By David E. Gehlke
The first post-RUSH project emerged in 2021 by way of ENVY OF NONE, a dark, atmospheric rock outfit featuring guitarist Alex Lifeson alongside CONEY HATCH bassist Andy Curran, vocalist Maiah Wynne and guitarist/keyboardist Alfio Annibalini. The band's 2022 self-titled debut was intentionally about as un-RUSH as Lifeson could get, eschewing the progressive angles that made him a household name in favor of songs that were moody and contemplative, leveraging the guitarist's deft use of space and effects in support of Wynne's ethereal delivery. While it initially raised a few eyebrows from RUSH's following, ENVY OF NONE appears to have resonated with a fanbase known for its devotion and attention to detail. (Lifeson, after all, has made it clear that he's fine not replicating RUSH.)
The new year should bring a new full-length from ENVY OF NONE, which will come off the back of the 2023 "That Was Then" EP. Here to chat about what's next for the band was the super-friendly Curran (he's a Canadian, after all),who also spilled the beans on what it's like to work with one of rock's most venerated guitarists.
Blabbermouth: When you and Alex started ENVY OF NONE, the word was "project." Is it now a band?
Andy: [Laughs] "If Alex were here, he'd say it was a project. It really started as a studio project. I've been in several bands and I can tell you that it feels like a band when we're together and writing. There was this sort of period after we finished the first record and it was like, 'Yeah, let's not do any photos. We'll just go out with the album cover and keep it low-key.' Our publicist at the label said, 'I get it that you don't want to do a "band" shot. Can we at least get four individual shots of the people in the project?' I'm telling you this because we got together and did a photo session where each of us had our own solo shots. As we were finishing, Alex said, 'Yeah, what the hell? Let's get a group shot.' [Laughs] One of my favorite movies is 'Dumb And Dumber', and there is this point where Jim Carrey is hoping he's going to get a date, and the girl says to him, 'Ninety-nine point nine percent we're not dating.' And Jim says, 'So you're saying there is a chance?' There is a chance this could be a band, but it came to fruition of four like-minded musicians writing at home and sending ideas back and forth. The other thing I can say about band versus project is when I got a call from a guy named Adam Kornfeld. He was the long-time booking agent for RUSH. He called me up and said, 'I heard the record and love it. I want to be your agent.' I said, 'That's very flattering, Adam. But we aren't really a band. Think of this like THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT.' And he goes, 'I'm the agent for THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT!' I shot myself in the foot with that one. The short answer is that it feels like a band even though we're not calling it that now."
Blabbermouth: Because ENVY OF NONE appears to be such an organic thing, did that make putting the EP together easier now that you have the first album out of the way?
Andy: "I'll answer this in two ways: When we started writing, we had zero expectations. There wasn't even a plan like how serious bands go, 'Let's go into the studio. We'll write a record, shop a deal, send it around.' There were none of those talks. We just went in and started recording. It was very loose, with no pressure, no label and no manager saying, 'The record has to be finished.' As you said, it organically unfolded. One song turned into three turned into five. After we had five, Alex said, 'This stuff is turning out really good. Is it a thing to shop deals anymore?' He's been in RUSH. The guy is not going to shop for a deal in RUSH. He said, 'Don't you know some film and television supervisors? Maybe we can send it out to them, and it will get a placement. Why don't we see if we're all drinking the Kool-Aid, and it resonates with other people?' I tapped into my Rolodex and sent the music out. The same week, we got a call from a music supervisor in Vancouver who said she loved the song 'Liar' and wanted to use it on a Netflix series she was working on. That was, for us, 'Okay. Maybe we do have something for us. Someone outside of the four people [in the band] likes us.' That gave me the impetus to send the music around. We had met the folks at Snapper in the U.K. They have some really cool artists. Even when we signed the deal and they said they loved the music, there was never any pressure. They never said they wanted us to do this, this and this. That sophomore jinx where they said, 'That first record came out. Why don't we follow up with an EP?' We had 'That Was Then', which was the new track we added. We did some very different remixes. I know people go, 'Whatever…remixes.' But we really gave these songs a new look and stripped them down and changed them around. During the entire process, there was no pressure from anybody. I think the years of Alex being in RUSH, where you write, tour, do another album, take some time off — that cycle. There was none of those trimmings. It was like, 'Let's keep writing and see what happens.' So here we are and we're halfway through writing the second record, the full record. We got this momentum and cool vibe when I spoke to the label today, and they said, 'Great. Keep us posted.' Not, 'We need to get this record out.' That was beautiful."
Blabbermouth: People automatically slapped the word "prog" on ENVY OF NONE, even though you don't have much of that going on. Do you think that term will fade away with more releases?
