Call & Response: Zeus
Zeus is a local four-piece band consisting of Mike O'Brien, Carlin Nicholson, Rob Drake and Neil Quin. Blessed with multiple singer-songwriters, Zeus has a sound that spans the spectrum of rock - from alt-rock anthems, upbeat soft-rock ballads (reminiscent of Steely Dan and ELO), tightly-constructed piano (sometimes synth-based) pop jams to a mix of classic and vintage rock that thunder with insistent riffs mixed with psychedelic vocal harmonies.
Following their stint as Paso Mino, back-up band to Jason Collett, Zeus' 2010 Polaris Music Prize-nominated LP Say Us proved they were ready to move into the spotlight. Now, the band is back on the road and ready to play cerebral-cool pop-rock songs, some of which come from their highly-anticipated sophomore album. And to give us a glimpse of what's to come (including some exclusive news about the new LP), I caught up with one of the members of the band, Mike O'Brien.
What are some of the earliest memories you guys have of playing music together in high school? Which bands were you listening to and have influenced your sound?
In grade 10 Carlin and I started jamming together with a drummer called Mark Greer. Carlin was "cheating" on his band that he was already in with his brother. We were into punk bands like NOFX, Lagwagon and of course Nirvana. We started making up our own songs pretty much right away. We were also really into the Canadian East Coast scene... all the Murder Records stuff - Sloan, Superfriends, Thrush Hermit, Local Rabbits...
I read in an interview that the name "Zeus" actually came from describing the feeling of being excited about something. Which songs do you remember giving you this feeling earlier on - the song(s) that made you excited about going from being a back-up band to recording as Zeus?
As far as songs off of Say Us I would say that "Fever of the Time" and "How Does It Feel" were two of the early ones that opened the gate to what became the album. There were some other songs that haven't come out yet like a song called "Lion's Pride" that sounds very Zeusly.
Following the success of Say Us, how do you plan to change or enhance your sound? And how's the support from fellow Arts & Crafts members like Jason Collett and others?
In terms of the sound of the new record we don't generally make plans, we just do what comes naturally and try to let the songs dictate what they will sound like. The support from A&C continues to be amazing. Everyone is really excited about the new record which feels really good and there's been a lot more input from folks at the label along the way.
Can you talk about your new track "Are You Gonna' Waste My Time?" How does this song represent your upcoming sophomore album?
Simply put, it's the first of our new babies to see the light of day. There isn't a lyrical theme or concept to the record, we're just making it up as we go along.
How would you describe the feeling behind the new LP? And can you talk about how the recording process is going so far? Have you decided on a name for the new album?
This is much more a cohesive band album than the previous one. The four Zeusmen became a much tighter unit through touring and playing together so much of the past year or so and I think that comes through in the songs and performances. The recording process is actually complete as is the record itself. We did most of the record at our studio in a similar way to the last one but we also spent a few days recording at a friend's house with our buddy Robbie Lackritz which means there are lots of different sounds from song to song. It's an eclectic sounding record. The album is called Busting Visions. That's an exclusive!
You guys are beloved here in Toronto. How would you describe your first memory of playing here as Zeus?
I think all of us felt equally excited to be playing with musicians we respected and there was an instant chemistry between us. It felt like the start of something.
Describe your live experience. What can fans expect at your show on Thursday at Lee's Palace besides sweaty Movember staches?
We're stoked to play a bunch of stuff from the new record so there'll be lots of those songs but we'll be playing the "old favourites" too. It's gonna be a ripped out show... there's always an extra jolt of energy when playing in Toronto from the hometown audience and we always want to try to bring something special to our hometown shows.
When you're at home here and not recording, what types of things do you like to do in the city? Where do you like to hangout?
Since we're away so much, when we do get some time off we generally like to spend time at our homes and seeing friends. We'll often go to the studio even if we're not recording. There's usually something going on there and keeps the musical juices flowing.
Aside from Toronto, where are some of your favourite cities to play? What does the future look like for Zeus?
We've been to a lot of great places and had some really fun shows so it's hard to pick out favourites. But I think Saskatoon is one Canadian city that we always look forward to going back to. There seems to be a great vibe going there. Also there's a city in Germany that we've been to twice now called Kassel that feels like a second home. The people there really welcomed us and treated us like family which is a great feeling when your farther from home. As far as what the future looks like it's anybody's guess but I would imagine more songs will be written, recorded and performed. I think this would be a question better answered by Marty McFly or Doc Brown.
Catch Zeus at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor St. W.) on Thursday, November 24th. Check the band's website for more info on any upcoming shows and record releases.
Photo by Jeff Karpala