Interview with Martin Popoff Part 3

What’s the Rush? Here is the 3rd and final part of a long interview I did with Martin Popoff.

Boppin (B): Is there anything for those of us outside of the music industry that would not know about Neil Peart?

Martin: I have 3 big, huge Rush books coming out and I’m sure there’s gonna be some stuff in there.

B: When is the first one coming out?

Martin: They all were finished a long time ago. The first one, Anthem: Rush in the 70’s is on the spring schedule, so maybe April/May. The 2nd one for the end of the year, and hopefully the last one is spring of 2021.

B: The books are in chronological order, and on that note, you mentioned Rush as being the first progressive metal band. Do you think that through their years that maybe they changed to something other than a heavier progressive metal, and at what point did this switch occur?

Martin: Yeah, I think around Signals the became interested in keyboards and technology such as drum technology. Then they wrote shorter songs. They tried to write within a short time frame a progressive song, but they took a lot of that out as well. There weren’t so many complicated time signatures and long concepts and long songs. They went through a return to the guitars with Counterparts and Test For Echo and they had this almost conceptual album with Vapor Trails in terms of the tragedy that befell Neil, and then they basically became an analog version of that very electronic band from the 80’s, and at the very end they gave us the first, full blown concept  album. Before they had only done concept sides. Clockwork Angels is a full blown concept albums and it’s quite heavy, and quite spontaneous, quite analog, quite dark, and heavy bluesy in a way. It’s almost like a different form of heavy metal than they earlier form when they would be heavy metal, so that’s kind of how they ended up.

B: You’ve released books about their albums, and you are coming out with 3 more Rush  albums about their time frames. Would there be one album that you would say: I wish Rush would have done……. and fill in the blank with that album?

Martin: Yeah, it is interesting, I was just having a conversation about that, it is not exactly the album but I always wonder what if Rush reacted to the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) with inspiration instead of running the other way. They had a pretty heavy album with Moving Pictures. There was this massive UK metal movement, they were playing the UK a fair bit. Heavy metal was in vogue again, heavy metal would be involved all the way up until arguably 1991 with the rise of Nirvana, heavy metal of various sorts, hair metal, thrash, NWOBHM, lots and lots of metal bands were doing well whether you were a seventies band or an eighties band. I often wonder would it not have been cool if they would have said: Man I love heavy metal, that is my favourite thing about Rush, we should do way more of that. As Signals, and moving into Grace Under Pressure, and Power Windows, imagine if they were 2 and a half times as heavy as the heaviest previous Rush albums. That would have been cool I would have thought. Rather they went the other way, The New Romantics way, they went the synthesizers and electronic drums way, so I would have loved…I really loved all the albums up until Grace Under Pressure, but I would have loved Power Windows to be all return to heavy metal. Put all the electronics aside and write super fast riffy songs. That would have been pretty cool to hear out of Rush.

Martin: Listen I have to go shortly, I have a Steve Harris chat that got rescheduled from the other day. The hardest thing was getting the music over to me, so they are trying to get Steve Harris on the line.

B: Ok, I have a few questions from another blogger 1537.  


Interview with Martin Popoff Part 2

What’s the Rush? Here is the second part of a long interview I did with Martin Popoff.

Boppin (B): I read an L.A. reporter writing about how Rush fans ruined the Rock and Roll Hall Of fame induction day and was quoted as saying “F*** Rush fans”. What I gathered from this is they were only there for Rush, which if I was there I would be there for the whole thing. There were a lot of other acts deserving to be in the Hall, but the reporter didn’t appreciate the way these were, and I would assume he is a non Rush fan.

