Jane Weaver on the Making of "Modern Kosmology"

Photo by Nic Chapman / Artist Press Photo

Jane Weaver has had an unlikely career arc. As part of Kill Laura in the ‘90s, she tapped into the British zeitgeist, combining grunge, Brit pop, and a smattering of shoegaze while releasing records with New Order’s manager, Rob Gretton.

The new millennium found Weaver exploring not only electronic music, but digging deeply into the British tradition of pastoral folk, with sounds of Pentangle and Fairport Convention permeating her work.

Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology

However, just as she seemed to firmly establish herself as a player in the indie folk movement — comfortably occupying space in playlists next to Laura Marling, Iron & Wine, and Bon Iver — her songs were impacted by her longtime love of '70s prog rock.

She now navigates influences that include Pink Floyd, motorik bands (or so–called “krautrock”), and Hawkwind, the latter of whom lent a sample from “Star Cannibal” to one of Weaver’s songs on The Silver Globe.

That prog impulse is further explored on her latest release Modern Kosmology, a brilliant collection of sonic delights, which finds her cutting her own path through that thicket of influences.

To keep up with Jane's live dates and check out more of her music, visit her website.

Do you consider Modern Kosmology a companion piece to your last record, The Silver Globe?

Yes, because I'm still exploring the possibilities of self–producing, even though I've been doing it for years. I'm still fascinated by how certain sounds are made.

There’s a continuing line that links every record, but I think on one it’s louder and bolder. I made a conscious effort to turn them up a notch and expose myself more.

The Silver Globe was a huge departure from your mostly pastoral folk style. In what way were the motorik bands that inform both it and Modern Kosmology inspirational?

My husband Andy Votel is a DJ. He's a record collector, so my house is just full of that kind of music.

I like trying out new things as I explore different genres, and that one was very much in focus for me. We became friends with Malcolm Mooney from Can. Andy’s been a massive Can fan his whole life, so that was cool.

My background is more space rock and psychedelic stuff, but many of those bands were influenced by Neu!, Amon Düül, Can, and the other krautrock bands. The repetitive nature of motorik music is easy for me to write over. I can put one idea on loop and match it with another idea of mine. I wanted to add pop melodies, though, as well.

At the same time, I was also listening to Fly by Yoko Ono and Grace Jones. Plus, I was into modern psych pop bands, like Temples and Tame Impala. It was just a marriage of influences I was hearing. That lends itself to happy accidents, which can be a gift.

Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology (((Spectral Lines)))

So how did The Silver Globe come together? Did you demo at home?

Now I use GarageBand, but [back] then I was using voice memos and the Yamaha MD8.

I had a little studio set up at a mill, where I’d work, but there was an accountant firm across the way, and the walls were really thin. When I listen back to the demos, I'm singing really quietly because I'm quite shy, and they kept coming up to the door and saying, “Sounds great!” and walking away.

I think it was three–and–a–half years from the inception to completion. Financially, I couldn't afford to pay for it all at once. It was mainly self–funded, so it was in dribs and drabs. But I think that did it justice because I had more time to get perspective and get away from it. I don't think I could just go into a studio for two weeks and record an album.

Modern gear allows us to work differently in that regard. Where did you finally record it?

Early in the process, I started working with David Holmes — a DJ who is living in LA. He was working at this amazing studio called Vox, which was full of old, analog gear. I think it was originally for film scoring. It’s across from Paramount. I was like a kid in a candy shop.

We used a lot of different recording techniques. Tape effects, turning the tape upside down — that kind of thing. That early '70s recording style was attractive, considering what I was listening to.

We did two songs there and then continued when we got back to the UK in a studio called EVE, which is literally five minutes from my house. It was built by a collector, so it’s full of interesting keyboards and synths. I had started the basic tracks elsewhere, and then went to EVE to do most of the overdubbing and synths. They had a Roland GR300 guitar synth, which starts the record and holds it all the way through the first track.

I did so much tracking and “decorating parts,” as I call them, it was ridiculous. I had to do a lot of editing in the end, but was just like, “Wow, listen to this!” the whole time.

What did you learn from making it that you incorporated into Modern Kosmology?

I think it was mainly down to my own attitude as an artist. The Silver Globe was me combining my love for pop music with my love for Hawkwind and motorik music.

It was experimental and free for me, which is my mindset, really. It’s easy for me to be that way because I live in the countryside, and I'm not actively part of any scene. When I want to switch off and be in a bubble, it’s easy to do.

I tried not to think about the positive points of the previous album but rather start again. I used some similar keyboards this time, but more ‘80s Roland stuff. I bought a Juno 106, which has a strong, dominating arpeggiator. It led me to to write “Slow Motion” and “The Architect,” for instance.

I also used more digital delays this time, as opposed to swamping everything with space echo on the final mix.

Where did you start the record?

There's this studio in Manchester called The Sharp Project, which focuses on TV and film. They've got a huge room. I decided it was a good place to do the drums. Last time, we did them in a tiny room, which gave them a really small sound. This time, we put 30–grand worth of mics on the drum kit in a giant room.

