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.




23 thoughts on “Interview with Martin Popoff Part 1

  1. Great idea for a series, Brian.
    I know going through all the Hip albums (when I learned about Gord’s diagnosis) really helped me in 2016 and I think this Rush series will help fellow Rush fans with the grieving process in 2020.

    Liked by 2 people

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