Alex Lifeson: Gear Interview
"I see that I have a few open spaces here for switches, so I'm going to have to do something about that for the next tour!"
Alex discusses his complex stage rig for the 2011 Rush "Time Machine" tour. Most of it is real. (!) He's got a blend of old and new stuff to get his unmistakable tone. The Steampunk themed Hughes and Kettner "Time Machine" speaker cabs are particularly awesome, even if the TV screens inside don't contribute much to the tone.
In the second half of the video, Alex spends quite a bit of time discussing his Gibson Axcess guitar he helped design. Alex's sense of humor comes through loud and clear and it's obvious that he's still having a lot of fun making music with Rush.
Alex Lifeson Bio
Aleksandar Živojinović, OC, (born August 27, 1953) better known by his stage name Alex Lifeson, is a Serbian-Canadian musician, best known as the guitarist of the Canadian rock band Rush. In the summer of 1968, Lifeson founded the band that wou ld become Rush with friend, drummer John Rutsey. He has been an integral member of the band ever since.
For Rush, Lifeson plays electric and acoustic guitars as well as other stringed instruments such as mandola, mandolin, and bouzouki. He also performs backing vocals in live performances, and occasionally plays keyboards and bass pedal synthesizers. During live performances, Lifeson, like the other members of Rush, performs real-time triggering of sampled instruments, concurrently with his guitar playing. The bulk of Lifeson's work in music has been with Rush, although Lifeson has contributed to a body of work outside of the band as well. Aside from music, Lifeson is part owner of the Toronto restaurant The Orbit Room, and is a licensed aircraft pilot.
Along with his bandmates Geddy Lee and Neil Peart, Lifeson was made an Officer of the Order of Canada on May 9, 1996. The trio was the first rock band to be so honoured, as a group. Most recently, Lifeson and the rest of the band embarked on their Time Machine Tour, which was concluded July 2. The band is also currently writing and recording material which will be on their upcoming album, "Clockwork Angels"
Lifeson was born Aleksandar Živojinović in Fernie, British Columbia to Serbian immigrants, Nenad and Milka Zivojinovich (from Serbian: Живојиновић, Živojinović), and raised in Toronto, Ontario. His first exposure to formal music training came in the form of the viola, which he renounced for the guitar at the age of 12. His first guitar was a Christmas gift from his father, a six-string Kent classical acoustic which was later upgraded to an electric Japanese model. During his adolescent years, he was influenced primarily by Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. In 1963 Lifeson met future Rush drummer John Rutsey in school. Both interested in music, they decided to form a band. Lifeson was primarily a self-taught guitarist with the only formal instruction coming from a high school friend in 1971 who taught classical guitar lessons. This training lasted for roughly a year and a half.
Lifeson recalls what inspired him to play guitar in a 2008 interview:
Lifeson's first girlfriend, Charlene, gave birth to their eldest son, Justin, in October 1970, and they married in 1975. Their second son, Adrian, who is also involved in music, performed on two tracks from Lifeson's 1996 solo project, Victor.
Lifeson's neighbour John Rutsey began experimenting on a rented drum kit and, in early 1968, Lifeson and Rutsey formed The Projection, which eventually became Rush following the recruitment of original bassist/vocalist Jeff Jones. Geddy Lee assumed this role soon after.
Instrumentally, Lifeson is regarded as a guitarist whose strengths and notability rely primarily on signature riffing, electronic effects and processing, unorthodox chord structures, and a copious arsenal of equipment used over the years. Despite his esteem, however, Lifeson is often regarded as being overshadowed by his bandmates due to Lee's on-stage multi-instrumental dexterity and Peart's status as a drummer.
Rush was on hiatus for several years starting in 1997 owing to personal tragedies in Neil Peart's life, and Lifeson had not picked up a guitar for at least a year following those events. However, after some work in his home studio and on various side projects, Lifeson returned to the studio with Rush to begin work on 2002's Vapor Trails. Vapor Trails is the first Rush album since the 1970s to lack keyboards—as such, Lifeson used over 50 different guitars in what Shawn Hammond of Guitar Player called "his most rabid and experimental playing ever." Geddy Lee was amenable to leaving keyboards off the album due in part to Lifeson's ongoing concern about their use. Lifeson's approach to the guitar tracks for the album eschewed traditional guitar riffs and solos in favour of "tonality and harmonic quality."
During live performances, he is still responsible for cuing various guitar effects, the use of bass-pedal synthesizers and backing vocals.
While the bulk of Lifeson's work in music has been with Rush, Lifeson's first major outside work was his solo project, Victor, released in 1996. Victor was attributed as a self-titled work (i.e. Victor is attributed as the artist as well as the album title). This was done deliberately as an alternative to issuing the album explicitly under Lifeson's name.
