Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson makes his debut this week with a new band, Envy of None
CLEVELAND, Ohio — After Rush’s 2015 farewell tour, Alex Lifeson wasn’t sure what the Canadian trio might do next. But he spoke of being “eager to be creative”, with “some small projects” and “experimentation” underway.
Rush, of course, ended with the death of drummer Neal Peart in 2020. And this week, Lifeson emerges with his first upcoming project – a quartet called Envy of None whose self-titled debut album drops Friday, April 8 and has a sound and tonality distinctly different from the heavy, progressive rock that Lifeson is known for through Rush.
“You have to move on, and you have to explore, and you have to accept the change and relish it,” Lifeson, 68, says via Zoom from his home studio in Toronto, sitting in front of a wall filled with guitars.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve done and accomplished with Rush,” adds Lifeson, who is joined by Portland, Oregon-based Envy of None singer Maiah Wynne on the call. “It will always be my group. And for me, at this point in my life, (Envy of None) is exactly what I needed and I’m blessed to work with great, very, very talented musicians, especially Maiah. We have a very unique relationship that we have developed through this process, and an understanding that is very natural.
And although Wynne is only 25, Lifeson says “probably more than anything with this record, I’m so excited to be able to connect with someone like this. The difference in years between us doesn’t matter.” importance. It seems like we’re kindred spirits when it comes to writing music, and we hear the same things. It’s really quite unique.
Envy of None is the merger of two musical projects related to former Coney Hatch bassist Andy Curran. Shortly after Rush’s last tour, he and Lifeson had begun working “in passing” on new music, with little stated purpose. Then Curran met Wynne — who started releasing her own music in 2017 and entered an NPR Tiny Desk competition two years later — through a music contest whose prizes included a Zoom mentorship session.
“I didn’t know much about Andy at the time,” says Wynne, “and I was mostly asking business questions. I brought a song that I had called “I Got Nothin” and it was more industrial, and he kept saying how much he loved that song and that I should do more music in that vein. Then he mentioned that he had been working on his own music that was similar, and I offered to sing on some of that if he needed a vocalist. In the end, Curran accepted Wynne’s offer and then stepped forward.
“We started working on (songs) and…he called me up out of the blue one day and said, ‘So I showed this to my homie Alex, and he wants to play some guitar on those songs,” Wynne recalled. “I had no context for anything. I was like, ‘Yeah, great, mate Alex, that sounds awesome…’ And then ( Curran) of course elaborated and it occurred to me – “Oh, your homie alexander!’ So it was exciting, and it was a wonderful process.
Lifeson, meanwhile, recalls that “When I heard Maiah’s voice on the (first) material, I could hear her voice on ALL the material we were working on. I just knew there was something which was really strong there. Then it switched gears; It was no longer a casual project to work on some songs for a possible EP. Now it became an album, a project, and we wanted to make it meatier in that sense.
Envy of None, which also features guitarist/keyboardist Alfio Annibalini – with guest drummers David Quinton Steinberg and Tim Oxford – recorded the 11-track album remotely, with Curran acting as point man. While the set has some aggressive moments on tracks like “Dumb,” “Enemy,” and “Dog’s Life,” the overall feel is ethereal, atmospheric, and textured, even on singles like “Liar” and “Look Inside. “, while sometimes touching on the flavors of World Music (“Kabul Blues”) or American pastiche in “Old Strings”, on which Lifeson plays the banjo.
“It gave me the freedom to explore a whole different approach to guitar and how I heard the guitar presence on this record,” says Lifeson. “I really tried to make the guitar sound less like a traditional guitar and more like an otherworldly instrument. I was always exploring and looking for something different, whether it was manipulating the sound of the guitar, choosing the equipment or recording things backwards. It’s part of my nature anyway, but it really gave me that freedom, and the material is so vast and open that it there is a lot of room to have this approach.
Despite her relative youth, Wynne says, “These guys never treated me like a kid, like I was less experienced or not an equal part of the team. It was amazing to me. They don’t have that kind of ego. Andy sometimes treats me like a kid, just because he has a daughter my age – and he calls everyone ‘baby’, no matter how old you are.”
The most moving moment of “Envy of None” comes at the end of the album with “Western Sunset,” an instrumental elegy to Peart during a visit to the drummer’s home in California after Lifeson learned of his terminal diagnosis. his teammate.
“Apart from his office, he had a balcony where we watched the sun go down over the Santa Monica hills,” Lifeson recalled, “and it was a beautiful time, very serene and quiet. It was also the end of a day, and it stuck with me. I just wanted to do something that had that same sense of serenity and peace and acceptance in that song. And at the end of that album, it gives you pause and allows you to sit down and sort of process whatever you just listened to for the previous hour.
“It was something that was very personal to me, but I’m grateful that we were able to share it as a team, with that record, and I’m glad I did it for the reasons I did it. “
As “Envy of None” is about to be released, the band members’ thoughts turn to what might be next – complicated somewhat by Lifeson’s assertion that “I don’t know if is accurate to say we’re a band I like to think we’re four very individual songwriters who came together and bonded on this particular project he also has some new Rush projects in the works including pinball recently released and a 40th anniversary edition of the 1981 “Moving Pictures” album due out April 15. He also has “four or five little projects,” collaborations with other artists, on the track, and he’ll put auction more than 100 pieces of memorabilia – including guitars and a stage wardrobe via Julien’s Auctions on May 22.
Wynne is also working on her own album, “which will represent me more as a singer and songwriter.” And, she adds, “I’m also going to get Alex to play guitar on some of these songs.” But the two say they hope this group or not, Envy of None will be more than a unique proposition.
“We want to release the album first and foremost,” says Lifeson. “We really enjoyed the experience, and we see no reason why we wouldn’t continue. But before we speculate on what the future is, where we play live shows or do this or that, it all depends on the release and whether people hear everything and understand what it’s all about. We can’t wait for it to come out. »