“Thank you for being so kind, and listening to me play these new songs…” While Brighton’s Great Escape Festival this weekend was only the third live outing for her stellar new album, ‘Modern Kosmology’, it’s as if Jane Weaver has lived with its songs her whole lifetime. Cutting an unfaltering and decisive presence onstage, dressed in a bespoke Trouble at Mill costume, she overcame the awkward, makeshift stage boardings of the One Church venue and its problematic acoustics, tuning into the building’s spiritual energy for the performance. With another sold-out show in London tonight and a long tour ahead, we were glad to catch her for a few questions…
Jane Weaver’s career began with the Peel-tipped 90’s indie band Kill Laura, she then went solo after their break-up in 1997 while continuing to write and perform alongside other acts. In 2002 she set up Bird Records, specialising in music by female folk artists. However, it was 2014’s ‘The Silver Globe’, her sixth album, that not only led to blindside critical success, but also bolstered the remerging Psych/Folk revivalists scene. Self-taught, self-penned, self-produced, Weaver’s resilience stems from her clarity of vision and an ability to project otherwise unorthodox concepts in a wholly engaging way.
With all that in mind, we were curious whether this album was easier to work on, or if it still presented a challenge. “[It was] definitely more difficult! ‘The Silver Globe’ took 3 and a half years on and off, this one probably 18 months from start to finish”, she replies. “I went into the recording studio ‘Eve’ in Stockport, for around 30 days over this time alongside doing stuff at home. I started off with a more ‘garage’ sounding record then changed it part way through.” With the sense of pressure of recording for a label (Fire Records) this time round, rather than her own imprint, it was perhaps inevitable that ‘Modern Kosmology’ demanded more. Furthermore, the global conflict and chaotic political environment of 2015-16 hung heavy in the air while the album was being written: “I was sad last year like most people about the devastating wars happening in the world, I still am and its hard for me to directly articulate sometimes how I feel about this other than feeling out of control or useless, I guess it seeped into what I was writing”.
"often I hear a whole song orchestrated in my head and spend so much time chasing it, trying to replicate it and translate it"
While not overtly political, ‘Ravenspoint’ in particular is very direct in its message. With humbling wisdom, the spoken word passage “we’re all on our way to dust” epitomises the album’s call for interconnectedness. The idea of an extended human community or family is important to Weaver, and she infuses every moment on this record with hope for a better future. “Ravenspoint is like a protest song, a mantra, lots of musicians together making a big noise, it’s brooding, which is why it needed spoken word, and Malcolm Mooney was so perfect for it.”
While the album’s inception was very much a solo effort, Weaver assembled a familiar team of former collaborators and friends like CAN’s Malcolm Mooney, “psychedelic axe-men and a crew of Mancunian drum-lords”, to hatch in the finer details and flourishes within its expansive, synth-based sonic framework. Going back to what worked on ‘The Silver Globe’ and refining it, taking it up a level was also important. “I used a lot of the same instrumentation, studio and musicians, I feel that I’m more familiar with certain synths now and I know what suits me”, Weaver explains “this time I tried to have a different type of production and approach to the outcome, so more linear guitar lines and repetitive bass, clearer vocals. I think everything is a little clearer and less swamped in echo on the mix.”
The result is an album that really captures that odd, paradoxical feeling of intangibility and mysticism – a felt sense that has to be experienced and can’t really be explained. There is also a definite, solid and classic quality to the songs, where Weaver looks to her own past and to the future. As she explains, the secret is in the irreducible richness and stability of vintage, analogue machines: “I’ve been going in studios since I was 16, I’ve always been attracted to vintage sounds. I just like the fact that a lot of these things have their own personalities and, historically speaking, they are the best things… part of me is very attached to my own personal musical awakenings as a child in the 1970’s and 80’s so I guess I subconsciously run to those sounds because they make me feel secure.”
Having more experience doesn’t make songwriting any easier. Some writers struggle to get into their rhythm, where they can somehow feel (maybe not conclusively) that they’re setting out on the right path. Especially when working on someone else’s time, investing your soul into a creative endeavour, having the freedom to follow your vision and intuition, is crucial. As Weaver says, she sometimes sees her songs as fully formed images and while this often assists direction it can also limit creativity. “…sometimes I see landscapes or a still from a film, a strong colour related to a feeling, or often I hear a whole song orchestrated in my head and spend so much time chasing it, trying to replicate it and translate it.”
"I was kind of stuck when writing the record at the start to where I was going with it, looking towards the avant garde and other artists helped me try and articulate some of the themes I wanted to write about"
Throughout ‘Modern Kosmology’, its airy, supernal atmosphere is invisibly held in place (but not tamed) by the gravity of strong beats and pulses and grounded by almost ancient folkish lyrical flair. Nature has a central role, and you feel the presence of the earth and stars, the land and the sea. Weaver shares with us that she stole away to the Isle of Angelsey for three days during the course of writing some of the album’s lyrics, “the place I imagined looked like a valley by a jagged coastline, it’s a combination of places you’ve been and places you’ve imagined I guess, I think I need to read up on the neuroscience of creativity maybe it would explain a few things!” While creative secrets like these are insightful, she also reminds us she wouldn’t normally talk about process or explain what she does in the studio, “because I don’t know if that’s necessary, or if most people would want to know or understand it – but this record is about the topic of creativity and being in your own universe…”
However, it was guidance from another time and place which inspired the album’s final direction and crystallised the defining themes. “I was kind of stuck when writing the record at the start to where I was going with it, looking towards the avant garde and other artists helped me try and articulate some of the themes I wanted to write about”, Weaver explains.
We ask her about Hilma Af Klint, a Swedish artist, mystic and secret society leader who sealed away her paintings forbidding them to be seen until 20 years after her death. There are echoes of Af Klint’s abstract art and hidden symbolism in the cover of ‘Modern Kosmology’ and its opener, ‘H>A>K’ is a motorik tribute to her quest for new ways to express political, spiritual and scientific ideas. “Hilma’s story is so interesting the fact her work was so hidden for years upon her request, like she knew people might not be ready to comprehend it until the future!” Unlike Af Klint, and her secret spiritualist group “The Five”, Weaver says she’s never been to a seance, “although I once made a Ouija board with a biro, and sheet of A4 paper”. Reflecting on all the spurious political things which seem to be happening behind the scenes we wonder, if she had a secret society like Af Klint, what would be its mission?
“If I could contribute in someway towards bringing world peace with a bunch of rad scientists and musicians who invent a frequency that would disarm both sides of a war, by destroying weapons without any casualties or destruction to land. That would be good.”