Geddy Lee - Vapor Trail Afterglow

FROM WWW.BASSINSIDE.COM
Text and Photos by CHRISTOPHER BUTTNER
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www.bassinside.com Geddy Lee Vapor Trail Afterglow Text & Photos © by Christopher Buttner Lies den Artikel auf Deutsch Rush is a band tailor-made for the 'Everyman', in that they offer something for almost everyone. They retain a razors edge appeal to the rocker in all of us. As well, they are one of the very few progressive bands still out there actually 'progressing', making music that appeals to intelligence, wit and an introspective view on the essence of what must be the best and worst elements of Human Kind. The songs by their very nature and message perhaps unwittingly present a form of 'Social Conscience'. They are liberally peppered with intelligent lyrics through subtle philosophies that impart logic and compassion without preaching. There are no 'you must!' positions in their music that are often found in current philosopies and belief systems.

Instead they present a refreshing 'you might and you can' ideology. Optional, not dictatorial. These gifts from Neil Peart, world class percussionist and drummer. Alex Lifeson can serve up sumptuous one-of-a-kind solos at the drop of a hat, moving then to a minimalist form of playing that perfectly carves up all the contrast and tension needed. Geddy Lee has a voice as singular as Freddie Mercury's or Ozzie Osbourne's, he sounds like no one else. Add to that, he somehow balances the tasks of bass pedals, multiple keyboards and bass guitar. All at the same time. Each musician holds an equal place in the band, both as performers and examples of world class playing ability.

If ever a true definition of the word 'band' were needed, RUSH provides that. For as a true band of people, they have melded together into a unit greater than themselves. That is a rare thing indeed! They have the respect of millions of musicians and non-musicians, the world 'round. Hence the Everyman... As our Cover Story this month we offer you an indepth study of Geddy Lee. The author of the story is Christopher Buttner, a professional publicist and the source of more than a few press releases for Mackie Amplification and others, including many recording artists. This story was offered to us some time ago, but with a series of delays beyond Christopher's or our control, it took the biggest part of a year for this to come to pass. It must be said however, well worth the wait. Any story about a band of musicians the stature and importance of RUSH, is big news, any day! Preface by the editor, interview and live photos by Christopher Buttner.

Christopher Buttner: Any plans for touring Europe and, by the way, when was the last time the band toured overseas?

Geddy Lee: No, none and we havenít been there since 1992, I believe.

Christopher: What is your take on the long hiatus from touring overseas?

Geddy: Well, we hoped we could get overseas this time and, in fact, we made about four different attempts in planning an overseas tour. We wanted to play numerous countries and we just had a hell of a time getting all the cities we wanted at the times that we wanted. It also looked like it was going to be a very complicated and expensive venture at the time, which didnít bother us. Also, prior to the Vapor Trails North American tour we werenít sure how long we would be able to stay on the road and we didnít know how we would feel about being on the road. We approached the Vapor Trails tour in a very tentative manner, along the lines of, "letís do a couple of legs and see how Neil feels and see if weíre all vibing". It was just very difficult trying to get Europe in, partially, I guess, because we didnít really know how things were going to go, and we couldnít have expected to feel as good as we did by the end of the North American tour. So we planned things in kind of a safe way. At first we thought, "letís just do North America", get our feet wet, see how we feel, and then we can add on as we got stronger. If things were going great, if we felt good, and everyone was up for staying on the road a little longer, weíd add on Europe. Unfortunately, that was an error because itís not just so easy to add on Europe thatís a big part of the world. To route the tour the way we wanted just wasnít working. Plus, we had offers from other countries where we never played, like Mexico and Brazil. We had a huge fan base in Brazil for 30-years and we had never gone there, so we tried that. To make a long story short, the only possible time to do Europe was a tour at the end of January 2003, and that would mean coming off the road for two months and then winding the whole tour up again. Which, quite frankly, did not go over very well.

