Geddy Lee Discusses the New Rush Album, 'Power Windows,' in this 1986 Guitar World Interview
Here's Guitar World's interview with Rush bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee from the May 1986 issue (with Steve Stevens on the cover). The original headline was "Geddy Lee: More Bass, More Space in the Modern World," and the focus of the interview is Rush's new album at the time, Power Windows.
It has been a long, vertiginous and damn exciting roller coaster ride for Rush over the past decade-and-a-half. The group has gone from being unabashed Led Zeppelinites to kings of the concept album to the thinking man's heavy metal band to an uneasy combination of eighties recording styles and seventies relentlessness.
One thing Rush has never done is rest on its collective laurels -- bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart have always been the first to point out the band's shortcomings when they feel legitimate deficiencies have surfaced.
Accordingly, Lee was quick to admit his dissatisfaction with the band's last album, Grace Under Pressure, even though the record, which went platinum, has consolidated the band's position as one of Mercury/Polygram's most important acts.
"We realized with Grace Under Pressure," said Lee on completion of the new album, Power Windows, "that we were not a techno-pop band. We pretended to be from time to time and we realized there are some very dramatic differences between us and that kind of music that will never allow us to have that same sound.
"We have a rhythm section that is hyperactive and very alive and most of those techno-pop sounds are very cool, controlled, minimalistic rhythm sections. No wonder the snare sounds so great. There's nothing else there. That sound was so seductive, that big hi-fi sound. We realized why a lot of those things weren't part of our music, but we realized we could take some of them and use them. We stopped denying what we were a little bit on this album. Last year we were obsessed with getting new sounds."
Power Windows is the best Rush album in years, the kind of breakthrough wasn't the realization of a new sound or direction, just the shock of recognition. By scaling down the complexity of their approach, the band has returned to the roots of its sound and the source of its strength.
"I think it is a return to our roots," Lee assented. "We tried to maintain the trio focus and bring out the rock feelings. We definitely wanted this record to rock. That's really where we're most comfortable after all the talk about technology. We love to rock and there are still a lot of heavy rock influences in us. At the same time we wanted to utilize a lot of the technology that's out there. We wanted this record to be both those we wanted to have all those nice modern techno-pop sounds, but it's not until you tear down the secrets of those sounds that you can do it because you can say That's why it sounds like that, that's why Tears For Fears have such a great synthesizer sound. There's no guitar going whang!!! at the same time. That's why the guy's snare sound is so good because he's just playing one little thing and there's lots of room."
Lee gives producer Peter Collins and engineer Jim Barton -– both of whom were working for Rush for the first time -– a lot of the credit for the clean, direct sound that the band generated on Power Windows.
“A lot of that is the sound attitude and the spirit of the performance that Peter Collins wanted to get,” he explained. “I think there was as much energy in Grace on the guitar parts and certainly as much enthusiasm but just because of the nature of the recording it turned out to be a dark sounding record. Peter wanted a bright sounding record. I don't know how much intangibles have to do with it but the atmosphere around this recording was much happier this time than the last. It was a more creative environment."
"I think the engineer, Jim Barton, hears things in a very bright way," Lee continued. "He wanted to give the drum sound a lot of snap, the guitar sound a lot of cleanliness. The bass strings I used, for instance, were extremely light gauge strings, almost like guitar strings, and as a result there wasn't that low-end rumble. It's like we started building the record from a notch up higher all the way through the spectrum."
The new production team encouraged Rush to revamp the group's previously super-meticulous approach to recording in favor of a style that encouraged more spontaneity and gives Power Windows a distinctly "live" sound.
"All of the backing tracks are first-take stuff,” said Lee. "A lot of Neil’s drum sounds were one-take jobs, so it’s really a performance, not a constructed thing. We've never recorded backing tracks this way, it was all Peter Collins' idea. In the past we'd play a song I don't know how many times until we felt we had enough good takes, then we'd sit down and listen to them, pick the best bits and stick them together.