I had a moment where it hit me just how expensive that was. But with drum mics, it's a very particular thing, and it’s something I need to learn more about, I suppose. There are vocal mics I like and have an opinion about, but as far as drums, I'm not on par with Steve Albini.

You mentioned you were friends with Malcolm Mooney of Can. How did he end up on “Ravenspoint”?

He's known my husband for years, so we've spoken a good few times along the way. I wanted to do a spoken word thing, and it just seemed like it would fit for him to do it, if he agreed. He was coming over to do Festival Number 6 in Wales, so I used that as opportunity to record him at my friend’s house.

Jane Weaver - Slow Motion

Have you always been involved in the recording of your music, or did you ever work closely with a producer?

I was a bit spoiled, because I got a record deal around the early ‘90s when I was 19. There was no affordable digital option. We spent a lot of money in the studio and worked with other people. After a while, we went to cheaper studios as our deals dried up.

So I got used to singing into a dictaphone for doing demos, and then going into a studio to put it together. I ended up sacking the producers, because they were taking what I had in my head in a different direction, and we couldn’t agree on things. I can be a bit of a control freak.

I work with David Holmes now, and I did give him sort of free rein because I trust him. We've got common interests in bands like Broadcast, so I was interested in working with him. I like to work with a good engineer who's quick and gets it done, mainly. So if somebody said to me right now, “We want you to work with this producer,” I'd be a bit terrified. I'd have see if what they do would marry with what I do.

People go for certain producers to get a certain sound, don't they? Artistically, it might be challenging if you work with someone like Brian Eno and he's got his Oblique Strategy cards on the desk. “Okay, we're doing yoga today.” “Go out the door.” “Turn around.” “Do it differently.” You just don't know. It's a process, isn't it?

But I'd hate to start something and have to scrap it because it wasn’t coming together right. That would be painful.

You have a clear idea of what you want your music to be, so that could be a potential hazard.

I think because I'm a woman, as well. There are certain ways you get marginalized because the whole industry's very male–dominated. I've produced lots of my own records, but people don't call me a producer. My husband was considered one after he did his first.

The Guardian did a piece when George Martin died. One of their top journalists contacted producers and engineers for comments. They were all men. There are a lot more male producers than female — that's granted — but I was like, "This is fucking ridiculous. They couldn’t find a single woman to ask?"

I've never really been asked to produce an album for somebody, but I’d love to.

Have you thought about building your own studio?

My husband was saying, “You don't actually need to go into a studio,” but I just like it. I like how they have personalities, how they are all different and what that brings.

For example, Vox is a bit like Toe Rag. There's a lot more of an industrial vibe about it. It's not comfortable. It feels like a laboratory, like an old fashioned studio. There's not a big comfy couch or anything to lie on or a TV, whereas EVE is like a vicarage.

I really am a bit of a studio nerd. I like learning about their history and who used what on which record, and how they have assembled collections of instruments that might not be available elsewhere.

I wouldn’t have that if I had a “home base” and less equipment because of it. I don't really use plugins that much because I’d rather use what’s available in a stocked studio. I like to feel that I'm actively making the sound by twiddling dials and moving faders. I like the fact that every instrument has a distinctive sound

That said, I'm not against technology at all, and I like to time stretch or mess with autotune on stuff sometimes. Or, rather, I'll ask the engineer Henry Broadhead to do that bit, as he's more of an expert!

So you take full advantage of the instrument collections in the studios where you work.

Definitely. I used a lot of gear on Modern Kosmology: Minimoog, Korg Poly Ensemble, the Roland GR300 Guitar Synth again, Roland string synths, a Logan String Melody, a Jen synth, Arp Odyssey and Omni, a Roland SH101, Roland Juno 106, a Philips Philicorda organ, vintage and modern drum machines, a WEM Copycat tape echo, a Roland Space Echo, and a Mu–Tron Phasor.

For guitars, there was a Gibson Firebird, Telecasters, and a weird vintage bass. Amps were Musicman, Farfisa, and WEM. Pete Philipson, who plays guitar, also has his own combination of pedals from Moog and he uses a Space Echo. With all of that stuff to play with, I tracked way too much and then had to strip it back.

Have you worked with any any Eurorack or other modular stuff?

Not as much as I’d like to. It's an art to work with them, a thing in itself. When I was at EVE I used an EMS Synthi on [The Silver Globe’s] “Cells” along with a Minimoog, a Korg Poly Ensemble, and a Rhodes [Solina] string synth.

One of my rock influences is that era of Pink Floyd, around Meddle. That Live at Pompeii video — when David and Roger are using the EMS to make the sequence for “On The Run” — that’s my thing. That era of the band is a huge influence, definitely. I use a WEM amp because of that scene where David Gilmour is playing in front of a wall of them, and it's such a good sound.

Has any one piece of equipment been inspiring or changed the way you work?

My favorite thing that I've used on the past few records is a Publison digital delay. If it breaks or dies, I will honestly cry. It’s at the studio I use so I don't even own it! We've had such great moments together, and I’ve spent loads of time messing around on tracks when something random but special has happened.

They are so expensive to buy, though. I'll have to save up or pray someone reissues an identical version at a fraction of the price.

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