Interview with Alex Lifeson (Rush)

In April 2013 RUSH were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and with over 40 million album sales to their credit, these Canadian Rockers are one of the biggest selling bands around, with a career spanning almost 4 decades.

Metal Express Radio: Congratulations on your recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s been a long time coming. Did you think that induction would never happen?

ALEX: We didn’t really care one way or the other. It seemed like a nice idea, but if it didn’t happen then it wouldn’t change anything for us. For our fans, however, it was much more of a bigger deal. They felt slighted by the fact that we’d been eligible for a decade and a half before we were inducted. I was indifferent at first, but on the night when we felt all of the love in the room from all of these musicians who we admired, but who looked upon the US as inspiration to their careers. That was really a terrific feeling.

MER: The induction ceremony looked like an absolute blast with the Foo Fighters in full Rush 2112 era kimonos, moustaches and hair. Did you know beforehand they were going to reprise your 1976 look?

ALEX: We rehearsed with them the night before because we wanted to make the transition of them playing to us playing, but that was so sweet of them to even think of doing a tribute like that for us.

MER: What do you actually get from the induction? Do you get a little statue like an Oscar?

ALEX: You do get a little statuette. It is nice but not too elaborate.

MER: It’s been a couple of years since you last toured the UK. Are you looking forward to playing in the UK again?

ALEX: We love playing over here. The last tour was the first time that we had played at the O2 in London, which was so much better than Wembley Arena and the Arena at Sheffield is a really good arena. We’ve played there a few times now and it has a pretty good sound for that type of venue.

MER: On the actual tour you and Geddy travel together, but Neil hops on his motorbike and takes the scenic route between shows. Do you envy his freedom or do you think he must be mad?

ALEX: Neil really enjoys travelling and seeing the world and he loves the fact that he’s anonymous. He just stays in little motels and hotels along the way. He loves the independence and it really works for him. I don’t mind sitting on a plane with Geddy feeling like a normal human being. It’s better than being bounced around on a bus for hours and hours.

MER: Has he ever suggested that you get on the back of his bike and he’ll take you to the next show?

ALEX: He does travel with two bikes and has offered for me to come along with him, but I haven’t taken him up on that just yet.

MER: You play for almost 3 hours each night. Most bands can only manage half of that. How do you pace yourself during the show?

ALEX: We’re much more conservative on our days off than we used to be, not that we were crazy wild party guys. We now work one day on and one day off — we don’t work consecutive gigs anymore. Those off days are truly recovery days, especially for Geddy and Neil. Geddy tends to get up at 1:00 and doesn’t talk so he can rest his voice. We’ll go for dinner together. It’s pretty subdued with a nice meal and a glass of wine. We have a chef who cooks organically and both Geddy and I hit the gym. We’re very conscious of keeping our energy levels up so we can play a three hour set. We’re going to be 60 this year so we have to look out after ourselves.

MER: There’s a real camaraderie between you. Has this helped to keep the band together for nearly 40 years?

ALEX: That’s been a big part of it. The fact that we enjoy making music together is another aspect of it. We laugh a lot together. Ged is my lifelong best friend. We’ve been friends since High School when we were 13 and we share a bond that goes beyond the music, beyond everything. It’s growing up together with your best mate. To be lucky enough to play in a Rock band for your whole life with your best friend is pretty special.

MER: The great thing about going to see Rush from one tour to the next is that your setlists change so much. You obviously take a lot of care choosing the songs to play. Do you have a formula to pick so many from the new album, so many classics, and the odd rare album cut, or is it an open house free for all with everyone throwing in suggestions?

ALEX: We always start with the most current material and we want to play as much of the new album Clockwork Angels as we could, so that takes about an hour. Then we fit in the classic Rush songs that we need to do every tour, then we fill the set up with whatever obscure songs we want to include. This tour we’ll be revisiting some of those ’80s records, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, as I think those tend to get overlooked. Despite what people think, my attitude is that I do love those songs from those albums and we give a new fresh breath of air into them.

MER: What rarities have you considered for this tour?

