If we can glean anything from Jason Collett’s life, it’s that he likes family. The Toronto-based singer-songwriter has a couple of teenage kids, has spent many months on the road as part of Canada’s biggest musical clan, Broken Social Scene, and now he’s watching his backing band, Zeus, grow up.
“There is a bit of a maternal sense,” says Collett on the phone from his Toronto home. “It’s a fine line between that and becoming patronizing, though.”
While Zeus is receiving a huge amount of buzz for their debut disc, Collett’s not quite ready to say goodbye to his musical progeny. They’re all going on the road together — along with another ex-backing band member Alfie Jurvanen, a.k.a. Bahamas — but rather than letting the proud papa play last, they’re all sharing a stage.
“It’s going to be a complicated tour,” he says, explaining that all three acts will, for the most part, back each other up while they play their respective songs.
“A lot of fans know our history and have been excited to see the growth of Zeus and Afie’s solo work,” he says. “You get more out of an evening when you see musicians sharing.”
But Zeus and Bahamas aren’t the only one’s growing, Collett’s latest, Rat a Tat Tat, is his best disc yet. While it’s not much different from his past efforts — it’s still a combination of Dylan folk sounds and Joel Plaskett-like rock tunes — the songs are more infectious and focused than what we’ve heard from him before.
“I feel like I’m hitting my stride,” he reveals. “My writing’s better, but I’m always learning and there’s still room to grow.”
While he is improving musically, it’s the lyrics that really stand out. Specifically, Lake Superior and Winnipeg Winds, two tracks that, Collett hopes, adds something to an already rich history of Canadian songwriters singing about this country.
On the latter track, Collett captures a Winnipeg winter perfectly, even though he’s never actually experienced one. The haunting atmospheric acoustics would make the perfect soundtrack to a dark Winnipeg night, while the lyrics “Never could get used to those Winnipeg Winds… Sleepwalking with skeleton keys jangling,” should sound familiar to any Pegger trying to unlock a door as the early morning breeze freezes their hands at the knuckles.
Collett says his decision to talk about Canadian locales on this disc was mostly for fun. There are so many American songs that reference places — like Memphis or Route 66 — so he wanted to see what he could come up with using Canadian spots.
“American mythology looms so large in all our minds,” he says. “Canada has so many fabulous names, like Thunder Bay or Saskathewan and I’ve taken them for granted. They have a certain quality to them that can be conjured. So I set about to see if I can do a little conjuring and the stories revealed themselves. It was just a little exercise I’ve had fun with.”