Christopher: It looked like a hugely expensive production

Geddy: Yes, it was. It was the kind of tour that if you connected Europe immediately to the end of the North American leg, you can justify the expense of Europe because its part of an ongoing production, and you can deal with the costs. But to separate Europe out and take two months off and then get everyone back together, go back into rehearsals again to do that was not anything people were willing to do. So, itís unfortunate. The one regret I have about the Vapor Trails tour is that we did not go to Europe and I feel terrible about letting down our European fans. Partially, it was our error and partially it was just the fact that we could not predict how we would feel three months into the Vapor Trails tour. By the time we realized that we were strong enough to keep going, the Gods of Scheduling were just not cooperating. I do feel good that we hit two countries that we never played in before. Although we dissatisfied our fans in Europe, we satisfied our South American fans, so we accomplished something on that ground. I can promise that the next time RUSH tours, and I have no reason to feel there wonít be another RUSH tour, weíll definitely make Europe more of a priority. The Vapor Trails tour consisted of really fun and celebratory performances. And listening to every track on the CD, itís a total and complete adrenalin rush and that really carried over to the tour. I donít think Iíve seen that kind of energy and electricity come off a RUSH stage since the Permanent Waves. What was the overall reception like from the audiences? I appreciate your comments and it was a great tour. We had a great time. We were really feeding back from the audiences and they were full of smiles that made us smile. I think after all that we have been through it was just nice to focus on something as simple as doing a good show. No talk, just an album, no second guessing, no bullshit it was just down to doing what we do, which is playing.

I think there was a great feeling of longing, we were back in our environment where we have always connected, doing what we do in the most basic way, which was playing as well as we can play. The three of us just gelled and we really got off on it. I think it was the most fun tour we have ever done. When we last spoke about the making of your solo album, you had an interesting way of doing the song production. You would randomly go from song to song and work on it for a while instead of starting on one song and working on it without deviation to completion, which is the way RUSH had recorded in the past. What did you learn in the making of your solo record that you carried over and eased you through the making of Vapor Trails? Itís hard to be specific. Obviously there was a whole area of songwriting that I had been focused on with Ben Mink (Geddyís co-writer on My Favorite Headache), and producer David Leonard. I felt in tune with my ability to shape songs, arrangements, and melodies, so I felt quite confident when we went into record Vapor Trails. Also my studio Ďchopsí were very, very sharp in terms of operating the computer systems that you have to use these days in order to record. This all became apparent when we started making Vapor Trails. All that experience was allowing me to take live jams that Alex and I recorded and work them into songs in a fun way. The more that happened, I felt more room to expand on those skills.

Alexís experiences in working on his own gave him confidence and my work on My Favorite Headache gave me a full range of experiences and confidence. So, when we came together to do Vapor Trails, we felt very able to give each other the room we each needed to do our own thing. I spoke to the bandís sound man, Brad, kind of ribbing him along the lines of, Hey Brad, Geddy is singing phenomenally how much are you tuning his voice? He stated he was not tuning you at all, What youíre hearing is coming off the stage from Geddy. How much more difficult is it to hit the high notes after all these years? It just depends upon the context and the key. Take a song like ĎFreewillí, where the end part is about as high as I can possibly sing. For some reason, that part is not very difficult for me. But if you take a song like ĎTemples of Syrinxí from 2112, there is an intensity about that song that is really hard. Not only is it in a high key, itís relentless. So, certain songs, like ĎTemples of Syrinxí, just wear out my voice by stressing my vocal chords, while songs like ĎFreewillí, that require I sing in a high range, are very balanced songs where I can hit those notes with relative ease. So it really depends upon the songís key. Songs like ĎGhost Rider,í for example, and ĎCeiling Unlimitedí are very difficult songs to sing. Itís not just because theyíre very high in the vocal range, itís because they are very wordy and relentless. You need to catch your breath after them, which is when weíll play an instrumental tune.


Photo: Andrew McNaughton

The balance of the show requires proper placement of the instrumental songs to help me catch my breath and keep my voice in shape. The big advantage on this tour was whenever I needed a break; we threw in an instrumental song. Do you ever sing in falsetto to hit the notes? I sing falsetto, but I only use it on purpose. In ĎOne Little Victoryí, I use falsetto as the effect that I am going after, the same with ĎSecret Touchí. I donít use it to replace a real vocal part that is not supposed to be falsetto. What do you do vocally to prepare for a show, and what do you utilize during a show to keep you voice strong, aside from strategically arranging instrumentals into the set? I maintain a very strict diet on tour. I avoid all dairy products and spicy foods, and white wine I keep to a bare minimum. There are foods that are highly mucolytic and dry out my voice that I avoid completely. I drink liters and liters of water and days off I try to not talk so much and I donít do interviews.

