Thursday, January 29, 2009

Geddy Lee Dishes Out Some Secrets (to me at least...)

Every time I think I know everything there is to know about a band or musician - BANG - some interview pops up and is terribly eye opening on a subject or three. A new interview with Rush's Geddy Lee in Germany's Bass Quarterly is just one of those interviews.

The good people at posted the whole thing, but these are the areas I found really eye opening, in terms of how Rush plays along with samples, how they are triggered, do they use a click track onstage, what's up with those washers and chicken roasters onstage, etc. Here are the questions that addressed these topics (the German to English translation is a bit off in places, but you'll live):

bq: Why did you decide to place obscure devices like washing machines as an amp substitute on stage?

Geddy Lee: When I came to rehearsals for one of our recent tours our guitarist Alex had just built up his monolithic amp set-up on his side of the stage. That looked like one single gigantic Rock'n'Roll cliché. My bass amp set-up, in contrast, had the epic extent of a suitcase which looked ridiculous compared to the rock-god setup on the other side of the stage. My Roadie and I therefore searched for a possibility to fill up my part of the stage and, at the same time, have Alex's cliché-tower look as ridiculous as it really was. That was the start of it all. And it wasn't even inconvenient to play a rock show and, at the same time, doing the laundry for the whole entourage (laughs).

bq: This time you had chicken rotisseries on the stage as amp-replacement. Did you really grill real chicken during the show?

Geddy Lee: This is a stage secret which I can't reveal due to certain health regulations in each country which make it hard to grill chicken. Unfortunately we weren't able to share our chicken with the audience.


bq: Even in passion you also were wearing some debauchment on your shoulder, as the cliché-Steinberger from the 80s which sounded not bad ...

Geddy Lee: ... but also not good. The benefit of the Steinberger had practical reasons. At that time I was surrounded by an incredible number of synthesizers and I assumed the missing head of the bass kept me away from pushing aside a mini-moog. The bass did its job but in the end it didn't sound good.

bq: And you're still using your stone age Rickenbacker bass?

Geddy Lee: Yes, because it's requested by the fans. Over the years I was asked again and again why I'm not playing the Ricky anymore. Therefore, I decided to grant him a guest role at the end of one song (laughs). The Ricky is really heavy and therefore tough to play, so that I needed the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger if I wanted to use it all the time.


bq: If you believe all those heavyrock bassists which name you being an influence to them, we think you're now exaggerating beyond measure.

Geddy Lee: Of course I'm joking a little bit. But too many effects may let my sound appear to be like one single heap of waste. On the other hand the set-up of the whole band on stage is so complex that I'm really not on for additional effects. Everybody in the band has a number of pedals at his place, and each of them is connected to a row of sequencers and prerecorded samples. The usage of electronics is so complex that we really have to be extremely focused in our work. Besides playing his own instrument everybody in the band has to trigger a number of samples for each song. This leads to the fact that everything you hear on the DVD is really live and could be mastered without any post-production. But that also means that our work on stage resembles more a choreography than a mere performance.


bq: Have you ever used the wrong pedals during a song?

Geddy Lee: A lot of times! Some of our sequencers are really long running and our roadie on stage has to check the sequences, which he strangely not always gets done. And then you hear a keyboard sequence from another song going on forever like in an infinite loop. Fortunately a part of our audience is really high and they then think that this wrong sample is an innovative version of a particular song (laughs out loud). Usually the roadie has to reset the sequencer every time but somehow it seems that none of them is capable of doing so (laughs). On the other hand our concerts keep being interesting for ourselves by this. Besides, we're not using click-tracks on stage in order to be able to improvise, which makes the usage of samples all the more difficult.

For a long time, I thought the band played along to pre-recorded parts for the duration of the song. Basically playing to a recorded finite version of the song. But it looks like the auxiliary sounds are triggered live and play for a finite duration. Probably anywhere from a short noise burst to a 16 measure keyboard patch or something. Makes me respect their live shows even more. How insane is it to have to remember to trigger parts while you are already playing live - and live Rush music to boot. That stuff is not easy!


Chris said...

I'm telling you right now I couldn't do it. I'm lucky to remember to turn off my tuner pedal when I tune between songs.

Depending on how long we have to set up, I have buttons to trigger lights -- strobes -- and a smoke machine. At our last show in Missoula, we had the smoke machine in a venue we hadn't used it before. I had it on warming up, but forgot about it until close to the end of the set. The only reason I remembered was because one of the venue lights in front of me burned out, and poofed out some smoke when it popped, and I thought, "Hey, smoke machine!" I waited for a particular moment, and then hit the pedal.

I guess those cheapo machines must save up, because that think exploded like a guy who hasn't gotten laid for months. The whole stage was engulfed such that I could barely see the other two guys in the band; the lights up in front looked like little bright dots, kind of like the sun does on a cloudy day. It was pretty hilarious, actually.

I bet Geddy never has that problem.

Dr. John said...

Chris and Isorski - makes you respect the truth behing "Spinal Tap" even more, eh? Remember "Rock and Roll Creation"?

VoxMoose said...

Chris, although it looked like a bumble from your point of view, I bet there were people in the audience thinking "this is the most amazing and innovative use of a smoke machine I've ever seen."