Politics, Medieval Forests, and Russian Aerobics Hits Inspired New Jane Weaver LP Flock

Credit: Nic Chapman

Manchester, England-based singer/songwriter/guitarist Jane Weaver considers her latest LP Flock a departure from her previous 11 albums, not only because she delved into exploring personal and political issues beyond the abstract concepts that typically inspire her songs, but also because she drew from influences as diverse as 1980s Russian aerobic records, recent UK political events, and the Medieval French town where she wrote the album’s lyrics.

“Normally, I do more conceptual albums about other people and films and stuff like that,” she says. “So for this record, I just wanted to sort of hone down and make it about nothing in particular, but just concentrate on a group of pop songs that were all different. It was like a smorgasbord of pop songs; that was kind of the intention of the record.”

With poetic lyrics and airy vocals, the 10 tracks span the dreamy, synthy “Stages of Phases,” the upbeat, danceable “Sunset Dreams,” and the chill, funky “Pyramid Schemes.” The first track, “Heartlow,” documents her journey to a town in Brittany, France where she goes every year only to realize almost everything was closed — not because of COVID, as this happened before the pandemic, but because she went there off-season. Against guitars and drums that give off a psychedelic rock vibe, the lyrics capture the feeling of loneliness in the town, which can be applied all over the world right now: “I thought the bells would be ringing/when I walked home/I thought that people would be singing/where did they go?”

On another single off the album, the glam-rock-inspired “The Revolution Of Super Visions,” she sings about Brexit and the toxic masculinity celebrated in world leaders, repeating, “You look good/you look good/do you look at yourself and find nothing?” She was initially taken aback by the contrast between the lyrics’ cutting critique and the fun, happy-go-lucky melody, but decided to lean into it. “When I wrote that, I was thinking to myself, this is an odd song — and then I thought, I can’t sing that; it just sounds too cheesy. Whatever I’m saying, it sounds too wrong,” she says. “But then I was just kind of inspired by that idea that it doesn’t really matter — you’ve just got to let the song go.”

Indeed, each song on the album – released March 5th via Fire Records – has a life of its own. Beneath the title track’s haunting layered vocals, for instance, are several medieval-sounding instruments inspired by her surroundings in the French town she visited, where she wrote the album. She lived in a building made of medieval-looking stones and walked through forests full of Arthurian folklore, inspiring her to buy a medieval wood instrument called a bombard and play it “quite madly,” as well as a string instrument called a marxophone, which did not exist in medieval times but gave off a sound reminiscent of a medieval wheel instrument called the hurdy-gurdy.

“I was exploring sort of an enchanted forest, and I was hearing all these flutes and these bombards and all these weird sounds,” she remembers. There were also lots of birds in the trees, which inspired the song and album’s title.

Another unexpected influence behind the album: a YouTube rabbit hole Weaver fell down involving 1980s Russian aerobic songs — that is, music written specifically to soundtrack aerobic exercises. Much of this was really electronic music disguised as exercise tapes in order to evade Soviet censorship.

Weaver first wrote the lyrics for the album in December 2019, using this process as a form of therapy. “Over the time I was writing it, I wasn’t in a particularly good place,” she says. “So I was trying to write myself out of it. I felt miserable and had all these happy pop songs in my head. It was very strange as well, wanting to convey a positive pop message and that kind of unification you only get when you’re on stage and you play one of your singles or popular songs and everybody’s got their hands in the air.”

She began recording the music in the studio in March 2020, then had to take a break because of the pandemic. This allowed her to revisit the songs and revise the lyrics and melodies until she was truly happy with them.

For the recordings, she played her usual guitar and moog synthesizer, but used them more in a “pop way,” rather than a space or kosmische album, as she’s previously explored. “It is still kosmische — it’s cosmic pop; that’s what I feel it is — but I think my main aim with the record was to just have 10 songs which were each pop songs in their own way,” she says. “It wasn’t like I was doing deliberately 10 funk songs or 10 guitar pop songs. I was just going to let each song be what it was going to be, whether it was uncool or whatever.”

Weaver has had a long and acclaimed musical career; she played in Britpop group Kill Laura in the ’90s, and folktronica project Misty Dixon in the early 2000s, releasing her first solo album Like An Aspen Leaf while in the latter band in 2002. In addition to making her own music, she runs a record label, Bird Records, an offshoot of Twisted Nerve Records focused on female folk artists.

Her desire to support female artists stems in part from experiencing firsthand what they’re up against in the industry. “The entertainment industry and all that happened with the #metoo movement, it’s still ongoing,” she says. “So much gaslighting and abuse can go on because of the people in charge, and it’s heartbreaking to see and feel it and to know it goes on.”

