Jane Weaver Interview

Mark Dale caught up with abstract pop auteur Jane Weaver at last week's Green Man Festival to talk music, influences, home life and festivals.

Mike Warburton

Date published: 25th Aug 2015

Photo: Jane Weaver

Jane Weaver is a Liverpool born, Manchester based singer songwriter whose recording career began in the early to mid nineties when she was part of the Brit pop era group Kill Laura. She formed another group Misty Dixon in the early 2000s and signed to Twisted Nerve Records, home of Badly Drawn Boy, a label that was owned by Manchester DJ and uber music enthusiast Andy Votel, who is now her partner.

Twisted Nerve Records gave rise to another of Andy's labels, Finders Keepers, which is a label that reissues sometimes weird and wonderful, rare and mostly forgotten gems from music's past. It also gave rise to Bird Records, which Jane runs and which specialises in releasing the music of contemporary female folk artists such as Beth Jeans Houghton and Emma Tricca and which has released the critically acclaimed Bearded Ladies compilation.

Jane herself was among a long list of UK female folk artists to emerge in the early 2000s. Her folk based debut solo album Like An Aspen Leaf was followed by Seven Day Smile and Cherlokalate the year after, and on each release she grew in terms of musical remit.

Her evolving musical explorations truly came to fruit in the last half decade. During that time she has issued the critically lauded The Fallen By Watchword and The Silver Globe albums, two remix albums The Watchbird Alluminate and The Amber Light and library music collection Intiaani Kesa. Her music has been used in films and sampled by one of the UK's biggest pop rock outfits Coldplay.

Mark Dale interviewed Jane just after her performance at 2015's Green Man Festival and prior to her appearances at Festival No. 6 and a headlining UK tour to talk about her music, influences, home life and festivals.

I really love some of the stuff on The Amber Light. Was it always your intention to release a companion disc? It's not the first time you've done it with a previous album having been followed by a remix package.

Did you feel entirely comfortable with the flow of that album - I ask because The Silver Globe is loosely a concept album and it seems to have been structured a bit like an old school prog rock record, with particular attention paid to the running order and how some of the tracks flow into each other. It's impossible to do that when there are so many different people making integral decisions on the mixes to The Amber Light, no?

The Silver Globe took three and a half years to make, so it was very considered and lots of attention to detail. It's not something I would probably do again... as in taking that long, but it was necessary for that record. When it was finished I was pretty drained! I was insistent about everything to do with that record, you have to be when its so involved, even arguing a lot about the running order.

The Amber Light was turned around a lot quicker, we had a much smaller window of time and I worked more with Andy on it. It was easier to do in one respect because it was different interpretations plus stuff I hadn't had chance to finish after Silver Globe. That said, it still caused its own dramas and wasn't entirely simple. That's the thing with records, they sometimes have their own soap operas attached to them. If only people knew!

A sample from your 'Silver Chord' was used on 'Another's Arms' by Coldplay. Is it true that Chris Martin called you personally to request permission to use it? 

I know their lawyer and he rang me up out of the blue one afternoon. He told me that Coldplay had sampled my vocal and replayed it on a keyboard, it featured in one of their songs off their upcoming album. He said 'Chris wants to speak to you about it. Can he call you?' Chris rang me later on and asked for my permission to use the sample.

I couldn't fully say yes or no because the copyright of the recording wasn't owned by me and I hadn't even heard their song at that point. So I said I'd get the label (Finders Keepers) to get in touch. They were in a rush as the album was coming out in a few weeks.

He was very nice. There was a lot of media coverage at the time about his personal life so I'm sure the last thing he wanted to think or talk about was 'sample clearance' with a complete stranger! When I heard the song I immediately knew it was my voice and the bit in my song it's from, it sounds ghostly in the track. The Coldplay song it's on 'Another's Arms' seems quite a sad song too.

I haven't got a problem with Coldplay or with sampling as long as people ask permission.

A lot of your older material was based more around an acoustic guitar sound. Were you at that time writing songs on an acoustic guitar? Has the songwriting process changed for you now or do you still write using acoustic guitar?

I swap all the time. I get bored and change. I still pick up my guitar, although I tend to write to loops I've made to get ideas mainly on crappy keyboards that are half broken. Although I love fancy and expensive gear, I'm no keyboard snob. I love the experience of using equipment that is rare and unusual, but I'm not a purist and it's impractical to take old stuff on the road unless you've got a fixer with you. Anything that's temperamental is a bit risky. I don't limit myself to one thing or another, I like trying to get a noise out of anything.

I write at home a lot, but since having a family I tend to have to escape to write lyrics and retreat to somewhere that's quiet to think. For the last record the studio was important as part of the process, so I spent a lot of time creating there and then writing lyrics in Edale.

You've been a metaller and an indie fan in the past, I know you like folk music, psychedelia, krautrock and rock and I can hear bits of synthpop influence on some of your recent stuff. That's quite a lot! Are there any genres of music you don't really have time for and if there are, do you have any particular reasons for not giving them any time?

I like pop music and melody. But you have to give credit if something is a good song. It's a good song regardless of taste. You have to take your hat off to some people sometimes and say 'ok I think your band/you are crap, but that song is good'. Sometimes I struggle with non musical stuff like concrete or dark electronic stuff which is just someone hitting a brick with a shoe. Don't get me wrong I like soundtracked art installation, but I prefer Gary Numan.

