Q&A: Weaves On Going Big And Classic Rock For Wide Open
In the relatively short amount of time they’ve been a band, Toronto four-piece Weaves have garnered a good amount of well-deserved acclaim. Last year, we named them a Band To Watch ahead of their self-titled debut, a collection of bright, frazzled art-rock that wound up earning Weaves a ton of buzz and a nomination for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize. You might expect that the band would be taking a little break after touring feverishly behind Weaves, but they’re already back with a great sophomore album, Wide Open. Compared to its predecessor, Wide Open finds Weaves continuing to experiment in all sorts of directions, toward songs that are less angular, songs that soar or glide and aren’t afraid of being anthemic or vulnerable. It’s even better than their debut, and it isn’t hard to imagine that some of the hooks on Wide Open are destined to fill slightly larger rooms than the band found themselves in last time.
We called Weaves frontwoman Jasmyn Burke and guitarist Morgan Waters at their homes in Toronto to talk about the process of finding a new Weaves on Wide Open. To celebrate the album coming out today, they’ve also got director Zak Tatham’s new video for “Slicked,” where the band tries out a scuzzy classic rock groove. Check it out and read our interview below.
STEREOGUM: Weaves just played at the Polaris gala after being nominated for the prize. Was that a strange night?
MORGAN WATERS: We played at the end so we had to keep our shit together and wait for our turn to play, so we couldn’t really relax. Feist was performing, and playing after her…it was humbling and it was fun to be able to play on that stage with other talented people.
STEREOGUM: Weaves has been active only a few years, and you’ve done a lot already in that time. Is it weird to have gone through this process so rapidly, to put out the debut last year and get all this press buzz and a Polaris nomination?
JASMYN BURKE: Ummm….Morgan? [laughs]
WATERS: Is it weird, Jaz? We are always confused about how old the band is. We have no concept of –
BURKE: It feels like it’s been a short amount of time. When you tour a lot you don’t really think about time. We don’t think about it much, we just keep working.
WATERS: It feels natural. It’s nice to get a little momentum and ride it. And we like each other. We’re willing to say, oh, we just toured for all this time now let’s go be creative together and spend more time together. The fact that we choose to do that is kinda crazy.
STEREOGUM: So it wasn’t overwhelming when you got home and jumped right into a second record.
BURKE: I think so…It’s not like our lives are completely different. We’re still working musicians, so you just have to keep pushing forward and keep being creative, otherwise you’ll be bored.
STEREOGUM: Wide Open has a lot of new sounds and structures for Weaves. Did you go into the writing thinking you wanted to explore these specific things?
BURKE: I think we were just really excited to make new music. There wasn’t a pre-conceived idea of how the album would be, it just naturally happened. That’s the way we work. There’s not a lot of over-thinking to it. You tour so much and you become better performers and writers and, you know, we all were playing basically every night together, so once you do that you feel a new level of comfort in the band. Hopefully that shows in the new music.
WATERS: We listened to a lot of classic rock radio.
STEREOGUM: Did you come back from the road with some of these ideas percolating or was there a pent-up creative energy that you hadn’t been able to exercise on tour?
BURKE: Yeah, more pent-up writing energy. Just ready to go. When we came back, I was nervous about writing, and I didn’t think I’d be able to actually figure out anything since I hadn’t written in a year. But then you realize your brain is always moving and taking in and absorbing, so it just kind of came out.
WATERS: My role was to be the cheerleader because Jaz would be like, “I don’t know if I can still write” and I’d say “What!? It’s good, it’s good, stop it, people don’t change.” [laughs] You’re always starting from scratch and your abilities are in question when you’re starting it again but in the end you realize you were panicking for no reason.
STEREOGUM: What were some of the themes you gravitated to this time?
BURKE: I felt more confident as a songwriter and…I feel like you evolve on the road and it changes you. I approach it in a more confident way and I didn’t feel like I had to hide behind metaphors or these specific characters. I just wanted to be real. A lot of the stuff was very reactionary to our surroundings, or just hanging out getting stoned in the jam space. It’s kind of a mixture of things. I think Morgan was also ready to…I don’t know, we were ready to make things that were more direct.
WATERS: The idea was to be direct and try to achieve timeless, classic songwriting, try to do that thing. [We were] listening to R.E.M. in the van and other stuff like that where it can be so simple and it’s just about the lyrics and emotion and melody. So we were trying to do that world this time and keep it so that the songs…you could be 12 years old with an acoustic and still play them.
STEREOGUM: Do you think of Weaves as the sort of project where you want to take on a different sonic identity with each album or did this just sorta happen?
BURKE: I feel like our music will always sound like Weaves in its own way, and I think especially live, the songs just become Weaves songs. But I think it’s more interesting to push yourself to try to write different music for different albums. My favorite artists aren’t pigeonholing themselves to one specific type of song. Our first album was so varied in a way, as well, and it was so different from our EP. I think we would just get bored. You want to push yourself to make better music, and by way of doing that you make things that are different. But it’s all the same players. If you heard the album, you would know it’s us.