But, before the show itself, I have found on previous tours that when I was doing a 20-minute vocal warm-up, it was great for sending me out on the early part of the show totally warmed up, but it cost me towards the end of the show when my voice would tire out prematurely. Because we had no opening act on this tour, what I chose to sing during soundcheck is my vocal warm-up. We do at least a 20-minute soundcheck every day, consisting of bits of songs, so I will sing some stuff in a lower as well as a higher range. The soundcheck is also paced so I use those songs to warm-up my voice because I know I will be onstage in another hour and a half to two hours. Thatís all the warm-up I required and on this tour it worked well for me.

What about warming up on the bass? Any running up and down scales or playing twiddly-bits? No, I donít play at all before the show.

I warm up on everything during soundcheck and thatís it.

Do you do anything vocally to cool down?

Drink a glass of red wine as soon as I possibly can (laughs). I drink room temperature water throughout the show and when I come off stage I drink a whole lot more room temperature water. Only then do I hit the wine bottle (Laughs again).

How much of hitting the high notes is just getting over mental hurdles? What one or two pieces of advice from your experience or something youíve learned from a vocal coach can you bestow on other singers?

You have to have a lot of respect for the muscle and you canít kid yourself that you can live like you did when you were younger, eating and drinking whatever you want. Being in a smoky environment is the worst thing for your throat; so donít hang around with people who smoke. Lubricating your voice, drinking inordinate amounts of water really helps as well as not talking on days off. You just canít drink water before you go on stage. A friend who is a pro ball player told me you have to hydrate yourself two days before the event. Your diet is really important depending upon the kind of singer you are. The simple, common sense thing really is, most of all, use your head. (Soundman) Brad mentioned that RUSHís tour schedule consisted of two shows and then a day off, but for the most part the schedule was one on and one off.

Are the show dates arranged in a specific way for you to maintain your voice, as well as for everyone in the band to maintain their own physical strength and stamina?

Yes, I find that I cannot do three shows in a row, ever, anymore and we didnít on this tour. Although, when we were rehearsing and people forget six weeks of rehearsals is like doing six weeks worth of shows in a row! I did find, as the tour wore on, the back-to-back shows were getting harder and harder on my voice and I got very tired towards the end of the tour. In fact, I found myself sleeping longer and longer as the tour wore on. I also physically started developing some problems with my right hand during the last month of the tour that started to inhibit my ability to play properly. It was a problem with strained ligaments around my right index. Thatís a really important finger for me, since itís the finger I do all my really aggressive slapping with and I had to see a hand specialist when the tour got to Chicago. It was a problem and I was able to work around it and fortunately a day off here and there helped. The problem is still not gone, but it doesnít matter anymore, now I just have get it ready for tennis season. But, thatís one reason I was happy to see the tour end. I think Neil had some problems physically, he had some pretty beat up hands and he has to be careful about tendonitis while on the road. Itís sad to face your fans and tell them that you canít go to Europe or other parts of the world. We can defy our age for a while, but sooner or later you start paying the price for it both physically and mentally. I think the fact that we were able to do almost 70 shows I mean, really, it was the longest tour RUSH has done in a very long time and it will probably be the longest tour weíll ever do. It seemed right to do such a long tour at this time because the spirit was there. We also had so much rest being away for so long, we decided "okay, weíll push ourselves as far as we can this time", and we did. It would have been nice to have another ten days to go to Europe this time, but our bodies were ready to stop.

At what age did you start to realize that maybe your body was changing and those high notes just didnít materialize out of thin air?

About four tours ago I realized I had a hell of a time keeping healthy on tour. Quite honestly, it was the last two tours, in particular the Vapor Trails tour, when I was the healthiest ever. I think thatís because I take better care of myself than when I was younger. Plus, touring during the summer seems to be much better for us. I think there is a correlation with the fact that we had a tougher time staying healthy towards the end of the tour, which also happened to be the time when the weather started getting colder and we started playing cold indoor arenas. Such gigs tighten up your muscles and body. Especially when you move between drastic climatic changes, be they indoors or out, running between hotel, plane, car, arena, car, plane, hotel Exactly, yeah. When we were playing outdoors in the heart of the summer, the heat and the humidity, while harder on our road crew, really helped us. Neil and I talked about this subject a lot, how much looser our muscles were in the heat and how much easier it was to play well because your body is hot, warm and loose. I think the same is true with my voice. The humidity really helped me stay healthy. I think summer tours are a good thing for us. I guess itís like when you get to that certain age and you say, "itís time to retire to Florida". (Laughs) Yeah.

