By David Fricke,
Yukon Blade Grinder, Sr Editor
On a rather warm May evening, and after a really cool press release for the new album Moist, Rush convene for one last crucial task before hitting the tour grind: a pre-tour dinner. The site is Ken Jeong's Rocky Mountain Oyster Palace, a Toronto dive located in the famous Jane and Finch district. When I say famous, I mean dangerously famous. Driving through this, ummm, interesting part of Toronto, I instinctively lock my car door as we pull up to a red light. "Don't worry" says Geddy, "We're ok. All Canadians love us!" Praying that to be the case, I still double check my door making sure it's locked. Finally pulling into the parking lot, and through an iron gate, I see the huge sign that radiates ego, and calf fries. This place is wack. As we enter the restaurant, trumpets blare.
Complete with neon lighting, fake wood, decadent framed food-porn of fleshy mountain oysters and an aquarium which surrounds the dining hall. It's the hangout of Canadian stars.
I sit at the table with Kings of Canada. Our sprightly waiter, the owner, jumps from the kitchen and greets us with, "What's up bitches...and distinguished guest? Oh, you from RollingStone? You Subdivision boy right? Ha ha...I know that's you. Can I have your autograph, left out muthafukka?"
My gosh. He knows that I was the loner in the Subdivisions video. That's never happened. Taken aback, I don't know what to do other than sign his order pad, and try to shake his hand. "No, no, no, no. You get no play with the ladies. Which hand you use? Bet you can't show your ass on the UVA campus. Just kidding bitches. I guess you back for more of my nuts?"
"Oh yeah. Wenner Rounds. Been craving them all day" says Neil, who kindly wipes the table off as we sit. "Whatever you have of the Alberta Moose, whatever you have of the Saskatchewan Elk. What else sits great?"
Ken would have none of that, he has a requirement. "Oh no...before I do anything you have to answer this one question: How my nuts taste?"
Without hesitation, the Kings of Canada sing aloud in barbershop harmony:
You're so nutty, this we know
How the squirrels love you so
You've descended from the oak
The nuts on you, they're no joke!
An asian manical laugh fills the air, "You got it bad bitches! Boy the Rockys are really nice today--fresh!"
"Oh okay, we can order now right?" Alex asks with a gracious glow. Apparently this is the routine everytime they visit. One of the perks afforded to the entrepenuer who has monopolized their market.
"So let's get five dozen of those Rockys...what about the Yukon Goatnuts?"
Sheepishly Ken admits, "What you talkin' 'bout Willis? We sold out just before you arrived."
"We'll be here a while. Can you get some flown in tonight?" Alex asks with deadpan sincerity, "We're not joking!"
"I'll see what I can do...as always, quid pro qou bitches", Ken says while rubbing his chin and clicking his heels. As he heads for the kitchen he asks Geddy if he wants the secret sauce. Without a word, Geddy and Neil nod their heads with enthusiastic approval.
When I turn my attention back to the table, I notice that a wineglass has mysteriously appeared before me, filled an oenophilic quarter full. "It's a Jailhouse bordeaux, Alex's secret recipe" says Lee, sailing over my palate with a single phrase. "It's our 2014 Bacchus Plateau. The 2010's are doing quite well. This one is not oaked--it's actually aged in a plastic bag." Gonna be a great night for me. Geddy has pulled out the band's own wine label. I'd heard about this before, when Rush Limbaugh hosted the unveiling of Clockwork Angels on his radio show. Neil was a riot of course. The band's trying their hand at marketing products aimed specifically at their fan base. Nothing wrong with that. Gotta make a buck.
Now it's time to get to brass tacks and get the show rolling. Hoping to leave no stone unturned, the recorder is on, and I start asking questions about the recording of the new epic album Moist, at newly refurbished Le Studio.
When you all went back to Le Studio for the retrospective documentary, what was it that so moved you to buy the property, and record Moist there?
Alex: Well it came down to several factors really. One, we have so much cash we thought "what the hell"? Two, it was hard to see, a crime really, for a treasured time capsule vacant of equipment, yet full of golden memories to just lie in ruins. Third, it's a great place to just get away and be guys. Really, those are the reasons. Everything else is secondary. Plus the volleyball court is awesome.
