting mix of Jack Bruce's beef, Jaco
Pastorius' finesse, and a funk master's groove
from Lee. But they've also been flexible and
open-minded enough to not come across as
stagnant and stubborn. In the process, they've
managed to get more radio play than just
about any of their peers, scoring bona fide
hits with songs like "Fly by Night," "Closer
to the Heart," "Freewill," "Limelight," and
the aforementioned classics. But even when
their collective open-mindedness led to sonic
evolutions that didn't sit well with some
longtime fans - specifically, the synth-heavy
output from 1982-1989 that seemed to push
Lifeson into a more atmospheric and textural
approach - the band has remained unapologetically
With the release of this year's Clockwork
Angels, the Canadian legends prove they
haven't changed their devil-may-care attitude
one bit. A steampunk concept album that
finds the band bringing subtle keyboard and
piano elements back into the mix, Clockwork
is chock-full of classic Rush hallmarks - from
Lifeson's gloriously echoing, "Limelight"-
like solo in "The Anarchist" to Lee's jaw-droppingly
nimble-fingered breakdown in
"Caravan" and the newfound fire in Peart's
drum work. But there are also fresh elements
that make it perhaps the band's most listenable
outing in years. Lee's singing, particularly
on the beautifully simple "The Garden,"
exhibits more control and nuance than on
any other Rush record, and several songs are
augmented with lush string arrangements.
We spoke to Lee and Lifeson at the tail
end of the seven-week rehearsals for their current
world tour about everything from the
writing and recording of Clockwork to the
secrets of their longevity and their extreme
gear nerdery - from Lee's Orange amps and
'72 Jazz-bass fetish to Lifeson's recent addiction
to Marshall Silver Jubilee amps.
Was there anything unusual about how
you recorded Clockwork Angels?
Lee: Only in the sense that, listening back
to [2007's] Snakes and Arrows, I saw a record
that we probably had more overdubs than we
needed. I think that comes from underestimating
the fullness of the sound of the three
of us playing. So, having the benefit of touring
quite a bit from the time we made that
record, and to play some of the new material
that we'd written on tour, we learned a lot
about ourselves. I think the live experience
has informed our writing over the last few
years. This album is a direct result of that.
You're not talking about overdubs of things
like solos, though. You're talking about layers -
numbers of overlapping parts.
Lee: Yeah, layers. We just had this tendency
to hear music in a dense way, and I think
that even though we streamlined the way
we were writing, we were choking some of
the parts - some of the interesting stuff was
being obscured by too many parts. So when
we approached this record, that was very
much in the back of our minds. If we were
going to have an overdub, we better have a
damn good reason.
That said, Alex, you've really perfected the
art of layering guitars with different timbres
and tonalities. How much of that do
you hear when you're writing tunes, and
how much of it comes to you as you're into
the track up to your elbows in the studio?
Lifeson: A lot of it does come to me
beforehand. I hear a lot of things - and
then, once I start exploring, I hear a lot of
other things [laughs]. But that's the real fun
for me. I can sit and do that sort of thing
for hours and hours and hours. I'm always
looking for something that nobody's ever
heard or trying to take a sound and modify
it in a way that's fresh and different.
Some of the new songs - like the title
track - have a really live, spontaneous feel.
Did you track any parts together this time?
Lifeson: Sometimes, but not very often.
Typically, Ged and I will work in [Apple] Logic
with a drum machine or samples, and then
we'll give that to Neil and he'll work on his
drum arrangements, and then we'll develop it
from there. But with this record, we gave him
the music and there ended up being a lot of
changes in the lyrics as we went along. When it
came to actually recording, Nick [Raskulinecz,
co-producer] wanted to record off the floor
from the first day forward - which was really
unusual and a big surprise for Neil, but he
embraced it and ended up loving it. His playing
is just a lot wilder and less thought out. It's
more reactive to music that, in a lot of ways,
he's hearing for the first time. Nick really prodded
him to take different approaches - so it
was really quite a palette. Consequently, when
he'd get drum tracks done at the end of the day,
we'd import them back into Logic, and then
redo our parts to what he'd done, and we'd
bounce back and forth like that a couple of
times ... sometimes four or five versions. And
then, once those drum parts were established,
we'd go in and redo all our parts.
