Joining the Rush hour

RUSHrc''Rush's Alex Lifeson in action.
RUSHrc''Rush's Alex Lifeson in action.

NEARLY 30 years have passed since Rush had their last UK top 40 single. That was 1983. The single was Countdown, penned during the band’s ‘synth’ period, in which electronic keys replaced the ballsy bluesy riffs that defined the group’s early material.

But Rush were always changing. They still are. Formed as schoolboys in 1968 under the spell of early Led Zeppelin, bassist Jeff Jones and drummer John Rutsey probably didn’t realise that their extra-curricular music project would become one of Canada’s greatest-selling bands.

And now, 40-odd years since Rush’s self-titled debut, the group is returning for a full UK stadium tour and a fresher, younger audience to go with it. Indeed, while children of the 90s mocked progressive synth rock, it seems today’s musos are, perhaps, a little more open-minded when it comes to sci-fi inspired rock.

But it’s not just new generations that Rush’s complex rock is reaching: Rush’s music is resonated in parts of the world the group previously hadn’t conquered, as guitarist Alex Lifeson explains: “The tour has hit new parts of the world. There have always been requests for us to go to South America. We’re a lot more popular than we think or we’ve always been more popular than we thought. When we went in 2002 it was exciting for us, we had no idea we would play to crowds that big in Brazil. But I feel the same way about the rest of the world really. I wouldn’t mind taking our tour everywhere, it would be a lot of fun, provided we had audiences obviously.”

And even now, with records sales of up to 40 million worldwide, Lifeson is still amazed at the cultural vastness of Rush’s audience across the globe react to the band’s music: “I find it interesting to see how people respond,” says Lifeson, “whether they’re Rush fans or just music fans in countries where we don’t tour. People come out and it’s interesting to watch the response of these different cultures.”

But with the new audiences comes a desire to freshen up their repertoire. Yet, with a hardcore following of life-long fans, it’s not an easy option: “The difficulty now is going through seemingly old material to us, and do we want to re-write it or spruce it up, is it as good as we thought it was. There’s lots of work. Next year we’ll be on the Clockwork Angels tour so it’ll be a fresh show.

As a band, Rush is now the equivalent of a middle-aged man, only one that isn’t – unlike many of its rock contemporaries – content with knocking out old classics:

“It’s always about moving forward. But live it’s a balance you have to strike between older material, material you want to play, stuff your fans really want to hear and I think we’ve satisfied that fairly well on this tour.”

In spite of this desire to progress, Lifeson confesses to having his all-time old Rush favourites, including their 18th studio album (yes, 18th), Snakes & Arrows: “Snakes & Arrows was a big record for us. There’s something about the writing and the production that really hits home. Vapour Trails suffered with production but there’s a purity in those songs because they were born out of demos and didn’t become dressed up. They were very raw. That’s what we were at the time, completely exposed and raw and just coming off this terrible tragedy in the band. They all have their thing about them. 2112 was exciting too, basically written on the road in the back of a car or a cold, damp dressing room in northern Ontario somewhere.”

And while Rush is renowned for its complex melodies and lush, elaborate instrumentation, Lifeson’s music theory is rather simplistic – even brutal: “With a lot of work and experience you learn how to make easy stuff sound hard. That’s what I’m striving for.”

lRush play at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena on Monday May 16.