Published Apr 02, 2012Matching an acclaimed debut album is never easy, but in following Say Us (2010) with Busting Visions Zeus had some advantages. With three excellent songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, Mike O'Brien, Neil Quin, and Carlin Nicholson, with drummer Rob Drake, they had no shortage of great songs waiting to be born, and years of experience backing Jason Collett have allowed them to learn each other's recording styles almost instinctively. That was the impression taken from an interview conducted just after the tornado that was the 2012 SXSW festival. With little over a week before Busting Visions dropped, Carlin took a break from a final day in Austin to tell us all about the strong personal bond his band has, and their drive to share it with the world.
How was SXSW?
It was amazing, really insane down there as I'm sure you already know. It really magnifies how competitive bands can get. It really hits you when you realize how many f**king bands there are! And you never know who you're going to play to, but the stinky, rushed no-soundcheck shows are some of the important we'll play at the stage we're at right now. Great fun, though. We checked out some friends' shows ― the Balconies, Yukon Blonde... It's a beautiful thing, man. Toronto was represented. Canada was represented in a big way.
Have you tried to connect, socially or otherwise, with bands that fit with the Zeus sound?
Yeah, you can sense that connection right away. In the same way you can tell if you'll have a thick "Brozone layer" with someone you're getting along with, you can always feel the reciprocation of musical respect right away. Everyone at SXSW is in the mood to socialize and be merry. Something in the air, I guess.
Was the cover image of Busting Visions taken at one of your own shows?
It was a picture taken by a fan at a show in Red Deer, of all places. It's the age of iPhones, and that's a no-nonsense shot. We didn't fuss over it at all. The title was a combination of "Busting Loose," a poem written by a convict, and "Crystal Visions," [a phrase] Mike [O'Brien] was throwing around. So there you have it.
Do you receive a lot of what you might call "fan media"?
Yeah, totally. People are filming like crazy. I think it's kind of great. It forces people to be in the moment when they should be, like it sharpens [their attention.]
How has your perspective on making music changed between albums?
The major difference between records is that for Say Us we didn't know we were making an album, or that we were even a band. Making Busting Visions was more of a calculated "Zeus move." We made it in less than two months, tracked the songs that were bubbling to the surface. We were more particular about the actual sound of the record, making sure it was hitting the tape just right.
You've released a teaser video for a live session inside Ill Eagle, the studio where Busting Visions was partly recorded. What are the plans for that footage?
We got the idea to re-record the whole album live-to-tape. The plan is to release it the same time as the album to bring [fans] into that world. The studio is bubbling with acts and I'm trying to get, for lack of a better term, a real "Motown North" thing going on. Six or seven really wicked records are going to be recorded at Ill Eagle and I've got to get everybody on board before they happen. I'd like to make a compilation of Ill Eagle studio sessions, I think that's the next thing we're going to try.
Zeus is known for having three songwriters, you, Mike and Neil [Quin.] As time goes on, are you finding yourself influenced by them more and more, or them by you?
Absolutely. The more we play together, the tighter we get. We're becoming a bigger monster. It's a classic thing: when there's a guy beside you writing something really hot you want to make something just as good. It's exciting to hear a song that you'll be able to play your heart out with over and over again.
For Say Us you managed to divide the track list evenly between the three songwriters. With 14 tracks that obviously can't be the case for Busting Visions.
It's the same as it always was. Someone might come with a full song, or he'll be in the middle of writing and finish it with everyone else just jamming out their parts. That's the kick I get the most: I can take a song from 40 to 70 percent completion in just a few minutes of jamming. We had more time together for this record so our sensibilities became more and more entwined.
From playing Zeus songs for friends and family I've found your music resonates with people of different age groups, cultural backgrounds, and personal styles more so than a lot of other "indie" acts. Have you observed this as well?
Yes, I know what you mean. There's a distinct separation from us and what might be called indie rock. It's most exciting to play in front of people who have never seen us and luckily there's still a lot of them left. We just need to bring the noise to whoever we can.
What upcoming, non-album work can you tell us about?
It's coming with time. Most commonly we're asked to record songs with different acts. Someone will hear our sound and catch wind that we record everything ourselves. People have been very enthusiastic about the sound of the records, the mixing ... I mixed an Arkells song the other day. [Frontman] Max Kerman heard "Are You Gonna Waste My Time?" and liked the way it hit him. We recorded with Jason Collett, his next record will be out in the fall. Cut like 20-something songs in a week of madness. Classic J., always the workhorse!