Zeus: TAS In Session
The journey of Toronto retro-gazing rockers Zeus nearly befits their mighty name. Like one of their inspirations, The Band, the members of Zeus began life as a backing band for singer Jason Collett before venturing out on their own with their debut album, 2010's Say Us, which was long listed for Canada's prestigious Polaris Prize.
The band's second album, Busting Visions, is out now on Arts & Crafts and the quartet, playing Chicago tonight, June 4, will kick off an extensive Canadian tour this Wednesday, June 6, in Hamilton, Ontario.
Guitarist Mike O'Brien, drummer Rob Drake, guitarist/keyboardist Neil Quin and bassist/pianist Carlin Nicholson recently visited The Alternate Side and talked about the evolution of Zeus' new record. Listen to the session on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, June 8 at 11 a.m. EDT (streaming on the site). Below, read the interview highlights and listen to Zeus performing songs like "Anything You Want Dear" and "Are You Gonna Waste My Time."
Alisa Ali: I understand that “Anything You Want Dear” was a sort of late addition to the record.
Mike O’Brien: Yeah, the main riff I had rolling around in my head for a really long time. I wrote it when we were touring about four or five years ago and it came back to me while we were making the record. I brought it to the boys and they helped me finish the arrangement. And bingo, bango, Bob’s my uncle, there you go. I had the chorus for a long time and eventually I found where it went. The way we normally work is that there are three songwriters in the band so generally [one of us] will bring a song in, play the bare bones of the song for the other guys. Since we trust each other instincts, everyone will throw in their ideas and help tweak the arrangement to make it Zeus-ly.
Alisa: Zeus-ly. I like that. You mentioned three writers in the band, but do you try to be represented equally in your songs.
Carlin Nicholson: We think about it a little bit. But this album was kind of a mistake that it happened. It ended up being four, four and four. Last album was the same way but I only discovered it recently. Maybe it was calculated, but if it was, I wasn’t paying attention. But it was four, four and four on this and the last record. We don’t obsess over it, but we like to represent that kind of vibration. At the same time, one way or the other, whatever the most effective tool for us to use for any specific time, we don’t care or squabble.
Alisa: Did you bring in more than four songs each?
Mike: Yeah, we had more than that. I don’t remember. Maybe 20. but they’ll all end up getting used. There’s very few that we’re holding onto and don’t know what to do with.
Neil: We ended up having about 19 songs total, recorded for the session that are ready to go right now. We recorded what we had. We also have a a 7-inch series of 45s and we’ll keep contributing to that.
Mike: Having three songwriters makes for having a lot of material. It’s really simple; it’s just our way of housekeeping in between albums. If people are into the band and following us, good for them. We can release more songs, so good for us!
Neil: The idea was not to use songs that we feel are any weaker than any of the songs on the record. We wanted to throw material that we felt just as good about onto [these 7-inches] and make mini-records or mini-singles out of them.
Mike: It wouldn’t mean anything if they didn’t stand alone, you know?
Alisa: How do you finally come up with 14 for the record and then others for the singles?
Neil: A whole lot of coffee breaks and talking about them.
Mike: We do hash it out, but often times the songs themselves decide that for us. They tell you what they want to do in a weird way and we generally feel the same about it when we’re picking the track listing.
Carlin Nicholson: Coming in at the last moment, for whatever reason, Mike decided that song was going to come swinging in at the end and recorded it and right away Neil had the impression that it could be an album cut. You never really know how it’s going to go.
Mike: We wrestled over the track listing for quite a while but two songs that are now bonus tracks available through iTunes. One called “Standing Up Again” and one called “Edge of a Knife.” Those to were waiting in the wings. “Edge of a Knife” was one that we had slated for the album early on in the process; it’s the cousin to “Anything You Want Dear” and we all felt stronger about [that song] in the end.
Carlin: We try and represent the different vibrations as best we can for every different song.
Alisa: With so many different writers there must be so many different themes.
Carlin: For sure, but like Mike said, if you put it through the Zeus rinse, they all sound the same anyway!
Alisa: Tell me a little bit about the next song [“Are You Gonna Waste My Time”].
Neil: It’s a bit of a basher. I wrote this one. It’s been in the wings for a while. It started out as a much faster piece. It was going to sound a bit like “Holiday Road” actually in the original conception, but my dear friend Stu, who I played in a band with, started making fun of me. I slowed it right down. I was shirtless in my basement one day, I came home and had no dollars, pulled out my four-track machine and just slowed it right down, made a demo out of it. Turned it into a slammer and a basher and the boys really liked it.
Alisa: What does the shirtless thing have to do with it?
Neil: I just thought I’d throw that in there! Paints a picture! I had a ponytail at the time too.
Alisa: What does [Busting Visions] mean?
Carlin: Busting Visions was a title that came to us. It was something I saw. A fortune teller called “Crystal Visions” that I saw. Now it’s gone. In Toronto. So maybe it never existed. But it was a place that I thought existed. The same day Neil found artwork in our studio that had “Busting Loose” [on it]. We jammed those two ideas together.
Alisa: Being named Zeus, do you get drawn into a lot of questions about Greek mythology?
Carlin: Sometimes. But I think people just like the word. They don’t ask too much.
Mike: We haven’t been asked too much. Which is probably a good thing.
Carlin: We’re not experts. We’re not claiming to be gods.
Mike: I think you need a certain bravado coming into the rock ‘n’ roll game. You got to big yourself up a bit. Trash talking the other guys in a fun way.
Carlin: What, the other gods, like Poseidon?
Mike: Exactly. If a band called Poseidon came along, they’d probably play their guitars a lot faster than we do.
Carlin: But he’s the underwater guy. It would probably be slow james. Treble turned way down.