Martin: Yeah Rush fans are very dedicated. They do like a lot of other bands, but the thing with the whole Rock Hall is that Rush is such a unique and strange band that there is a even a jarring thing, and a more jarring contrast between them and everyone else. I can see how the fans felt like outsiders, or outlaws or different. The movie Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, which I worked on full time for nine months basically the tag line was we are the worlds biggest cult band, and that is a complicated thing. There is some truth to it, but I can understand the sentiment behind that. They are not a band that is particularly in the mainstream of thought. Slightly derided and ridiculed. There is this idea of them being this massive cult, operating outside of the realm of normal fandom. I suppose the biggest part of that is the band was not critics darlings. They did everything else that a big band did. They rolled into town and put on a huge show in a hockey barn and they put out albums on a major label. In those ways they are not a cult band. I guess the main way they are like a cult band is that they were critically derided.

B: I read a few things about Rush after shows. When they were on tour with Primus, Neil would get both bands to compete by playing the instruments they did not normally play, and another time Kiss saying that Rush would stay in the room watching tv while we went out partying.

Martin: Yeah. they were all in long term relationships and for them it was all about the music and not being hung over for the show next day. They were just serious about the music as a lot of progressive rock bands are. It is interesting as you said because in the early days they were out with much more meat and potatoes hard rock and heavy metal bands. So it is funny. They were the proggiest and the most complicated of the bands they were out with. Aerosmith, Kiss, Ted nugent, Thin Lizzy, Queen. Well Queen was pretty complicated. Uriah Heap, probably Black Oak Arkansas. They were on bills with pretty much everybody. Cheap Trick. They were the band that had to concentrate the most when they were doing their set.

B: I could not imagine being a drummer in the Seventies when Rush were still openers and going on after Neil. It would be, especially the first time you saw him in soundcheck and you thought what am I getting into here. I am sure headliners tell the openers to keep the volume down a bit. I wonder if anyone ever told Neil to tone it down a bit, you are making me look bad.

Martin: I just know in the general sense, certain people were good to Rush, some not so good to Rush. You have to realize though that the headliner is there, people who bought tickets love their songs, and there is a certain thing about the simpler the music, it will go over better in a live environment anyways because you are fighting all that mud, and you can not hear all the details, so imagine in the Seventies, and they are the support band, you know half of that subtlety that those guys are doing is not getting heard that well. Plus they are the support band plus they have this funny singer, these long songs that we do not know, so the headliners looked at Neil and probably thought God I am not half the drummer that guy is, but the fans still went crazy for their headline set because they love those songs, just think about when you hear Dave Mustaine talk about a balls to the wall, very fast, double bass drum song and you compare that to AC/DC-Highway To Hell. Highway To Hell is gonna do great live, and that super muddy, super fast song with double bass drum in a hockey barn and when standing at the back just sounds like mud.

B: You had mentioned Max Webster. There was some inclusion with some of the Rush songs lyrically with Pye Dubious (Max Webster and often time Kim Mitchell lyricist). Can you tell me a bit about him? To be quite honest with you I have tried searching him out numerous times over the last number of years and I thought maybe someday, something will pop up, but I just have not been able to find him. I would love to speak to that man. Just to ask him about Max, and about Rush, and about music in general. Can you fill me in on anything you know about him?

Martin: Pye has called me a couple of times in the last month, and I was not here, and he left me long messages, no call back number, and he also writes me letters from time to time. I get those letters and there is no return address. He splits his time between here and Florida. So one of these days I will get him again. My email address for him does not work, so I am basically sitting here receiving those messages from Pye, and I have no way of getting a hold of him. So the next time I answer I will collar him, because I would like to do a poetry book with him. But having said that Pye was involved with a handful of Rush songs, including the big one Tom Sawyer, and then everybody from Rush and Max got together for this great epic Battle Scar from their last album Universal Juveniles. But the way Pye and Neil would work is Pye, I have seen his notebooks, Pye basically has a lot of scribble. Some things are long pieces, some things are just a few lines. So what Pye would do is he would give Neil his idea for a song, and it would be quite a bit of stuff and Neil would hammer it into shape, into something logical, into something short enough, that reads line to line, that has a story through line through it. So that is how they would work. It was not a collaboration in any way. It was usually Pye would hand him something, and Neil would say we should do a song together, or Neil would ask Pye if he had anything. There was a Hold Your Fire song (Force Ten), one from Counterparts (Between Sun & Moon), one from Test For Echo (Test For Echo) but Tom  Sawyer is the big one. It started as Louis The Lawyer, some people say Louis The Warrior, but Pye told me directly it was Louis The Lawyer, and basically Neil hammers into this great song Tom Sawyer, which turns out to be their biggest song.

