Rush's Geddy Lee looks back: 'I miss playing with my bandmates'

Rush's Geddy Lee looks back: 'I miss playing with my bandmates'

Leave it to a member of Rush to publish one epic book.

Geddy Lee — one-third of the Canadian trio famed for penning mystical prog-rock tales from “2112” to “Clockwork Angels” — ventured into the book publishing universe last year with his “Big Beautiful Book of Bass,” a 408-page opus that digs into the history and attraction of rock music’s long-overlooked instrument.

In the “Big Beautiful Book of Bass,” Lee digs into instrument history ("I was becoming quite obsessive about it," he notes), sharing insight on his vintage collection and interviewing music’s influential players; the book includes conversations with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, U2’s Adam Clayton and Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, among others.

Lee brings his “Big Beautiful Book of Bass” tour to Nashville this Sunday, appearing at Basement East for a signing and conversation with past Rush producers Nick Raskulinecz and Peter Collins.

The Tennessean caught up with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer ahead of his return to Music City. Read highlights of the conversation below.

'Big Beautiful Book'

Rush wrapped its 40th anniversary tour on Aug. 1, 2015 at the Forum in Los Angeles. Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart closed the night with seminal rollicking hit "Working Man," walking off stage to be greeted with an indefinite retirement from nights together in arenas, playing for legions of dedicated followers.

It wasn't until a year or two after the tour that Lee began exploring his "Big Beautiful" idea. The project hoped to scratch two mental itches for Lee: To release a book that covered all facets of the bass — not just Fender, Hofner or Gibson; and to share the stories he'd heard in collecting.

"I was getting deeper and deeper into this world of collecting and as I was going through this process I was obviously learning more about the instrument and the history of the instrument and I was becoming quite obsessive about (it)," the 65-year-old said. "And I was also collecting stories from people ... feeling their emotional relationship."

He interviewed an all-star cast of musicians that represent differing pockets of rock 'n' roll — from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy to Les Claypool of Primus notoriety.

For example, in talking to Jones or Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, Lee said: "I wanted to know what it was like to be a bass player in 1960 or in 1963 and if you wanted to go buy a bass and you lived in the UK in that period, what was available to you? ... Where did their desire to collect or play come from and what was the atmosphere of those times like?

"That always led me down a very interesting road."

Cover art for
Cover art for

On Rush

Rush bet its career on 1976's expansive "2112," a 50-minute linchpin for longform rock that would help define Lee's career and lead to more expansive storytelling (*cough* "Hemispheres" *cough*). Similarly, the book started as a lengthy composition; at one point, Lee delivered an 835-page manuscript.

Should curating a 400-page book compare to producing lengthy studio compositions? Not quite, Lee mused.

"It’s more like directing a documentary," Lee said. "What we had was 30,000 photographs to whittle down to 1,000, then there’s the gathering of the information. It’s mostly research and layout and decision-making and a lot less to do with the gut-wrenching creative process that goes into making a record."

And does he miss those gut-wrenching projects?

"I miss playing with my bandmates who I played with for over 40 years, that's for sure," Lee said. "I don’t miss the gut-wrenching part of it and I don't’ miss the wear-and-tear on my body. But, of course, I had a very unique relationship in Rush and these guys were my friends for over 40 years and to make music with your friends is a blessing of a different kind. It’s a wonderful thing. I do miss that."

He continued: "This was a whole different kind of project. And that’s why I was drawn to it. New projects are what expand your mind, expand your way of looking at the world and fill up your reserve of information that you use to make your way through life. ... When you’re learning, you’re living. I go by that as a way of making an interesting life."

Recording in Music City

Rush tracked once in Nashville, part of what would be the band's latest — and potentially last — studio album, "Clockwork Angels." A heavy, sprawling work of melodic rock, the band tapped Tennessee native producer Nick Raskulinecz , recording parts of the 2012 release at Nashville's Blackbird Studios.

He recalled being impressed by the musical efficiency in Nashville.

"The number of trained technicians and musical fanatics and passionate people I kept running into while working there was really inspiring, I found," he said.

He'll be joined Sunday by Raskulinecz and Peter Collins. Each produced a different era of Rush canon — Raskulinecz responsible for hard-hitting prog-rock of the new Millennium and Collins having produced synth-heavy cuts of the 1980s and the 1990s return-to-form albums.

Music aside, Lee said it'll be good conversation simply because "they're such different people."

"Every time I think of it i just have a big grin on my face because I think it’s gonna be really funny," Lee said. "You’ve got two very different style of producer, two very different styles of human being, two big senses of humor."

What's next?

With Rush off the road and out of the studio, what becomes of the musical legacy?

"I don’t really know how to answer that, to be honest," Lee said. "A body of work like ours takes on a life of its own."

Still, he's found solace in the face-to-face interactions brought by the book tour.

"And people just wanna come up and share their Rush experience with me and for the most part they’ve been incredibly respectful and really left me with a lot more than I had bargained for," he said.

As for life after "Big Beautiful Bass," Lee said he's given "very few thoughts" on what comes next — he's spent more than 40 years following a schedule, after all. However, he'll eventually have to "seek gainful employment" and give his instrument collection the attention it deserves.

He jested: "Obviously I’ve got a lot of basses that’re making me feel guilty for not recording with them."

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Rush's Geddy Lee looks back: 'I miss playing with my bandmates'