What record does Moist resemble most in terms of recording? You've recorded many at Le Studio
Neil: Drummistically it actually reminded me of recording Hemispheres in Wales, in that beautiful stone room. We got a great sound at Le Studio. Kevin "Caveman" Shirley worked his mojo. We set up the Stonehenge baffling and got the sound we wanted rather quickly. Alex called it...what did you call it?
Alex: The "brown" sound of drums, a reference to Eddie Van Halen's tone.
Neil: Right. I think we had something like 50 mics on the set, and then we used a new type of microphone Caveman invented called Banana Mike. You actually wear it around your waist. Really gets a great bead on all those sounds around waist level in the room. There's all kinds of rich sounds bouncing at that level. The Banana Mike was able to capture them really well, though it was a bit awkward to wear while performing my drum parts.
Geddy: For me it was unlike any recording experience at Le Studio because the enviroment is so different now. This is 2015. We're talking the 70's, 80's, and 90's in terms of comparisons. Now, between the studio and control room, is the aquarium wall from floor to ceiling, with lots tropical fish in it. This is the second wall to be installed. Alex and his quirks you know. He HAD to have it. It just makes this constant noise that drives me crazy. Anytime Nick or Terry had a comment for me, I'd have to manuever my head because a fish would always be in my direct line of sight, kinda staring at me. But, that wasn't the biggest issue. We had two producers who helped make our best works in the same room. So you had that dynamic at all times. Our engineer Caveman (Kevin Shirley) was a strong personal force as well. It was like being one cat, in a bag full of cats. Got stuffy pretty quick. To answer your question it doesn't remind me of any record. This was a new experience for us.
Tell our readers about the "brawl". Broon and Booujzhe had many disagreements. Which ones stick out?
Geddy: Ha. To call them mere disagreements is like calling the great Saskatchewan Beaver Pelt Rebellion of 1877 a "peaceful" demonstration. In hindsight it was really beneficial to us. Cleared the air, which is necessary in any relationship from time to time. Moist was not an easy album to make. Lots of directions to go, and lots of ways to arrive at the end goal. Incredible amounts of experience and creative energy to draw from. For the four of us (Nick included), we wanted to keep the snowball rolling from the inertia of Clockwork Angels, but Broon hadn't worked with us in ages. Caveman, I think it was Counterparts, so it was a long time. Nick had been on board since Snakes and Arrows, so he had his system in place. Bringing Terry and Caveman into that was going to be an adjustment regardless. This isn't 1982 anymore. We've evolved a bit. Terry needed to figure that out. Caveman, well--we call him Caveman for a reason.
Alex: The big one started in the control booth. Back in the day, Broon always kept a candy dish full of Jolly Ranchers there for anyone to enjoy. It was a refreshing break to come out of the sound room and just pop one in...really broke the monotony, made you feel good. Nick wanted to carry on that tradition, so he put out a candy dish, except it had Starburst instead of the old Jolly Ranchers. When Terry saw that something went off in his brain. It was like watching a Jedi MMA match. Broon just went nuts. We're talking mind powers out the ying yang. What was really interesting were the things they would say to each other. Have you ever watched the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers? Crazy what producers can think up on the spot. Caveman got between them and got nailed with the dish that was thrown at Nick. He got knocked out cold. It bounced off the floor and cracked the aquarium wall. Water and fish everywhere. It was a real mess (laughs). We weren't even worried about Caveman, we're scooping up fish so they didn't die.
What did you do with the fish? That's a huge tank. It's a wall of fish, water, and more water.
Geddy: We just threw 'em in the lake. They're probably happier there.
Alex: If they just didn't die. I mean, they were tropical fish.
Neil: Revisiting that moment in time, there we were just looking at this water catastrophe with Caveman's limp body on the floor, fish flopping around him. Good thing we know people who could clean it up relatively quick. Otherwise the record would've taken much longer to make. For a second we just looked at each other and Alex said, "this is what it must've been like to be a member of The Police." Then there was LBP.
Geddy: When we started work on the instrumental, Little Blue Pills, there were song structure issues, but also minor technical ones. We wanted have the sound of pills rattling in a bottle during the middle eight, with our wives actually rapping a chorus of sorts, a la Roll the Bones. Terry thought it was a bit of reach.
Your wive's singing is not on the album, and ended up on the cutting room floor. Why? What were the lyrics?
Neil: I wasn't allowed to write them--they did. I'm embarrassed but this is what they were:
We may be older,
but that doesn't matter.
