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On guitar effects.
Smith: I know that you're like "gadget guy." You like, I think… correct me if I'm wrong… pedals, and things that go "ping"? You like all that stuff?
Lifeson: I love all that stuff. I've always been interested in that sort of thing, right from the very beginning.
Smith: From your sound, or in your mind, what you're trying to... I know it depends on the music and where you're at, and what you're writing and stuff. How much does it dictate? Is it after the fact? You're in the studio and the song is developing, and like, "This is going to work?" Or can it be from the beginning, like The Edge, his thing. It happens both ways?
Lifeson: That's a great question. I think probably in the past, I would utilize effects or tonal shaping, more from the beginning. Less so now, because I really believe that the core of the song should work, no matter what you do.
Smith: You can play it on acoustic or whatever.
Lifeson: Exactly. That's the real test, is on an acoustic. If it works on an acoustic, it's going to work no matter what you do. It's easy to get caught up in the technology and be enamored by the sound of something. But it's just that – it's a superficial thing. It's not deep inside what makes the song a song, and makes it compelling. I've moved away, much more. It's more of an afterthought now. I've always been ensconced in the technical end of it, from a wah-wah pedal, to a fuzztone in the early days.
Smith: That's probably all you had. What were your first effects?
Lifeson: My first effect was the Fuzz Face Fuzztone. I remember, I used to plug my guitar into the back of my parents' TV. [Smith laughs] It had a little RCA input. I don't know why that input was there.
Smith: Was it distorted?
Lifeson: Oh, yeah, it was distorted before I even put the Fuzzface in. [Smith laughs] Then I got a wah-wah pedal, a CryBaby wah-wah pedal.
Smith: Jimi Hendrix had one of those. Gotta have it. Page…
Lifeson: Yeah, all those guys. Clapton when he was in Cream – White Room. I mean, there was lots of wah-wah. The Echoplex was the big one, and then the chorus pedal changed everything in my sound. I came to really rely on that from the mid-'70s on.
Smith: Chorus pedal?
Lifeson: Yeah, it just makes things bigger, especially in a three-piece. It makes it wider.
Lifeson: It can be a crutch. [Smith laughs] It can be. Delays can definitely be more of a crutch, because it masks insecurities and inaccuracies. Playing in this band with Neil and Ged, they're so active. You need to do something that kind of fills... it's the glue.
Smith: It's the situation. Certainly early on, before Geddy got into the Taurus pedals and keyboards, you were... that was it, as far as real melody. That was your job. You had a big job, a big thing to do.