Ex-Weaves Vocalist Jasmyn Leaves Toronto, Goes Solo and Finds Herself 'In the Wild'

In 2020, she found herself asking, "Do I want to make music?" — and her new album is the answer

Photo: Mariah Hamilton

BY Yasmine ShemeshPublished Jun 1, 2022

Jasmyn Burke decided to move to Hamilton, near the water. There is something calming about the roll of the waves, something restorative, healing. If she ever feels stressed or anxious, she goes there, to the water. She dunks her toes in the grass, reads a book, and basks in the quiet.

Burke moved to Hamilton from Toronto, the city she was born and raised in, in 2018. She needed a change, a respite from the busyness. As co-founder and lead singer of the critically acclaimed art rock band Weaves, Burke found herself in the perpetual cycle of releasing an album then touring — sometimes it's hard, as a musician, she says, not to experience burnout. Performing in city centres and coming home to a noisy city makes it hard to turn off your brain. So, Hamilton, on the western bank of Lake Ontario. She wanted to try out a slower way of living. She really is an introvert, after all. 

Burke is speaking to Exclaim! from her home in Hamilton, ahead of the release of her debut solo record, In the Wild (out June 3 through Royal Mountain Records and ANTI-). She had been thinking about leaving Weaves for a little while, probably for about a year or two, she admits. In early 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic, she decided to let the band go. It was time to move on. She also just wanted to take a break — and figure out if she still even wanted to make music, at all, anymore. 

"Do I want to make music? Do I want to try something else? And I just found myself writing about feelings that came up," Burke says. "It sort of parallels with things that were happening with the pandemic and people's feelings of wanting to start anew or reevaluating their lives. I felt like it kind of coincided with what was happening on a larger level and the new version of myself."

Sometimes going through these things, transformative life changes, prompts a recall of intention at the core — like remembering what it was like when you were a kid, dreaming about what you wanted to be when you grew up. Burke was very shy as a child, but loved singing and performing. "Even now, my family's always surprised I'm a musician because, like, I couldn't even speak at family events. I'd just be quietly in the corner," she laughs. But she began exploring performance as a teenager and frequently attended all-ages shows in Toronto. As a woman of colour, she also felt like representation in Canadian music was lacking. 

"It was about music, but it's also about people of colour having a voice and bringing more diversity into all genres of music," Burke says. "And that's sort of always been my mandate as a writer." She adds: "I think in some ways it was, like, let's be punk rock and do something that is new for my ears and hopefully inspire younger people and help them to create new opportunities. I think it's about change and shift. And I think music is this beautiful way of exploring change in the world, you know?"

As Burke immersed herself in her natural surroundings, something shifted within her; there was a realization that she wanted to experiment with different types of music, open herself up to new ways of writing. "I felt like I was in a place where I was finally starting to gain the confidence to be, like, I want to do my own thing," she says. 

She also bought herself a proper computer setup ("finally") and built her own little studio. "I feel like, for women in music, and in engineering, there's a lot of men running things," Burke says. "It's nice to be able to have some power over, at least, your demos and create those things for yourself." It also made her think about how sometimes even just having a computer or a microphone isn't accessible for some. "These are things that we need to think about to help artists grow in this industry," she adds.

As Burke wrote, she kept overarching themes of nature and healing in the back of her mind — an approach that's a first for her. Previously, she says, she'd write about so many different topics that it wouldn't feel cohesive. This time, she wanted to do something different. She wanted to tell a story. But she didn't overthink it. Her creative process, like it always has been, is rooted in experimenting with sound that then shapes her prose. On In the Wild, movement — the sun going down, a gentle breeze rustling the trees, the ebbs and flows of a new chapter in one's life — informs the ebullient spirit of the music, which whirls between euphoric dance-pop and atmospheric experimental rock. 

