Despite a career stretching over twenty years, incorporating five singles with the Sleeperesque Kill Laura, an album of synth pop with Misty Dixon and five previous solo records, Jane Weaver is endearingly unprepared for stardom. The success of her sixth album – the prog-folk masterpiece The Silver Globe – has caught her somewhat on the hop. All of which explains why she’s spending a precious day off drowning under waves of unread emails: “I thought I’d worked hard before, but actually this is what hard work really feels like!”
As her melodic yet melancholic tales of intergalactic misadventures racked up the column inches, and saw her welcomed into the influential bosom of BBC Radio 6Music, JANE WEAVER was claimed by Liverpool, Manchester and all parts in between. My request for clarity causes the second hearty laugh barely three minutes into the interview: “They can all have me!”
All claims appear valid. Currently residing in Marple (just outside Stockport), Weaver was born in Liverpool, but grew up in Cheshire. Returning for college, it was here that Kill Laura was born, before crossing the M62 to sign with Rob Gretton’s Manchester Records. Working with Gretton brought Weaver into contact with a multitude of talented musicians and future collaborators, including Badly Drawn Boy, Doves and her husband – DJ, producer and co-founder of Twisted Nerve, Andy Votel.
“I’ve never really belonged anywhere – while living in Liverpool I was called a Woollyback because I didn’t have the proper accent! I was on Billy Butler’s show a few years back and he was getting complaints because I didn’t sound Scouse enough to be from Liverpool.” Thankfully those fiercely defended boundaries don’t exist in the musical realm. And in disregard on these boundaries, Weaver has placed her latest album amongst the stars.
The Silver Globe is a concept album based on a film by madcap Polish director Andrzej Zulawski that deals with a bleak apocalyptic future. “It’s about starting a new civilisation on another planet, but it goes wrong. Andy was watching it at home, kinda checking out the soundtrack. I was intrigued but it was so bizarre I had to watch it again on my own to try and understand what was going on. Then it broke my TV! It’s very stark and depressing – the cinematography, the colouring, full of greys and blues. The idea of artists literally fighting to get their work out there really made an impression on me.” Weaver is a long-term fan of science fiction, dating back to a childhood obsession with Space 1999: “I loved shows like The Tomorrow People, and Sapphire And Steel – I was attracted to anything with a weird edge to it.”
Despite the otherworldly setting and spike in acclaim, in Weaver’s eyes The Silver Globe isn’t a grand departure from her previous work. She claims the difference to 2010’s The Fallen By Watch Bird – released during the rise of the Mumfords – is one of motivation, rather than style. “The Fallen By Watch Bird was exasperating – I was getting bored of being a singer/songwriter. It was a time when it seemed everyone was OD’ing on folk. I began looking to inject more experimental elements into my music.” Finding inspiration in movie soundtracks, Weaver created a score for Finnish director/designer Paloa Suhonen’s 2011’s short, Intiaani Kesa (translation: Indian Summer). Employing and enjoying a wider range of instruments, such as tubular bells, bowed guitars and detuned pianos, Intiaani Kesa acted as a bridge to the loftier ambitions of The Silver Globe.
In the wrong hands, a concept record can stifle creativity just as easily as give it new life – narrowing the walls instead of focusing the mind. In this case it was just what the doctor ordered, as Weaver explains with unmistakeable vigour: “I really enjoyed writing in that manner, with a narrative and a theme running through everything. Rather than sitting down thinking ‘I’ve got to write a song from scratch’, there was a bigger sound picture to work with. An enjoyable process, if not necessarily a quick one.” The familiar struggle of fitting creativity into the timetable of family life meant the album took nearly four years to complete. “Eventually it all came together. At the start I did worry about how they [the tracks] would all link together, but the experience of being older made me realise I don’t care if they don’t marry perfectly – an album is supposed to be a collection of songs, and that’s what it is.”
February’s re-release of the record saw that collection expand to a second disc. The Amber Light features four brand-new songs, three instrumental scores and three tracks from The Silver Globe re-imagined by Votel, The Horrors’ Tom Furse and drone rock virtuoso P.J. Philipson. They may be born in the same world, but Weaver is keen to assert that The Amber Light is more than just stale leftovers: “It’s new stuff, from ideas that I didn’t get a chance to explore. Sometimes with a record you get to a point where it just feels like it’s done. Even if I’ve got more ideas, I feel like I can’t give any more to this. It’s like a baby – you know when it’s ready!”
The Amber Light proves a fitting companion. Lead track I Need A Connection deploys a gorgeous throbbing synth as Weaver’s trademark sweet vocals pierce through an arctic maelstrom, while Furse brings an unexpected calm to Argent’s kinetic krautrock thrum. It’s a joint release between Weaver’s own Twisted Nerve offshoot Bird Records and the re-issue label Finders Keepers, run by Votel and fellow crate-digger Doug Shipton. All three labels are part of a wider family of companies and artists including Heavenly Records, who are set to release Weaver’s collaboration with Toy – Fell From The Sun – as a split single with H. Hawkline’s It’s A Drag for this year’s Record Store Day.
This raft of new releases are perfectly timed to capitalise on a solid six months of perpetual goodwill – Don’t Take My Soul made Gilles Peterson’s top ten global tracks of 2014, while Manchester institution Piccadilly Records voted The Silver Globe album of the year. Dues well and truly paid, Weaver has a deep appreciation of the warm public reaction: “I’ve made lots of albums, but it doesn’t really mean anything unless people are responding to them. When I heard how many records Piccadilly had pre-ordered I was scared they wouldn’t sell and I would have to find a new record shop! Everyone has so been so positive, and it’s allowed me to go on tour, and get invited to play at some amazing festivals.”
One of the benefits of a late career bloom is having a more robust sense of self; a stronger insulation against insecurity and the vagaries of what’s trendy. In conversation Weaver exudes a disarming realism, at odds with the perception born of the fantastical imagery she creates. It’s clear this is a woman entirely comfortable with who she is as an artist, no mean feat in a music industry with a worryingly lopsided attitude to gender. Weaver created Bird Records as an outlet to help predominantly female artists to find an audience, and has been vocal on the pathetic female representation at two totems of British Rock – the Reading and Leeds festival and the NME Awards. “It really saddened me to see that Reading poster,” Weaver sighs. “I can understand it at a heavier event like Download as there doesn’t seem to be that many female heavy rock bands.” At this Weaver warms to the theme: “Although there might be – they just haven’t made it through the net. But in an indie world…? The reason I loved indie music years ago was because I felt ‘there’s a place for me here’. Now it just means white boys with guitars. It’s so boring.”
There was a time when the only way this music would have reached its rightful audience was if some intrepid musicphile assembled it on a ‘Lost Ladies of Folk’ compilation – exactly like Weaver and Votel did on their 2008 release Bearded Ladies: 13 Homegrown Selections Of Forlorn And Freakish Female Songsmithery From The Past Four Decades. Maybe the music industry, and those of us plugged in to it, still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality, but thanks to artists such as Jane Weaver it’s no longer a forlorn hope. Gems like her don’t stay hidden for long.
Words: Mo Stewart / theviewfromthebooth.tumblr.com
Photography: Andy Votel
The Silver Globe and The Amber Light are out now on Bird/Finders Keepers Records and Fell From The Sun / It’s A Drag is out now on Heavenly Records.