It’s pretty much what every band hopes for.
Some friends who share an interest in music get together, begin jamming, find they have a talent for singing and songwriter, then cast about for others to join and round out a sound.
Starting small with some house parties and bar gigs, the band gains some notoriety and a bit of a hometown following, then begins to move onto bigger stages and on to bigger things in general.
That’s pretty much where Toronto rockers Zeus find themselves these days.
Zeus plays Communitea Café, May 30. The band is made up of triple threat singer/songwriters and musicians Mike O’Brien, Carlin Nicholson and Neil Quin, with Rob Drake on drums.
Opening for Zeus will be The Darcys, a Toronto art rock four-piece.
The last time Zeus was in town, they shared the Communitea stage with Jason Collett and Bahamas as part of the Bonfire Ball Revue.
At the time, Zeus was possibly best known as backup band for folk rocker Collett (ex-Broken Social Scene).
Much has changed since their last tour west. This time around, Zeus recently returned from a European tour of mostly Germany, with gigs in Switzerland, Belgium and the U.K.
As well, this time around, Zeus is headlining, with other bands taking up the challenge of opening, in support of Zeus’ latest recording effort, Busting Visions.
“Things have been going really well,” said O’Brien as the band readied for a long haul from Philadelphia to Regina, then continuing west.
“This tour is the first real concentrated effort we’ve put in as headliners. We’re really looking forward to a Canadian tour like this. Starting a tour by driving from Philadelphia to Regina is a ridiculous drive, but you’ve gotta go where you need to.”
The band’s new 14-track Busting Visions is a followup to Zeus’ 2010 Polaris Prize-nominated Say Us, which also topped CBC charts, won XM The Verge’s award for Album of the Year and led to sharing stages with Broken Social Scene, Sam Roberts, Bright Eyes and Belle & Sebastian.
Work on Busting Visions began in 2011, said O’Brien, with recording taking place in early spring, then mixing and mastering in fall and release last winter.
“We’d been sitting on it for a while,” he said. “But the feedback’s been really good and this is the first we’ve toured with it in front of a Canadian audience.
“We share the songwriting duties and instrumental duties. Some of the songs had been kicking around a while, some are fresher, but they’re about what each of us brings to the table. When you’re all working on something, we think the cream rises to the top.”
Zeus’ process for songwriting is to more or less have no concrete process. Tunes are penned on napkins, hotel stationery, unopened bills, even on scraps of drywall, while arrangements may be banged out on a hotel lobby piano or guitars in the back of the band’s tour van.
Busting Visions, said O’Brien, is really the band’s first, as Say Us benefitted from the work of several contributors.
“We tend to work on songs wherever we happen to be and luckily, there’s three of us, so we all have lots of material in back catalogues. I really enjoy songwriting and it’s just something that happens for me.
“Then, as a band, we jam it out, put it through our machines and the sound that results is kind of a subconscious thing – it’ll do what it does…”
And the beat goes on for the band which was originated by O’Brien and Nicholson in 2008, when they hooked up for an Exclaim! tour. After the Exclaim! tour, the pair decided they wanted to form ‘an actual band’ then brought in Quin and Drake; which resulted in the EP Sounds like Zeus.
Now, said O’Brien, “we’ve dedicated our lives to it. Playing live is the meat and potatoes and by playing live, a song can go through such an evolution. I mean, even a Bob Dylan song didn’t stay the same for decades, there are different phases.
“But playing live, that’s what keeps us going.”
The present tour kicked off May 22 in Regina and will eventually carry Zeus through Calgary to Victoria, then eastward again through Canmore, across the prairies and into Minneapolis and Chicago before moving on to Ontario and Illinois to wrap it up.
The Darcys are Jason Couse, Wes Marskell, Dave Hurlow and Michale le Riche. The band’s new album, AJA, is the second in a trilogy of releases. An interpretation of Steely Dan’s 1977 studio masterpiece, the album was produced, arranged and recorded by the band at home during the summer and fall of 2010.
Moody, dense and textured, AJA is an exploration of physical and emotional space and the real and imaginary divisions within it.
The decision to interpret the album in full was made during a period in which the band struggled to complete its self-titled sophomore record.
AJA has come to signify a crucial turning point for The Darcys – created in the darkness to bring light and living as a demonstration of resolve, proficiency and imagination.