Let's get worked up
in that old folk lather.
It doesn't matter
what you say,
we're gonna act out
50 Shades of Grey.
You have the look of fear.
So sexy for men your age.
Thanks for giving us that thrill,
Now take your little blue pills.
Geddy: My God that blew our minds. But, the detail Broon wanted was unusual. He wanted Viagra that was made in the US, not the Canadian off-brand. The density is a bit different. He said (laughs) they created a thicker, more robust sound as they rattle. Talk about anal. Nick, Caveman, and Terry, all put their foot down and told us to grow a pair, so we dropped the singing bit.
Neil (quickly changing the subject): Yeah but that was really minor in scope because "Once a man twice a Boy" was so problematic because of our guest performers.
Which leads to the Blind Boys of Alabama. An odd choice for proper Rush, at least upon first glance. How did you get connected with them?
Neil: My drum teacher knows them. Recorded with them in the 60's and 70's.
Leophus Hambone Jones, 1970
Oh yes, the great Hambone Jones--originator of the famed "Circular Motion" technique--tell us about him.
Neil: He's more than a drum instructor. He's a life coach for the band really. When Freddy died he left me instructions on how to get to the "next" level. Hambone was the person he chose to take me there.
Really? What was that like to get such a gift in his will?
Neil: An honor, but also a huge responsibility. I feel responsible for Hambone. He now lives in LA and Toronto, and travels with me. In terms of connecting with him, Freddy didn't make it easy (laughs). Freddy left me a map of the United States, with arrows indicating places I might find Hambone, since he has no phone.
Geddy: Hell we couldn't even find him on Google Neil. He's 97 years old, living under a bridge and street performing in Minot, North Dakota. Freddy left that part out--drummers!
Neil: Right. So it was strange from the get go, but we found him. I gave Freddy's letter to him he knew what to do.
Alex: It's funny. He didn't even open the letter. He put it to his forehead for a couple seconds and said "Right on man. I'm supposed to hang with the drummer with no rhythm." Then came the process of getting to know Hambone. Which was interesting to say the least. He's a man of the street, but his kit is awesome. Next to Pratt's, the coolest I've seen. We tried to acclimate him to "normal" living. Bought him a house. Got him a car. Hired a maid service. Got him a membership at the YMCA. He would have none of that--he prefers to live under bridges. The sound of the cars gives him "peace that soothes the soul". So, we send out Meals on Wheels three times a day, they feed him and his friends. Whatever makes him happy.
Interesting. What about the connection to the gospel group? They are a gospel group.
Neil: Hambone played with them in the 60's and 70's. Made a ton of records. One night in LA, I got an invite from Hambone to go see this group. Never heard of them before--The Blind Boys of Alabama. He hopped in the sidecar of my BMW motorcyle and we made a day of it. He actually tours with me that way. Kinda pisses off Mosbach (His personal security) but that's another story. Anyway, they were fantastic. Funny. Touching. Great harmonies.
Alex: I actually saw them in Quebec at a summer festival back in 2007. They blew me away. So I actually knew about them before the Neil and Ged.
Geddy: Meeting them was the best. So humble. So friendly. They stayed in Morin Heights for a week. Even challenged us to a volleyball match after they regained their sight.
Regained their sight? What do you mean?
Geddy: One of the great things about Le Studio is the residential component. You live here when you record. We all stayed in the same chalet. Nice accomodations. Well, we were sitting around one night singing "Once a man twice a Boy". Alex lights up a huge joint and they smoke it with him. Three hours later they could see again. We did a test and their vision was 20/15, which is better than perfect. Which made me wanna hit it too, but I didn't.
Alex: My medical card really comes in handy. That month, ironically, I had the "Ecuadorian Electric Eye" strain. It restores sight to the blind apparently.
Alex Cavemen gave you a reverb pedal as a sign of trust, or was he just sick of you bitching...which was it?
Alex: Oh yeah that was a moment. I think it's on youtube. He said I earned it. Whatever that means.
Geddy: I almost cried. Really touching moment.
As Ken comes to the table with salad and drinks, we're get ready for the main course...which will take place next issue. So for those who are dying to know where this is all going I suggest you pull up to the table, and get ready to dine on the finest calf fries in Toronto!
The Yukon Blade Grinder, per usual, will be bringing the main course
Edited by Tombstone Mountain, 24 May 2015 - 09:28 PM.