Alex Lifeson basks in the echoing glory of his favorite new signature Les Paul at a September 18 show
in Auburn Hills, Michigan. "I gravitated to [it] for probably 60 percent of the record," he says.
This is the way we've worked for a long
time - we seldom work off the floor. For us,
it's much more efficient and pleasurable to
work in this manner where we have our own
space in the studio, we can focus on what
we're doing, and you're not doing take after
take after take because somebody slipped
up somewhere and you have to go back and
start over again. We've tried doing it live,
and it's kind of fun - and I understand the
merit in it - but for the complexity of our
music and the focus that's required, it's much
more efficient to work this way. We're all
there - everybody's in the studio at the same
time, and everybody's a cheerleader - but the
actual performances work better this way.
Once you're used to is, it's just as satisfying as
playing live, but it's easier because you're not
struggling to hear yourself and all those things
that just defeat the purpose of why you'd do
it live anyway. If you're going to do it off the
floor, you better do the take perfectly right
from the start.
Did that new MO about minimizing
overdubs affect Alex's parts primarily,
or did it also affect bass lines?
Lee: If you're limiting the amount of keyboards
you're going to use - which seemed
to be a mandate early on [laughs] - then it
falls down to the guitar player to fill out
the sound. I thought we could get away
without that, and Alex agreed a hundred
percent. By the same token, he had strong
feelings about my layering: For a few
records there, I was really layering my voice
with multipart harmonies all the time, and
he wanted to see a more direct approach
with my vocals this time - less harmony, or
at least just very specifically used harmony.
Did that change in how you approached
the vocals affect how you approached the
Lee: Not really. The bass kind of goes where it
needs to to make the song vibrant - what the role
of the bass is changes from song to song. In some
moments in the song, "The Anarchist," for example,
that bass melody holds that chorus together.
So that was driving the chorus, and when I wrote
the vocal melody it really had more to do with
how those lyrics needed to be expressed, and I
found to my dismay [laughs] when I came to
rehearse them, that they were very difficult to
do at the same time. I feared that bass line, and
I made sure I went into rehearsal extra early
this year. I'm a big believer in the 10,000-hour
series - I put a lot of hours into that!
In the past, I wrote bass patterns that were
connected to the vocals in a way that allowed
me to do it live without killing myself or
tying my brain into a pretzel, but this time
I kind of let that go because I just felt it was
better for the music to go where it needed
to, and worry about the best possible vocal
melody for the song afterwards. So that's how
it came together - as two separate players:
Me, as a bass player on this album, was a
separate guy than me as a singer.
Was that bass part in "The Anarchist"
difficult because of the physicality of the
fingering or because of the conflicting
harmonies and rhythms?
Lee: It's the syncopation - or the lack of
syncopation. Rhythmically, the way the
bass drives and the way the vocal sits on it
are really quite different.
In the intro to "Clockwork Angels,"
it sounds like the synth intro to "The
Camera Eye" [from Moving Pictures] is
playing backward in the background.
There's also an ascending, flanged unison
riff near the beginning of "The Anarchist"
that sounds like a nod to "Red Barchetta."
Are these intentional nods to the past, or
is it just a coincidence due to the fact that
it's coming from the same guys?
Lee: No, there are some not-so-subtle nods
to the past, like, in "Headlong Flight" - which is a very obvious "Bastille Day"
redux - but what you're describing I think
is just coincidence.
How do you choose when and what to
reference in those nods to your back
catalog - is it just spur-of-the-moment
Lee: Yeah, it's a bit of cheek. But, also - like
with "Headlong Flight" - it was kind of an
accident: Alex and I were jamming, and we
go, "Oh, [expletive] - did we just rewrite
"Bastille Day"? [Laughs.] Because we had
assembled that into a complete instrumental
song at that point, and at first we were
happy to let it be kind of a cheeky nod to
the past. So the song was finished, but then
I got lyrics from Neil and realized that, at
this part of the story, [the protagonist of the
album's storyline] is looking back over his
life and thinking back over his life - thinking
about things that he regrets, things he
doesn't regret - and the main line is "I wish
that I could live it all again." So, it seemed
oddly appropriate that we were reminding
ourselves of where we'd been, too.
