Zeus are quickly becoming one of Canada’s best indie bands, their infectious, retro sound gathering acclaim and a following to match.
With their second full Busting Visions out now, we talked to Neil from the band about the new album, being the final winners of the Verge Music Award and his interesting journey into the band.
So for those who haven’t heard it yet, how would you describe the album?
The new record is an exploration of sound in ways. It’s a very colourful record and it’s a little more diverse than the first record. As we’ve often said it’s our first one as a full band. The first record was a lot of our friends coming in and piecing the record over time, Zeus wasn’t even officially a band when that record was being made whereas now we have all four members solidified, we’ve been on the road for a couple of years.
The album’s got a real retro vibe, where did that decision come from?
Some people choose to make that kind of sound, but I feel we could help but make the record sound like this. These are just the kind of songs that we write and have been writing for years. It’s the sort of music we’ve grown up on and all the writers in the band just naturally write music this way.
So what was it like winning the Verge Award back in 2011?
It was a big honour for us. Unfortunately that awards ceremony is now kaput now that Sirius and XM (two American digital radio firms) have merged so we were proud to be the last recipients of that award. It was a great night though, because we’d been in the studio that day working on Busting Visions and we knew we were going to be at the awards ceremony that evening so we got a couple of bottles into the studio and had a little pre-party.
We were just having a nice time, laughing about it going “What if we do win this guys?”, as we were kind of odds on to. So we were a little bit giddy and we’d had a few drinks so we show up at the awards and lo and behold we did.
Actually, that’s another funny story, because we were up on the balcony and were very far away from the stage. So I guess whoever was handling us and was meant to put us stage side, which is kind of a preliminary way of knowing you’ve won, had forgotten to do that. So we were really in the dark until the final moment they announced it was an even bigger surprise.
We were that far away though we couldn’t go up on the stage to accept the award so we just went halfway down the stairs and raised our glasses to the audience. It was so confusing, our song was blasting over the stereo and it was a pretty hilarious moment. Then we just kind of started jumping up and down laughing.
They then piled us into this room to an onslaught of press. We’d walked past this huge group of people wondering “Wow, who are they for” and when we found it was us and we must have been locked in that room for about an hour and half with them all. So it was a really great night.
How did you go about one-upping that first album then?
Well, everything had kind of upgraded. Since the release of this record, our tours have become more extensive, back home in Canada we’ve been on the road for a few months opening for our good friend Shane Roberts which has been an honour and just done our own headlining tour too. And that was the first headlining tour for us across the country, so that’s another echelon for us.
This is our fourth trip to Europe, and this is just for promo stuff, but we’ve got a tour coming up at the beginning of December. We’ve now got So Recordings now who are releasing the album. Things are just happening right now. It’s a very logical next step, but we’re very fortunate to have people reciprocating that and moving us along.
Not everyone is as fortunate to make that move on their own fruition. But having people like So Recordings and our own label helps massively. We’re very lucky to have things going the way they are going.
Both of the albums have been really received both publically and critically, does that spur Zeus on?
For sure. Whenever you’re on your travels, playing your shows wherever you go and you have people who are excited, and they’ve been excited for a while as they’ve been listening to you for a while, that’s a great honour for us. It’s great to know we’re not losing fans, we’re keeping them and people are following us.
When you’ve got people coming up to you and saying “We’re not going to take our eyes of you guys” and “We’re really excited about what’s coming next”, it’s a great honour.
A little birdy told us you’re working on a covers EP? An details on that you could give us?
Well, we’ve recorded six songs and they’re never close to being finished and it’s kind of a funny little mixture of tunes. We’ve got a Michael Jackson song on there, a Big Star song on there, an R Kelly track, a Flaming Lips, a Stone Temple Pilots and a Sam Roberts song on there.
We toured quite extensively through fall and winter and it was just a nice little tribute to our new friends. Some songs are completely mutated, whereas the Big Star sing is petty true to the original.
This upcoming European tour’s really extensive. What sort of preparation are you doing beforehand?
I guess he best preparation for the tour is to just realise we’ve done this all before. It’s just another three weeks on the road for us. Right now, this is the closest thing we have for preparation. We’ve been in London for two days, we’re flying to Berlin tomorrow and we’re just spreading the word as much as possible.
When we get back home, we’ve a few scattered dates in Canada and the States. We’ve got the covers EP to finish off. Zeus never sleeps really. I’m sure these months are going to fly by and we’ll find ourselves in Dublin. But, rest assured we’ll be there with smiling faces and guitars a-blazing by the time we get there.
Zeus is pretty unique in that you have three writers and three lead singers. Is it nice to be in a band where everyone gets a turn in the spotlight?
It is a very diplomatic arrangement I find and it just came together naturally, it was something we didn’t really plan for.It wasn’t like we had a blueprint for the band.
Mike and Carlin had already been working on the record and I was around during this process, I remember that when they had first started working on it I was having a birthday party at my apartment and they came around and were so excited.
They dragged me out to the car they were borrowing at the time, sat me down and played the song and I thought it was great.
Before I joined the band, they hadn’t really been a performing act; they’d just been recording the songs. A friend of ours actually asked them if Zeus could perform, so Mike and Carlin put together a band with our friends Taylor and Dave from The Golden Dogs.
I was a really big fan of the band and there was a moment when I was just having a beer and there’s this one part of the song River By The Garden and I was just there hooting and hollering at the end part where there’s just guitar harmonies going on. I was just really happy about the band and they were my new favourite performing act.
Then I needed a place to live. I was just working a regular job at the time in Toronto and Carlin happened to have a room for rent for me and also asked if I’d like to join the band. So, I was like “Sure!” I hadn’t even brought my songs to the table, but low and behold, here I am now with my songs on the record. It was all a very happy accident.
Being called Zeus, we’ve got to ask, what are the best and worst experiences you’ve had with lightning?
Well, we’re on the open road a lot and we’ve had the pleasure to witness a few interesting storms, but I don’t think we’ve had a bad experience with lightning.
So, what’s the new year got planned for you guys?
To be quite honest, there’s nothing too solid. We’re in the plans of making a new record right now. So it’s a dialogue that’s happening between each other on an almost daily basis.We’re just thinking about it, talking about it, starting to show each other some songs towards it.
Working on the covers EP has been great for keeping us current and keeping our knives sharp in the studio.
We’ve stumbled across a load of new sounds in our studio. We actually have our own studio, so that’s where the records have been made for the most part. On Busting Visions we did some of the songs with our friend Robbie Lackritz up at Miss Leslie Feist’s ranch house near Ontario.
It’s not usually a studio, but we kind of converted it. I call Robbie a modern day George Martin, he’s got this brilliant set of ears on him, so we were honoured to have him engineer a part of the record for us. We’re looking forward to working with him again on this next one.
He’s Leslie’s main man and she keeps him nice and busy but he’ll have some time off and we’re looking forward to doing some work with him. So, apart from more touring, that’s all for Zeus at the moment.