Although they may be the least familiar name on this year’s Wood, Wires & Whiskey tour, Zeus are pulling double duty by playing on their own and as Jason Collett’s band. It’s actually a comfortable role for the new project, primarily formed around singer/songwriters Mike O’Brien and Carlin Nicholson, since several members are also part of Paso Mino, the band that backed Collett over the past two years. Zeus are currently in the middle of recording their debut album and Mike O’Brien took some time to talk about its progress, as well as the group’s excitement for the tour.

So, you guys were basically Paso Mino. What prompted the change to Zeus?
Actually Paso Mino and Zeus are two separate bands. I started Zeus with Carlin during a chunk of downtime as a recording project. We didn’t initially intend to start a band but after recording a bunch of songs we realized we had an album so we had better start a band. Zeus sort of grew out of the necessity to perform those songs.

Was there a change in musical direction?
There is definitely a difference in the music I made with Paso Mino and the music we’ve been making as Zeus. Carlin and I have been writing together since we were teenagers, so returning to that dynamic has been exciting. There is an innate musical understanding that we share, so that when we’re working on a song we trust each other’s instincts.

How would you describe the material you’re working on now?
The songs we’ve been writing and recording for this record incorporate all of our various influences, from mellower folk-type songs right up to raging rock tunes. I think it’s really pretty varied but all of the songs retain a certain quality or trademark that ties them together under the Zeus umbrella. Given that there are two songwriters and lead vocalists there is a blending of songwriting styles, as well as a lot of harmony singing, which both of us have always loved. There has also been a lot of experimentation with arrangements, which can sometimes take the songs on unexpected turns.

Would you describe yourselves as a roots rock band or is that term too narrow nowadays?
I think that we have a couple tunes that some people might categorize as roots rock but I have never liked that categorization and I don’t think we sound like what people think of as roots music. I think most people would say we’re an indie rock band but that’s another genre that I don’t really identify with. I find the whole genre thing pretty limiting and I don’t think most musicians think in terms of genre, they’re just doing what they do. So I guess we’re just doing what we do and hope that people can get into it. I would say it’s plain old rock and roll but that term seems to have been obscured over the years.

What are your recording plans? Will anything be for sale on the tour?
We’re right in the middle of making a record that we’re totally excited about. We’re planning on having a couple of tunes available for free download through our Myspace in advance of the album’s release.

You’ve been working closely with Jason Collett for some time now. How did you guys hook up originally?
I met Jason through Afie Jurvanen of Paso Mino, who filled in on guitar for a couple of Jason’s gigs. Soon after that Paso Mino became Jason’s backing band in support of his Idols of Exile album. After about two years of touring Afie and [bassist] Michael Clive both decided to take time off from the Collett band to pursue other endeavours. Afie plays with Feist now and Michael is a professional chef. I continued working with Jason, along with Paso Mino drummer Rob Drake, and we have formed a tight musical bond. The current Collett line-up also includes Carlin on keys and bassist Jeremy Little.

What are some of the things you’ve learned from Collett?
I suppose in no particular order: how to sleep and drive at the same time; how to curse at a GPS machine; how to sweet talk a border patrol guard; and how to find a good cup of coffee anywhere in North America.

What will the big differences be between playing your own sets and backing him up?
For the Zeus set Carlin and I will assume more of a front-man-type of role. We will be naturally excited to be performing our own songs so I think that will come across. With Jason it’s more about being a part of a band. The backing band prides themselves in their ability to follow Jason on any turn he might want to take and we enjoy interpreting the songs and taking them to new places.