Spontaneous-sounding and song-friendly, yet grand in scope, Rush’s spellbinding new release,
Clockwork Angels, follows the adventures of a young man across a steampunk landscape
filled with alchemists, anarchists, buccaneers, sorcerers, carnivals, and lost cities. For progrock’s
quintessential trio (bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, drummer Neil Peart, and guitarist Alex
Lifeson) the creation of the album was a journey in itself. Started in 2008, only four songs
had been written by the time Rush launched the wildly successful Time Machine tour in 2010,
which led to another go-round in 2011. Travels and distractions not withstanding, ultimately
two events brought the 12-track concept disc to fruition: Peart’s steampunk vision, for which
he huddled with bestselling science-fiction author Kevin J. Anderson, and a series of intense
jams between Lee and Lifeson.
Typically, Geddy Lee has served as the glue of
Rush, pulling together Peart’s lyrics, Lifeson’s sonic
canvases, and jam highlights with his own melodies,
arrangements, and orchestrations. It’s the same
role he plays on the finished recording, where his
vocals—deeper in tone but also in meaning these
days—center the songs, and his inimitable barking
bass moves effortlessly and willingly from shadows to
light. We talked to Geddy in London, amid an unrelenting
avalanche of international press interviews,
where time slowed down as our discussion of Clockwork
Angels took a decidedly bass slant.
What set Clockwork Angels in motion, and what was
We felt like we needed to have something contemporary
when we tour. We hadn’t had anything
new in three years when we launched the Time
Machine tour, but we had at least started writing
Clockwork and were able to include two of the
songs on that tour [“Caravan” and “BU2B”]. As for
the vision, I think we were ready to stretch out a
bit and try something fresh. We fell in love with
the whole steampunk aesthetic; it really suited
the kind of vibe we’re into. We were up for attacking
a different kind of storyline, but we wanted to
be sure not to do it in the same way as in the past,
with 2112 and Hemispheres, where the same musical
themes ran through most of the songs. Here, we
wanted these to be distinct songs that would stand
up on their own, whether part of or detached from
the story. So musically and lyrically, they had to be
quite clear and independent, yet related to carrying
on the single-story theme of the album.
You and Alex did a lot of jamming for this record.
How much of the music was derived in this improvisational
We worked in a few different ways. Some of the
longer songs, like “Headlong Flight,” “Seven Cities
of Gold,” and even “Carnage” were born out of jams.
Other songs, like “Caravan,” “BU2B,” “The Wreckers,”
and “The Garden” were written to lyrics with
the intent of structuring them around the story of
the song itself. With regard to improvisation, we
tried to remember the spirit and vibe of the inspirational
jamming moments and apply and retain
it throughout the recording process. Even though
we record our parts separately, and my parts are
mostly worked out, our mindset was to keep that
feeling of spontaneity—to feel like our playing was
being pushed to the edge, beyond what is safe. That
allowed us to almost get lost in the songs. It’s a bit
of flying blind, but it’s exciting and encouraged us
to explore our own playing.
When you were creating and recording your bass
lines, how much did you take into account that you’ll
have to sing and play them live?
Not at all; I never worry about it at that point. I
write whatever part is going to serve the song best,
and when we start rehearsing for the upcoming tour
I figure it out and learn to do both at the same time,
as well as how to create and trigger sounds I need
on the keyboards.
The title track has an interesting new sound and
feel for the band.
That song began with an experimental instrumental
soundscape Alex wrote using technology,
resulting in some amazing textures. When the lyrics
came along, I saw a way to break down what Alex
had into several sections and write some melodies
over the top, and before long we had created this
interesting rock/electronica song. The trick, both
in recording and mixing, was to retain the spacey,
mysterious sounds while keeping the song urgent
and somewhat organic. Neil had that swingy, shuffly
groove in mind when he first heard the demo, and
when the song was finished we both couldn’t wait
to tackle that feel.
“The Anarchist” is typical of Rush songs where
your bass provides a key melody.
It was one of the more satisfying bass tracks,
and it will probably be the most difficult for me to
sing and play! The bass line drives the chorus and is
an integral part of the song. When I put the chorus
together, it was very much writing the bass melody
and then writing the vocal melody to work around
that bass melody. I recorded two bass tracks: the
first down low and the second doubled an octave
above, to give it that 8-string-bass vibe—but recording
them separately allows you to control the tone
much better than actually using an 8-string bass.
In general, my bass parts depend on what the
song needs and how it comes together. There are
some songs where the bass wants to be upfront
and almost wants to pull away from the track. And
there are other songs where it’s not about the bass,
it’s about the bottom end, so I try to just provide a
low end that feels satisfying with the drum part and
doesn’t compete with anything else going on around
it. However, being a trio, I do think it’s important
that the personality of each of us as individuals is
visible, regardless of the kind of part it is.
