Jason Collett & Zeus
From Scene to Shining Scene
After spending the entire day playing music with some of his closest pals, Carlin Nicholson has a well-worn grin on his face when he opens the main door to Ill Eagle studio as widely as he can. It's unseasonably misty for a Canadian winter night and Toronto's east side is damp and cool, making Nicholson's offer to enter the recording facility he co-owns all the more welcoming. Inside, he and his band mates in Zeus are running through songs with their close collaborator/occasional bandleader Jason Collett, in preparation for their upcoming Bonfire Ball Revue tour across North America. Collett and Zeus (Nicholson, Mike O'Brien, Neil Quin, and Rob Drake) each have stunning new records to unveil and, after playing countless shows together around the world over the past few years, their fates are intertwined.
With Nicholson and O'Brien handling production, Collett's sessions at Ill Eagle conjured his best solo album in Rat a Tat Tat ― a dynamic marriage of his folk gravitas and hooky pop finesse. The latter, in particular, has been bolstered by members of Zeus and their extended family of musical friends, including former band-mate Afie Jurvanen of Bahamas. With no pretence or cautious hesitation, the boys in Zeus are unabashed proponents of timeless pop and rock'n'roll and they're sticklers about it, executing the styles brilliantly on their self-realized, full-length debut, Say Us.
As a member of Broken Social Scene and a savvy social convener in Toronto's arts community, Collett convinced his label Arts & Crafts to take a chance on Zeus and get behind their work. A loyalist and peer booster, he's been embraced by strong communities before and sees a new one blossoming among Zeus and their contemporaries. Best of all, the chemical reaction so necessary to making musical ventures thrive appears off the charts here; on an aesthetic and interpersonal level, Collett and Zeus are locked into something grand together. Still, with the unique Revue tour looming, there's some work to be done.
"Let's run through that one again and then take a break," Collett instructs, after a reasonable stab at one of his new songs, "Long May You Love." Even six hours into this rehearsal, Zeus simply nod jovially before playing the infectious, shuffling march of a tune that much better. Until quite recently, these young men have been best known as Collett's backing band, a role they still relish for its challenges and recognition. But after a decade of different monikers and configurations, something special's been brewing for Zeus lately. Nicholson and O'Brien are suddenly in-demand producers; Ill Eagle's been a hub for bold sounds by friends like the Golden Dogs, Danielle Duval, and Collett. And thanks to extensive touring, Zeus are now one of Canada's best live bands, tapping into the textures and tones of the Beatles or Wings or ELO to get at something all their own.
With "Long May You Love" completed, Collett takes a seat in the live room with an air of satisfaction about the day's accomplishments. "It was good," he says of the practice, "but I'm a little rusty. These guys are all top-notch but we haven't rehearsed in... it feels like a year. Now you have to figure out how to play the record you made, the nightmare you made. It's a lot of fun and we're all really excited. You hear people whining about what a tough life this is. I always wonder if any of them have ever sanded drywall before. Now that's a hard day's job; this is never a hard day's job."
After operating in the relative obscurity of Toronto's underground singer-songwriter scene throughout the '90s, Collett became an auxiliary member of Broken Social Scene, witnessing the power of galvanizing visionaries toward a common purpose. As such, he's been a uniter many times over, spearheading unique Toronto meet'n'greets like the annual Basement Revue at the Dakota Tavern, which brings disparate artists together for rare collaborations. Even the Bonfire Ball revue is designed to offer fans a unique experience, as Collett, Zeus, and Bahamas join forces to play intermingling sets, popping up to perform songs together all night, as opposed to just ploughing through their respective material and then waiting for the show to end. "It'll be three hours of raw madness, so go to the bathroom before the show starts," Nicholson warns fans.
"Yeah, we're all now in bladder training ourselves," Collett adds, chuckling.
Be the first to comment