Photos by Brendan Ko, courtesy of Weaves
“Are we not doing visual? Is that weird?” Weaves guitarist Morgan Waters asks over a patchy laptop video feed.
Waters isn’t a regular Skype user, and because of this, he makes the rookie mistake of using the camera for our three-way interview, which also includes Weaves vocalist Jasmyn Burke. He’s so green about the technology that, even after he thinks he’s turned the camera off, he continues to give Burke and I extreme close-ups. After a few minutes Burke finally informs him, “Your face is getting so close to the camera that it’s becoming uncomfortable!”
“You’re getting my camera? Oh no,” he responds. “How do I get rid of myself?”
So goes the kind of screwball dialogue ingrained in the fabric of the Toronto art rock quartet, whose long-awaited self-titled debut full-length is out June 17 on Kanine/Buzz/Memphis Industries. Considering Waters’s background as a successful comedic actor and writer, it more or less comes with the territory. He has been a mainstay on Canadian television since his days as a finalist in the 2000 MuchMusic VJ Search, going on to head up two CBC kids shows—The X and The Morgan Waters Show—as well as the Gemini-winning mock-rock-umentary Cock’d Gunns on IFC Canada. Despite the growing success of his band, Waters is also readying the third season of his current sitcom, The Amazing Gayl Pile, which streams exclusively on NBC’s Seeso service.
“I edit in the van on the road when Weaves tours,” he explains. “Long drives go faster when there's a weird puzzle to solve. I approach both things with obsession, and my social life takes a hit. [But] music is magic, and comedy and television is just a lot of hard work. So music wins this round.”
Since forming three years ago, the quartet’s frenetic, self-described “bent pop” jams have generated substantial and undying buzz, cultivating a devoted fanbase at home in Canada and internationally. The project came together as a partnership between Burke (formerly of RatTail) and Waters (formerly of Sweet Thing) as an outlet for the former’s mammoth collection of songs stored on her iPhone. The duo rounded out as a full band in 2013 when they recruited drummer Spencer Cole and bassist Zach Bines.
The time since has seen the band make the round across the music blogosphere, earning “on the rise” features and “band-to-watch” accolades for a steady two years, and most recently flooring crowds at SXSW with their mercurial, interactive live show. But you can only be “breaking” for so long, and both Burke and Waters are ready to live up to the hype.
When Noisey first interviewed Weaves, back in May 2014, the band was just beginning work on the 11-track album that would eventually follow their then-just-released first Weaves EP, and touring behind their magnetic, unpredictable live sets began to fill up their calendars.
“We went to Iceland and played Glastonbury, so things were happening,” Burkey says. “There were certain songs that we liked and then didn’t like, and then toured in Europe last summer, which affected us and made us want to do something better. So we did a few more songs after we got back. It took us some time to figure out what we wanted to have on this record.”
The road certainly played its part in delaying the release of Weaves, but it’s not the main culprit. The bigger challenge came from attempting to focus their ever-growing and stylistically varied catalogue of songs.
“Jasmyn [is] very prolific, so there is always more material that we can try as a band,” Waters explains. “At a certain point we had to stop ourselves and say, ‘This is it!’”
“We can’t really make up our minds,” adds Burke. “I’m always writing songs. When we were working on the record I got into the habit of going in every week and writing for a few hours. Then I’ll send Morgan like five songs in the moment. So songs every 30 minutes to an hour, and he tells me which ones he likes… I challenge myself to write a new set for every show. It pushes me to write different music, and once I started doing it weekly I would just churn it out.
This type of spontaneous enthusiasm filters through the music of Weaves. Their songs are instilled with a nervous energy, courtesy of Burke’s cartoon yelp, Waters’s guitar squeals, and the erratic rhythm section of Cole and Bines. There are traces of everyone from St. Vincent to Dan Deacon to Yeah Yeahs Yeahs in their DNA, but it’s Weaves’ chemistry that cements their sound as their own.
Take, for example, the interplay between Burke’s voice and Waters’s guitar, in which the latter doubles as Burke’s back up vocalist, literally singing into his hollow body guitar so its sensitive pickups capture and distorting his wails to underscore her lilting delivery.
“Almost always at the merch table people will be asking Morgan, ‘How did you do that?’” Burke says. Meanwhile, she will be busy whipping the crowd into a frenzy with her notoriously unpredictable stage antics, ditching her shyer real life demeanor for a larger-than-life persona that might see her engaging in ferocious staring contests with crowd members, prowling the stage with long-limbed gestures, and otherwise ensuring everyone gets weird and gives into abandon.
“I guess the idea was to make all the instruments super expressive, like a voice,” Waters says. “Jasmyn plays around with her voice, she doesn’t sing anything the same way twice. The rest of us have to keep up and be in the moment at the same time. We have to adjust to each other and have a conversation on stage.”
At its core, Weaves is about exploring what’s created through leaning into imperfection. That immediacy was central in Weaves’ approach to recording their full-length, a collection of wildly reckless lo-fi pop that feels like it can go off the rails whenever they see fit. It’s a controlled chaos manifested in both older tracks like “Candy” and the explosive climaxes of new songs like “Sentence” and the no-wavy “Coo Coo.” Its centerpiece, however, is arguably “Two Oceans,” a sprawling, feedback-soaked melodic jaunt named for Burke’s favorite reasonably priced wine, and the band’s first (and very successful) attempt at recording a completely improvised song from beginning to end.
“We had rehearsal and Morgan was joking about how I like to drink Two Oceans, and said we should have a song about Two Oceans,” says Burke. “We had joked around with a chorus a little bit the night before, so when we got in the studio we just tried it and it worked. But I think that’s just part of how this band is good at communicating on different levels.”
“If you listen to the original recording of that song, I’m muting Jasmyn saying [in snide voice] ‘No guitar solos!’” explains Waters. “She was trying to cut me off, but I just ploughed through it… Zach thought it was a waste of time. I don’t think anyone could trust that it was happening. But then we listened to it once we were done and everyone was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ It was really about just wasting a half-hour in the studio. And I think the lesson was ‘Don’t try ever again.’ It’s now my favorite song because I worked on it the least. Of course, we can’t play it live. You’re trying to perform an improvised moment. Do you try to improv something new? It’s kind of a weird question.”
By the time you see Weaves play live this summer, the band will likely have added “Two Oceans” to their set list. Not just because it’s a killer song that shows off the band’s dynamism, but because it will hopefully get them the lucrative wine sponsorship they deserve. The song definitely has the chorus to entice the winery: “I WANT TWO OCEANS. GIVE ME TWO OCEANS. TONIIIIIIIIIGHT!”
“I’d love it!,” admits Burke. “Also, shout outs to Fitbit, because I wear one of those in the ‘One More’ video. I want sponsorships from Two Oceans and Fitbit and Vaseline and Werther’s Originals, because we eat a lot of those. And Costco. Before we go on tour my mom takes me to Costco and we buy van food.”
“Yeah,” Waters adds playfully. “We’re Costco rock.” Such matter-of-fact, unsexy sponsorships would hardly match the band’s music, of course. But if anyone’s up for an unlikely billing under the genre of Wholesale Retail Jams it would be Weaves, masters of the funny, weird, and totally unexpected.
Cam Lindsay is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.