Three Band Man
Collett’s mighty sidekicks rock in their own right
by James Brotheridge
JASON COLLETT with ZEUS and BAHAMAS
When Jason Collett, Zeus and Bahamas take the stage on the Bonfire Ball Revue tour, they aren’t going up one act a time — they’ll all three be onstage for a total of three hours, trading songs and collaborating.
For Collett, who you could probably call the official headliner, it’s a natural fit. All three groups are part of an exciting artistic scene that’s been developing in Toronto.
“I think the audiences are going to pick up on that energy coming from us,” says Collett. “It’s more fun for us to play like this. It’s hard work for us, too, to figure out how to do a show with this many egos involved, but we’re all good at figuring out how to do that.
“We all want to make a great show no matter what. We’ve all worked in various capacities, them as back-up musicians and now as fronting their own things. There’s a lot of knowledge on how to do this amongst us all.”
Collett should know a thing or two about working in collectives. He was a recognizable figure on the Toronto music scene for years, releasing a solo record, Bitter Beauty, and playing in a band with Hawksley Workman.
What brought him to people’s attention outside of Toronto, however, was his involvement with Broken Social Scene. He was one of the many artists who appeared on the band’s 2002 album You Forgot It in People, released in the same year as Collett’s own Arts and Crafts album, Motor Motel Love Songs.
And, like so many acts on the Arts and Crafts label who were part of BSS, he was eventually recognized for his own work. Collett rose to greater popularity in Canada , most notably for his 2005 release Idols of Exile.
When touring behind Idols, his backing band was Paso Mino. They were an awesome band on their own, having released a great album back in 2004 called Good People.
Paso Mino weren’t long for the Canadian music scene, though, as member Afie Jurvanen left to play guitar with Feist. His departure signaled something new starting.
“When he left, Paso Mino kinda unraveled and began to reform as Zeus over the recording process,” says Collett. “Mike [O’Brien] and Carl [Nicholson] had grown up with the rest of the boys in Barrie, and they just started recording for fun. The stuff was fantastic. It became Zeus.”
Besides O’Brien and Nicholson, Zeus is Rob Drake and Neil Quin.
O’Brien and Nicholson also became heavily involved in recording music in Toronto, a fact that would decide the direction of Collett’s latest album. Collett was eager to get back to recording after the 2008 release of Here’s to Being Here.
“I essentially came off the road a year and a half ago and had been waiting for things to get going with a whole new project for that long.”
He was immediately impressed by what the guys of Zeus were building at their studio, Ill Eagle.
“The way they work in the studio is people just seem to drop by at any point in the week. And whatever track somebody’s working on for whatever artist, invariably friends just end up on it because they just happen to be dropping in. That kind of spontaneity grows into an artistic monster. That studio’s ground zero for a very artistic group of people that are really hitting their stride creatively.”
The decision to record his next album, Rat a Tat Tat, with Zeus as producers and backing band was an easy one for Collett.
“That was an evolution as Zeus became more confident in what they were doing, in the songs they were doing and the records they were producing. These guys, they get up every day and they go into the studio and they’re creating. Their chops got really good but their passion for doing this is on fire.
“Those guys are on fire, and they have been for a couple of years now. I’m just shrewd enough as an artist, as an elder statesman of the scene to know a good thing when I see it and to plug right into it. So I’ve benefited from tapping into what they’ve been creating.”
This was a big change for Collett, whose two previous albums had been recorded with Howie Beck. Beck created near-perfect sonic reproductions for both the Collett albums he produced. Rat a Tat Tat is a serious break from that. It’s a dense, layered album that deals more in lively, occasionally feedback-driven songs than Beck’s typical clear sound.
“I love him to death,” says Collett. “Howie’s always blown me away with his vision and his ear. He’s got fantastic ears. He’s a great mixer, too, and I think he’ll go on to even just mix great records.
“But Howie’s more on hi-fi tip. The Zeus thing is more on gut-level tip. They’re just different things, and I appreciate both worlds.
“It’s been a really nice change for me to make this record the way that I did,” says Collett. “You can’t just keep making the same kinds of records. You need different environments, you need different people to draw different parts of yourself out. If you’re working in the same environment with the same people all the time, you just sorta go to sleep, in a sense. Making the record in the way that I did pushed me, made me stretch further.”
While in the studio, Collett and Zeus strove to maintain a sense of spontaneity, so much so that Collett says songs they’d played live before were the hardest to record.
“That’s the mystery of making a record, that you get thrown curveballs, and unless you’re open enough to go in a different direction, you’re going to get really fucked up in your head. What we ended up having to do with the songs that we’d already been playing, we had to deconstruct them. We had to find a way to play them that was fresh.”
Again, that’s the spirit of their current tour. Zeus, who just released their first full-length, Say Us, and Jurvanen, who now plays under the name Bahamas and released an Arts and Crafts album called Pink Strat in 2009, are going to be up there with Collett, making music happen for a whole show together.
That these other acts are reaching creative highs is important for Collett.
“The fact that there’s a scene of artists that drop in on each other’s sessions and wind up on each other’s records — it’s just a very obvious thing to us, to take that spirit onto the road. It feels natural to us. That, and it’s also a celebration of our history. We’ve been working together for a while. In that time since these guys were my backing band — and this includes Afie from Bahamas — they’ve all come into their own as artists.”
Collett is excited about the combination; he knows this is a once-in-a-lifetime tour for those in the crowd as well. They’ll be seeing something that’s rarely done on tour — three bands playing together, two of them with indisputable headliner cachet and a third who deserves it — playing a show together.
Mostly, though, he just wants to emphasize that this’ll be a really good show.
“These guys are quick on their feet. You can throw anything at them and they’ll respond to it in really creative ways. It won’t be a static thing that we’re doing, night after night. There’s room for all sorts of explorations.
“The whole point of anything like this is for the audience to get to share the moment at the same time the musicians do, when we look around and go, ‘Oh, that was so cool!’ Everybody gets that at the same time.”