Interview: Alex Lifeson

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Rush are run as a partnership, with the three members each taking on separate responsibilities. This applies to the Canadian band’s 30th anniversary concert DVD Rush – R30. So when Classic Rock brings up something beyond Alex Lifeson’s remit – a 1975 clip of Rush performing Fly By Night – the guitarist chuckles in embarrassment: “I might be premature in doing interviews before I’ve watched the entire DVD.”

With designer Hugh Syme again involved in the group’s artwork, is it safe to assume that the usual attention to detail has gone into the sleeve for Rush – R30? You know what? All I’ve seen of the artwork is a few things in the office. In this band everyone takes a slice of the work. I’ve taken on the audio, Geddy’s involved in the visual side, and Neil works with Hugh on the packaging. I’ve not even seen the interviews and live footage [on Disc 2] yet – Geddy tells me it’s great. But I can state for sure that the concert footage sounds good.

The DVD was shot in Frankfurt. After not playing in Britain for so long, were you surprised by the warmth of the welcome at those European and British shows? Absolutely. It was overwhelming. Twelve years was a long time for us, too. Things have changed in everybody’s lives, and sometimes so do tastes in music. So to return and play to full houses was incredible. Everyone was so excited that we finally came back. It made us realise that we have to play Europe on every tour from now on.

On the tour, on stage you had vending machines, and roadies emptying washing machines that nestled alongside the amplifiers.

American audiences are great, but British audiences really enjoy the goofing around and have a deeper appreciation of the music. It had been logistically impossible to bring over the whole show, which is partly the problem, but we said that unless it was the full show we wouldn’t do it. That made it more exciting for us, too.

It was a long show for veteran musicians like yourselves.

Pacing was definitely important, giving Geddy some breaks with instrumental songs. And Neil needed a breather after his drum solo. But we stayed in shape and ate well. And above all, it was fun.

We’ve heard that the videos of Exit Stage Left…, Grace Under Pressure Tour – 1984, and A Show Of Hands will be remixed in 5.1 stereo, re-mastered and repackaged in a special box, and will also be available as separate DVDs.

I remixed them myself. And it was interesting to go through stuff from when we were skinnier and had more hair. They’ll come out in spurts from the spring onwards.

Geddy recently said the band will write new material during the next six months.

He and I have discussed getting together next week and making a very casual start on a new album. We’re planning to work on small groups of songs at a time, writing them, then recording them and starting again. It’s a different way of working for us. We’d like to finish it by next summer, and hit the road again towards the year’s end.

Do you see it having more guitar solos than the last Rush album, Vapor Trails?

Definitely. I consciously held back on that record because it was such an emotional and delicate one [Neil Peart had suffered family bereavements that put the group’s future in doubt]. I wanted us to link arms and for nobody to show off. Next time I’ll be a lot more elaborate.

With Opeth, Mastodon, Porcupine Tree and Coheed And Cambria all name-checking either Rush or prog in general, it’s a good time for a band like Rush.

Definitely. Porcupine Tree are a great band and Steven Wilson’s a talented writer and musician. Their music has such great texture. I definitely hear a lot of Rush in a lot of bands coming through right now. It’s a wonderful compliment. And it’s inspiring that people seem to want something more inspiring than verse-chorus-verse-chorus.

In must be interesting to be in a band with someone as iconic as Neil Peart.

He’s just an interesting guy, period. Besides being well-read and knowledgeable, you should try standing in front of him while he plays. He makes those drums sing. The way he hits them and the harmony he generates is quite remarkable.

You must be happy to draw a line in the sand after the events of New Year’s Eve 2003, the fallout from which even threatened Rush’s European tour.

I was determined to fight it to the end because I know what happened that night. The police in Florida can be brutal. At a dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, some guest in a tuxedo gets up on stage and says: “Happy New Year everybody”; there’s no way they should be beaten up and thrown down a flight of stairs. My nose was punched in and broken, I was tazered six times. But I was never going to let them get away with that.

Although their evidence was so flimsy, our lives were dragged through a nightmare for 15 months. I spent $300,000 fighting the thing, but was advised to accept [the plea bargain]. It wasn’t about the money, more exposing the things the police so often get away with.

You don’t seem like the type of guy who’d go looking for a fight.

In 30 years of touring with a rock band, do you have any idea how many times I could have got myself into trouble? I’m a grandfather, a family guy. Had someone spoken politely to us and said: “Sir, would you please get down from the stage”, there would have been no issue. I may be crazy, but I’m not a maniac. Aged 50, and in one of the finest hotels in America – it’s insane to suggest that I would pick some fight with three huge cops.

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