Alex, how did you get that choppy
effect on the guitar at the beginning of
Lifeson: That's from one of the plug-ins I
use. It was doing this funny thing where,
when you'd go through the song and then
stop and go back to the beginning and
hit play, that effect would happen. It's not
recorded as part of the file, but it's like an
artifact or a regeneration of the plug-in that
would always happen unless you went to the
end of the song and ended it. We kind of got
off on it, and Nick loved it, so he said, "Let's
start the song with that thing!" I used an
atmospheric Guitar Rig plug-in for the "As if
to fly ... " section just before the bridges, too.
Which guitars did you use on that song?
Lifeson: I used my '76 ES-355 for all the verses - I love playing that guitar, and it sounds
really, really good. It's such a ballsy, woodsy
sound. I used that quite a bit on the whole
album. I used my Gibson J-150 for the slide at
the end of the solo. I used a '59 Tele reissue for
most of the clean stuff on the album, like the
cleaner bridge parts of that song, and then
the Les Paul on the "As if to fly" parts.
The openings of "Carnies" and "Wish Them
Well" have some of the most ferocious guitar
tones on the album - the latter has a bit of
a snarling, Angus Young vibe to it.
Lifeson: We were going for that big, open
rock vibe with "Wish Them Well." That song
went through three complete rewrites. We
just weren't happy with it as we went along,
but finally it came together and had the kind
of vibe that we wanted at that point in the
record. I think I used my '59 Les Paul for
that. It was really a lot of fun to record that,
because there are those big, open rock chords,
and Neil's drumming is just so straight ahead.
On "Carnies," it's riffy at the beginning,
which I quite enjoy, and then there's the
choruses. And there, again, I used a Guitar
Rig plug-in on one of the guitars, and it
sounded a bit like a carousel.
Was it a rotary-speaker plug-in?
Lifeson: It's in their special-effects listing,
and it's called "Soundtrack" or something
like that. It has so much junk on it - it has
sort of a rotary sound, and it fades in and
out, and it's manipulated in so many ways.
I was drawn to it because it had the sound
of a merry-go-round ...
So it sort of mimicked the chaos and
craziness of a carnival ...
Lifeson: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
The intro to "BU2B2" has a bit of a
spaghetti-Western vibe with the acoustic
and the slow, tremolo'd electric - that's a
new feel for a Rush album.
Lifeson: Oh, yeah that - I forgot about that!
[Laughs.] That was fun to do. We were in
L.A. mixing the record, and we wanted to
insert this little bit of a lyric or a presence
that Neil wanted to have in there, and we
thought, "How can we add to it without
taking away, and make it something different - but not another song?" So we recorded
that in my hotel room, Geddy and I. We
stuck the mic outside and recorded the
morning traffic and sounds of Los Angeles
from our hotel room, and then I did the
acoustic tracks and threw a vocal track on it.
The tremolo-picked chords in the verses
of "The Wreckers" are also sort of a
new feel for you guys - there's a hint of
romantic, traditional Italian or French
music. What inspired that?
Lifeson: We struggled to get something to
feel right in those verses. I was playing arpeggios
and block chords, and everything sounded
clumsy and nothing was working. After a
few hours of experimenting, I just turned the
volume down a little bit and we got a shimmery
sound, and I just did this fast strumming.
It seemed to fit the mood really, really
well. It didn't get in the way of anything, and
it provided a nice foundation for Geddy and
Neil - and the lyric, especially.
Let's talk gear for a bit. Geddy, you have a
history of being pretty adventurous with
bass choices - from the Rickenbacker
doubleneck you used on "Xanadu" to
your Steinberger and Wal basses in the
'80s. Even though you've been relying
on Fender Jazz basses for the last several
years, have any new, off-the-beaten-path
instruments caught your eye recently?
Lee: I'm pretty hardcore Fender right now. I've
had a few instruments given to me that I've
played with. I've got a beautifully made Spector
bass that I've played around with and quite
like, but it doesn't sound like how I want to
sound right now. Aside from that, not really - I've just been getting deep into Fender land.
