Sometimes a little time apart is good for a band.
Especially if they've been playing together for more than 20 years like Canadian progressive rockers Rush.
"What started out as a year's break turned into an 18-month break," says guitarist Alex Lifeson, 43, on the phone from his home in Richmond Hill.
"The longest break we'd had was seven months after the Hold Your Fire tour. A year and a half, it was a scary thought at first. We weren't really sure whether we'd find things to do in that time, and of course, everyone did."
Singer-bassist Geddy Lee welcomed a new baby girl into the world. Drummer Neil Peart produced a tribute album to big band drummer Buddy Rich. Lifeson, meanwhile, worked on a well-received solo project called Victor.
"I think that we had a new respect for each other when we got back into the studio to work again," says Lifeson. "I think I'm a lot closer to Ged now than I have been in years. We've always been very, very close, but something happened in this time off. I think we missed each other. And I think it's reflected in this record. There's a particular feel and a groove that I don't think has ever existed in a Rush record before."
That record being Rush's 20th studio album, Test For Echo, which hit stores this week.
Lifeson says despite the invasion of the supergroups this fall - Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and Nirvana all have new albums - he isn't concerned about how Echo will fare.
"I'm not really worried about it. Rush has always been outside of the mainstream. We've flowed down that river just outside of it, but with it. So I think Rush fans know the record's coming out. Certainly we have one of the biggest web sites on the net, so there's lots of talk and lots of excitement about it."
Test For Echo, which was written and recorded amid snowstorms in both Canada (Chalet Studio outside Pickering, and Reaction Studio in Toronto) and the U.S. (Bearsville Studios in the Catskill Mountains of New York) last winter, tentatively brings Rush to Maple Leaf Gardens on Dec. 15 after the official tour launch in Albany, N.Y., on Oct. 16.
But Lifeson says gearing up for the tour - between 60 to 70 dates (short by Rush terms) - is another story.
"People have a very glamorous vision of what it's like to be on the road. Certainly in the early years it was terrific, it was a dream come true, and it was very exciting," he says. "But after 22 years of it, it's really boring. It's exciting to get up on stage and play, to be sure, but the other 22 hours that you have to deal with can be really tough at times."
Surely the buses have gotten better?
"They've gotten a little bit bigger, but the ride's pretty much the same," says Lifeson with a laugh.
One trip Lifeson is looking forward to is the trek to Ottawa to receive the Order of Canada with Lee and Peart, the first time a group of individuals has been recognized.
"I didn't realize the importance of that until it was released to the press and I started getting calls from people and noticed how freaked out they were that we'd received this honor. And it really is an honor. I'm really very, very proud to receive this.