Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson reflected on what he names the most challenging song in the progressive rock band’s catalogue.
While Lifeson is not often lumped along with the usual “shredders,” his work is incredibly impactful, and even modern metal guitarists owe a lot to him and Rush. And it needs no saying that Rush’s songs are challenging in their own ways and that they’ve inspired a whole new genre with their music.
As Alex Lifeson revealed with a laugh in a new edition of Ultimate Guitar’s On the Record podcast, every Rush song is challenging. But all the jokes aside, when presented with the question of what the most challenging one is, Lifeson did have an answer. And no – it wasn’t “La Villa Strangiato,” which is often shared as an example of his guitar prowess.
One that comes off the top of my head would be ‘Natural Science,'” Lifeson said. The song is from Rush’s 1980 album “Permanent Waves.” Discussing it further, he recalled how it was a pretty tough one for him to record, adding:
“That’s pretty intense playing. And in the studio, we’d play things a million times before we were confident we got the best take. So, playing that particular song a million times was challenging.”
As far as his best guitar moments during Rush’s lengthy career, Lifeson named a few records that are great examples.
“There are high points on all the records,” the guitarist said when asked which album showcases his “best guitar work.” He then added:
“And areas where, in retrospect, I think I could have improved or just been different, I guess, is probably more accurate. I like a lot of the guitar work on ‘Counterparts,’ ‘Moving Pictures’ has some very classic… Because that record’s as popular as it is, but the songwriting on it’s really good – ‘Red Barchetta’ and ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ‘Limelight’ of course, is one of my favorite songs because it’s one of my favorite solos.”
Discussing the matter further, Lifeson also reflected on how he approached recording his guitar parts, particularly all the solos on Rush’s records. As opposed to the song he said was the most challenging one, the situation is a little different with his lead parts.
“I think with my guitar playing, I’m always looking for something different,” he pointed out. “I get very impatient very quickly when we’re working.”
And, as it turns out, it’s usually one of the first takes that made it on the final version of Rush’s songs. And it’s simply because he says things get a little tiring after a few takes, and the magic is then gone. Alex continued:
“For me, doing solos, for example, the first three or four takes of whatever I’m doing are my best takes. And then I don’t know if I become bored, I don’t know if I lose interest or what it is exactly, but the energy level on those first handful of takes are always what I’m going after.”
“It’s like that with a lot of things with me,” Rush legend added. “It seems I’m starting to understand myself a little better, that everything, I just want to do it, and then I want to move on to something else. And that used to bug me in the past, but now I’ve come to embrace it, and I quite like it.”
But, of course, apart from Rush, his body of work also includes his post-Rush band Envy of None. And as he added, there’s some interesting stuff within that project as well.
“I do a lot of other stuff,” Alex said. “The Envy of None project that I’m currently working on, we released that album last year, and I love the guitar playing on that because it’s not traditional guitar playing.”
“It’s not what you’d expect from me or what someone’s perception of my guitar playing is. I got to make the guitar sound like some other instrument and that’s challenging, and it’s exciting, and I like the mystery of that sort of approach.”
But when it comes to writing a solo for a song, Alex just always does stuff on the spot.
“I totally improvise, absolutely,” he replied when asked whether he improvised his lead sections. “And what we were doing over the last number of records is I would do a bunch of takes, and then Geddy would comp. Like, ‘Moving Pictures,’ for example, Geddy and Terry Brown would comp the solos.”
“They’d kick me out of the room. I don’t know how I felt about that at the time, but I felt like I had released a lot of energy in doing those takes, so it wasn’t bad to get out and clear my head a little bit while they would work on something. If I liked it, then we would go with it. If I didn’t, then we would go through the whole process again.”
“It was a really good way of working because I think it showed trust in each other. That’s an important thing to have in the studio, that the bass player/the singer is actually working on comping my solos. You know, that’s a good thing – to be involved in each other in every aspect. I’m glad for that experience.”