Do you ever break out those old basses - the Rick, the Steinberger, or the Wals?
Lee: I do. For this album I pulled a lot of
things out to see what they would sound like.
In fact, we got very heavily into the differences
between Fenders themselves - because I have
a lot of different kinds of Jazzes. Skully - John
McIntosh, my tech - has been working with
Fender to put together different kinds of pickups.
At one point, before we started recording,
we actually had five different vintage Jazz
basses, and we were A/B'ing them with the
exact same riffs, just to get into the nuances
of how different they sounded. And they
do sound quite different - even though, to
the layman, it might be quite esoteric - but
we quite noticed all the differences and
used them appropriately on this album.
I used about four different Fenders while
making this record.
What can you tell us about those four?
Lee: My No. 1 Jazz bass is from '72, and
I used that on the majority of the songs. I
have another '72 that I found recently in a
shop in Toronto. We cleaned that up and
Skully put a different set of pickups in it,
and it has a bit more of a raw sound - a
little less deep and a bit more alive - and
I used that on "Seven Cities of Gold" and
"Wish Them Well." I really like it - I'm
playing it live, as well. It doesn't quite have
the punch in the bottom end that my No. 1
has, but it's got a nice midrange growl to it.
I also have a red Fender Custom Shop
Jazz bass that I use that, for some reason,
just has a deeper tone and a little less spiky
top end - or more elegant top end. I guess
"elegant" is a weird word to use in a rock
band, but anyway ... [laughs] I use that
for some of the softer things, like "The
Wreckers" and "The Garden." And then I
also have a '74 Jazz bass that I found, and
it has a really interesting sound. It's deep,
kind of like my original '72, but it doesn't
quite have all the same attributes. I'm using
all of those live, as well [see sidebar for a complete list of Lee's gear].
Is your No. 1 1972 bass stock?
Lee: Pretty much. We've tweaked the
pickups over the years - only when they
kind of break - but I try to keep it as true
as possible to the original instrument.
Is it just a coincidence that your two
favorite basses are '72s, or have you
pinpointed something about Jazzes
from that year that you really like?
Lee: Well, I've had such a hard time replicating
the sound I get out of my [first]
'72 that I've been looking for another
bass from that period to see if they
match. So I found this other '72, which
happens to be a sunburst. They use different
wood, usually, when it's a sunburst
than when it's a painted body - obviously
for the grain. But these two are only a
few hundred numbers away from each other,
in terms of their serial numbers, so it's very
odd to me that they don't sound exactly the
same, and the only thing I can put it down
to is the wood and the aging of the wood.
Alex, how long have you had the Tele
you used for the clean parts on the new
album - and is it all stock?
Lifeson: I've had that one for about 20
years, and it's got a Badass bridge, and the
neck has been sanded down to bare wood. I
think the pickups are stock, though.
Did you find yourself gravitating to one or
two specific guitars for the whole album,
or was it all over the map?
Lifeson: It's funny - I got one of my All
Axcess [Les Paul] models that they'd done in
black, and it was one of those guitars where
you go, "Holy shit - this thing sounds amazing!"
I like the way they all sound - I'm very
happy with them and we worked really hard
to make a really good guitar - but this thing
just sounded so good through every amp I
had in the studio. I gravitated to that guitar
for probably 60 percent of the record.
Geddy Lee plays his No. 1 '72 Jazz bass while
working a Korg MPK-130 MIDI Pedal Keyboard
housed in a retro-sci-fi custom pedalboard case.
Does it have the same specs as your other
Lifeson: It's funny. After I played it for a bit,
I emailed Pat Foley at Gibson and I said, "Pat,
what's up with this guitar? It sounds amazing!"
And he said that sometimes it's just the
combination of the wood and the way it's all
put together, but he also said they wanted to
do a small run of solid-color models. There
were requests for that, but sometimes you also
get an imperfection in the finish of one of the
translucent ones, so they do a solid color on
it to save the guitar. Something happens with
the solid colors - there's more paint on it, and
maybe that has something to do with it, but
everything else is the same. Whatever it is, it
just has a nice growl to it. It translates really
well - you really get a sense of the pick against
the strings. It's got that little grit to it.
