After 40 years — 33 with the same lineup — and 22 albums, Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson notes that “you can argue we don’t have much to prove at this point.”
But, he quickly adds, that’s not how the Canadian trio views things as it spends the year on the road in support of its latest release, “Snakes and Arrows.”
“We don’t take anything for granted anymore,” says Lifeson, who formed Rush in Toronto with bassist Geddy Lee, adding drummer Neil Peart in 1974. “That sounds kind of corny, but it’s true. We look at the work we do like that — every day is a new day to explore and have fun and carry on.”
It wasn’t too long ago that carrying on was a significant concern for Rush, however.
After the deaths of Peart’s wife and daughter 10 months apart in 1997 and 1998, the group went on a six-year hiatus during which nobody knew if the Rush would actually get back together. But after 2002’s “Vapor Trails” — which Lee says was “a difficult album to make” ‚ Rush has been renewed; it toured twice, including a 2004 jaunt to celebrate the trio’s 30th anniversary, and has released the covers EP “Feedback,” a live album and two concert DVDs.
But, Lee adds, the trio did manage to get some time off before making “Snakes and Arrows,” with he and Lifeson — who live two blocks apart in Toronto — playing a lot of tennis, and Peart, who lives in California, writing his fourth book, “Roadshow: Landscape with Drums, A Concert Tour By Motorcycle.”
“With a band that’s been around as long as we have, I think that time away is as important as the time you are together in many ways,” says Lee, 54, who was born Gary Lee Weinrib. “It’s OK to lay fallow and get to the point where you are really dying to do something creative ... ’cause you’re hungry again.
“When we get together to write now, it’s very much with that attitude.”
Lee takes credit for bringing Rush together again in early 2006; “Being the only Jewish one in the band, my guilt gets going first,” he cracks.
He and Lifeson began writing at Lee’s house, with Peart sending lyrics by e-mail. They had five songs sketched out when they subsequently convened at a home Peart owns in Quebec, and the band also met in May and June in Toronto Rush
before heading to Allaire Studios in New York’s Catskill Mountains for five weeks of recording in November.
“We finally got a borscht belt gig,” Lee says with a laugh, but the band fully enjoyed the isolated residential setting the studio provided.
“I wasn’t happy about it at first, because I like to work at home and keep banker’s hours,” Lee says. “But we got there and the rooms were magnificent and we were able to work very efficiently. For the first time in a long time, there were no distractions; we could work as late as we wanted to. It was really the right decision.”
Having that latitude, according to Lifeson, gave Rush an opportunity to do “a lot of playing” and in some ways revert back to the way it made music in the ’70s and early ’80s, creating ideas and arrangements out of expansive jams. The instrumental “Malignant Narcissism” even began with Lee and Peart experimenting while the guitarist was away in Florida, tending to legal matters stemming from a New Year’s Eve 2003 fracas with police.
“To me it’s got our whole history in it, somehow,” says Lifeson (ne Zivojinovich), who turns 54 on Monday. “It’s got little bits of the way we wrote songs in the past, the kind of chords we might have used, but not in a nostalgic kind of way. It sounds very fresh and modern to me.”
Rush is, understandably, anxious to play the “Snakes and Arrows” material live, but Lifeson says the group is also being careful “to tip our hat to some of the older stuff. Really, we just look for the songs that are challenging to play and interesting and we’ll love playing for seven or eight months.”
Or longer. Rush’s North American tour wraps up Sept. 22 at home in Toronto and it heads to the United Kingdom and Europe in October. South America, Japan and other territories beckon for 2008, and Lifeson says another run on these shores next spring is not out of the question. And after that the band will ponder what to do next.
“The future is always unpredictable,” Lee says. “I wouldn’t ever be so bold as to say we’re always gonna be here. You just never know. But we are a band and we feel like a band and we love being in a band together, so from that standpoint things feel very good.”
Rush performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (August 28th) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $100 and $69.50 pavilion, $35 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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