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Following the release of her new album, Flock, Cath Holland speaks to the singer-songwriter about stepping out of the “drone zone” and into some shimmering pop.
On the cover of Flock, her 11th album, JANE WEAVER is very much a woman in charge of all she surveys: bird boxes in shades of mild but insistent pink, blue and green. The colour palette corresponds with a piece of Pisces artwork she has propped up on her fireplace at home. She’s unsure what the image relates to, maybe trippy 70s star sign paraphernalia you see in charity shops. That would be apt; Flock leads out of Jane’s ever-present interests in the other worldly. It’s the album she’s always wanted to make, we’re told, which sees her take a different trip from previous space rock adventures, embracing pop and the rainbow of styles within.
Jane is in good spirits when we talk, despite the inevitable circumstance-driven delay sharing the record with us. “It’s like giving birth, just get it out there and I can have a bit of a sit down,” she jokes of the waiting period. Birthing a child is no easy task and, as it turns out, nor was making Flock. But you’d not suspect by listening to it that the gestation until its arrival late spring, so perfectly in tune with the lengthening days and a slowly emerging sense of guarded optimism, proved “uncomfortable” for her.
We’re accustomed to appreciating the conceptual aspect of Weaver’s work, revolving around a topic or person or film. 2017’s Modern Kosmology claimed Hilma af Klint as a nourishing muse, the Swedish artist and mystic’s creative process feeding into the record. We did get the sense there was some soul searching going on in the lyrics on Flock even before it came out, the single The Revolution of Super Visions finds Weaver wondering “do you look at yourself and find nothing?”
“It’s much easier to write about somebody else’s world and go into that bubble and daydream about the possibilities of what they did,” she says. “It’s nice and comfy and the possibilities are endless. But when it comes to doing something more personal it’s a bit horrible, really. I don’t enjoy indulging in things about myself.”
Jane headed off to Anglesey before recording Modern Kosmology, to reflect and write. For Flock she handpicked the more glamorous surroundings of Brittany in France. As she drove up the coast she had visions of browsing in arty shops, buying ice cream, sipping wine in nice bars.
“But the whole town was dead, like a ghost town!” she admits. “It’s a coastal town where I was staying. I forgot, it was out of season ’cause it was December. One restaurant open, on a Wednesday night. No bars open. Aldi was open, or Lidl, and there were just loads of old ladies walking around.”
Ultimately, the empty surroundings, deserted holiday homes of the rich and famous with closed locked shutters, proved to be a positive.
“I was pretty fed up anyway and miserable, but I was trying to write these pop songs, so it was a bit happy-sad, a bittersweet kind of thing. But the isolation, the fact I wasn’t distracted, was perhaps the best thing that happened.”
Flock might well be a diversion from her norm – if there is such a thing for an experimentalist such as Weaver – but we’ve experienced her pop side before. Don’t Take My Soul and I Need A Connection from 2014’s The Silver Globe are essentially pop songs after all.
“There’s still experimental stuff [on Flock] for sure, I can’t help myself with that, but I just tried to make it fun. Neater pop songs. So, they weren’t meandering for 10 minutes, the experimental bits in them are shorter and contained,” she explains. “I love space jam, 10-minute songs and being onstage and being in a big drone zone – it’s like a gong bath or something. But I do appreciate the power of when you’re doing a pop song live. When I do them live it’s a kind of arms-in-the-air reaction from the crowd and I do love that.”
She reflects on the irony of Flock being designed for live performance. “I was thinking, ‘This is gonna be good onstage, I’m gonna be doing this that and the other, wearing this’, and then there’s no gigs and it’s, like, really upsetting,” she laughs, making light out of the situation. “I had all these grand plans and outfits and whatnot, which we’ll get to eventually. We will get to do it.”
A substantial value of pop music is capturing the time it’s in, like a time capsule. Does she think she succeeded?
“You’re right, it’s a fashion thing as well. But, artistically, for me, because I’ve not done that for a long time, just playing pop stuff is more interesting to do, I guess. The main thing for me was to just try and push the boundaries creatively and that meant do as many kinds of pop as I could find.”
Jane allowed the songs to be themselves, she reveals, to let them take the lead. Not lending themselves to any particular genre, but if one went glam (like Stages of Phases), she went with it. If it got its funk on, as on Pyramid Schemes, she danced along the same path too. Heartlow set its heart on wonderful guitar pop, so that’s what it became.
“Just letting a song be, letting them sort themselves out, really,” she illustrates.
The songs sprang from unexpected sources, ideas nurtured from lost albums far away from 21st century northern England. Jane dove into Lebanese and Arabic music, orchestral music from 1960s and 1970s. She fell down a wormhole of Eastern European 80s pop on YouTube, entranced by Russian aerobics music.
“And it sounds exactly as you would think it does – it’s Russian language aerobics music!” she says excitedly. She cites the power-pop elements of legendary Australian band The Saints over their more dominant punk side, leading her to investigate subcultures in 1970s Australia, and the work of photographer Rennie Ellis. She enjoyed the films in French director Éric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, the six films seeing the characters driven by misunderstandings, dissatisfaction and loneliness.
“I’ve probably watched all of them,” she admits. “They do a disco scene in the 80s – a very simple party scene – and it was, ‘What’s that music, that music’s amazing!’ so I tracked down music from that. Things like that led me on a journey to styles of pop music and what I wanted to do.”
Her vocals are gorgeous on Flock. Louder in the mix and she sings higher, too. She doesn’t seem overly comfortable accepting compliments on them, though.
“I don’t consider myself a singer, I consider myself an artist, a writer. I concentrate on the song as a whole and the vocal being a part of that,” she explains. “Not my singing or whatever. I concentrate a lot on the production and instrumentation and how the mix is, and the song as a whole.”
“It’s funny when you’re not confident as a new artist you’re ‘turn my voice down’,” she continues. “It’s hideous hearing your own voice. It’s hideous now – ‘Oh god, it’s me’ – but as you get older you think, ‘Sod it, I’ll just do it’.”
Conversation tails off to chat about the other Weaver – no relation – who was in the news recently. How it’s inspirational to see a woman not in her first flush of youth right up there and, yes, in charge.
“And up against that toxic masculinity as well, which is hideous, and the way she just keeps her cool,” Jane says of Jackie Weaver of Handforth Parish Council meeting fame (Jane herself jokingly received multiple ‘you have no authority here, Jane Weaver’ tweets in the aftermath). “The determination to take that woman down was hideous and she just sailed through it all. We’ve all probably had similar treatment somewhere in our lives.”
It’s interesting that, even now, Jane still gets asked who produces her albums, with people often assuming it’s her husband, Andy Votel. “And it’s like, why wouldn’t you think that was me? It does say my name on it,” she notes. “There’s just a generalisation. Some people think there’s a man behind everything, I guess.”
The album reaches number 24 in the Official UK Albums Chart the week after we talk. Its cover image seems to be everywhere, Weaver poised on the 1970s peacock chair on the cover and coolly regarding the ground below. “Me waiting for my flock to return. Or sat there like a mother hen,” she joked of her queenly posture, but it firms up more than ever that, like her partial namesake, Jane has all the authority here.
Flock is available now via Fire Records.