So Alex, you mainly used the Tele, the
355, and the black Axcess Les Paul?
Lifeson: Yeah, but I probably used 20
guitars on the record [see sidebar for a complete list]. I used a
beautiful PRS electric 12-string - it sounds
fantastic and is so lovely to play. I had the
Ricky 12-string, which is exactly the opposite.
It's a nasty, angry guitar that does not
want to stay in tune and bites my fingers - but it looks so cool! [Laughs.]
Let's switch to amplification. Geddy, did
you use DI boxes and amps in the studio?
Lee: Yeah. I used a whole combination of
devices, and I bring them up on separate
inputs. I use a Palmer speaker simulator on
one input, a SansAmp RPM on another,
and the Orange amplifiers on the other.
Basically, I set it to "stun" in the room!
How does your touring rig differ from
what you used in the studio?
Lee: It's pretty much the same. Brad Madix,
our front-of-house sound guy, has all those
separate rails, and he can mix and match
them according to the song.
Alex, you've been a pretty stalwart Hughes
& Kettner guy for a while now. Did you
use them again for this album?
Lifeson: No, I didn't. I made a change this
year. I used a Marshall Silver Jubilee 2553.
It's a 25-/50-watt amp from the '80s. I also
used one of the new Mesa/Boogie Mark Five
heads - it's got, like, nine amps in it. I loved
the way that sounded for all the clean stuff. I
also had a 50-watt Marshall, Marshall 2x12
combos that I got way back in the '80s, a
Bogner, and other stuff.
I've used Hughes & Kettner gear for
quite a few years, and I love their equipment.
It's excellent, and they're great
people to work with, but I felt that after
so many years it was time for a change. I
really wanted my guitar sound to be a little
different this tour. So I started out with
that setup - the Boogie and the Marshall,
with a Hughes & Kettner Coreblade to
augment some different effects. And then
Skully found this company [Mojo Tone]
that handwires amps in North Carolina,
and they built me an amp called the Lerxst
Omega - Lerxst is my nickname - and
we based it on what I liked about that
Marshall. It sounds fantastic. Really nice
saturation, great warmth. I'm really, really
happy with it. I think part of the reason
I got tired of Hughes & Kettner is that
we were running three channels in the
one amp, and I was finding that when I
was switching between the channels I was
getting some noise - thumps - and after
hearing the Marshall I thought the sound
was a little bit thin, a little processed compared
to a screaming, single-purpose amp.
I understand that that's a bit of a compromise,
and it's certainly no reflection on the
Hughes & Kettner gear, but it was time
for a change for me.
Did you use the Lerxst Omega in the
studio, or is it just for the tour?
Lifeson: No, that didn't come out until
we were in our final stage of rehearsal.
I used the Marshall for the primary
rehearsals for six weeks, and then that
arrived and, sadly, the Marshall now
resides in a case somewhere [laughs].
So which amps are you taking on the road?
Lifeson: I'm taking the Lerxst and a
backup, a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five and a
backup, and a Coreblade with a backup.
I'm also using [Apple] MainStage, so I'm
accessing all the Guitar Rig plug-ins and
Universal Audio plug-ins - which, by the
way, are just awesome plug-ins.
One more gear question: Alex, you've
always been a purveyor of gorgeous
washes of delay. What's your favorite
delay device right now?
Lifeson: Right now I'm using Fractal
Audio Axe-Fx IIs for just about all of the
outboard effects. I have two delay patches,
two other patches - one for reverb and one for
reverb/pitch [changing]. And for forever I've
been using the TC Electronic 1210 [Spatial
Expander + Stereo Chorus/Flanger], and I love
it. I'm using that for my phasing and flanging,
and using the Fractal for the chorus.
Okay, let's talk bigger-picture stuff.
Geddy, how would you describe Alex's
evolution as a musician up to this point?
Lee: I think he's underappreciated for the kind
of complexity he brings to his guitar playing.
Not only is he an amazing soloist - and always
has been - but he's developed a very interesting
rhythmic and harmonic style of chord
creation. He's constantly searching for ways of
bringing more musicality into the chord itself,
and he's always experimenting with different
tunings. I think he's evolved into a very interesting
and deep guitarist. Y'know, we grew up
in a period when it was all about the soloist - he loved Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore
and all those guys - and of course he was very
influenced by that and became a great soloist.
