Music Meter Monday: Zeus

Posted April 16

It’s the beginning of the work/school week — a day that we over here at the O Music Awards lovingly refer to as “Mondaze” (as a nod to the stupor that accompanies this block of 24 hours). Lucky for you, we’ve got the antidote to the “daze” part that neologism: a brand-new edition of Music Meter Monday, a series in which we highlight a band that’s climbing the MTV Music Meter. This week’s slump-buster is Zeus, a Canadian rock band that produces steering-wheel-thumping jams from another era.

Zeus, who just released their sophomore album Busting Visions, were already rising stars in their native Canada: their debut disc, Say Us, was nominated for the Canadian Polaris Music Prize. Now, the band is getting their due in the U.S. with the release of Busting Visions, a sunny piece of nostalgia that should become a quick favorite with anyone who grew up on classic rock, but got sick of listening to the same songs over and over again.

The O Music Blog caught up with band member Neil Quin, who took some time out from doing last-minute laundry (before packing for European tour) to talk about the album, the band’s history and the future of their vintage sound.

So what’s your first stop on this tour?

We’re going to Germany, Germany ja? [puts on a fake German accent] I’ve been there a few times now. I still can’t speak the language. I know ‘wie gehts,’ which is like ‘What’s up?’ I also know ‘stilles Wasser,’ when you don’t want the bubbly water, because that’s all they want to serve you. And you have to have a really big ‘ja.’

So are you excited about bringing the album over there? Are you pretty big in Berlin?

No, I mean, the people who see us play — they seem to really like it. I find folks in Germany, really Europe in general, but the Germans really pay attention. Sitting there, watching intently. It’s nice. It’s a little intimidating, I guess…. We’re getting a lot of nice words for send-off. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks — unexpected things in your email and this and that. It’s a crazy time. It’s a crazy good time.

Yeah, it seems like your second album is breaking more in the States this time. I loved the food-themed video for ‘Are You Gonna Waste My Time.’ How did you decide on that medium?

Well, it was actually the directors — these guys Brett [Long] and Winston [Hacking] and this company called Exploding Motor Car. They had a good sensibility; you could tell they had really done their homework. They love video — they love the idea of the craft of it. We were trying to figure out a treatment for the music video and nothing was really sticking. We had this idea where we were going to go rip donuts in some parking lot and bust beers — letting off fireworks and just getting drunk on camera. That would have been fun, too, but that wasn’t really working. So these guys just right at the last minute came through with this awesome treatment and it was so finalized, first draft basically. The idea was pretty straightforward. They had a vision and they went with it.

So you initially thought chaos for that song? That’s interesting.

Yeah! We were just thinking of having some fun, really. It was going to be like a hip-hop video; we were going to get our crew in there and just have a little bit of a party, but there’s something not so inspired about that. Anybody could do that and call that a home video. We’ll probably do that anyway.

So that song is really taking off. Why do you think it’s resonating so much with people?

I know that I wrote the song really keeping in mind something that would make me feel great. I really had in mind — I wanted to keep the Joe Walsh spirit, I wanted to keep the Led Zeppelin spirit big time. I wanted to pay total tribute to my idols and just make a real kind of Southern thumper. Just wanted a good-feeling song. We all just agreed that it had this potential for that — it gets me excited and I wrote the thing, for God’s sake. I like it. It’s lot’s of fun to play and it’s getting across exactly how I wanted it to get across. It’s like whenever ‘Steal My Sunshine’ by Len comes on. You want something that the second it comes on people recognize it and they get dancin’. And I was lucky enough to get to do that. Get one of those little ghosts, catch a little song and do that.

What’s the story behind the lyrics? You all seem very lyrics-focused.

I wouldn’t be able to put myself on the stage unless I had something to say or a point. I try not to put too much weight behind the subject matter, because it is about love and you don’t want to disrespect anybody or you don’t want to be a whiney baby or anything. But that song is a little about being mad about some things. But it’s no big deal, right? You just gotta get it off your chest.

Yeah, I noticed a lot of your songs are about love. But you all write the songs. How does that work?

I don’t know, it just kind of happened that way to be honest with you. We were separate dudes — Carlin [Nicholson] and Mike [O'Brien] were just buds in high school growing up and Mike has been playing in bands with Robbie [Drake] for years. I kind of ran into these boys in the city [Toronto]. We were all kind of doing a similar thing, but we were all in different bands — I recognized each of those of guys and loved their music before we played together. Most of the Say Us record was finished before I even joined the band. I had no intention of being like, ‘Hey, you guys should get me in the band,’ because they already had a band at the time. They had become my new favorite live band. I was really stoked about it. I didn’t have my own band at the time and I was working on the songs that are on those records [now]. It was kind of funny that they all kind of fit in together.

So how did you end up getting hooked up with everyone?

I moved to the city when I was 18. One of my buddies, he was already down here for about a year and he had this awesome house in Chinatown. I met up with him for a coffee. He’s one of my best friends now and we were still kind of just acquaintances, but he was an older, cooler guy — guitar player dude. I played my first gig in the city with him. After that it was just like playing around town, met his friend Taylor [Knox] from The Golden Dogs. I started playing with those guys in a band, and I met [The Golden Dogs] eventually and played some shows with them and they asked me to join their band. That’s how I met Carlin and Mike. I met Carlin because I was taking over for him — he used to play in The Golden Dogs. Mike, myself and Carlin all played guitar for The Golden Dogs at one point. That was the band that broke us all.

What’s interesting about you guys is that everyone has different ideas about what bands you sound like — The Beatles, Queen, etc. What do you think of those comparisons?

The ones that I’ve seen that I think are off the mark come from someone who is just throwing a lot of different bands into the same category — Lynyrd Skynyrd might as well be Neil Young might as well be The Flying Burrito Brothers. I always find it funny when people call us a Southern rock band. I always felt like it had more of an Alan Parsons or a Chilliwack appeal. At the end of the day, I’m sure there’s lot Beatles or other stuff in there, but there’s a funny little pocket of influence that we didn’t even really realize and I don’t think a lot of people see it immediately. But I think if they tuned their Northern Canadian rock stations and tuned into some Chilliwack — it’s seems like a weird thing to say, but I really like those bands. There’s something so song-y about what they do — that kind of really pillowy ’70s sound like the days of bowling alleys and roller-skates and mustaches.

So do you think you’ll stay with this sound on your next record?

I feel like from what I’ve heard from the guys — from some of the songs that they’re working on and from what I’m working on — I feel like it’s definitely going to be a Zeus record. But I kind of don’t know what to expect because some stuff is getting a little lofty — really dramatic arrangements and really melodic stuff. It’s pretty weighty. I heard this one song Carlin was working on and it was this crazy, full-on banger on the piano. It sounds like one of his more impassioned pieces yet. Everyone’s growing and life’s happening all around us — changing — and so are our songs.

Image courtesy of Derek Branscombe