Formed in 2009, Toronto rock band Zeus has friendship at its core; it was built around the childhood friendship between Mike O’Brien and Carlin Nicholson. They were joined by Neil Quin and Rob Drake who found their way to the group via other Toronto-area bands including The Golden Dogs.
“We were all looking for a band that was going to be a true democracy,” O’Brien says. “Where, even though one guy may introduce a song to the others in the band, all ideas would be considered to best serve the song.
“Zeus is made up of three different songwriters, all of whom want to have their creative input heard. Over the years, we have found the key to maintaining a democracy in the band is communication and maybe letting go of your ego a bit to take in all possibilities of where the song could go.”
The group wasted little time getting music out to the market. They released their debut EP Sounds Like Zeus in 2009, followed by their full-length debut Say Us the next year. The album found its way to the long-list for the Polaris Music Prize while the band kept busy touring with the likes of Belle and Sebastian and Broken Social Scene.
Two years later, the group released its sophomore record, Busting Visions. Pushing the group forward were the kudos that the record garnered, including praise from high-profile American media outlets including the New York Times, NPR, Esquire and Spin Magazine.
Wary of losing the momentum it had gathered thanks to Busting Visions and Say Us, all signs pointed to the band returning to the studio to begin work on their third record once the Busting Visions album cycle was complete. But when that time arrived, O’Brien admits that they were not necessarily in the best place as a band.
“It wasn’t a matter of questioning whether or not we would continue as a band, it was more just the fact that we were more than slightly burned out from touring and the time spent promoting Busting Visions,” he says.
Knowing that going into the recording studio at that time might not result in an album that truly showcased the band’s talent, O’Brien says they agreed to rid themselves of self-imposed deadlines and stretch out recording to see where the road took them.
“The original idea at the time was to try to keep the heat on the band but I think that each of us wanted to break out of the cycle we had been in of releasing a record, going on tour and then starting all over,” he says.
Recording for what would become their third album, Classic Zeus, released this past September via the Arts & Crafts label, stretched beyond the summer of 2013 and into the winter. But in addition to feeling more at ease as a group, O’Brien says the lack of deadline pressure was also conducive to helping the band step up their songwriting game.
“I feel we turned out a much better final product,” he says. “Having the extra time on our side, we had the opportunity to take a fresh approach and rewrite a number of songs. We love the creative process of writing songs, especially those moments where we are stumbling upon new ideas. It is definitely the best part of being in a band.”
Following the album’s release, the group embarked on a North American tour, hitting cities including Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary and Chicago in addition to a handful of cities in the Northeast United States.
Just prior to Christmas, Zeus, along with some of their Arts & Crafts label-mates, were featured in a collaboration with The Globe & Mail in which the groups wrote original songs that reflected some of the most important news events of 2014. Topics explored in the unique project included missing aboriginal women in Western Canada, the divisive battle for Jerusalem, sexual violence and a culture of silence, as well as the loss of comic Robin Williams.
O’Brien says that having the opportunity to take part in the project and expose Zeus’s music to an audience that might not have heard of them was one they are grateful to have received.
“It’s really anybody’s guess as to what the formula is to survive in the music business these days,” he says. “I think that bands have to pursue what they are passionate about and come up with ways to release their music but also be musical. It is an exciting time in the business because there are really no rules as to what a band can or can’t do to spread the word about what they are doing.”
When: Friday, Jan. 23, 9 p.m.
Where: The Tide & Boar Gastropub, 700 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $18. Advance tickets are available for purchase online at www.tideandboar.com/music or by phone at (506) 857-9118.