B: It would be neat to see any of that scribbled down stuff. To say this is the Pye version, this is what Neil converted it into. Mostly out of musical curiosity because I do love both of their lyrical abilities, in different ways. I hope that you and Pye can connect because I would love to read anything about that man,and he may have 100 songs written for all we know. I saw Kim Mitchell many times, and the Max reunion shows and Max was so out there. So much different than almost anyone. I do not know who you might compare them to. Canadian musicians can sometimes be seen as being quirky. To me Max Webster was definitely quirky.

Martin: I do not have any sort of…I have a hard time saying any bands from a certain country sound a certain way. I think Canada is a really good example of that. I do not think there are any characteristics. Triumph is not quirky. Bryan Adams is not quirky. Moxy was not quirky.  Rush and Max Webster were quirky. Well they grew up together, they had the same management, the same record label, and they played all those shows together so I am sure there is some cross pollination. I just think those bands went together for a good 10 different reasons.

B: You have interviewed a bunch of famous musicians over the years. Can you tell me about who may have had the biggest Rush crush?

Martin: Yeah I had to do a book called Rush Album By Album, I did 5 of these for Voyageur Press. For that we had Michel Langevin  from Voivod, Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater, Kirk Hammet from Metallica, and a bunch of others. Scratch any heavy metal guy from the eighties or nineties and beyond and you will find tons and tons of Rush fans. Obviously the Foo Fighters guys are big Rush fans, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree. Steven Wilson had Alex guest on a solo on Fear Of A Blank  Planet, so yeah there are tons of Rush fans because it is so much fun to learn Rush songs when you are a teenager. Those guys that were teenagers in the late Seventies, they became the heavy metal stars of the early Eighties, and all of them were raised on Rush.

(End of Part 2) Tune in tomorrow as Martin and I wrap up our talk about Neil, Rush and all things music.


Interview with Martin Popoff Part 1

What’s The Rush?

Over the next little while I will be doing Rush related posts that will hopefully help all of us Rush fans go through the grieving process. I will do some reviews, some interviews, some top 10’s and some other stuff, and I chose to call it What’s The Rush. Today’s post is the first part of a lengthy interview I did with Canadian music journalist, critic and author Martin Popoff, which will also include some questions from 3 other bloggers.

Boppin(from here after B): Thank you Martin for taking the time to be interviewed.

How are you holding up? (submitted by Mike)

Martin: It was quite a shock. I didn’t know about this(Neil’s death). I basically heard about it the same as everyone else (which answered the other question Mike had that I had not got to), and it’s kind of strange not having Neil around. This is Canada so he’s a titan of a musician, and a person and a lyricist. So it’s like Canada lost, really, one of it’s rock titans. I mean essentially it’s Neil, Geddy, Alex, Bryan Adams and Celine Dion and that’s about it.

B: How do you think that Rush, or Neil represents Canada and where would you rank them in the scheme of things? I know that’s a tough question because it’s subjective but what your opinion might be? Do you think they’re right up there?

Martin: Yeah I think they’re the greatest band Canada ever produced. On a musical level they’re revered around the world. Neil is often called the greatest drummer of all time. They are great lyricists as well. Bryan Adams is pop, and Celine Dion is even more pop. Tragically Hip never really broke outside of Canada. Personally my favourite band from Canada, and may be top 5 of all time would be Max Webster, but I love Rush as well of course, and Rush is the most respected musical export.

B: The U.S. was, and still is, a tough one for any Canadian band to break into. Rush were lucky enough to, not just lucky, but also talented enough to break in and they did hold up throughout their entire career.