ALEX: “Middletown Dreams” is great to play live and playing “The Pass” is really an emotive song. It’s not an easy song to play cohesively, but we’ve nailed it. “Bravado” too is in there. They are great pace changers. There’s a lot of thought that goes into choosing the set, but I know we can’t please everybody and there’s zillions that would like to hear “Jacob’s Ladder” again, but the set is what it is and we feel it’s well balanced and is full of songs that we need to play.

MER: You always have an elaborate production. Are you taking the steampunk/time machine concept a little further this time?

ALEX: I think the Time Machine set was the preliminary step to what the Clockwork Angels set would be. This time it’s a more complete stage set up. It’s the first time we don’t have any amps on stage — it’s all set pieces. The rear screen stuff is very crisp and bright. We have some great video stuff in that steampunk vein; almost Monty Python-esque. We have a seven piece string section who are awesome players. It’s a great production.

MER: To outsiders, Rush are a very serious band yet your shows have a lot of humor. Do you think your recent movie Beyond The Lighted Stage has helped to dispel the myth that you are over serious?

ALEX: I think maybe it has but our fans knew that anyway. We’re serious about our music but we’re not serious about ourselves as individuals. You’ve got to have a laugh as life’s too short.

MER: As a band you’ve evolved so much over the years from the original power trio through to the progressive rock of Hemispheres to the New Wave and Ska influences on Signals and the Hi-tec Rock of Power Windows. Has that ability to adapt and incorporate new influences kept the music fresh for you?

ALEX: It was a natural progression for us. It’s how we’ve always evolved. We’ve always had one foot in the mainstream, so we’ve been aware of what’s happening with musical styles and how they develop, but we always try to keep our own style. We like to evolve musically, but we want to keep our own identity. I think as we get older we have greater confidence in our playing and that makes us feel that we are where we should be.

MER: You mentioned before that albums such as Hemispheres were very difficult albums for you to make. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, which albums were most enjoyable for you to make and which were the least?

ALEX: Hemispheres was certainly the most difficult, followed by Grace Under Pressure. The most pleasurable to make were Clockwork Angels and Moving Pictures.

MER: Throughout the ’70s you’d always name check your road crew on your albums, so the names Liam Birt, Skip Gildersleeve, and Howard Ungergleider became part of the Rush folklore. Are any of your old crew still with you to this day?

ALEX: Liam is still there, he’s at the hotel right now. Howard is at another hotel so he can get an early start to get the lights set up. We still have a lot of the original crew with us 40 years later.

MER: Your whole catalogue is being released in a special edition on ITunes. Have you had to remaster or remix the albums at all for this format?

ALEX: I think I Tunes remaster the material specifically for that format; it makes a lot of sense. I wasn’t involved in that though.

MER: After your UK shows you’ll be playing in Europe, including the Sweden Rock Festival. For a long time you always said that you wouldn’t play at an open air festival for safety reasons. Why have you decided to play at this festival?

ALEX: In the past we wanted to have control over the show and in the past it wasn’t possible, but now it’s a little easier. We cut the show back from three to two hours. It’s a great way to get to a broader audience. We wanted to test it out for this festival and see how we feel about it and if it all works out we’ll consider it again for the future.

MER: Next year is your 40th anniversary. You celebrated your 30th by doing a covers album, Feedback. Have you any thoughts on how you’ll celebrate this anniversary?

ALEX: We’ll take some time off after this tour and for our 40th, we’ll do a special tour and we’ll look closely at some of the songs we haven’t played for a long, long time. As for a new record, we haven’t really thought that far ahead yet.

MER: Would “The Fountain of Lamneth” be in contention for that tour?

ALEX: That might be stretching it a bit. That’s no comment about the Caress Of Steel record. I hear things that we are embarrassed about that record, but I’m very proud of it. It was a major stepping stone for us. There’s some good playing on it and some good arrangements. It’s a very youthful record, but we were barely 20 years old at the time. It’s a good record, but it doesn’t mean we want to play much stuff off it.

MER: What about the rest of 2013. What have you got planned?

ALEX: We’ll be done in early August, then we’ll kick back and relax for a bit and then take some time to decide what we’ll do next.

For more information on RUSH and their tour schedule, visit


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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