masthead5.gif (8352 bytes)

alex_n_d8b.jpg (32250 bytes)

Click on images for full size picture

"All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted."

The Spirit Of Alex Lifeson and His Home Studio

by Christopher Buttner

Toronto, Canada - Since their first major album release in 1973, RUSH has established themselves as the most enduring and interesting of "progressive" rock acts. Delivering a level of musicality atypical of the genre, the band remains popular both among fans and fellow musicians alike. Consisting of drummer Neil Peart, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, RUSH is renowned for their complex, if not epic, song arrangements, featuring intricate time, tempo and key changes with deeply philosophical and, some say, mystical lyrics. Formed in Toronto, Canada in 1969, to date, the group's recorded legacy includes 16 studio albums and four multi-disc live albums, as well as four anthology sets. Induction into a number of magazines' Halls of Fame throughout the world for Best Guitarist, Bassist, Keyboardist, Drummer, and Band, attests to Rush's "musician's musician" status. The band's virtual hero status in Canada is further born out by a place on Canada's Walk of Fame and being the first rock group recipient of the prestigious Order of Canada medal. Created in 1967 to recognize "significant achievement in important fields of human endeavor, the trio received that award as much for their community service - raising over $1 million for food banks and the United Way - as for their contribution to the arts. Closing out the century on a high-note, RUSH, by a two-to-one margin, won the JAM! ShowBiz online poll as Canada's "most important musicians of all-time.

"What's the band been up to lately? On the film front, Alex and Geddy contributed their guitar-layered version of their country's national anthem for the "South Park, The Movie. Bigger, Longer and Uncut" soundtrack. Alex states matter-of-factly, "Geddy and I recorded 'O Canada' for the South Park soundtrack here in my home studio, standing at attention during the entire recording process...". As anyone who has seen "South Park, The Movie" can attest, Canada is the brunt of 90 minutes of non-stop, blistering flatulence-laden hysteria, set to an epithet-riddled musical score. When asked if there was any concern of he and Geddy getting deported and their Order of Canada Medals revoked for participating in - what to some Canadians would consider - 'comedic high treason', Alex states, "Well, Canadians have a tendency to be very middle-of-the-road. I am sure if someone in government wanted to do that, they probably just forgot to follow through. "Considered the 'scientist' of the band, Alex's extensive home studio has always centered around a Mackie console, evolving from an analog 56-channel 8 Bus to the fully automated digital Mackie D8B he purchased in late 1998. Alex states, "At some point, I was thinking that I might get another D8B to replace the 24*8 I use for keyboard returns, and have the full 48 DSP returns. It sure would look cool!" 

Aside from working on the South Park movie, Alex is considered a gourmet cook, and owns a dinner club, The Orbit Room, in Toronto. Putting down his spatula to caress his beloved D8B, Alex states, "In the past few years, I have written 15 or 20 songs. I haven't decided what I want to do with them. The last few songs I have liked a lot, so I am starting to think that the time for another 'Victor-like' project might be near," referring to his outside-of-Rush solo endeavor. Alex shares time on the D8B with his 22 year-old son, Adrian, stating, "It's in constant use between Adrian and I. I have to book time in advance just to mess around with it." Continuing Alex states, "Adrian writes a lot of Electronica, I would almost call it transient... not really dance music, it's a little tougher sounding than that. He has a few different projects and groups with whom he works. They range from Electronica to pop rock with a "Seal" kinda' feel.

alex_studio2.jpg (33111 bytes)

 Adrian worked as an assistant engineer at a local Toronto studio until leaving in the summer of 1999 to devote more time to composing music. That's his true love at this point. We're actually in the process of putting some mixes together so we can seek a deal for him. "Discussing the production process, Alex states, "The D8B's automation is so friendly and easy to use. I tend to get relatively complex with the music I create and most of what I do is guitar-based, layered with piles upon piles of guitars that come in and go out all over the place. So to have the complete automation power of the D8B is a very important part of putting it all together. 

"So, what was the transition like going from an analog to digital console? "With analog, you're mixing on-the-fly and every time you do a mix of the same song, it's always a little different," states Alex. "If you have a very complex mix, things can become difficult. You obviously know where you are within the limitations of the console, since it's all laid out in front of you. But, with the D8B, you're working on four different levels and you absolutely know exactly where you are at any given time, at any point in the project. The D8B is very direct, very easy, and very simple for everything that I use it for, and that includes tracking, overdubs, and mixing. With the D8B, there are no diversionary moves to achieve a simple goal. "Alex adds he usually has several projects in the works, all at various states of development, at any given time. Lifeson notes, "You can get complex as you want, developing whatever you're working on, especially with the compression, gain and EQ... and I use the DSP extensively. Without total automation there's always a risk of getting so deep in one project you lose sight of what you're doing on everything else. With the D8B, no matter how deep I get, I can always just recall an earlier mix from wherever I am at any point and bring it back exactly the same, every time, regardless of the complexity of the project. "

Lifeson points to a recent example: "A friend, a very talented drummer, and I, are working on some of my own stuff and we've been using the onboard preamps a lot. They sound really, really good; Very crisp and clear." While many studio pros will use an outboard preamps to color a sound, Alex states, "I don't use outboard preamps often, because I find the D8B preamps to be quite sufficient, particularly when recording drums. 

"And as far as effects go? Alex says, "I use everything available and tend to find myself going to the onboard effects more than outboard effects, particularly during the writing stage. When I get into mixing I might introduce an old Lexicon 224 for different colors, but I still rely on the onboard effects there too. 

"What about sound quality? "The sound quality of my D8B is up there with significantly more expensive consoles. It has a very smooth, natural sound and is just plain easy to use. Alex concludes, stating "I love working on it, and that's what counts, right?

The other stuff in Alex's studio:



Electro Voice RE-20

Sennheiser 421MD

Neumann TLM-103

Shure SM7, SM57, SM57 Beta

AKG KMi, C414, C391B, C3000

Alesis AM30, AM40

Audio Technica ATM4050, ATM4060, ATM4047sv, ATM63



E-MU Orbit, Morpheus, E6400 Sampler

Korg Prophecy, Z-1. EA-1

Roland JV1080, MC505

Alesis S4



Mackie D8B

Mackie 2408


Yamaha NS 10

Acoustic Research AR18s



Power Amps:

Crown Macro Series 1200

Bryston B3



Digitech VTP1

Demeter VTBP201



Digitech VCS1

Trident Audio

RCA BA-6A Tube compressor

Urei 1178


Outboard Processing:

 T.C. Electronics 2290

T.C. Electronics Finalizer

Lexicon PCM 70

Lexicon 224

Digitech Studio 400


Recording Medium:

ProTools 24Mix/Logic Audio

Alessis ADAT



Macintosh 9600/G3-400


headchop.jpg (34648 bytes)

    Click Here To Return To The Music Gear Review Home Page