With all the problems the world is currently facing, it’s an odd time to release an album, but also a potentially fruitful one. “I feel crass putting a record out now because it seems so wrong,” she says. “But I’ve decided to go ahead with it because I want this record to bring joy to people in a unifying way.”

Follow Jane Weaver on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Virginia Wing Cycles Through Urge, Addiction and Shame on Latest LP private LIFE

Photo Credit: Martin Livesey

On her first trip to a local Costco, Merida Richards spotted a massive cake in the bakery section and was suddenly preoccupied with the desire to buy it, sequester herself in a hotel room, and consume the entire thing. It was a silly thought – fleeting really – but it’s those bizarre, sometimes ugly impulses that she set out to examine with her band Virginia Wing on their latest LP private LIFE, out last week via Fire Records.

After recording their 2018 breakthrough LP Ecstatic Arrow in the Swiss Alps and completing their first North American tour in 2019, the Manchester trio – which includes Sam Pillay and newest addition Christopher Duffin – had decided to take a more inward-looking approach to their next offering, and to record it mostly at home. While Ecstatic Arrow read as something of a feminist manifesto, presenting a vision of the world as it could be, Virginia Wing planned to unearth their various traumas, addictions, and the shame associated with these on their next project, which they had decided to call private LIFE. “You’re never gonna match the experience of holing up in Switzerland for a month, you know what I mean?” Richards tells Audiofemme via a Zoom call. “So we thought, we’ll just do it at home; the title and the subject matter seemed applicable.” It was pure coincidence that just as they were assembling gear and beginning to write new material, a worldwide pandemic hit, effectively dooming humanity to examine their own compulsions in the solitary confines of a mandated lockdown.

“At the start of last year we were getting together at our rehearsal room and figuring stuff out, but then obviously that stopped, and it just became a process of slowly chipping away and building little bits of songs, sending them back and forth,” Richards says. “It did get pretty maddening, I’m not gonna lie. When you’re just stuck inside working on the same thing, and you can’t see someone face to face and go like, ‘Oh, what do you think this needs?’ There was not much second guessing; it was very much just like go with your gut, and then convince the others that it’s good.”

Collectively, the band wanted an eclectic sound bursting with dozens of tiny interlocking elements, and they’ve certainly achieved that; the album is choppy but cohesive, intimate but frenetic, and reveals new details over each listen. “That’s what we were going for – stylistic decisions encouraging surprise, like in the way it was mixed,” Richards points out. “Suddenly something’s really loud and it’s kinda jarring, like a little sample or something will knock you and it can almost be unpleasant. Certain songs are really high-end and then all of a sudden the bass kicks in. It was that constant feeling of movement that we wanted, a kind of controlled chaos.”

Densely layered with futuristic sounds, angular structures, and post-punk inflection, private LIFE sounds more like a bustling party than a solo, meditative pursuit – so much so that Richards admits they’ll likely have trouble replicating it in a live setting, should touring ever resume. But buried in the globular synths, bold brass, disjointed rhythms and new-agey textures reside dark lyrical themes just as discomfiting as the surprising sonic twists. From “OBW Saints”: “Compulsive habits are the products I supply/I’m at ease with always deceiving/I’ll feel so clean when I come out the other side.” From “Return to View”: “I worked harder every time/I could never say exactly what it’s like/In a solemn congregation I tried/To behave the way I want to be described.” And “Soft Fruit”: “Like an infant trying to find/Comfort in a deafening cry/There’s chaos in my heart/I’m being ruined by desire.”

Richards’ sprechgesang vocals exude a cool confidence that belies her desperation, even from the first lines of album opener “I’m Holding Out For Something.” Throughout the album, she takes on the role of her own therapist, or, in one instance (“Lucky Coin”) something of a fortune teller, asserting particular mantras as one might leave Post-It notes on a bathroom mirror: “Put your faith in a cup/Fill it up to the top/And remember your thirst isn’t a choice,” or “It’s human/To examine the dirt that collects under your nails/And forget that it’s the same/As the earth under your feet.”

“When I write lyrics, I’m not pretending that I’m not writing the lyrics, you know what I mean? I might say ‘you’ but half the time I mean me – it’s always filtered through my perception of things,” Richards says. “I’ve had therapy. I think everyone should, but I had to stop because I couldn’t afford it. I think it’s so useful just to have someone say stuff back to you in a neutral way. Everyone has that moment where it’s like, I need guidance from something and I’ll go with the first thing that comes to me, I’ll go with anything, like these little talismans that you just like tell yourself to get through life. Use what you’ve got, whatever it may be. I think everyone needs guidance, don’t they?”

Noting that urge, shame and impulse are essentially part of the human condition, Richards remains vague about the band’s specific experiences around addiction and trauma, saying only that the lyrical themes were “something we needed to focus on. Initially, maybe before I considered it being traumatic, there were certain things about private life that I wanted to explore… the stuff that you hide away, the stuff that you don’t share. I wanted to go into more uncomfortable territory.”

