Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage's Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn

<i>Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage's</i> Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn
They've done it again. Revered for unforgettable, enlightening and engaging films such as Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Global Metal and Iron Maiden: Flight 666, Banger Films duo Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn are becoming as synonymous with heavy metal as the subjects their documentaries feature. Yet even this world-travelled, enthusiastic team had a bona fide task at hand when dealt their most recent offer: a documentary on ultimate progressive power trio Rush. Stuck between the rock of sparking interest from outsiders who generally cast the band off as little more than geeks in kimonos to the hard place of matching diehard fans' expectations (who usually boast more knowledge about bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart than the trio themselves probably retain), Banger Films staked a lofty reputation on this affair. However, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage rides that line with the refined balance of a feline on a hot alloy roof. Following the group from early childhood through to their most recent tour a couple of years ago, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage amalgamates pertinent history with insightful information, candid fun and the adoration, dedication and passion to both subject and craft that only Banger Films inherently maintains, metallically speaking. Not unlike some philosophical debate however, even after countless hours of dissecting this delicate subject, McFadyen and Dunn can continue to endlessly contemplate the enigma that is Rush.

I hear congratulations are in order.
Scot McFadyen (SF): Thanks. We went down to Tribeca [New York-based film festival where Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage debuted and won an Audience Appreciation award] and it was insane. The band was there and the fans were crazy. They were lined up since 9:30 in the morning.
Sam Dunn (SD): Yeah, it's funny. We feel like what we did with A Headbanger's Journey for metal fans is what we've done for Rush fans with this film. It's the same response; a kind of collective sigh of relief in the theatre after it was done. It was like, "No longer are we only proud to be Rush fans amongst ourselves. Now we can be proud Rush fans to the world." It was sort of like a vindication which is really cool. I felt that in the room.
SF: People were crying!

It was that emotional?
SF/SD: Yeah!

It's understandable. Like you said, no longer are Rush fans outcasts. They have a documentary to prove they're cool!
SD: It's even more than metal fans, I find. With Rush fans, there's a deeper closet; a severe subculture of fans where it's hard to be prideful of Rush in the public because you're basically labelling yourself as a nerd or whatever. We always loved them growing up but there's always that stigma.

I hear you. Fans have to downplay it sometimes depending on where they are.
SF: It comes full circle though, too. There's a sense of confidence: "I love Rush!" We found some people who were unabashedly Rush lovers, which is great.

With the experience that you've had interviewing people over the years, so many cool bands are proud Rush fans yet there's that reproach as you mentioned.
SF: It's like Tim Commerford [Rage Against The Machine]. All he listened to was Rush but he started this band that sounds nothing like them. Yet he was so influenced by them, he said that in the beginning press would ask him what he'd been listening to and his answer was, "Rush, 24/7. That's it." He had to stop saying that because he got kind of embarrassed though. I think we're at a time ― even since we started this documentary, things have changed. People are more aware or something.
SD: I think it's an interesting moment right now, with [being featured on] The Colbert Report, South Park, Trailer Park Boys, I Love You, Man and now this documentary, it's sort of like people are coming around to acknowledging Rush's place, contribution and legacy in music history. Matt Stone says it best in the film: "If you didn't give it up for them before, you gotta give it up for them now or you're being a dickhead." Get off your high horse and admit that this is the longest-running rock line-up of all time and they're third for most consecutive gold and platinum records. C'mon people, wake up!
SF: There are some people you didn't expect would be fans like Zakk Wylde. He's this tough guy but when you ask him which Rush album he loves, he's into the keyboard-heavy stuff like Moving Pictures. Even people who don't sound like Rush in any way ― like Trent Reznor ― have been influenced by them in some way.
SD: That's a phenomenon that is pretty unique to Rush. Working with Iron Maiden and other metal bands, you can hear a bit of Maiden in their disciples/offspring. But with Rush, it's Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails...there's no Rush in any of those bands. There might be bits but it's not overt and we learned they're influenced by their approach and philosophy: sticking to what they do, not compromising their musical vision to be more accessible. It's that attitude that Rush has that's really inspiring for musicians.