On songs like “Headlong Flight” and “Halo Effect,”
your bass creates counter-lines to the riff s, vocal, and
solos. What’s your process there?
I’m trying to come up with melodies that work
around what’s going on, to add a level of orchestration.
I do that pretty much by ear as opposed to
specifically following the harmony. “Headlong” is
interesting; the opening main riff is a repeating figure throughout, but in different
forms and time signatures. That’s how the song
got going, out of this furious jam I had with Alex.
I was jamming with him in the lower register, and
he’d start riffing on my riff ; then I would move up
the neck and he would go somewhere else. When
we found that line, it seemed to be such a classic,
circular riff , with so much propulsion to it. I knew
when Neil got to sink his teeth into it, it would really
start to move.
Let’s talk about the opening bass feature on
“Seven Cities of Gold.”
[Laughs.] It’s sort of a retro white funk feel mixed
with crazy, Robin Trower-y guitar licks [see music].
I’m plucking and hammering, while muting with my
right hand. It feels like the opening to an old softcore
porn movie! Part of it is stiff and not very funky,
yet I’m trying to funk it up. It was a weird moment
that we just liked and kept. I love the song—it has
a nice tempo that you can kind of hold back on and
play in a bluesy rock vibe.
How did you come up with the opening bass line
on “The Garden”?
That’s me fingerpicking, like a classical nylon
guitar; the part came to me while jamming with
Alex [see music]. I like to play around with fingerpicked
chordal pieces, but it’s rare to find a place for
that in Rush, because it doesn’t cut through. “Th e
Garden” is delicate enough that I could do it. The
first time around I use a pure, clean tone, and when
the part returns I add some amp sound for dimension.
It’s the piece I’m probably the most proud of
on the record. The lyric wraps the sentiment of the
story of this person’s life, and it has a universal sensibility
everyone can relate to. We wanted the vocals
and the song to be heartfelt and relaxed, without
being wussy or syrupy. That’s hard for a rock band
that likes to pump it out—to play those gentler
moments and make them feel authentic. I felt we
accomplished it, though.
What basses did you use on the album, and how
did you record them?
I played four Jazz Basses [see gear]. On
most of the tracks I used my main black ’72. On “Seven
Cities” and “Carnies” I used my sunburst ’72, which
has a new Fender Custom Shop maple neck. I used
my red Fender Custom Shop J-Bass on “Wreckers”
and “The Garden”; it has a beautiful, round bottom
and a cleaner top end, so I play that on the songs
that need a bit more depth and aren’t quite so slamming.
And I used one other J-Bass on “Wish Them
Well,” that I can’t recall. I recorded the basses on four
tracks: one went straight to the Avalon U5 DI; one
went through my old ’90s Palmer PD1-05 Speaker
Simulator, which adds presence to the lower mids
and upper lows; one went through my Sans Amp
RBI preamp, which gives me great distortion and
crunch; and one went through my Orange rig. All
four signals go through old tube compressors and
are added in different amounts on different songs
during the mix. There are also a couple of spots with
some old school phasing via plug-ins.
For the Time Machine tour, you returned to using
live rigs onstage for the first time in a while. What
was that like?
|With guitarist Alex Lifeson
It was great; the stage crew hated it, but I liked
it [laughs]. Wherever you went on stage left, the
bass was yelling at you the whole time. Really, it’s
all about what our front-of-house guy wants, so I
defer. I don’t think I’ll have the working cabinets
for the Clockwork tour; I have my in-ears and I can
control my sound very accurately through them.
Also on the Time Machine tour, you played Moving
Pictures in its entirety. How did that go, and did it
require any special preparation?
That was a real highlight of the tour for me. I loved
playing the whole album; I was amazed at how it still
flowed after all these years, and I thought the material
stood the test of time. I’m sure we’ll do something
like that again. We’ve played a lot of the songs
at various times, so nothing really kicked my butt;
the bass lines all came back pretty easily. The only
song that took a bit of rehearsal was “The Camera
Eye” because some of the parts are quite long, and
then for some stupid reason we decided we wanted
to trim off like a minute and a half of it—which actually
made it more difficult to relearn!
What are the Clockwork tour plans, and your
plans beyond that?
We’ll tour North America in the fall, take a break,
and head to Europe and other global ports starting
in spring 2013. Beyond that, who knows!
