Keith Spera of The Times-Picayune recenty conducted an interview with RUSH guitarist Alex Lifeson. A few excerpts from the chat follow:
The Times-Picayune: Back in the day you guys cultivated a mystique. Nowadays you seem to be much more visible. Is there a concerted effort to not be in the shadows as much?
Lifeson: I'm not so sure it's a concerted effort. I think it's a natural development. We're a little more confident and comfortable in our skin as we get older and mature. For a long time, we really wanted to keep the band a separate issue from our own private, personal lives. And we were really successful at that for a long time. You don't hear much about the band; we certainly aren't in People magazine or anything like that.
There's a lot more attention being paid to us currently than there has been in a long time, and it's all kind of interesting. But we're still kind of like a small, cult band — that's the way we look at it. We don't have big, burly bodyguards and all that crap. We just go out and do our job and we have fun doing it, and then we go home.
The Times-Picayune: Neil, especially, tries to maintain a little bit of distance.
Lifeson: That's the kind of guy he is and that's the kind of guy he's always been. Despite all the terrible things that happened to him, he's always been like that. He's not comfortable with crowds, which is a drag for a guy who has to sit in front of 15,000 people a night. The guy's such an amazing musician. People start complimenting him and he gets embarrassed.
So he's built this wall around him — fence is probably a better term. He'll make contact, and he's a great guy, but he's just a little uncomfortable with all the attention and the big crowds. It's hard for him to relinquish privacy.
The Times-Picayune: Speaking of People magazine, I was taken aback by your little mishap in Florida.
Lifeson: It was a horrible, horrible experience that still continues four and a half years later. I was having dinner at one of the most elegant resort hotels in the country, and the way we were treated....I was beaten up, I had my face punched in by three cops, I was Tasered six times, my son was Tasered twice. And we didn't do anything! I was dragged through for 15 months before the criminal end of it was sorted out. I was charged with five felonies, and all of them were dropped. What does that tell you?
So I took legal action. It's been a real fight. The Ritz-Carlton is a big corporation, and they have a big, powerful law firm. All I ever asked was my day in court.... It's been an uphill battle at every stage of the way. I didn't make a big deal of it, even though it was eating away at me every day. I wanted it to be sorted out and I wanted my chance in a court of law to deliver the facts as I know them, as well as the 12 other witnesses that we were bringing.
I try not to think so much about it these days and let it happen the way it's going to happen. We're waiting for a ruling on the appeal and then we'll see where we go.
The Times-Picayune: It makes you wonder how the guys in, say, MÖTLEY CRÜE, deal with things like this all the time.
Lifeson: I've never been in a fight in my life! I'm a grandfather. I'm very proud of the work that I do. I set high standards for myself and my family. I love my family and I'll protect my family with my life. For that, I've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend myself, and I get run over.
I had a great lawyer, and the facts of the matter were what they were. But I'm telling you that in Collier County, which is a very conservative part of Florida, the sheriff's department....they're mean guys. It's a big force, and they exercise a lot of force. I've seen them pull over a car with old ladies, cotton-tops, and the deputy had her out of the car with her hands on the back of the car like something out of "Cops".
The Times-Picayune: Getting back to the band....Have you ever disagreed with a point of view Neil has put across in his lyrics?
Lifeson: I don't know if I've disagreed. There may have been times where I was probably not as passionate as something he was talking about. But it's all about the delivery of these concepts that he has. They're usually a band concept. We get into the idea of what it is and the way he's going to deliver it through his lyrics.
The relationship for lyrics between him and Geddy is very close. Neil will rewrite three, four, five, 10 times if he has to if Ged's having a problem with getting the idea across or just being comfortable with the number of words that he has to sing. They work very well together. I've seen Ged take out one word from a stanza and say, "That's the word that I'm feeling in this stanza. Can you rewrite the whole thing around that word?" (Neil) always obliges. It's very professional, a real shared experience.
The Times-Picayune: Neil has dealt with religious themes and agnosticism in the past. Why such a focus on "Snakes & Arrows"?
Lifeson: Well, look around. The world's a crazy place right now and it's driven by religion. It's always been driven by religion. But currently the division between the East and the West, and the small representation of the very militant within those groups creating such an enormous mess...it has to be talked about and thought about.
The Times-Picayune: Since "Vapor Trails", you've definitely gone back to basics and pared your sound down.
Lifeson: (Producer) Nick Raskulinecz really woke us up. He's been a fan of ours since he was 11 years old. I think RUSH was the first band he went to see live with his mom in Knoxville. So for him, it was really a lifelong dream to work with us.
We're always looking forward, we're always trying to progress with every record we make, and we can drive ourselves crazy doing that. He said, "That's fine, but don't leave what made you the band that you are behind. Think about the way you write, think about the way you arrange music, think about some of the sounds that you used traditionally. Don't run away from those things all the time."
It was an eye-opener for us, because we do tend to do that. One of the reasons "Snakes & Arrows" works the way it does is because there are elements of the old RUSH, the past RUSH, but we try to package it in a very forward and contemporary way.
Read the entire interview at The Times-Picayune.
Download the interview as an MP3 audio file at this location.