They're not so linear.
SF: A lot of bands are envious of Rush's fan base, which is so open to them changing. Most bands are stuck. Metallica changes their snare sound and there are riots but Neil can play African drums or electronic drums. I don't know of any other band with the freedom to do what they do and still have fans stick with them.
SD: Maybe what allows them to do that is the fans trust the fact that they're doing what they want to do. If you take A Farewell To Kings and Hold Your Fire, it's almost like two different bands with the exception of Geddy's voice. That's the only thing holding it all together; the unifying thing between those records but the fans know they're gonna change but they're changing because that's what they wanna do. That's the relationship between Rush and their fans compared to others.

I understood that more when you showed the severity of the battle between Rush and their record company in the early years. That established their autonomy.
SF: I think that's a lesson for any band because a lot of them look at 2112 and if you want a career that lasts as long as Rush, you can't just chase the single ― the monkey's tail. It's better to fail doing what you want, than at trying to what you think someone else wants.
SD: They took a huge risk with that transition from Caress Of Steel to 2112 and I think that became the crystallizing moment for all Rush fans. It was the indication that they really were doing this for the music and that's what people really latched onto. A lot of people give lip service to doing what they want and not compromising. That's a popular tale in rock but I think Rush is one of the few bands that has actually lived by that credo and continued. It's one thing to do it once but to keep doing it throughout your career is amazing.

Getting into that concept about "what you love to do," when Rush comes to you and says, "Alright boys, let's make a documentary," are there pressures? Freedom? What happened?
SF: In that "walk the walk" vein, they let us do what we wanted. They were like, "This is your doc and we can only warn you that we think we're not that interesting." That's what Geddy said. Sometimes the material ― you can only impose so much. We took three months to work with interviews, went back and pieced things together but the story is the story. There wasn't pressure from them. The real pressure was trying to get it into two hours. That's a real long story they've got.
SD: The pressure was in wanting to do a doc on a band that's been together for over 40 years and has 20 albums. We could have started with an easier band than Rush. But we knew there were certain pillars in their career we wanted to hit. You couldn't tell their story without those moments like their upbringing, the transition from Caress... to 2112 and the popularity with Moving Pictures, the keyboards and Neil's tragedy. As much as there was a sense of, "Oh shit, how are we gonna cover 40 years," we did have a rough guide of key moments. It's all about what's the connective tissue between points that takes time... and how to factor in the heinous fashion choices they've made throughout it all.

Interviews on interviews.
SF: Yeah, you'd be watching stuff and it would generate more questions. When you watch the film, you probably see five or six different three-hour interviews.
SD: We've got Neil with four different haircuts.
SF: Then it's about piecing it together without them getting sick of us.

"Another interview?" Sigh.
SD: "You guys again? Haven't I answered this question before?"
SF: I lost a lot of sleep on this though, worrying that this was the time we'd fall flat. It's our first historical biography. I was like, "It's gonna be boring to anyone other than fans because we didn't nail it." I was surprised that non-fans liked it. They got something out of those guys.
SD: Objectively, that's one interesting thing about the film. If feels like our first really human and emotional film. We tried to get it from Maiden but with Maiden, there's just no emotion there. They're beer drinking louts. With Rush, private as they are, there's a depth that we haven't found with a lot of the other people we've interviewed. Over the course of months, we got to know their personalities, motivations and struggles. That really comes across in the film. They were willing to let their guard down and admit they thought the band was done when Neil went away and that their mothers thought they were gonna turn into "heathens and drug-taking freaks" as Geddy's mother says. I think the movie is carried by the fact that these guys are honest and open people.

It's also carried by the fact that you guys have a craft, style and sincerity of your own that you probably don't see or would admit to.
SD: To learn to out-humble Rush? Wow.


Be sure to enter the Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage contest on exclaim.ca.