The Carlu in downtown Toronto is one of the last of its kind—a 1930s venue trying to infuse decadence. It's home each year to Canadian music's biggest night; ushering in new generations of artists among its longstanding legacy acts for the Polaris Prize Gala in September. It's here where I meet Toronto garage rockers Weaves, one of the few bands in the city who make exceptionally good pop music that's weird and fuzzy around the edges, yet tender and poignant. Weaves were shortlisted for the Polaris Prize—an annual monetary music prize determined by 200 plus jurors—for their self-titled debut from last year, which is a triumphant DIY record. It is jangling, exuberant, and cheeky ("Two Oceans" is named after a brand of wine.)
Weaves' fervor, and coolness, was apparent during their gala performance of "Scream," featuring Polaris Prize 2014 winner Tanya Tagaq. Lead singer Jasmyn Burke wore a black latex dress and shimmery purple platform boots, looking out into the audience, staring almost, at the faces looking back at her. Every verse she sings sounds like a proclamation, an education, of sorts, as she points out and keeps her gaze over a bloop-sounding bassline. The performance was visceral and commanding and words genuinely fail to capture more than that. It was an experience. Tagaq's throat singing (and eventual screams) on an already perfect song sent it into the stratosphere of excellence.
The song appears on their sophomore album, Wide Open, out this Friday via Buzz Records. "Scream" is a motivational and progressively accelerating track. "After Trump had been elected, I was like, 'This is kind of messed up. There are people who might not like me because of the colour of my skin or actually want to harm me,'" says Burke. "It was was a very reactionary piece that just sort of like came out."
Weaves would go on to lose to Lido Pimienta's La Papessa but their performance, nor the song or them as a group in this public, critical space, are forgotten. "Scream" is urgent, not frantic, and constantly moves; not even just rhythmically, but perceptively, too. It captures the constant forward and bold momentum of the band. They're currently at a compelling professional precipice.
Not many bands return home after touring for most of the year with a renewed sense of energy to create but, Weaves tells me, that's exactly what happened. "I think everybody was excited to play new music," says Burke. "You kind of have this new burst of energy that comes out when you've been on tour for a long time. I was like, 'bam bam bam, let's get it going.' And everyone else was on board so why not put out another album?!" Bassist Zach Bines adds: "[Morgan and Jasmyn] were so prolific in a month's span. In January, I just remember a lot of demos filling up the email inbox. I just couldn't keep up with all this stuff." Even during the recording of these new songs, Burke would have written two more that day. To put it in hyperbolic terms: Wide Open was the result of a creative explosion.
Their self-titled debut is a refreshing and innovative, fizzy pop album. Wide Open, though, is matured and profound, but not steeped in platitudes; thoughtful while still maintaining a signature playfulness. It is, as Burke says, more refined, adding, "we toured for so long and you just grow as a band. There's the initial chemistry of when we started and everyone is like, 'okay, this is the band' but then you tour for a year and really get into the zone."
Wide Open, as a catalyst and result, present a more confident, observational Weaves. Opening track "#53" is exultant and booming, followed by "Slicked," a strutting song for going out. "Law and Panda"—which has social and political undertones in its lyrics ("I'm a panda bear/avoiding extinction" and "I dare you to question the man/'cause we've got something he can't stand")—is hectic and fast-paced; a worthy dance track. "The album starts out and it sounds like a band, almost like a bar band, for the first few songs," says Waters. "'Walkaway' is sort of like Jasmyn steps out of the bar and has a breath of fresh air and connects with herself." Following this is the record's three song centerpiece with "Wide Open,"then the minute long "Motherfucker," with the captivating, repetitive lyrics "just another motherfucker," serving like the album's interlude. And after "Motherfucker," comes "Scream." Burke says, "the second side is a bit destruction and things are falling apart. I think for even our album cover it reflects that. There's this fire and all our clothes are ripped and torn and burnt. It's sort of how people are feeling."
Burke sings on "Wide Open," that she's, "simply a creature who is creating a portrait of this combustion that's been thrust on me." It doesn't immediately strike as the band's thesis but in essence that's what Wide Open and Weaves have evolved to: there's a statement about not just the world as she sees it, but how it sees her. As the primary songwriter, Burke, too, grew into her craft. Burke's songwriting is genuinely comparable to someone like Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs: tender, open, weird, and assertive. There is a personal power that is helping fuel her. Burke only spends about 20 minutes writing a song and then it's complete after that, says Waters— she rarely goes on to edit or add verses once the lyrics are done. "I didn't want to use metaphors and I felt—just being on the road and meeting young people—that's what they need and that's want, that honesty," she says. "The older I get the more confident I am as a songwriter so I don't want to hide behind using different words for storylines."
Toronto's rock music scene is more fluid and less rigid perceptively now and Weaves are at the forefront of it. Theirs is a sound and presence that is fresh, and what good rock 'n' roll ought to be. "We change the way we think about music and playing music and not go along the same path all the time," says Spencer Cole. Burke adds: "We don't want to be one particular sound and we don't want to be too precious about the albums, you know? It's… an album."
With Weaves there is hardly any mundanity here; only excitement to keep going, pushing their boundaries and themselves.
Sarah MacDonald is an Assistant Editor at Noisey Canada. Follow her on Twitter.