Martin: Well the other great thing that Rush did was, and it was not only by talent, they had the smarts to concentrate on America and they were essentially as big as they were in the States as they were in Canada. That was from incessant touring of every nook and cranny of America from East to West to the middle, so they spent a lot of time there so that served as an example to a lot of future bands of how to break America.

B: You mentioned Max Webster. I was shocked back in the 80’s when I went down to Florida and saw a Max Webster shirt for sale, and thought, oh that’s good that they’re known down here. I didn’t  know the history, and didn’t know they were well known. Back in the 80’s Max Webster was played on the radio every day, and being from Ontario, and Kim Mitchell (lead singer of Max Webster) working in radio later on, but Rush as well, just proud to be Canadian and have a band like that represent us.

Martin: Yeah the other great thing about Rush they were never one of these classic rock bands that slipped back into the theatres and the clubs at any point. They basically went up and up. They were headliners on a tiny level and then a bigger level and from about ’79 into 1980 they are in hockey arenas regularly and never looked back. What they also did is they took the business philosophy of let’s pour everything back into the stage show. There’s only 3 of us up here. They were early adopters of video, they always had this massive, massive stage show to go along with their note dense, progressive metal playing. So they basically gave fans amazing value for the money, and eventually it became Evening With Rush where they were playing for 3 hours. So that was the other reason they are so beloved, I mean they basically came into town, blew everybody away with a very long show and a very expensive show and decided we’re gonna give fans value for the money as appreciation for sticking around.

B: You mentioned progressive rock. Can Rush be labelled as strictly a progressive rock band?

Martin: I would say that Rush absolutely, without a doubt invented a genre called progressive metal. It was essentially like taking two things that are pretty distinct and then combined them. I mean people talk about The Who and concept albums. They talk about Led Zeppelin with their long songs, talk about King Crimson with their darkness and heaviness, especially 21st Century Schizoid Man, but Rush were the first to make this clear, clear distinction and clear, clear new genre when Neil got into the band with Fly By Night that this is progressive metal, and almost nobody sounded like Rush or could be described with so much focus as progressive metal than Rush for years and years. I sometimes include Kansas in there a little bit, or Styx but it really wasn’t until bands like Queensryche and Fates Warning and Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree that you get anything remotely close to something you could call progressive metal. They started this genre and miraculously no one dared challenge them for years and years. Almost up until Queensryche with their EP and follow up album. So it was literally from 1974 to 1984 that Rush was the inventor of a genre and then nobody challenged them in joining their genre for 10 whole years.

B: Funny you mention Queensryche, I remember listening to Q107 back in the day and when Queen Of The Reich (from their first EP) hit the radio, and I love the song, but it wasn’t a lot different style wise from a lot of the other bands that were on radio at the time. It had the heavier side but not as progressive, and I agree that they did kind of morph into that. What are your thoughts on that?

Martin: Yeah I think Queensryche became more of a progressive metal band with The Warning and Rage for Order and then they had a concept album so 3 albums in and they were essentially in that genre. You know, there was also a new progressive rock revival with the likes of Pallas and IQ and Marillion and then all those prog bands going into supergroups like GTR and Asia and then the original bands doing well and changing their sound a little bit. Like I say the Rush essentially combined progressive rock with heavy metal and invented progressive metal, it is super clear to me.

B: I recall reading about 2112 and how the band was being pressured before that album to try and make radio friendly songs and the band instead stuck to their guns and thought we are going to do what we want to do and put out this concept album, sort of in the same way that Queen did with Night At The Opera and it kind of worked out for both bands.

