Veteran rockers Rush, on hiatus since 1994, are back with a new release, Test For Echo, and they're curious to find out if the public is still interested.
"Of all the titles we considered, Test For Echo was the most evocative," said drummer/lyricist Neil Peart in a recent telephone interview. "Everybody needs some affirmation to know they're not alone, an echo.
"It was also a beautiful metaphor for us because we've been away for awhile, so we're saying, 'Is anyone out there?'"
The Canadian trio has been off the road since wrapping its Counterparts tour in mid-1994. Now Rush is at the beginning of the Test For Echo tour, which will stop at the Hartford Civic Center on Sunday.
During the down time, Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson dabbled in solo projects, while singer/bassist Geddy Lee took a vacation to spend time with his newborn baby.
Peart, the busiest of three, put together a tribute album for the late drummer Buddy Rich called Burning For Buddy; wrote his first novel, "The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa"; completed the video ,"A Work In Progress"; and found himself a drum instructor.
It's hard to imagine one of rock's greatest drummers taking lessons again (from the legendary teacher Freddie Grubber), but he did.
"I felt restless, stagnant, like my playing was getting stiff," said Peart. "When your playing is forced to become mathematical, a certain stiffness can creep in."
Peart wanted to find a way to merge looseness with his clinically perfect playing. "Freddie suggested ways to make my playing circular and precise, but smoother for me as a drummer."
After spending two years in his basement playing to the spiders, Peart is finally getting a chance to play live again with the Test For Echo tour.
But after more than 20 years of touring, it's a lot harder for these veteran rockers to enjoy the perks of playing live.
"A lot of the advantages of being of the road don't exist for us anymore -- like getting tighter and better as a band," said Peart.
"We already have that after 22 years of playing together, it's like telepathy."
So while young bands thirst to be on the road and hone in on their musical skills and increase their fan base, Rush is out there to keep its demanding fans happy.
"Making touring a productive time is hard, because it's very repetitive," said Peart.
"I work hard to make some kind of stimulation so I can get a reward out of it."
To pass the time, Peart takes his bicycle with him and does his own sight-seeing tours.
As far as the recording/writing process, Peart wears the double hat: drummer, lyricist. The most intricate relationship is between himself, as the lyricist and Lee, as the vocalist.
"Writing for someone else's voice is a different discipline," said Peart, who acknowledges that since they're close friends it's a real collaborative and instinctual effort on their parts.
Asked if he has any preconceived notions about how the songs should be song and Peart says, "That's always the mystery. I always have a theatrical structure, but when I pass it along it's words on paper. To hear a human voice is a pretty exciting affirmation -- echo."
Peart described his role in the recording process as "my part is so solitary, but Geddy and Alex have to really work together as a team so it's a little more difficult for them.
"This time around it took about a week or two for them to find the right chemistry."
With Test For Echo completed, Peart was approached by Warner Bros. Publications and DCI Music Video to make an instructive video about drumming. Peart had been approached 12 years prior, but felt the timing wasn't right.
"I was still a little reluctant to do 'A Work In Progress' because I didn't want to take the cap and gown of the teacher," said Peart.
"With this record I decided the time was right to impart what I learned."
"Neil Peart: A Work In Progress" is a two-video box set containing almost four hours of insight, instruction, philosophy and performance by Peart.
"To speak to the camera and explain things that have no words, like the architectures of drums and how they come together mentally was difficult to impart," said Peart.
After playing the drums for more than 30 years, Peart continues to practice daily and allow himself to be taught.
"I still consider myself a graduate student," said Peart.
When asked how he saw Rush in the '90s he said, "We have already been the original alternative band and at same time never been isolated from mainstream.
"To me I don't see any difference. We're a reflection of ourselves and our time which is what it's all about -- longevity."
Rush will perform on Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Hartford Civic Center. Tickets are $36/$26. 860-727-8010