Mike O’Brien (left) and Carlin Nicholson threaten to unleash rock ’n’ roll havoc.
ZEUS with JASON COLLETT and ROCK PLAZA CENTRAL at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (October 18), 9 pm. $16.50. 416-870-8000.
Zeus is the god of sky and thunder. It's also two shaggy-haired childhood friends in a band that borrows the Greek god's name.
"We had some downtime from our other projects and started recording songs just for jokes," says Mike O'Brien, one of the band's two chief songwriters. "After recording a handful of tunes, we were like, ‘These are awesome. They sound like Zeus,' which is something we were saying at the time. Meaning, ‘This sounds good. Like Zeus's juices.'"
Needing a band to go with the tunes, which are spirited pop gems with fun arrangements and loose edges, Zeus was born earlier this year. Technically a very young band, in actuality, it's the product of O'Brien and Carlin Nicholson's decade-plus of experience in Toronto's music scene.
For 15 years, Nicholson's been in the 6ixty8ights, the band O'Brien left in 2000 to start Paso Mino, Jason Collett's backing band. Along with Zeus's other members, drummer Rob Baker and guitarist Neil Quin, they're also affiliated with the Golden Dogs and Major Grange, whose members appear all over Zeus's debut album, set for completion in January 2009.
As kids in Barrie, O'Brien and Nicholson were in each other's first bands, including one in which a pre-teen O'Brien wrote an angry song called Couch in reaction to their drummer's mother refusing to allow a couch inside the family garage where the band practised. On Friday nights, they played a game called Red Radio that involved scanning a radio tuner for hours while keeping a tally of the bands whose songs got played more than once. (Phil Collins, unsurprisingly, won every single time.)
They were joined-at-the-hip music- obsessed friends, yet after O'Brien left the 6ixty8ights, they spent eight years apart musically while their other projects took priority. "It was a huge hiatus," Nicholson acknowledges, "but what seems to have happened is that all our musical efforts are now congealing. I feel like we're picking up exactly where we left off."
Endearingly enthusiastic about the talents of everyone in their ever-growing circle, they throw around terms like "bromance," "brodeos" and the "brozone layer" that surrounds their recording studio. They talk about "Zeus moments," which Nicholson defines as "a series of powerful moments that spiral into each other and feed off each other.... It's a rock 'n' roll album, but sometimes horns will fly in at the end. ‘Hey, where'd those come from? They obviously came from Mount Olympus.'"
"In two or three months, Zeus has done more than [some of my other bands] ever have," Carlin continues. "For Mike and me, it's music all the time. Neil, all he ever thinks about is music. Snake (aka Rob), all he does is play. People can see that this is what these dudes are going to do forever. We're not going to own restaurants. We're not going to be accountants."