Martin: Yeah I would say you are right. They stuck to their guns and as the band says after that no one questioned them, so that album went gold and they were back on track, and the interesting them about them as a progressive rock, or progressive metal band is they basically were  getting a lot of bad reviews, I mean Geddy has a very eccentric voice but also people were saying playing that much is egotistical and in bad taste and all that. Well if you are the only band doing it and you stick at it people eventually look around and go wow, there is only one band that sounds like this and they are actually kind of cool. They are brave enough to stick their neck out and take those slings and arrows of playing busy and complicated and getting to the end of a fill and doing a synchronized fill, and Neil having the 2 toms and the massive drum set and being so pretentious as to have glockenspiel and bells and a gong. The thing is your big players who say you just have to feed the song, it is all about the song, get out of the way, do not have an ego, but if you are the only band doing it, it actually is a really cool and unique thing and it takes some bravery to play too much,as it does to play too little at times. Yeah it totally worked out and I am sure the guys were noticing that there was a subtly growing army of people who loved this. They could tell that they were inspiring musicians. That was the big thing with Rush. They inspired so many musicians just like The Beatles. The Beatles inspired musicians for different reasons, Kiss inspired musicians for different reasons, and then Rush did it for different reasons again. With Rush it was so fun as a teenager learning this music. This is great. I love being a musician because I love trying to play Rush songs. So they inspired, and especially Neil, I mean Neil inspired musicians far and above anybody else in that band. He inspired so many people to go on and be drummers and that is one of the great things he leaves us.

B: Can you tell us any anecdotes or stories you have about Neil?

Martin: This is not my experience but one of the funny stories about Neil is I loved when Max Webster would go out touring with them and Gary (McCracken-drummer for Max Webster) would be up there playing the support thing and Neil had his drums already set up, and he would jump up and play to the Max Webster set and try to screw Gary up by throwing in extra beats and stuff and Gary would get off stage all ticked off and say Neil you have to stop doing that and Neil would say Oh Gary I am just making you a better drummer. But Gary is an amazing drummer and Max Webster is the baby Rush in a lot  of ways but Gary is also the baby Neil in a lot of ways with the same big sound and the big set from Terry Brown. My own personal anecdote is when I did the first Rush book. I have done 3 Rush books now and I have 3 Rush books coming. One coming out soon is called Anthem: Rush In The Seventies, then there is Limelight: Rush in the Eighties, and then there is Driven: Rush In The Nineties but when I did the first Rush book Contents Under Pressure back in, I think 2003 that was an authorized book (which was something Deke was curious about so I never got to ask his question about this) and I got to sit down and do a really long, in person interview with Neil, and he was just the greatest. Very patient, he did a great interview, but the funny thing about Neil is he is considered to be the quiet one, and the shy one and he does not want to do interviews. But he did a lot of interviews in the early days, but the funny thing is later on in life it was almost like he said okay, you want a Neil Peart interview. I am doing it my way. I am writing a whole pile of books. That is the ultimate Neil interview. All you have to do is go get these books and you will learn more about me than you ever will about Alex and Geddy. I thought that was funny. Neil found a way to give the ultimate Neil interview when he stopped doing interviews.

B: Some people may look at the books as Neil cashing in, but for people that enjoy reading, his writing appeals to people in a way that 99% of musicians could not because of his background and his lyrical abilities.

Martin: Yeah the other neat thing about those books is they are essentially travel writing. They are books for adventure, for the intellectually curious, for those who want to learn about Rush, books about why Neil likes the music he likes, books for motorcycle enthusiasts, bicycle enthusiasts. I think they have a wide appeal and it just goes to prove that Neil is a renaissance man. He is a great drummer, he is uncommonly the lyricist in the band and he is even more uncommonly starting to write all these books. He is a motorcycle expert, a bike expert and the cool thing is he drove Alex and Geddy to be renaissance men themselves.

B: I know Geddy collects wine and basses, Alex is a pilot, and Neil has his bikes. I think that gives rock and roll artists a good name when there are people out there that do not just care about sex, drugs and rock and roll, and their life revolves around these things because at some point the fame will not be there any longer and what do you have moving forward. Therefore it is good to have that intellectual part of it.

Martin: Yeah I think he inspired a lot of people to be intellectually curious. That is the whole idea of Rush and being a Rush fan that there is this great playing, but there is also this very literary side of things. You go to all the Rush conventions and these people are all thoughtful, smart people who are doing great in life and Rush is basically a very inspiring band, and are a very good example of how to lead a full and rich life.

(End of Part 1) Tune in tomorrow as Martin and I continue talking Neil, Rush and all things music.