By Kristy Diaz
When Weaves formed in 2012, it was a fateful moment. Morgan Waters was tipped off by a friend that it would be worthwhile seeing Jasmyn Burke (then performing solo) play in Toronto. Both were at a crossroads – Waters having recently come out of another band and Burke “sick of doing the same thing”, unsure if being a musician was even still something she wanted to do – so they decided to attempt something less conventional.
Experimentation and free-thinking were factored into their songwriting process from the start. “We were both looking to make something interesting… we didn’t have a specific sound we wanted to create,” explains Burke. “Sometimes when you start bands, it’s like ‘this is what we want it to be’, and we didn’t feel any pressure [to do that].”
In an industry where product is abundant but attention often scarce, that’s a bolder move than is immediately obvious. Genre is a comfort zone; going in without a defined sense of where you fit risks throwing listeners out of theirs. But this is of little concern to Weaves, who are “unafraid of making any kind of song we want to make.”
Burke describes their music as “deconstructed pop songs”, a term just distant enough that it could be applied anywhere. But that’s precisely where they fall: a compelling mix of art-pop and indie with traditional rock, like combining the tumultuous punk of early Yeah Yeah Yeah’s with the dance sensibilities of Phoenix.
The band’s non-conformist approach, coupled with their frankly wild live shows, have gained them the reputation of being eccentric. “I get that people think we’re kind of weird. I guess to us we’re not, it’s just we’ve been labelled that way” Burke says, faintly amused at the description. “It’s about finding a way to make things interesting and be able to improvise on stage within the context of making people dance.”
It’s a feat they carry off with impressive flair; making the indie and punk audiences they predominantly attract dance, actually dance, as the band (which would later include Zach Bines on bass and Spencer Cole on drums) pushes and pulls in multiple directions. Burke leads the destruction of the songs: it’s messy and cathartic, and something she is intensely passionate about. “You should be putting on a performance, you should be entertaining people. Sometimes shows can be a bit boring, like too cool and [bands] won’t smile and go off a little bit from a song.”
Weaves have progressed at a rapid pace, releasing their second full-length Wide Open in October 2017 and touring at a near-constant rate. Playing with a wide range of bands from Beach Slang to Pissed Jeans to Dilly Dally, they attract fans from a multitude of backgrounds. “It’s all ages; it seems like for every young person there’s a Gen X’er who’s really into Pavement or The Pixies,” says Burke, clearly enthused. “I feel like shows should be not just be experienced by a bunch of people who look exactly like you and dress exactly like you.”
That shared experience of music across tastes, across generations, and across borders is something which both motivates and influences their craft. Using their 2016 US tour – which took place during the presidential election – as an example, Burke says: “It just changes you, and also makes you want to be more fierce in your playing. Hopefully, when people come to our shows they go home feeling like ‘I can be whoever I want to be’, or ‘I can challenge the system’.”
Wide Open explores change and resistance in many guises; sometimes softly, like in opener ‘#53’ (“I am a woman who feels the plight of these walls”) but through the second half the record sees a shift in tone with ‘Motherfucker’ and ‘Scream’, a collaboration with throat singer Tanya Tagaq. The song opens with a curious bassline before descending into the righteous, visceral chaos of hardcore punk.
“I started writing that song right after the election, and I was just feeling icky about humanity. I was in the studio one day and started playing that bassline on the guitar,” Burke says, singing it aloud. “The lyrics just started coming out. It was very matter-of-fact. I feel like more than ever now; you have to be conscious of what’s happening and fight for your beliefs. I wanted to write something that was empowering for women, and for myself.”
That impact has been felt by their fans, with young women regularly approaching Burke after gigs. “They would be like, ‘you know, I’ve never seen a female of colour in a rock band I identify with’, or playing rock music in general, or writing about change, not just your boyfriend and how you’re sad because he doesn’t want to date you.”
“We predominately hear the point of view of men in rock music, it is always where they’re coming from. I felt like we needed to create a different language and a different dialogue for young people, where they feel confident, and they’re not doubting themselves because somebody has told them that they should be quiet, you know?”
Burke has a detailed vision for the band and takes a key role in their visual aesthetic. She discusses her distaste for unimaginative press shots (“it’s a band standing there with t-shirts and jeans on”) and how she approaches their album artwork: “I wanted to figure out a way to have people listen to our music without having a preconceived idea of what we might sound like based on our clothes. It’s fun to have the album covers not really give you an idea of what our music’s going to be like. It’s kind of a little present that you just keep opening, and there are little treats inside.”
As the band closes their touring schedule at the end of 2017, having only recently released Wide Open, Burke is eager to start writing again. Casually dismissing the suggestion of maybe sleeping for a bit, she laughs and states: “I don’t really like to decompress. That is not a Weaves mentality.”
“The whole band is really driven, and everyone loves to continually make music, and that’s exciting for me because I know the pace we’re at is basically always writing. I know that’s not for everybody, but it is for us.”
It would appear, then, that those preceding days of being “bored and kind of done” with music are very much behind her. She adopts a different tone when reflecting back on that period, almost like she can’t recognise being that person: “I realised in my bones that I have to make music. I’m not happy if I’m not making music. I’m bored whenever I’m not making music.”
Weaves are somewhat anomalous – they’re unpredictable, thrive on taking artistic risks, and pose a continued challenge for anyone looking for clear definition and neat boxes. It’s a pretty safe bet, then, given this insatiable desire to create and tour with seemingly little gap between, whatever direction they take next will be anything but formulaic.