But when you're playing in a three-piece band,
you have to develop good chops to help fill
in the sound, be able to spread the chord out.
And that's kind of pushed him to develop a
great sense of arpeggiation and developing the
technical side, where he's got all these layers of
guitar sounds that he can draw upon to sound
like more than one guitarist while he's playing.
Alex, same question for you about Geddy.
Lifeson: As a singer, he's evolved in many
ways. He's really become a singer. In the
early days - and, again, it was a different
time, a different physicality - he screamed
more, he hit those high notes. That was the
unique quality he had in the way he sang
and how he delivered lyrics. Now I'm more
drawn into the way he sings, particularly
on this record. There's something that's very
compelling in his singing - the nuances,
how he translates lyrics into vocal parts. It's
really a skill, and I get to watch it all the
time. He works really, really hard on it.
As a bass player, he's always been amazing
[laughs]. He blows me away when I sit and
watch him play. I wouldn't know how to quantify
his evolution and development, because I
think he's always been very busy, he's always
been all over the place - but at the same time,
he knows when to pull it back and, y'know, sit
down and let everything circle around him.
Final question: In a recent Rolling Stone
interview, Neil mused a bit about how
much longer he can pound the drums with
the sort of stamina that Rush requires. It
seems ridiculous to think there will be a
day anytime soon when he can't crush most
drummers on the planet, but what do you
see for yourself whenever that day comes?
Lee: I didn't see that interview, but I know
what he's getting at: How much longer can
we go out there and play three-hour shows at
that peak level. And I can see it in him. Last
night, we were at the end of a very long day of
rehearsing - I don't think we've ever worked
so hard prepping for a tour, we've really put
in a serious amount of hours - and I could
see he was tired. We were almost three hours
into the set, and we were deciding whether to
do one or two or three songs in the encore,
and there comes a point when you just have
to accept that you're approaching 60 and that
maybe three hours of blistering rock is for
a younger man. That's what he's getting at.
So maybe it's just inevitable that Rush tours
down the road - if all goes well and there are
Rush tours - aren't three hours long [laughs].
Lifeson: That's a very valid, prurient question.
We're thinking about this all the time.
Every time we go to rehearsals, I think,
"Wow, this has really been hard work this
time. Why has it been so difficult?" And I
know why it's been difficult - it's not the
physicality so much as it is the mental work
required to put Clockwork Angels together,
plus all this other material we're doing, plus
working with a string section - two cellos
and six violins - which, by the way, is absolutely
awesome. But, y'know, it's hard for
him. We've been rehearsing for seven weeks,
and I think we've had four, maybe five days
off in that period - plus, he started rehearsing
a month before we did. So he's been
playing constantly for months now. He's
going to be 60 next week, and it is a huge
toll. I mean, he has an amazing stamina and
he's a very strong individual, but what he
does is very, very difficult and very demanding.
Hopefully, we'll get through this tour
with no problems - I'd like to think that we
will, and that's certainly our plan.
But eventually, one day, we're not going to
be able to do it anymore. That's a reality, and
I don't think we should get too caught up in
it. When it happens it happens, and that's it.
We've had a great run, we've left a great legacy
that we're proud of, and who knows what'll
come after that? I mean, I think my fingers
will still work for a little while longer [laughs].
I like to do stuff at home, to work with other
people and continue to be musical, but there
are other things in life, too - especially when
you've dedicated so much of your life to touring.
There's no doubt that we absolutely love
what we do, and we know that we're very,
very fortunate to have been able to do this.
But eventually it does come to an end. I don't
want to be 70 years old jumping around
onstage. Maybe if we're still making great
music, sure. But I kind of doubt it by that
point. Most 70-year-old rock musicians I see
now are not really that enjoyable to watch.
Plus, even though Neil is 60, most
25-year-olds can't play what he plays.
Lee: Well, yeah ... [laughs].
Lifeson: I agree with you - and most don't.