Lifeson has also contributed to a body of work outside of his involvement with the band in the form of instrumental contributions to other musical outfits. He made a guest appearance on the Platinum Blonde album Alien Shores (1985) performing guitar solos on the songs "Crying Over You" and "Holy Water". Later, in 1990, he appeared on Lawrence Gowan's album, Lost Brotherhood to play guitar. In 1995, he guested on two tracks on Tom Cochrane's Ragged Ass Road album and then in 1996 on I Mother Earth's "Like a Girl" from the Scenery and Fish album. In 2006, Lifeson founded The Big Dirty Band, which he created for the purpose of providing original soundtrack material for Trailer Park Boys: The Movie. Lifeson jammed regularly with The Dexters (The Orbit Room house band from 1994 to 2004). Recently, Lifeson made a guest appearance on the 2007 album Fear of a Blank Planet by UK progressive rock band, Porcupine Tree, contributing a solo during the song 'Anesthetize'. He also appears on the 2008 album Fly Paper by Detroit progressive rockers, Tiles. He plays on the track "Sacred and Mundane". Outside of band related endeavours, Lifeson composed the theme for the first season of the science-fiction TV series Andromeda. He also produced 3 songs from the album Away from the Sun by 3 Doors Down.
Television and film appearances
Lifeson made his film debut as himself under his birth name in the 1972 Canadian documentary film Come on Children.
In a 2003 episode of the Canadian mockumentary Trailer Park Boys, titled "Closer to the Heart", Lifeson plays a partly fictional version of himself. In the story, he is kidnapped by Ricky and held as punishment for his inability (or refusal) to provide the main characters with free tickets to a Rush concert. In the end of the episode, Alex reconciles with the characters, and performs a duet of "Closer to the Heart" with Bubbles at the trailer park. In 2006, Lifeson appeared in Trailer Park Boys: The Movie as a traffic cop in the opening scene and in 2009 he appeared in their follow up movie, Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day, as an undercover vice cop in drag.
In 2008, Lifeson and the rest of Rush played "Tom Sawyer" at the end of an episode of The Colbert Report. According to Colbert, this was their first appearance on American television as a band in 33 years.
In 2009, he and the rest of the band appeared as themselves in the comedy I Love You, Man.
In 2010 Lifeson appeared in the independent Canadian film Suck playing the role of an American border guard who initially tries to make trouble for the band members as they are trying to enter the US. Upon hearing that they are a band his attitude changes, he mentions that he was also in a band once, and lets them enter while saying "Rock On".Template:Citation needed
In 2010, Lifeson appeared in The Drunk and On Drugs Happy Fun Time Hour, a new series from the Trailer Park Boys team.
The Naples incident
On New Year's Eve 2003, Lifeson, his son, and his daughter-in-law were arrested at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Naples, Florida. Lifeson, after intervening in an altercation between his son and police, was accused of assaulting a sheriff's deputy in what was described as a drunken brawl. In addition to suffering a broken nose at the hands of the officers, Lifeson was tased six times. His son was also tased repeatedly.
On April 21, 2005, Lifeson and his son agreed to a plea deal with the local prosecutor for the State's Attorney office to avoid jail time by pleading no contest to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest without violence. As part of the plea agreement Lifeson and his son were each sentenced to 12 months of probation with the adjudication of that probation suspended. Lifeson acknowledged his subsequent legal action against both the Ritz-Carlton and the Collier County Sheriff's Department for "their incredibly discourteous, arrogant and aggressive behaviour of which I had never experienced in thirty years of travel." Although both actions were initially dismissed in April 2007, legal claims against the Ritz-Carlton were reinstated upon appeal, and ultimately settled out of court in August 2008, with Lifeson and his son agreeing to a confidential settlement from Ritz-Carlton.
In his journal-based book Roadshow, Peart relates the band's perspective on the events of that New Year's Eve.
In Rush's early career, Lifeson used a Gibson ES-335 for the first single and the first four Rush studio albums. For the 2112 tour in 1976, he used a 1974 Gibson Les Paul and Marshall amplification. For the A Farewell to Kings sessions, Lifeson began using a Gibson EDS-1275 for songs like "Xanadu" and his main guitar became a personally customized white Gibson ES-355. During this period Lifeson used Hiwatt amplifiers. For effects Lifeson used various phaser and flanger pedals, a Cry Baby Wah Wah, along with Marshall 100 watt Super Lead amplifiers and 4x12 cabinets. Beginning in the late 1970s, he increasingly incorporated twelve-string guitar (acoustic and electric) and used a Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble and later, the Boss Dimension C.
