Jason Collett

Jason Collett
One of the many, and well loved, members of everybody’s favourite collective of musical misfits, Broken Social Scene, Jason Collett is heading out solo on Exclaim!’s Wood, Wires & Whisky Tour. With his new album, Here’s To Being Here, as well as a few new band members, in tow, this Jack — or should I say Jason? — of all trades will be crossing our fair country extensively for the first time in his lengthy career. As if singer, songwriter, collective member, husband and father weren’t enough roles for him, Collett recently decided to take on one more seemingly fitting title: band manager. Dr. Zeus, to be exact. The newly monikered Collett sat down to chat over a cup of tea, explaining, among other things, his new alias and his music.

You’re about to head out on another long tour. How do you prepare for that?
Well, we rehearse a little bit. There’s not really a lot of preparing. It’s more a case of we get excited about going out. This is going to be our very first comprehensive Canadian tour. We’ve focused more on the UK and the U.S. in the past. We’ve played the west coast as we were going down or coming up but we haven’t been out east nearly enough and we’ve been wanting to do it. We’re really looking forward to doing it. In the past when we’ve played Montreal or Ottawa even there are people from places like Halifax that come to see us. It’s kind of mind blowing. And I love the east coast; I like the character. We’re all looking forward to going out.

Why haven’t you been there yet?
It’s just been the way it’s gone. The market is vast in the U.S. and here it just takes a lot of time and energy covering that ground. And everybody knows that it’s a geographical problem. It’s become less of a problem in the last couple years and I think also less of a problem when you’re playing small towns. That’s something I’ve had to bug my agent to do because it’s often frowned upon. You play the big cities of course, but I believe there’s something to be said for small towns. Even when we were in Europe we played some towns that were a little off the beaten path and it’s been really rewarding for the band because it’s a little more of a special event. If you live in Toronto, New York or L.A. you’re swamped with great bands to see every night of the week, so [playing small towns] has become more rewarding for us as well. We like to go off the beaten path a little bit.

Is the dynamic of the show you play different in a small town as opposed to a big city?
I think it’s just more immediately reciprocated. We played in Zagreb and a place in Poland and I was like, "what? Don’t get be wrong, I really want to go to these places but why are we going? It’s not like we’re going to sell records in these places. Nobody has the money for it.” But they were such rewarding shows. In Zagreb it was a sold out venue and everybody was singing along to every word of every song. That’s never happened before. Clearly nobody had bought the record — they all downloaded it — but it was such a rewarding experience. I kind of got the impression that they knew a band was coming and they just went and learned all the songs. I think the kick that I get is the excitement of the audience. When you come to Toronto or New York or L.A. it’s just not special anymore.

How have things been going since your band’s line-up has changed a bit?
You know, it’s a blessing and a curse. The difficulty is to start over again with rehearsing but the great thing about it is it gives you the opportunity to not get settled or staid. It keeps it fresh because everybody brings their energy to the mix. Right now we’re going out with our good friend Carlin [Nicholson], who has done sound for us before, and Carlin has his own band, the 6ixty8ights, and he grew up with some of the other fellows in the band who all come from Barrie. He’s come out with us before, so he’s no stranger to the band. We’ve been bugging him to come out with us for a long time, so I’m glad he finally caved in. The other thing is, he’s a part of this other band, Zeus, that’s going to be opening up a bunch of the shows. And the other half of Zeus is Mike O’Brien, who also plays in my band. It’s a little incestuous but I really like that because nobody’s a stranger to us. They’re all songwriters and they’re all producers, and I really like the energy of that right now as well. I think we’re in the best spot that we have been in about three years.

With the new energies brought by different people have you changed the way you play your songs?
Yeah, a little bit. We sort of typically end up jamming out on anything and coming up with different endings, maybe two or three different endings to the songs, so that we can keep things fresh. I like to play with songs and none of the guys are afraid of that. They’re up for taking chances. And then there are little surprises for you and you can see it on the audience’s faces. Those are the moments that I love, not regurgitating some hollow shtick.

Can we expect something similar to what you do from Zeus?
It’s very Beatles-esque. More of an early Beatles, like Rubber Soul. And played much like I think they would’ve played in the Hamburg days: really gritty but really sweet melodies. They’re a real tour-de-force. I’m really excited about them. I’m managing them actually, which is something I’ve never done before. I’m just really excited about the band and I really want to see something happen with it. I’ve just sort of jumped in with both feet. My official title is Dr. Zeus. I’ve always liked the idea of having a pseudonym, but I don’t think I ever really had the balls to come up with one, so I just went with my own name. But I think as a manager I should have a pseudonym, so I’m going by Dr. Zeus.

You’re on the Wood, Wire & Whisky Tour, so that kind of leads you to think of a certain type of music. Do you see yourself fitting into any specific genre?
A lot of people put me into that genre or sound but to me I just play rock’n’roll music. And the broadness of that genre is what I’m most comfortable with. It embodies all of the original influences. Like so many other people, I’m not very comfortable with being put into a set sort of thing, but I do understand that people need to place me somewhere. I’m alright with it as long as the doors and windows are left open, or else you go stale.

So when you’re writing do you think of what kind of record you might like to make?
Here’s the thing: if I’ve learned anything about being in the studio it’s that if you go in with too many preconceived notions you can really clip your wings. It’s the spontaneous things that are always going to be the special moments. If you’ve got tunnel vision going in you’re just going to limit yourself. And I think it’s also the spontaneous moments that transcend the whole nature of a recording, especially now that we work mostly in a digital field, as opposed to using older analogue techniques. You have to find a way of morphing things and weirding them out on your own because of that technology. I think a lot of that is just throwing a little bit of chance to the wind and not having too big of a plan.

What kind of spontaneous moments happened on this record?
The first one was when we went to Marty Kinack’s studio just north of the city in a little mini-barn. It was the middle of winter and Howie Beck and I went up with Marty the night before we were starting just to set things up before the band got there because that kind of thing takes a bit of time and I wanted everything to be ready when they came so there wouldn’t be a lot of twiddling with thumbs. So we got everything set up fairly quickly and then we started drinking and smoking and just hanging out, and we started jamming, just the three of us. I had this song called "Charlyn, Angel of Kensington” and I wasn’t sure how we were going to play it. Howie just started playing and I got into it, so we recorded that without intention. Instead of taking the time to have the band recreate that, we just used it as the backing. So it’s that kind of stuff.

I heard that your newest record had some poetic influences.
Not so much. Well, the title of it is from Emily Haines’s father, who is a poet. Emily had given me an anthology of his poetry for my birthday when the record was just finishing being made and I didn’t have a title yet. I did one of those things where I picked up the book, and I hadn’t read any of it yet, and I just randomly flipped to a page and thought, "maybe I’ll get a title out of this.” And one of the first things I read was "Here’s to being here.” It resonated with me. It’s just about being in the moment, more or less. But I ended up closing the book and thinking that it happened too quickly and then flipping to another section of the book. That line was the title of another poem. Reading it a second time kind of sealed the deal.