From folk roots, Jane Weaver’s music has evolved over the years. She talks to Duncan Seaman ahead of a Leeds gig next month.
Jane Weaver sounds a little trepidatious about her forthcoming British tour. With just a few weeks of rehearsals to go before she embarks on the eight-date trek she’s calling Loops in the Secret Society, the Liverpool-born singer and musician admits it’ll be the first time she has performed without her regular band for several years.
“From my creative side of it it’s certainly made me a little more nervous,” she says about this run of shows at which she will be entirely on her own. “Since 2014 I’ve had the band and it’s been great. I think it’s always the best representation of the records but then I feel a bit frustrated because I’m only playing guitar now and again or I’m more concentrating on singing doing large bands shows, so it’s going to be a refreshing change for me to be actually playing on stage.
“I do feel really nervous about it. I do feel out of practice as a musician because I’m so used to going ‘You do your bit and I’ll dance around the microphone a bit longer’.
“So yes,” she adds with a chuckle, “the pressure’s on.”
Weaver will have two decades of touring experience on which to draw. Back in the mid-1990s she was a member of the band Kill Laura, who were signed to Polydor Records; another group, Misty Dixon, followed before in 2002 she launched a solo career that has increasingly married psychedelia and motorik influences to her initial folk leanings.
Her last two albums, The Silver Globe and 2017’s Modern Kosmology, might have raised her profile in critical and commercial terms but Weaver says there was a steady evolution going on in her music beforehand.
“For me it was kind of building up to go to that point,” she explains. “The Fallen By Watchbird [her fourth solo record] in 2010 was the point where I was frustrated at being seen as just a singer-songwriter with a guitar. I guess I got more into the stuff I used to listen to when I was younger, more prog, more space rock, and that spurred on [The Silver Globe].
“It felt a lot freer than the pigeonhole that had been put upon me, and had also been probably self-imposed as well artistically. I was like ‘take no notice of that and just get on with it’. That was really the starting point for me and after that I did an imaginary soundtrack for a fashion designer friend of mine which she used in her runway shows and it just kind of carried on from there. I found something that I was more comfortable with and it was using more electronic instruments, so I guess that was my opener.”
She is looking forward to being able to present songs from her two most recent albums differently at the Loops in the Secret Society gigs. It’ll be a change, she says, from her recent neo-classical collaboration with the Immix Ensemble at Festival No 6 in North Wales – “That was more of an orchestrated thing, working with amazing musicians” – as well as her regular touring group (“who are amazing musicians too”).
It’s always a joy to do some more cinematic and instrumental stuff and use your voice as an instrument, like a soundpad, rather than having to write particular vocals or themes.Jane Weaver
“I used to actually play solo stuff where I used to try to recreate a whole album on my own like a picnic player, using different keyboards, a Casio or a little MicroKorg or a melodica – anything I could get my hands on.
“It’s really hard to sing and do all these kinds of things so [for this tour] I’ve invented dubplate backing tracks, they’re individual things, and then I can play synths and keyboards so it’s just a different representation of the albums, really.”
Like her Immix Ensemble collaboration, the Loops in the Secret Society shows will include a strong visual element. “The Immix thing we did was with a guy called Sam Wiehl and the next lot is with Nick Farrimond, who’s a filmmaker and he’s using collages of stuff we’ve done together. He did my video for The Architect with my husband [Andy Votel, DJ and record label boss] and an artist called Gary Clarke. We all continue to work with a few different people. What they bring to the project is always different, so it’s good.”
Being able to play “more intimate” venues, such as Leeds City Varieties music hall, also intrigues Weaver – “I’ve played in an array of places since I was 17 – now I’m in my forties – some very bad and some amazing where I feel very privileged,” she says – as does the opportunity to play some of her more unusual instruments that she’s refrained from taking on recent tours.
“It’s just because they’re old and they’re unreliable,” she says. “Every time you use an old piece of equipment from the 70s you think ‘Is this going to be the time where it’s just going to go kaput on stage or before or after?’ But then again I recently went on tour with Belle and Sebastian with a new keyboard deliberately just to swing around and be reliable and then it wouldn’t work on the first gig and they had to lend me a keyboard. I felt really embarrassed because I’d just bought a keyboard to be quite portable, to get on planes etcetera, something that I wouldn’t be that bothered about if it got damaged and it blooming wouldn’t work. You’ve no control over it, really.”
Modern Kosmology included songs inspired by the Swedish abstract artist Hilma Af Klint. Weaver says her influence has extended beyond that record. “I think inspiration like that is more as a writer and creative person. It’s always good to go over that story and to be inspired by other people’s processes because you can stagnate in the way you write music – there’s certain people that you use or there’s certain studios that you go to. It’s important to be more open-minded and try different things. I don’t do seances and try to reach higher astral planes in mystical ways [like Klint did], it’s just always interesting to read through it. Her story is from the end of the 1800s and the start of the 1900s and she used spiritualism to tap into creativity and why not?”
Next up for Weaver is a film soundtrack – “I’m currently working on something and hopefully it will get released because the people I’ve done it with are getting angry with me – no names mentioned, I have to hurry up with that one,” she laughs. “But it’s always a joy to do some more cinematic and instrumental stuff and use your voice as an instrument, like a soundpad, rather than having to write particular vocals or themes.”
Her thoughts are also turning to her next solo album. “I’ve already got a bit of a plan for the next record,” she says. “Hopefully it won’t take three years to record, like some of them have, or longer. I’m possibly going to change some of the ways that I do stuff and I’ve got a plan to use different types of instruments, so watch this space. I’m getting to that point where you’re getting to end of promoting one album and you’re itching to creatively get in the studio and get your teeth into something new. It never goes away, it’s always something I’m very excited about, I don’t care how old I am. That’s the thing if you’re an artist or a creative person you always want to get on to the next thing.”
Jane Weaver plays at Leeds City Varieties on October 30. www.janeweavermusic.com