Maybe he was being reflective. Y'know, he
has a young daughter, and we all have given
up a lot being on the road, away from our
families. I have two grandsons who I adore
and love being with as much as I can be,
and I'm fortunate that they feel the same
way - so it kills me to be away from them.
And I know it kills him to be away form
his daughter and miss those formative years,
and it's tough for her, as well. So these
things kind of eat away at you. But, at the
same time, you feel a responsibility to your
art and your partners, and so you do it.
Alex Lifeson's Gear
Black Les Paul Axcess signature model, black Les Paul
Custom, goldtop Gibson Les Paul, 1976 Gibson ES-355, red
Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess, sunburst Les
Paul Axcess signature model, '59 Fender Telecaster reissue,
Martin 12-string acoustic (tuned to D-A-D-A-A-D for "The
Pedlar"), Larrivée acoustic (for slide on "The Pedlar"), Gibson
ES-345, Gibson J-150 acoustic, Gibson Les Paul Junior, 1958
Gibson Les Paul Standard, Gibson ES-175 (in Nashville tuning
for "Wish Them Well"), Taylor acoustic (in Nashville tuning
for "The Wreckers"), 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, Three Gibson Custom Alex Lifeson Les Paul Axcess signature
models, '76 Gibson ES-355, one Gibson Les Paul
Custom, one Gibson '58 Les Paul reissue, one Gibson
'59 Les Paul reissue with a Floyd Rose, one Gibson Les
Paul Custom with a Floyd Rose, one Fender Custom Shop
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff (for "The Anarchist" solo), MXR
Flanger, MXR analog delay, Boss Flanger, Electro-Harmonix
Memory Man, Boss Compressor Three Fractal Audio Axe-Fx IIs, TC Electronic 1210 Spatial
Expander + Stereo Chorus/Flanger, two Apple 2.6 GHz MacBook Pros running Apple MainStage UAD plug-ins and Native
Instruments Guitar Rig 5, two Universal Audio Apollo QUAD
audio interfaces, Jim Dunlop Cry Baby Rack Module wah
Marshall Silver Jubilee 2553 head, 50-watt Marshall reissue
1987X plexi head, tall vintage Marshall 4x12, Mesa/Boogie
Mark Five head, Marshall 1960X 4x12 reissue, Matchless
Clubman, Hughes & Kettner straight-front 4x12, Roland
JC-120, Marshall Club and Country combo (used to drive
a 4x12), Bogner Uberschall, 18-watt Marshall combo, Vox
open-back 4x12 cab, Two custom Lerxst Omega 50-/25-watt heads based on
Marshall 2553 and 2550 Silver Jubilee heads (built by Steve
Snyder at Mojo Tone), two Mesa/Boogie Mark Five heads,
two Hughes & Kettner Coreblade heads, three Palmer PDI-
03 speaker simulators
Strings, Picks, and Accessories
Dean Markley electric strings (.010-.046 and .010-.052
sets), Dean Markley acoustic strings (.012-.054 sets), Jim
Dunlop medium picks, George L's cables, Dean Markley electric strings (.010-.046 and .010-.052 sets),
Jim Dunlop medium picks, George L's cables, Levy's Leathers
straps, Embrace guitar stands, three RJM Music IS-8
input selectors, four dual Audio-Technica AEW-R5200 wireless
units, two RJM Music Amp Gizmos, one Mesa/Boogie
High-Gain Amp Switcher, Behringer MultiGate Pro XR4400
Quad Expander/Gate, RJM Music Effect Gizmo, one Furman
AR-PRO AC line-voltage regulator
Geddy Lee's Gear
John "Skully" McIntosh, bass tech for Geddy
Lee for the past three years, was on hand to take
care of both the basses and guitars during the
Clockwork Angels sessions. Here he details Lee's
main gear for the new album and tour.
All That Jazz
Lee's No. 1 bass is a black '72 Fender Jazz bass
"that has been seen time and time again, onstage
and in photos, and to which all other bass guitars
are compared," McIntosh says. "This instrument
carries most of the weight during the show."