Andy: "Yeah, 'Mr. Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame', it's hard to shed that. That's what Alex is known for. The thing that was so rewarding about the first album and I know music fans don't like this, me included, but when you like an artist and you go out and buy their record and you're expecting something and it's not like that, you're like, 'What's going on here?' We intentionally scratched a much different itch. It sounds nothing like RUSH or CONEY. That was the rewarding part of it, to be able to, as an artist, just stretch and go, 'Okay. I'm not going to try that anymore. I'm going to go down that road.' The fact people even like it — we got some pretty good accolades, and the reception was good, but we thought the RUSH fans would be vocal that 'This is not RUSH' and would hate it. If I gave it a percentage, I'd say there was an 85 percent acceptance rate where they go, 'This is beautiful. I can hear Alex's playing and his textures.' We did a couple of interviews early on and he was vocal about it. Alex said, 'If people want RUSH, listen to RUSH. Go buy a RUSH record.' We're carving our own sound. We think it's fairly unique. The part that I like if I were to say, 'What's the recipe of ENVY OF NONE?' You have these brooding, moody textures, and sometimes it can get pretty nasty, like on 'Liar' or 'Enemy', but you have this beautiful, pure voice, and there are textures over it. There were times when we were working on the record, and Maiah said, 'I feel like I need to dig in and go up an octave.' We said, 'No! Let us do the nasty stuff and you do your stuff.' But I think after releasing a full record and an EP, by the time we get to ENVY OF NONE II, there will be an expectation that it will be a continuation of the sound as opposed to, 'Now, will they do some proggy stuff?' I can tell you the new material is very much an extension of what we started on the first record. There are no six or seven-minute songs with long, crazy solos and Neal Peart-style drumming. We'll let the RUSH camp do that."
Blabbermouth: You and Alex have been around the block for a long time. What have you learned from each other so far?
Andy: "This whole project for me was a real 'pinch me' moment. I grew up in Toronto. You could not avoid RUSH. I grew up with RUSH. I went to see them record 'All The World's A Stage' at Massey Hall in '76. I went religiously every year to see them at Maple Leaf Gardens. The fact that I was writing music with Alex never dawned on me that it would happen. I feel so privileged that the stars aligned. It started with him asking me if I would play bass on one of his demos. When I got the opportunity to hear his tracks soloed or his parts where he would send a song, I'd go, 'Did you even play guitar? I can't hear any guitar.' He'd say, 'I'm so happy you said that! I played acoustic and turned it backward and doubled it and put reverb and flange on it so it doesn't sound like a guitar.' What I learned was how innovative he was and still is not being content with just doing the same old thing. There were times I said to him, 'Can you blast a solo on this song?' He'd go, 'Nah. Not going to do it.' I was like, 'What's going on here?' And one of the few times we didn't ask him to play a solo, he played a solo. But I was always told and read that how Alex was the glue in RUSH. You have two very prominent musicians with Geddy [Lee, bass/vocals] and Neil. They're playing a lot. A lot is going on there. Alex and I had conversations, and he'd say, 'I always felt that if I played a lot, it would be even crazier, so I tried to figure out and craft my parts around two prominent players who were making statements with their parts. I mean this respectfully, many times they were busy.' He said, 'I want to serve the song.' He kept saying that to me. I really learned that this guy is a real scientist with his tones. He toils over his tones and he really thinks about his parts. Talk about ego — he's not focused on, 'Listen to me. I'm going to blow a solo.' Instead, it's 'What is best for the song?'
"If I were to ask, what did he learn from me? When he asked me to play on his demo, the very first call, I said, 'Don't you know any other bass players? Why are you calling me? I think you have a guy with the initials 'G.L.' on speed dial.' Alex said, 'Ged is really busy writing his book. This would mean a lot to me that you would do this.' The first time I sent him something and he called me back, he said, 'I love your bass lines. You went to this note. Instead, I thought you were going to go there and it really opened up the song.' I heard him blow some smoke up my you-know-what, and he really got to see the musician in me. We've been friends and workmates — I've worked at his label and management company, but I don't think he got a glimpse at Andy, the musician. He was quite complimentary. He said, 'I mean this with no disrespect to Geddy and Neil, but you made space in these songs.' There were times I was conscious about the bass lines I was doing, and maybe I wanted to serve the song so Maiah's vocals would come out, so a part of me was going, 'Don't try to pretend you're Geddy Lee. You can't play like him.' There were times I'd step out. Those bass lines are intentionally supposed to be a layer. Maybe 'Look Inside' might be the only song on the record where I was like, 'The bass line is carrying this.' Even with 'Liar', where the bass line is driving it. Maybe I think Alex learned a little bit about this guy who wasn't just his buddy who played tennis and golf with him or was part of the record company and management. He knows his way around the bass."
Blabbermouth: If we think about 2024, what's on deck for not only ENVY OF NONE but your solo career and CONEY HATCH?
Andy: "It's going to be a busy one. ENVY OF NONE has about six or seven songs that are quite far along; almost, I would say, getting close to three-quarters. In early February, Maiah is flying into Toronto, and we're going to try to wrap up those tracks. Our goal is to get something out in the middle of the year or fall. I still have a couple of toes in the CONEY HATCH camp. We just played Sweden Rock. We're going to do some dates over in Europe. I think we've been invited to play a festival called Firefest in Manchester and another small festival in France. I can see doing some CONEY HATCH and the boys are like, 'Let's write some new songs.' So, we may write a couple of new songs and we have some studio time on hold for January to see if we can do a couple of tracks. Then, my solo stuff, the 'Whiskey And The Devil' 30th anniversary, as part of that process, I found a demo that was 30 years old, and I put the old lineup back together, and we re-recorded that demo. I'll probably release it in January. It's like a triple threat. ENVY OF NONE, HATCH and solo stuff."