Band of the Day

2011.12.13

Zeus

Sunny Canadian indie rock driven by three-part harmonies and classic pop values
But when all the dust clears the memory 'till nothing is the same, I'll still remember what she'd say.
lyrics from Fever Of The Time

Zeus is a four-piece indie rock band from Toronto, Canada, that formed in 2009. Founding members Mike O'Brien (vocals, guitar, keys) and Carlin Nicholson (vocals, guitar, keys) were childhood friends, who began playing music together from an early age. After playing in various bands together, they reunited to perform as Piso Mino, the backing band of Broken Social Scene's Jason Collett. Along with performing as Collett's backing band, they also perform as the backing band for Afie Jurvanen's solo project, Bahamas. During their downtime, in between playing for Collett and Bahamas, O'Brien and Nicholson started recording music together. Once they realized that they were creating solid songs, they recruited Rob Drake on drums and Neil Quin on vocals, guitar, and keys and officially formed Zeus. The band is noted for having three-part harmonies, influenced by bands like The Hollies and The Beatles, and having no dedicated lead singer. In the summer of 2009, they released their first EP Sounds Like Zeus, which gained attention from a cover of “That's All” by Genesis. Their full-length debut, Say Us, was released on Arts & Crafts in February 2010.

When you hear the name Zeus, you normally think about the father of Greek gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, the wielder of thunderbolts—not a Canadian indie rock band. With a name like Zeus, you might think that they play bombastically cheesy stadium rock. Luckily, one listen to their debut album Say Us completely shatters that assumption. Instead of over-the-top guitar solos and high-pitched howling, Zeus' music is driven by sprightly three-part harmonies and classic pop sensibilities inspired by 60s bands like The Zombies, The Hollies, and The Beatles. After serving as the backing bands for Jason Collett (of Broken Social Scene) and Bahamas (Afie Jurvanen's solo project), the four members—who recorded their own music in their downtime—realized that they had enough unique material to pursue their own band, Zeus. Instead of having one dedicated lead singer, three of the members (Carlin Nicholson, Mike O'Brien, and Neil Quin) constantly switch off. On “Fever of the Time,” Nicholson takes charge of lead vocal duties. The song has a slight spaghetti western feel, with a dramatic piano opening, an occasional twangy guitar line, and percussion that almost sounds like galloping horses. Nicholson's vocals are deep, but build up to a higher register as he stretches out the line, “It could be e-e-e-e-easier!” O'Brien and Quin provide high-pitched “oohs” and “ahhs,” like lost spirits (who just happen to have incredible voices) in a ghost town. “Marching Through Your Head” demonstrates Zeus' ability to create songs that are immediately hummable and easy to love from the get go. Quin takes on the role of lead vocalist this time, opening the song by asking, “Do you feel it all the time?” over a jaunty, handclap-heavy rhythm. A sparkly piano line drives the song, with soldier-like fingers marching across an ivory battlefield. “River By The Garden” is their maple-flavored take on old Americana, with O'Brien lamenting, “My heart keeps breaking every morning, my head keeps aching every night!” in a slight twang. It makes you want to hand him a beer, pat him on the shoulder, and tell him that everything will be alright. With such a dynamic range of songs on the album—any of which could easily be a single—Zeus prove that they have the chops to stand out as more than just someone else's backing band; they're a truly great group in their own right.