In terms of your physical exercise regimen, how far in advance of the tour did you start working out? Did you go to a personal trainer to get you into shape for a tour that was as grandiose as this latest one?

I have a personal trainer, and I have used one for the past several years. I do a lot of physical activities such as biking and hiking trips as well as a lot of tennis. Plus, I always want to improve my efficiency. I work out and try to stay in shape and thatís really important for me to do in order to play well on tour. I do cardio; I started running a few years ago I donít like to run and I donít like to go to the gym. Some people like it. I hate it. But I need to do it in order to stay healthy and function well, on tour as well as in all of my other endeavors. So of course, in the making of this most recent record and particularly before the tour, we upped the workout regimes so we could be in better shape. I know that Neil, before the start of the tour, worked out really intensely for about six weeks, pounding the weights and other exercise regimens everyday. He went through the most intense physical preparation he had ever gone through for a tour, and it really paid off. His playing was amazing because he was in amazing shape for this tour.

What about rest and sleep? How hard is it for you to maintain a sleep regimen when youíre traveling across time zones?

Sleeping on buses can be hard.

Was the band doing a lot of bus traveling on the Vapor Trails tour?

We didnít travel by bus on this tour; Alex and I had a chartered plane. Neil traveled by bus and motorcycle. Travelling by plane helped us a lot, because we can Ďhubí out of a particular town and commute back and forth to other local cities for shows. At least then, for maybe fives days at a time, youíre sleeping in the same bed. Sleep is really important. I found, especially after back-to-back shows, I was beat, totally pooped on my day off. So I had to be really good to myself on those days off and not be foolish. I donít think I have ever been able to sleep twelve hours a night. I do have to get my eight hours in though.

Are there any plans to capture any aspect of the Vapor Trails tour on DVD for those people who missed the experience of the live performance?

Oh, yeah! We videotaped the last show on the tour in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. I think it was a 20-camera shoot. As we speak weíre in the very early stages of putting that all together. Sometime in 2003 weíll release a DVD of that concert.

The big questions is always, "whatís next?" Youíve all had your individual artistic projects aside from RUSH, you released a solo album, Alex did production work, and Neil released his book, Ghost Rider. Can you put an eye to the future at this point in time to talk about future solo projects and RUSH?

I have no idea at this point. Iíve been working for about three and a half years without much of a break (sighs) and I need a break (laughs). Iím taking time off for the next little while and weíll see where we go from there. Hurry up and wait? Yes, I would say for at least the next six months Iím not doing anything connected with music. Then, Iíll see what there is to do. Eventually, Iím sure, weíll get back together; the three of us, and start talking about another RUSH record. Hopefully before too long that will be a reality. But at the moment my plate is going to stay very empty. We finished the Vapor Trails tour and I am going to enjoy the afterglow of that for a while.

What was the best or worst ĎSpinal Tapí moment from the Vapor Trails tour?

(Groans) I canít even really think. (Laughs). Every night the show went on without a hitch. But, we did have our guests come up on stage and do Ďdryer duty.í Author's note: Instead of a backline of bass guitar loudspeaker cabinets, Geddy chose to use three fully operational Maytag Laundromat dryers. The machines tossed RUSH shirts throughout the evening, which were eventually thrown to the audience by the band members before the start of the encore.

In order for the dryers to stay optional, they were coin-fed intermittently during the shows by stage techs. We never knew who was going to show up to put coins in the machines. Sometimes it was very wild. One night our chef appeared and he was wearing his apron and that was all. Other nights we had people I didnít even know show up in French Maid costumes. One night a stripper wearing chaps came out onstage with the coins and on other nights, crewmembers in crash helmets came scooting across the stage on their electric scooters. On those evenings it got pretty funny.

The dryers were a nice touch and I will spare you obvious questions such as, "What kind of fabric softeners effects your bass tone more, liquid or fabric sheets?" and "What kind of dryer provides the best speaker transient response, gas or electric?"

Those are bad (laughs), thank you. (END)