You live with Manchester DJ, producer and record label boss Andy Votel. Presumably your house has always got some music playing?

I always say Andy has introduced me to some of the best music, but also some of the worst! And he hates anything contemporary or indie, unless it's a girl band!. If I play stuff in the car he always has some opinion, which is really irritating.

Andy's got an unquenchable appetite for music - has what he's played over the years influenced you in either your own tastes or in your music making? Any particular things that stand out in your memory? Do you always agree on music or are there any things that each of you play that the other can't stand?

When he puts his music on it's usually something he's made. Or it's something from the Finders Keepers catalogue that I've already heard a zillion times in the house whilst it's being discovered, compiled, or mastered and then the test pressings, then the final product. He's obsessed to say the least!

That said, I value being introduced to a lot of records by him, ranging from heavy South American Psych to Turkish protest music to Czech film soundtracks. It's never ending. But I think Andy's main influence over me is to consider that anything is possible. I always like working on my own, but he has encouraged me to work with others. The songs with David Holmes (below) or Wendy Flower wouldn't have perhaps happened if Andy hadn't have suggested it.

Some of the more floaty, ambient, soundscape music you've done has been described as being a bit new age. Ew. I hate that genre name. I mean, new age? What does that even mean? I guess it must mean something because I can smell patchouli when I say it.

Another genre name I hate is folktronica. Ew! Labelling genres is unnecessary and annoying, but it is sometimes a useful way of describing music using words. What are the worst words that have been used to describe your music? Are there any music genre or sub genre names that you don't like?

I tend to take no notice to be honest. Sometimes it's handy if you're in Amoeba in LA looking for hair metal and Disney soundtracks  - true story. But it makes me laugh, especially gender specific genres and the visual ideas they conjure 'singer/songwriter' or 'veteran singer songwriter' - thanks music writers! At least 'thrash metal' sounds like it's going somewhere!

Let's talk about movies! You've recorded library music for a film-maker, some of your music has been used in a film, part of of the inspiration of The Silver Globe was a film. Would it be fair to say you're a bit of a film nut? Are there any directors, genres or movements that have been of particular influence to you?

I know you like a lot of weird beard, forgotten, foreign language movies, ha! But what kind of more mainstream, English language movies do you like, if any? Do you have any ambitions to express yourself artistically in a more visual medium as well as through music? What films have you seen in the past couple of years that you've really, really loved?

The Fellini film 'Juliet Of The Spirits' is everything and has everything. When I first met Andy years ago he insisted I watch it and I am eternally grateful to him as it now belongs to me. I hear a lot of soundtracks because Finders Keepers have released a lot.

I suppose my favourite is 'Mala Morska Vila'  by Liska as it has early Disney-esque choraled dreamy vocals with supernatural electronic moments. I also like sixties Italian horror soundtracks and Dario Argento films with bold Italian prog backing. I think the most captivating film I've seen recently is 'Under The Skin'. Mica Levi's soundtrack is immediately terrifying and powerful. 

All this said, I'm equally as happy watching 'Superbad' or 'Bridesmaids' and I genuinely like Tom Cruise. Film scoring is a dream job, its something I'd like to venture into more, definitely. I also used to spend a lot of time consumed in art before I got a record deal. It would be nice to return to doing that at some point.

You played at Green Man Festival last weekend, then you're returning to Festival Number 6 and then appearing at Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia. You've been a punter at Green Man before, what are your favourite memories of that festival? 

With Green Man, probably when it first started. There was hardly anyone there compared to now, but it felt like something was brewing. Exciting times. I first saw Emma Tricca playing at Green Man and I think Voice Of The Seven Woods did one of his first gigs there. I like the fact that it's not massive. Although it's growing every year it's still like a village compared to Glastonbury being its own city! 

Portmeirion's a pretty kooky place! Did you have much time for the TV show The Prisoner (watch the opening theme above)?

Portmeirion is one of my favourite places in the world. I started watching The Prisoner series in the nineties and I'm a huge fan/geek about it. My favourite episode is 'The Girl Who Was Death'. One of the reasons I wanted to release Beth Jeans Houghton's first single on Bird Records is because she looked like the actress from that episode!

I think The Prisoner as a series is still relevant now. Politically speaking it raises questions that we as a society are still asking, 'who is number one?', 'who is really in charge?'. I love Number 6's spirit and determination to remain unbroken *spoiler alert* but it also makes me sad that every time he makes a bid for freedom and you think he has escaped, he ends up right back where he started.

Knowing that Liverpool's played such an important part of your musical education, does your date there feel special at all or is it just another date in a very busy schedule?

I always love playing in Liverpool, it's a special place for me and it's where my family are from. I lived in Liverpool for a lot of the nineties and it was such a wild and exciting time, lots of music going on, bands making records, club nights. I love that part of town and think the Camp and Furnace is a great venue.

Are there any other acts at these three events that you're particularly looking forward to seeing or are you so busy you don't even know who else is playing?

I don't tend to make plans of who to see until I arrive. It's challenging enough organising the band and crew, travelling, and sometimes putting up a tent before I can relax. And I enjoy the spontaneity at a festival, to just stumble across people you've never seen before or didn't even know were playing. Some of my best discoveries are via this method.

Jane Weaver plays Festival No. 6, Portmeirion, End Of The Road Festival, Dorset, Liverpool Psych Festival 29 September and is touring the UK throughout October. Head here for more on Jane Weaver.

More like this? Try our Five Must See Acts at Festival Number 6.