From rock band to big band - and back again.
Hamilton-born drummer Neil Peart did something out of the ordinary earlier this year: He performed live with someone other than Rush.
The occasion was a benefit for the Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Fund. Peart was one of an elite group of drummers asked to play with the late jazz icon's orchestra in New York.
"I grew up on big band music," says Peart, who is also Rush's lyricist. "Other than rock, I find it the most exciting music to play."
Peart, who grew up in St. Catharines, called it "the type of experience that makes you wake up in the morning cold and ambivalent."
A lack of rehearsal time didn't help settle his nerves.
"Since I was the last one of the day, by the time I got on, most of the band was in the process of leaving because they had other gigs. So I'd only get through the charts once and then the horn section would pack up and leave."
For Peart, whose only other musical experience outside Rush was on a Jeff Berlin album a few years ago, taking this gamble was in line with the band's 18th album, Roll The Bones.
"The theme of chances pervades the album," says Peart, currently in his 17th year of partnership with Toronto-based founding members Alex Lifeson on guitar and singer/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee.
"I was going through a deck of cards, and I started thinking about the wild card, and how many we're personally dealt through life. It's amazing how much of our lives happen due to an accident of circumstances. Why are we born where we're born? How do we select our friends? How do we find a mate? The element of chance in a random universe is obviously a huge question."
Feeling rejuvenated by their last tour, and buoyed by inspiration, the members of Rush cut short their vacations and reunited with producer Rupert Hine to record Roll The Bones.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm with this album and I think part of it was because we're finally comfortable with the notion that Rush is all we need to satisfy ourselves musically.
"I think it was something we always knew, but nobody ever dared to verbalize It until Geddy expressed it to me when we were writing the album."
Peart says he admires the dedication of his colleagues.
"It's a working relationship that a lot of people in a similar position would take for granted. We never take anything for granted. And one of the things I find most rewarding is that the guys are willing to try anything experimental."
Peart points to the rap section in the song Roll The Bones as a perfect example.
"I wanted to give it a shot because it seemed like a lot of fun to try. I presented it to the guys, who were a bit skeptical at first, but then we tried it a lot of different ways.
"We even tried it with a female voice, but the transition was too harsh. We found Geddy's electronically enhanced low-frequency Barry-White-baritone very pleasing to the ear. The great thing about Rush is that there have never been any limitations."
Apart from rap, Peart takes on another lyrical challenge in the song Ghost Of A Chance: Sentimental Love.
"Until this album, I had felt uncomfortable writing about emotions and romantic love. Part of the reason was because I wanted to avoid all the cliches.
"Romantic love was on the forbidden list for about five years even though I sort of tackled it on Open Secrets, which was not about a personal relationship but one between two other people.
"That was the first song where I finally felt I had mastered the technique, trying to communicate about how two people can share a room but be worlds apart."
For the past two weeks, Rush has been at Copps rehearsing their Roll The Bones tour, which has its world premiere tonight in front of more than 13,000 people.
"Doing it in Hamilton was more economics and practicality, and Copps went out of its way to be flexible."
As for opening the tour in familiar surroundings, Peart says there's more pressure than one might think.
"Playing hometown is a nightmare. Apart from the added pressure of beginning the tour, everybody wants a piece of your time. Friends you haven't seen for years come out of the woodwork and want tickets.
"It gets so hectic that last year at the office the staff made T-shirts with the slogan, 'I Survived Rush Playing Toronto,'" he laughs.