Burke emailed her demos back and forth with the album's Grammy Award-winning producer, John Congleton (Blondie, Erykah Badu, Sharon Van Etten), whom she credits with helping coax out the album's vibrant sonic quality. "I envisioned people dancing in the club in Europe or something," Burke describes. "What would really have a bombastic feel to it?" 

Synthesizers pulsate in technicolour on opener "Green Nature," which transitions into the percussion-driven "Crystal Ball," where Burke confronts the uncertainty — and excitement — of the unknown: "Staring at the future, facing forward with my own two hands," she chants in her distinctive warble. "Happy Tarot" exists in a similar cosmic universe, with an infectious chorus reminiscent of La Roux. On "Blank Paper," an album standout with minimal instrumentation and a gloriously breezy chorus, Burke reminds us that, no matter what, inspiration and strength can be found within. "Open up your eyes," she sings, "look for what you want to see." 

"I try and lean on the positive side of things and make space for other people," she says. "It's been a tough few years and, you know, I doubted myself as a musician. But I think, at the end of the day, you can create anything you want to create. I wanted [In the Wild] to be an uplifting album for people — or at least [for them to] recognize something in these songs for themselves." 

In this way, the album's title track, which Burke describes as a loner's anthem, speaks to feeling like you don't fit in. "For me, sometimes, especially being in music, I might be the only woman of colour playing a festival or [being] in a certain atmosphere," Burke says. "You see how certain people are marginalized, you see how everyone has their own pain that they've been through that maybe makes them feel like they are not part of something." 

The song, Burke's favourite on the record, is also a love story that subtly references Burke's partner who, she laughs, is also a loner. "Did you swim alone as a child?" she implores over guitar riffs that build into a triumphant, sweeping crescendo. "Do you feel at home in the wild?"

She says, "I feel like it represents both myself and hopefully other people that don't always feel heard in this world. I'm most proud of that one, I think. It's special to me." 

With joyful blasts of horn and glittering synths, "Cruel Moon" is the epitome of the bombast Burke mentioned earlier. The song features playful lyrics like "feel the groove like it's the rule" and "I'm so over being something, I just want to move," and is accompanied by an animated music video that portrays Burke dancing. Altogether, it revels in movement as the album's connective tissue.

Movement — dance — has been visually present in all of Burke's music videos for her album's singles, most notably "Edge of Time," directed by Iris Kim, where Burke beautifully performs a contemporary duet, choreographed by Michelle Hanitijo, as she sings about shedding a past version of herself. In the video, Burke and dancer Lorenzo Queano mirror each other: arms are extended, hands sway back and forth. They are on a floating platform, held back by cables that keep them just far enough apart so that they can't touch their outstretched fingers.

Dance is something new for Burke, but it's taken on an important and cathartic role in her life. She doesn't talk about this much, she says, her voice a little quieter as she gathers her words, but she started doing it a few years ago after witnessing somebody getting killed. 

"I was just a passerby, but I had these disassociated things happening for myself and it was terrifying. I couldn't get grounded and I felt really confused by my surroundings. And I was working with a therapist to help me. She literally said, shake it off, like Taylor Swift, just move and that sometimes helps get the energy out of your body. And I started practicing movement and realizing even just working out — it's a release, physical release. So, I thought it would be interesting with the album, just seeing everything everyone's been through the last few years, encouraging movement through making these music videos — and the representation of how a song can look through movement seemed like a really beautiful way to express [them]." 

Burke is working on choreography that she'll perform during her live shows when she hits the road this summer. Dance has encouraged her to think about how she can interpret her music in other different ways, like through wardrobe and wigs. Burke is also thinking about herself through a wider lens. She has a clearer vision of what she wants, both out of life and in music; a fresh perspective that she carries with her: to try to be more present, to be grateful for the fact that she's actually a full-time musician (a bewildering prospect when she was younger), and to remember that it's important to celebrate herself for completing a task and sit in the power of that. To sit in the power of her.

"Making this album, in my apartment, during the pandemic, is something I'm really proud of myself for," Burke says.

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