With Rush (on Roadrunner) Clockwork
Angels ; Time Machine
2011: Live in Cleveland ; (on
Atlantic) Snakes & Arrows ;
Feedback (EP) ; Vapor
Trails ; Test for Echo ;
Counterpoints ; Roll the Bones
; Presto ; (on Mercury)
Hold Your Fire ; Power Windows
; Grace Under Pressure
; Signals ; Moving
Pictures ; Permanent Waves
; Hemispheres ; A
Farewell to Kings ; 2112 ;
Caress of Steel ; Fly By Night
; Rush . Solo album My
Favorite Headache [Atlantic, 2000].
INSIDE GEDDY’S GEAR
WITH HIS TECH
JOHN “SKULLY” McINTOSH
Geddy’s Number One bass is a black ’72 Fender Jazz Bass, which has been in the fold for
many years. This is the bass that has been seen time and time again, onstage and in photos,
and to which all other bass guitars are compared. This instrument carries most of the
weight during the show. The bass received a new Fender Custom Shop neck in 2010, just prior to
the start of the Time Machine tour. This neck has a maple fingerboard with a 9” radius, white binding,
aged pearl block inlays, and a little more mass than the typical Geddy Lee-style neck. The back
of the neck has a rubbed oil finish, as do all the basses that go into the studio or out on tour. This is
the third neck this bass has seen, and it is set very straight for an extremely low string height and
fast action. The alder body is of medium weight, with an aged pearl pickguard custom-engraved
by James Hogg with the now-familiar “Amalgamation” symbol. All the touring basses have scratch
plates engraved and paint-filled by James with various alchemical symbols. The pickups are original,
although the bridge pickup was rewound to virtually original specs by Tom Brantley in 2010.
A BadAss II bridge, Dunlop strap locks, and leather guitar straps courtesy of Levy’s Leathers are
standard issue on all the touring basses. The Number Two bass is a sunburst ’72 Fender Jazz, and
is perhaps closest of all the basses to Number One. It has a neck made in 2011 by Mike Bump of
the Fender Custom Shop; it too has a maple fingerboard with a 9” radius, but black binding, and
black block inlays. Number Two has a set of custom-made pickups by Tom Brantley. The black ’74
Jazz has a neck which is the twin of Number One, both being made at the same time in 2010. It
has the original pickups, but with a little voodoo inside to get just a little something more out of
them. All three of these basses have the original tuners and string trees installed on the new necks.
Next is a Fender Custom Shop Jazz Bass with an ash body, maple cap, and a Candy Apple Red
finish. It has a slightly more slender neck, again with a 9”-radius maple fingerboard. This bass has
been around for a while and has pickups from the Fender Custom Shop, in a ’60s-style spacing.
There is a black Jazz Bass assembled from parts—with another neck from Mike and pickups from
Tom—that could very well make an appearance this year, as well as some possible new surprises.
All of the basses, regardless of their tuning, are strung with Rotosound Swing Bass RS 66LD
On the Time Machine tour the bass signal came through a Shure UHF-R system which was
switched via a Kitty Hawk MIDI Looper to an Axess Electronics splitter. From there, the signal went
out in parallel to a SansAmp RPM preamp, Palmer PDI-05 speaker simulator, Avalon U5 DI, and an
Orange AD200B MKIII amplifier, which in turn drove another Palmer PDI-05. A Rivera RockCrusher
power attenuator provided a load for the Orange. These four lines then ran direct to the PA. In the
studio, an Orange 4x10 cabinet was miked in place of the second Palmer and the RockCrusher,
but on tour there will be no speaker cabinets in the bass rig. There are also no monitor cabinets
onstage, save for the subs which augment the Logitech Ultimate Ear monitors worn by the band,
and many of the crew.
On tour, this arrangement is supplemented by Brad Madix at front-of-house and Brent Carpenter
on monitors, who each add a fifth channel of amp modeling done in the console. Other than the
subtle changes that Brad or Brent might make during the course of the show, the bass rig is dialed
in, and does not change from song to song. Instead, the variety of bass tones are determined by
how Geddy plays the bass itself. The basic format of this rig is unlikely to alter drastically for this
year’s Clockwork Angels tour, but you can never count out the possibility of a change or addition
of a piece of gear. The bass rig is an ongoing evolution that will never cease.
All indications are that the “Gefilter” [a mock vintage time machine] will return to the stage. Its
powers are immense and frightening. The two keyboards seen onstage are a Moog Little Phatty
and a Roland Fantom X7. While the Roland produces the odd sound, its primary function is to
control the bank of Roland XV-5080s that reside offstage right under the watchful care of Jack
Secret. These samplers are also triggered by two sets of Korg MPK-130 pedals, one set of which
resides below the keyboard rig, and the other at the main mic position.