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- Posted on Apr 19th 2012 12:30PM by Jason Schneider
Founding Zeus member Carlin Nicholson believes the band did exactly that with new album Busting Visions.
"Our ability to get the sounds that we want is constantly improving," Nicholson tells Spinner. "This time around we really felt like we were able to use our studio as an instrument, and were conscious of matching the right gear with the right microphones. 'Right' is a subjective term, but we feel like we've learned so much over the last few years through all of the people we've worked with. Completing Busting Visions almost felt like completing an apprenticeship in some ways."
Zeus has been a studio project from the beginning, the result of a lifelong friendship between multi-instrumentalists Nicholson and Mike O'Brien. The pair first began plotting the band in 2008 when their other musical partner Afie Jurvanen (a.k.a. Bahamas) landed a gig as Feist's guitarist, and their sometime employer, singer/songwriter Jason Collett, put them on hiatus. Zeus firmly took shape with the addition of drummer Rob Drake and another frontline multi-instrumental presence, Neil Quin, ex of the Golden Dogs. Very quickly the band's undeniably infectious demos had won over Collett's label, Arts & Crafts.
The first Zeus album, Say Us, earned a Polaris Prize long list nod in 2010, but the critical acclaim was tempered by the fact that it displayed a band still essentially in its embryonic stage. Since then, along with paying its dues on the road, Zeus now has its own studio, Ill Eagle, in Toronto's east end. With that level of control, it's no surprise the band's new album Busting Visions is a better articulated pop-rock smorgasbord, echoing sparkling '70s productions by the likes of Todd Rundgren and Jeff Lynne, along with the solo work of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Having the Ill Eagle studio to work in allowed the band to concentrate on being creative and worry less about the administrative details of making an album.
"The main similarity between this one and Say Us is that we wanted to stay in that mindset of being able to throw any idea against the wall and see if it stuck," says Nicholson. "At the same time we wanted to limit ourselves to getting the album finished in two months, as opposed to Say Us, which took over a year. I think it doesn't matter who you are, you're always faced with these questions of time and budget, and now with our own studio that's less of a concern."
Nicholson says that his obsession with recording started at age 14, the same moment he decided he wanted to be a musician. Being able to play an instrument was one thing, but being in control of what it actually sounded like was another.
"I guess I realized early that most of the time you only get one shot at recording a performance," he says. "And if you're not happy with it, there's really only so much you can do to fix it afterward. I don't think that sense of urgency has ever left me, and when we're cutting tracks in the studio, my biggest concern is that everything is dialed in. I think sticking to that principle for us results in great first takes more often than not."
Nicholson explains further that he and the other members of Zeus are "humbled" to have their own studio, and their goal from the start was to make Ill Eagle available to their circle of musical friends, much like how Collett and reclusive Toronto singer/songwriter Hayden included them in specific projects over the years.
"When we started recording the first Zeus record, Mike and I didn't even know we were a band yet, and after we did the first three songs we looked at each other and said, 'Why aren't we making the most of all of these resources we have, from our friends, to everything we know about making records?'" he says, "We've just kept expanding that idea with Ill Eagle, and there's a conscious awareness of the whole picture more than there ever was before."
Nicholson certainly intends to make good on helping his friends. He says that another project he would like to do this year is a compilation of artists who have built strong affiliations with Ill Eagle, such as the Golden Dogs, the Balconies, and the 6ixty 8ights. However, Nicholson's ultimate goal is to have Ill Eagle become a sort of Motown North, even though he doesn't go so far to say Zeus has perfected a signature sound just yet.
"As cohesive as Busting Visions sounds, I think that in every recording situation we still end up with something different than what we set out to do," he says. "That will always be part of the magic, you know?"