The pickups are original, though the bridge
pickup was rewound to virtually original specs by
Tom Brantley at Mojo Tone in North Carolina in
2010. That same year, it was outfi tted with its third
neck - a maple Fender Custom Shop version with
a 9" radius, white binding, and aged pearl block
inlays. According to McIntosh, it has "a little more
mass than the typical Geddy Lee-style neck," and
like all of Lee's basses, the back of the neck has
a rubbed oil fi nish. It's set up very straight, with
extremely low string height and fast action. The
medium-weight alder body features an aged pearl
pickguard custom-engraved by James Hogg with
the alchemical symbol for amalgamation. Says
McIntosh, "All the touring basses have scratch
plates engraved and paint-fi lled by James with
various alchemical symbols." Like all of Lee's Jazz
basses, No. 1 has a Badass II bridge.
Lee's No. 2 bass is a sunburst '72 Fender Jazz
with a neck made by Mike Bump at the Fender
Custom Shop in 2011. It's used as his main
backup and for "Seven Cities of Gold" and "Wish
Them Well" off the new album. Like No. 1, it has
a 9"-radius maple fretboard, but the binding and
block inlays are black. Its pickups were made by
Brantley at Mojo Tone and are based on No. 1's.
When performing "Bravado" (from Roll the
Bones), Lee plays a black '74 Jazz with a neck
just like that on his No. 1. "It has the original
pickups," McIntosh says mysteriously, "but with
a little voodoo inside to get just a little something
more out of them." All three '70s basses have the
original tuners and string trees.
Lee's "elegant" candy apple red Fender Custom
Shop Jazz bass has an ash body with a maple
cap. It has a slightly narrower neck than his '70s
basses, but still has a 9"-radius maple fretboard.
"This bass has been around for a while and has
Custom Shop pickups in a '60s-style spacing,"
McIntosh explains. Lee uses it for "2112," as well
as "Halo Effect," "The Wreckers," and "The Garden"
from Clockwork. His backup for the red Jazz
is a sunburst Fender Geddy Lee signature bass.
For "The Pass" (from 1989's Presto), Lee plays
a D-tuned black Jazz bass assembled from
parts - including a Mike Bump-built Custom
Shop neck and pickups by Tom Brantley. McIntosh
says Lee also recently received a new Custom
Shop surf green Jazz bass built by Jason
Smith that will be used on four songs.
All of Lee's basses, regardless of tuning, are
strung with Rotosound Swing Bass RS66LD
(.045-105) sets, and they're outfitted with Levy's
Leathers straps and Jim Dunlop Straploks.
A Clockwork Orange ... and Sansamp, Palmer, and Avalon
McIntosh says Lee's Clockwork tour amplification
rig is unlikely to change much from the
previous tour. "However, you can never count
out the possibility of a change or addition of a
piece of gear. The bass rig is an ongoing evolution
that will never cease."
Lee's signal goes through a Shure UHF-R
system that's switched via a Kitty Hawk
MIDI Looper to an Axess Electronics splitter.
"From there, the signal goes out in parallel
to a SansAmp RPM preamp, a Palmer PDI-
05 speaker simulator, an Avalon U5 DI, and
an Orange AD200 MK3 amplifier - which, in
turn, drives another Palmer PDI-05. A Rivera
RockCrusher power attenuator provides a
load for the Orange. These four lines then
run direct to the P.A." Lee and McIntosh
prefer running the Orange with new-oldstock
GE 6550 power tubes. "They have a
little less warmth than the [JSC Svetlana]
'winged Cs,'" McIntosh explains, "but they
have more clarity and sparkle in the high
end, which works better with the high-gain
distortion setting we run the amp with."
For the Clockwork Angels sessions, an
Orange 4x10 cabinet was mic'd in place
of the second Palmer and RockCrusher
used on the road, but McIntosh says that,
on the current tour, Lee isn't using speaker
cabinets in his bass rig. Further, the band
isn't using any monitors onstage other
than the subs that augment the Logitech
Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors they all wear.
"On tour, this arrangement is supplemented
by Brad Madix at F.O.H. [front of house
mixing] and Brent Carpenter on monitors,"
says McIntosh, "who each add a fifth channel
of tweed-Bassman-flavored amp modeling through the console." McIntosh also
says that, other than subtle changes dialed
in by Madix or Carpenter, Lee's bass-rig settings
do not change from song to song.
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