That intentionally stands in contrast to the hopeful, cathartic nature of Ecstatic Arrow. “On this record, I wanted to explore stuff you’re ashamed of feeling and thoughts you’re ashamed of having, and stuff that goes against your ethos, maybe because of a religious upbringing or repressed sexuality or whatever,” Richards says. “I’m in my thirties now; I’m just I’m too tired to try and be anything I’m not. You just have to accept it all, stop trying to change everything. If I feel like disgusting and sexy at the same time, so be it.”

Photo Credit: Martin Livesey

As with the band’s social media presence, there’s a dichotomy constantly at play between earnestness and sarcasm (which Richards attributes to “just being British”) reflected in the band’s meld of influences: the sampling of hip-hop, the irreverent electronic flourishes akin to Laurie Anderson and Robert Ashley, the improvised jazz horns, the avant-pop sensibility holding it all together.

“The progression has just been really striving to do something original. I think as the years have gone on, we’ve absorbed our influences, rather than trying to pick out elements we want to try and replicate. It’s more about creating something that’s really unique,” Richards says. “We’re into anything that fits that space between being really serious and kinda silly – like a lot of art music, there’s a lot of playfulness there. We’re really drawn to that stuff because that’s how we are as people. We’re people who listen to a lot of music. We just want to fit into someone’s record collection alongside everything, specifically music that exists in an artistic realm but also has a sense of levity and doesn’t take itself so seriously.”

That’s especially apparent on “Half Mourning,” the only song Richards wrote with the pandemic situation in mind, equally inspired by the existential quandaries it created and by apocalyptic Young Marble Giants bop “Final Day.” The songs lyrics describe being “stuck like a magnet;” Richards explains that although she appreciates routine, random conversations and freedom from a schedule is necessary to achieve some kind of release, which the band often gets from touring.

“What’s so hard about last year, is that there was so much chaos that was also not very eventful. Emotional chaos, but nothing could actually happen,” she says. She describes an experience she had last summer, walking in the park opposite her flat, in which she felt invisible. “It was really weird – I guess it’s like a dissociative sort of state. I mentioned it to a few friends of mine, and they’d experienced the exact same thing,” she recalls. “There’s something about being witnessed in the real world that proves you’re alive. When you’re not partaking in that, you do sometimes get a sense of just like, do I exist? I feel like I’m a person when I’m out in the world and I’m interacting with people. I think a lot of people have been missing that.”

The band has just finished re-editing the record – a “deconstructed kind of dub situation, a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster kind of thing,” as Richards describes – pulling apart each song’s moving parts to make new tracks; they’ve discussed releasing it as a benefit tape via Bandcamp just because they “wanted to continue making stuff.” So there’s something to be said for giving into certain urges, after all.

“I like routine, I like getting up and having breakfast and exercising and all the things that you’re meant to do, but also part of me just wants to smoke cigarettes and eat sweets all day. Everyone has that battle,” Richards says. “That’s part of being alive, and yet we’re meant to deny it, whilst simultaneously being encouraged to indulge it all the time? Weird.”

Whether the anxieties that private LIFE delves into are a natural part of the human condition or a product of things like the pandemic or late-stage capitalism, the album highlights them in sharp relief, like the blue and black silhouettes on its cover. “Even before we’d finished the artwork,” Richards says, “we’d see something and be like, that’s private LIFE blue – it had this power.” Aesthetically and sonically, the album commands attention, but it fosters a sense of commiseration rather than panic, likely due to the band’s interconnectedness. “The three of us are so comfortable with each other and our own individual problems that it just feels very nice to share and be open about it in that way,” Richards admits. She isn’t worried that the record could alienate those who were initially drawn to the more hopeful messages on previous albums. “There can be a real fear in doing something that’s like not necessarily palatable – not being ‘cool’ is a real risk. You just have to be confident.”

Follow Virginia Wing on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Josephine Foster Paints a Mystical Wonderland with No Harm Done LP

Photo Credit: Matthew Schneider

There’s something otherworldly about Josephine Foster’s music. The Colorado-based folk singer creates transcendental states with her voice, and the eight tracks on her latest album No Harm Done are no exception, spanning from a conversation with the holy spirit to meditations on a kingless world.

Foster’s distinctive vocals have both a sweetness and a darkness to them on the album, which was first released digitally in August and comes out on vinyl and CD November 20. Many of the tracks sound like something between witchy spells and spiritual hymns, half-hummed, half-chanted against mystical harp and guitar.