WATERS: Hopefully our personalities overcome the genre-jumping. My favorite bands, like Ween, they sounded all over the place—
BURKE: Madonna, look at her!
WATERS: Oh, yeah. We want to jump around and show different sounds. We love music so much why not switch genres when the emotion of the song makes sense?
STEREOGUM: Yeah I can hear that, the way “Slicked” is like a total classic rock radio jam but still with that Weaves twist, or the way people compared “#53” to Springsteen or U2 but it doesn’t sound quite the same.
BURKE: Obviously you’re going to draw from the past, you can’t help that. But creating in a way where it’s fresh and it sounds unique to your story…in particular, I’m a woman making rock music and I’m traveling on the road. Maybe there haven’t been that many really popular artists that are females in this specific genre. I feel like that’s kinda exciting, having a different voice than those guys who wrote those timeless songs. But at the same time, yeah, everybody’s influenced by everybody so it’s about making it your own.
STEREOGUM: I also wanted to ask you about some of the individual songs — in particular, “#53” is one of my favorite songs of the year.
BURKE: That one…I didn’t even think it would be a Weaves song. Initially, I just did a loop with vocals. I was doing solo shows and Morgan came to one and was like “What’s that one?” So we just picked it apart.
WATERS: That was a fun one. Originally it was later in the album, and Jaz was like, that feels weird, it should start it. It became the “opening the doors” to the record, the grand entry to the record. Since it was taking on this anthemic “Born To Run” feel — we try to be simple, but on that one we took it over the top and did a bunch of overdubs and glockenspiel, so all that kinda stuff makes it that grand entry point to the record.
STEREOGUM: It’s a hell of a way to introduce a sophomore album a year later, not only as an opening track but as a lead single. It’s storming out of the gates with something that sounds new and different for you guys.
BURKE: I think we felt confident with it and it was exciting to do something outside of what we had put out previously. It has that kind of energy –
WATERS: End of the world. It’s fun flirting with being over the top and bombastic. Maybe things some bands would shy away from. We’re not snobby. We’ll be slightly cheesy and own it.
STEREOGUM: I think it’s cool when bands are still comfortable with being straightforward with that and just saying “Yeah, we’re going to write a huge song.” I think you’re right and some bands still feel like that’s gauche in some way. The old indie mindset.
WATERS: We like being gauche.
STEREOGUM: “Grass” was another one that stood out to me.
BURKE: Was that later in the process as well Morgan?
WATERS: Oh, no, that was early remember? I sent you a demo and you were kinda like “Meh” and it sat there for a bit, but there was something about it that we were into when we returned to it.
BURKE: It almost didn’t make it onto the album. We were fighting over what it should be, the tone it should take. And then it hit—it’s a groovy, chill song.
WATERS: That, to me, is the most adult-contemporary…it’s the most dangerous because of that. It freaked me out to work on it, because it was like, “Wow, this is straight-up acoustic.” I kinda love it the most for that. I went away to Portugal and listened to the basic tracks and thought up the guitar parts that finished it. It was one that I always thought was a straight-up, good song that was stuck in my head all the time. And it was called “Grass,” so, you know. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: I know it’s been a bit tongue-in-cheek, but you’ve called Wide Open your Americana record.
WATERS: I guess we started with “Walkaway.” That was the first demo we had and it was like, oh, let’s go down this road. It’s timeless and classic and simple. So we were chasing that for a while, so we had a couple more songs that fell in that world. That was the start, and then as the record developed we threw in some curveballs like “Scream” and “Motherfucker” and other ones that don’t really fit that. In a way, the emotional feeling of just a straight-up record with a bunch of good songs was the end goal we had.
STEREOGUM: So by that term, are you thinking of the classic rock radio thing or how much you traveled on tour?
WATERS: Definitely both.
BURKE: Yeah, both. We spent so much time on the road actually listening to the radio that it seeps into your head. “Walkaway” was the first song written off the album and that felt like it was setting a tone.
WATERS: To me, the album has the flow…It’s like a bar band for the first three or four songs and then it’s a loose concept over a night. A band playing in a bar, then Jasmyn goes outside and has an aside, and then a bomb hits basically. “Wide Open” is like the “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” before the tornado of “Motherfucker” and “Scream.” Then the back half is picking up the pieces. The album art kinda ties into that.
STEREOGUM: It seems like lightning kinda struck for Wide Open — do you feel like you’re still in that place? Would you want to keep churning out a record a year?
WATERS: As long as we like each other.
BURKE: [laughs] Yeah, I mean, you can’t really predict if you’re going to feel inspired or have writer’s block. We’ve always made music. All of us had made music since we were kids. So even though there’s people watching now it’s like, I don’t know, if you write every week since you’re ten years old, I don’t think it’s going to stop happening. We have another album’s worth of music that we have at the side now so maybe we’ll release some fun stuff this year.
WATERS: There’s not too much staring at a blank page in this band. It’s pretty fast and furious.
Wide Open is out now via Kanine, Buzz Records, and Memphis Industries. Purchase it here.