blow up

Exclaim! - - MUSIC SCHOOL: WHERE I PLAY - by Matt Bobkin

“The record starts out like a bar band playing tunes, and then the bomb hits.”

IN FOUR SHORT YEARS, Toronto rock­ers Weaves have built a ca­reer on catch­ing lis­ten­ers off-guard. The quar­tet’s songs, driven by vo­cal­ist Jas­myn Burke and gui­tarist Mor­gan Waters, are the sonic equiv­a­lent of a tee­ter­ing Jenga tower, adding and sub­tract­ing el­e­ments on a whim. Rounded out by bassist Zach Bines and drum­mer Spencer Cole, the band’s en­gag­ing, un­pre­dictable live shows have quickly earned the group a rep­u­ta­tion as a must-see.

The an­nounce­ment of sopho­more al­bum Wide Open also caught lis­ten­ers by sur­prise for mul­ti­ple rea­sons, least of which was that their self-ti­tled de­but was barely a year old — an ex­cep­tion­ally quick turn­around time, even in this dig­i­tal cli­mate.

“You should ap­proach mu­sic-mak­ing like you’re an artist or a painter,” says Burke. “You should be able to put out ma­te­rial when you feel like it, and not nec­es­sar­ily ev­ery three to four years. That’s just be­hind the times, be­cause peo­ple are in­gest­ing so much mu­sic all the time. That’s how we lis­ten to and ex­pe­ri­ence things.”

Their pro­lific out­put can be at­trib­uted, in part, to a feel­ing of rest­less­ness dur­ing a tour in sup­port of their de­but. “We knew we wanted to put out new mu­sic quickly,” says Burke, “just be­cause when you’re in it and mo­men­tum’s go­ing, why not?” Adds Waters, “We were ex­cited to be cre­ative. I guess when you’re tour­ing too, you’re like, ‘I wanna go make new things and be cre­ative.’”

It helped that they had a start­ing point. Burke had penned sec­ond sin­gle “Walk­a­way” years prior, yet for­got about it un­til Waters re­trieved it from Burke’s demo files; he then built in­stru­men­ta­tion over her record­ing.

With “Walk­a­way” as their guide, the band quickly re­al­ized this new record was bound to be a dif­fer­ent beast. “It was a dif­fer­ent feel,” Burke says. “We al­ready knew we were go­ing in a new di­rec­tion.”

That new di­rec­tion in­volves their most ra­dio-friendly ma­te­rial to date, with plenty of ad­mit­ted in­spi­ra­tion from the likes of Bruce Spring­steen and Neil Young — a far cry from the arty punk of ear­lier re­leases. “Walk­a­way” even fea­tures soar­ing strings, as ar­ranged by for­mer Arkells mem­ber Dan Grif­fin.

But Wide Open doesn’t stay con­ven­tional for long. As Waters sees it, “I feel like the record starts out like a bar band playing tunes, and then the bomb hits. And the back end of the al­bum is pick­ing up the pieces.”

If there is a bomb, it’s the one-two punch of “Moth­er­fucker” and “Scream,” both fea­tur­ing Inuk throat singer Tanya Ta­gaq. Built around a Burke vo­cal loop, “Moth­er­fucker” acts as a pre­lude to the lurch­ing, skulk­ing “Scream,” where both Burke and Ta­gaq de­liver vis­ceral vo­cal per­for­mances, har­mo­niz­ing with each other and them­selves. Ac­cord­ing to Waters, Ta­gaq “did two takes, and they were both so good that we just panned them left and right. She makes it stereo with her­self, it’s in­sane.”

“Scream” is so ex­plo­sive, even Burke and Waters have dif­fi­culty de­ter­min­ing who sang what. To make sense of the record­ing, they re­cruited vet­eran pro­ducer Dave Newfeld, best known for his work on Bro­ken So­cial Scene’s sim­i­larly scat­ter­shot al­bums You For­got It in Peo­ple and Bro­ken So­cial Scene, to put it all to­gether. The dis­ori­ent­ing fi­nal prod­uct serves as the record’s most pow­er­ful mo­ment. “I’m re­ally proud of that, be­ing a part of that song,” says Waters.

“If you have a song like ‘Walk­a­way,’ a song that’s very sim­ple to un­der­stand, then you can have a song like ‘Scream,’ and it all lev­els out to be our sound,” says Burke. “You can be ex­treme in both worlds, but as long as they’re both re­ally tight, then you can do what­ever you want.”

It’s this ethos — the mar­riage of their new­found for­ays into tra­di­tional song struc­tures and ar­range­ments with their la­tent avant-garde ten­den­cies — that es­tab­lishes Weaves’ po­si­tion at the fore­front of the lat­est Toronto mu­sic move­ment gain­ing in­ter­na­tional renown, this time cen­tring on lo­cal la­bel Buzz Records, who have put out ev­ery Weaves re­lease to date.

The la­bel is also home to many of Toronto’s grow­ing crop of young, provoca­tive rock acts, in­clud­ing Dilly Dally, Casper Skulls and Fake Palms. “[Buzz Records are] a lot of smart, hard­work­ing peo­ple that love mu­sic and have good taste. It’s great to work with them,” says Waters. “All of us have grown to­gether,” adds Burke.

As pro­mo­tion and tour­ing for Wide Open ramps up, Weaves are still re­ceiv­ing ac­co­lades for their de­but, in­clud­ing a Juno nom­i­na­tion and a cov­eted spot as one of ten fi­nal­ists for the Po­laris Mu­sic Prize, the lat­ter along­side Ta­gaq. “Some­times you ques­tion if you should make more mu­sic or pur­sue some­thing else,” Burke muses. “Or you won­der, ‘Did any­one lis­ten to our al­bum?’ So it’s nice when you get those lit­tle nods of ac­knowl­edge­ment.”

The Po­laris nom­i­na­tion in par­tic­u­lar meant some­thing special to Burke, who worked at the cer­e­mo­nial gala for sev­eral years dur­ing the award’s ear­lier days. “I started off do­ing coat check at the Ma­sonic Tem­ple the year Feist won. I thought, ‘This is fun,’ but it was still kinda small. But I got to see Feist and Grimes, and those are two women you see and you’re like, ‘Wow,’” she re­mem­bers. “I worked Po­laris for four years, and was like ‘I wanna one day be nom­i­nated!’ but never ac­tu­ally thought it might hap­pen.” Po­et­i­cally, Feist joined Weaves and Ta­gaq on this year’s short­list.

Given the pos­i­tive re­sponse the band re­ceived for their de­but, it’s easy to imag­ine that Wide Open is set to con­tinue the trend. “I feel like the pro­duc­tion of this record, be­cause the songs were stronger or clearer, the in­stru­men­ta­tion or ev­ery­thing was eas­ier to fig­ure out what to do, and to leave space,” says Waters. “The idea of this one was sim­plic­ity. Strength of lyrics and song­writ­ing. I feel like a kid with an acous­tic gui­tar can sit down and play open chords to a lot of these songs.”

But in typ­i­cal Weaves fash­ion, they’re not con­tent to rest on their lau­rels; they’re al­ready ex­cited for the next cy­cle of tour­ing and record­ing. “We’re ready for the next al­bum,” says Burke. “I think two days af­ter [fin­ish­ing Wide Open], I sent [Mor­gan] a demo. I was like, ‘I’ve been work­ing on this…’”

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