In “Leonine,” her voice swivels and swerves through poetic lyrics — “Leonine lean lean on me/Leonine spring/spring on me” — painting an enchanting picture of a land ruled by no one, “where none is king…and all is blessed lioness.” The song is about “the fantasy of not being ruled by a patriarch, or just a way of life with shared leaders, guides, and more feminine presence,” she says. “It certainly feels like the earth is calling for that stewardship.”

Spirituality is a thread tying the songs on the album together, which for Foster is intrinsic to her art form. “I think the act of singing is spiritual,” she says. “It’s sort of decorating the breath and giving meaning with the words, bringing intention to the breath.”

She considers the biggest theme on the album, however, to be love. Perhaps the best example of this is “Conjugal Bliss,” an erotic love song she’s often played at weddings, featuring delicate harmonies against calm, peaceful guitar. “In he I blend/in me he binds/In he I wed/in me he winds,” she sings, in what sounds almost like a verse out of the Song of Songs.

Foster actually wrote “Conjugal Bliss” after she was separated from her ex husband at the U.S. border and he was sent to Europe. “I was waiting for him to return for a couple months and was thinking about him, and it turned into a song,” she remembers. Despite its overtly sexual subtitle, “69,” the song is also deeply spiritual. “It’s about lovemaking and being entwined with somebody you love,” she says.

“Sure Am Devilish,” a bluesy folk song about “the rise and fall into the same circumstances and learning the same lessons over and over,” was also written a while ago — 20 years ago, to be exact. “Sometimes, you like something and it just sits in the cellar, just like when you harvest grapes and put them down in the barrel, and then you might not want to drink that for a few years — give it a little chance to find its moment of uncorking the bottle,” she explains.

In perhaps the most haunting song on the album, the seven-minute, 21-second “Old Saw,” Foster’s voice operatically soars over the phrase “holy spirit,” addressing this being, “I would like to talk with you.” With an almost freak-folk style, she conjures the image of someone rising from their deathbed, about to commune with the angelic realms. “It’s a dialogue with your soul,” she explains. “It’s funny how we’re able to kind of unify ourselves and also have a duality in ourselves, so it comes and goes, and it’s really just a meditation to try to induce that state; it’s a repetitive series of chords.”

“Old Saw” was unfinished when Foster took it to the studio, then much of it was improvised. “I was surprised and pleased by the little that it has lyrically and harmonically, that it seemed to pass through a threshold and honestly transmitted the spirit of the song,” she says. “And just the repeating of ‘holy spirit, holy spirit’ — when I sing that, it feels so good. It just feels amazingly good to sing that little fragment, and then there’s an acknowledgment of having glimpsed at the whole, my whole self.”

The rest of the album ranges from the piano-driven, almost cabaret-like “Freemason Drag” and “How Come, Honeycomb?” to the country-inspired “The Wheel of Fortune.” Recording the album in producer Andrija Tokic’s analog Bomb Shelter studio, Foster played the guitar, piano, organ, harp, and autoharp and was accompanied by 12-string pedal steel and electric bass by guitarist Matthew Schneider, who she quarantined with in Nashville this spring. Currently, Foster is taking a break from recording new music and enjoying other art forms, like painting and gardening.

It’s been 20 years since she began self-releasing her first albums, including There Are Eyes Above and Little Life, and she feels she’s become more fully realized as an artist since then. “I think over time, you become more and more yourself more deeply,” she says. “That’s the gift of time.”

Follow Josephine Foster on Facebook for ongoing updates.

ALBUM REVIEW: Blank Realm “Illegals In Heaven”

Blank Realm possesses their own unique energy no matter what genre a song of theirs lands in. And on their new album, Illegals In Heaven, the Brisbane siblings go through a few right away: There’s the opener “No Views,” which captures the scrappy, organized chaos of punk, followed by the shinier, dancier “River of Longing.” Then comes the hazy slide guitar of “Cruel Night,” which borrows from Beggars Banquet-era Rolling Stones. “Gold” is a quieter, gentler track that still maintains an edge: “If you slow me down, I’ll break your heart.”

So, it’s not so obvious what makes Blank Realm’s sound unique to them, but it can be found somewhere in the  heaviness of their guitars and rhythms, and a tight sound that must come either from constant rehearsal- their label’s website boasts that they’ve played over 200 live performances with bands like Kurt Vile, Wild Flag, and Zola Jesus – or maybe the fact that three out of four of the members are siblings and are naturally in tune with each other. Their songwriting isn’t derivative or sentimental but aggressively nostalgic. You can hear their influences, but they don’t glibly copy them on Illegals In Heaven. They take what they know and like, and apply it in a very straightforward, in-your-face way. Because, like they sing on “Flowers In Mind:” “When every move you’re gonna make has been made/When every trick you’re gonna play has been played,” what else can a band do?”

Key Tracks: “No Views,” “Cruel Night,” and “Gold.”

Listen to “River Of Longing” below.