Inside the Making of Weaves' New Album 'Wide Open'
Published Oct 04, 2017In 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, says Burke. "We knew we wanted to put out new music quickly, 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 varied 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…'"