By 1982 Lifeson's primary guitar was a modified Fender Stratocaster with a Bill Lawrence high-output humbucker L-500 in the bridge position and a Floyd Rose vibrato bridge. Lifeson increasingly relied on a selection of four identically modified Stratocasters from 1980 to 1986, all of them equipped with the Floyd Rose bridge. As a joke, he called these Hentor Sportscasters – a made-up name inspired by Peter Henderson's name, who was the producer of Grace Under Pressure. For the Moving Pictures and Signals albums, and on concurrent tours, Lifeson used up to four rare Marshall 4140 Club & Country 100W combo amps. In the mid 1980s Lifeson switched from vacuum tube to solid-state amplification, all with an increasingly thick layer of digital signal processing. He became an endorser of Gallien-Krueger and Dean Markley solid-state guitar amplifier lines and Dean Markley Blue Steel strings respectively, gauges .009-.046. In the late 1980s he switched to Carvin amplifiers in the studio. By 1987, Lifeson exclusively switched to using his Signature Guitar Co brand guitars onstage and in the studio. These guitars were most noted for generating his unique sound through the use of Evans single coil pick-ups wired to an onboard active preamp circuit. This enabled him to produce higher frequencies to "cut through" the heavy use and sounds of Geddy Lee's keyboards.
Lifeson primarily used PRS guitars during the recording of Roll The Bones in 1990/1991. When recording 1993's Counterparts, Lifeson continued to use PRS Guitars and Marshall amplifiers to record the album, and for the subsequent tour. Lifeson continued to use PRS along with Fender and Gibson guitars, Hughes & Kettner Triamp MK II and zenTera amplifiers and cabinets.
In 2005, Hughes & Kettner introduced an Alex Lifeson signature series amplifier with $50 from each amplifier sold will be donated to UNICEF.
For the 2007 Snakes & Arrows Tour, Lifeson replaced his PRS Guitars with Gibson Les Pauls. In a 2007 interview for Guitarist magazine, Lifeson states "I hear PRS on everything these days and I wanted a little bit of a change ... I love them [PRS] but they have a smaller sound than the bigger heavier Gibsons ... I just wanted to be more traditional."Template:Citation needed He has Fishman Aura piezoelectric pick-up systems installed in his Les Pauls to model acoustic guitar sounds without changing guitars. As of July 2008, Lifeson uses Floyd Rose tremolos on his main Les Pauls. He has also replaced his Hughes & Kettner zenTera amp heads with Switchblade heads (which, like the zenTeras, include built-in programmable digital effects, such as chorus and delay, but use vacuum tubes instead of transistors) for the amplification circuits, while retaining his signature series H&K Triamp heads. His effects for the 2007 tour include a TC Electronic G-Force rack multi-FX, a TC Electronic 1210 spatial expander and a Loft 440 Delay Line/Flanger, as well as the effects built into his Switchblade heads.
Other instruments played
In addition to traditional stringed instruments such as acoustic and electric guitars, Lifeson has also played mandola, mandolin and bouzouki on recent Rush studio albums, including Test for Echo, Vapor Trails and Snakes & Arrows. During live Rush performances, Lifeson uses a MIDI controller that enables him to use his feet to trigger sounds from digital samplers, without taking his hands off his guitar. (Prior to this, Lifeson used Moog Taurus Bass Pedals before they were replaced by Korg MIDI pedals in the 1980s.) Lifeson and his bandmates share a desire to accurately depict songs from their albums when playing live performances. Toward this goal, beginning in the late 1980s the band equipped their live performances with a capacious rack of samplers. The band members use these samplers in real-time to recreate the sounds of non-traditional instruments, accompaniments, vocal harmonies, and other sound "events" that are familiarly heard on the studio versions of the songs. In live performances, the band members share duties throughout most songs, with each member triggering certain sounds with his available limbs, while playing his primary instrument(s).
- "Best Rock Talent" by Guitar for the Practicing Musician in 1983
- "Best Rock Guitarist" by Guitar Player Magazine in 1984 and May 2008
- Runner-up for "Best Rock Guitarist" in Guitar Player in 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986
- Inducted into the Guitar for the Practicing Musician Hall of Fame, 1991
- 1996 – Officer of the Order of Canada, along with fellow bandmates Geddy Lee and Neil Peart
- "Best Article" for "Different Strings" in Guitar Player (September issue).
- Most Ferociously Brilliant Guitar Album (Snakes & Arrows) – Guitar Player Magazine, May 2008
- Audio-Technica interview with Alex
- Read 2002 CNN interview with Alex
- Alex Lifeson gear, by songs
- Order of Canada citation