Morgan Waters's apartment is unusually quiet for Chinatown. It's unusually cheap, too – he says his landlord doesn't know how to use the Internet, and isn't aware of how much Toronto rents have shot up in the past few years. The office, just off the kitchen, is covered in documents; Waters is putting off doing his taxes. This makes the office look understated, which would be a vast mischaracterization. It's the centre of his creative world.
The first hint of that peeks out the half-closed door: There's a pile of awards on a dresser, including not one, but two Gemini Awards. The other hint arrived to the public on June 17. His band Weaves finally released their eponymous debut record then, after an EP, a handful of singles and nearly four years of honing their sound. It's here, in this office, that Weaves songs come to life: he at the desk, vocalist Jasmyn Burke on the couch, writing music that both embraces and eschews what traditional pop can sound like.
"We wanted to be strong and powerful and melodic and poppy," Waters says in his more barren, high-ceilinged living room next door to the office, before Burke cuts him off with her own adjective: "Emotional." It's the first truly hot day in May; Waters has changed into shorts, and Burke just kicked off her Nikes.
Waters continues. He wants to be "a little bit unpredictable and wild. And also mess around with what guitars, bass and drums could be, and where a rock band could be, but still maintain pop sensibility, pop structure."
Weaves is the kind of band that could be described as "noisy," but the old guard of noise might disagree: Waters's guitar and Burke's words are deliberately clean, rarely crunchy or distorted. Clarity is important. The noise is really the sound of Weaves skirting their instruments' limits and expectations, flooding their songs with sound and left turns without veering far from the pop they want to make.
They toyed with this sound in early tracks such as Hulahoop and Motorcycle, and expand on it throughout Weaves – in Burke's range-roving vocals in songs such as Two Oceans and One More, and the frantic guitar lines that string throughout the record, right from the start of opener Tick. The band revels in communicating strain. "It's kind of exciting," Waters says. "It's like a little boy overdoing it, rather than some adult being very sensible and playing within his means."
Waters, 34, pulls out his laptop and starts digging through old e-mails and Facebook messages, trying to nail down his earliest correspondence with 30-year-old Burke. They first crossed paths in the fall of 2012 , soon after Burke's band Rattail broke up, when Waters stumbled across her second-ever solo show at the Holy Oak Cafe on Bloor Street.
"She made this wall of noise at the end of the set, and like, oh my God, there was a catchy part running under it," he recalls, looking over at Burke. "I was like, 'Ooh, I like how abrasive this is but also how catchy it is.' And you were almost laying on the floor? That was fun."
Waters finds his first Facebook messages to Burke from October, 2012, and reads them aloud. He was an unabashed pitchman – and fan. "I don't know if you know, but I write and produce and would love to do collaborating," he wrote. "What's your e-mail? You've got a fearless approach to your vocals."
They traded demos and within months started making songs of their own. Waters's office became their de facto writing space. Weaves's first shows and releases were sparse, but by By mid-2014, they were a full-fledged band, with an EP and two new members – drummer Spencer Cole and bassist Zach Bines – in the fold. Touring became a part of their lives, too, leaving Waters to edit and produce his comedy series, The Amazing Gayl Pile, from the van. Hence those Geminis crammed in the corner – he's a comedy-maker by day, and earned the awards in 2008 for the IFC/Showcase music-mockumentary series Cock'd Gunns.
Weaves is signed to Buzz Records, the DIY Toronto label that was born out of a Spadina Avenue garage performance space and home to a growing number of bands that are generally loud and profoundly fun, including Dilly Dally and Greys. Burke had known Buzz co-founder Ian Chai for a while, making Buzz a natural fit. Now he manages them, too. "It was a really organic situation," Burke says. "Everybody on the label works really hard and wants to make good music. It pushes everybody else on the label."
The band's attitude is rooted in punk, but punk fans wouldn't agree that genre fits their sound. But even though their sound is rooted in pop, pop fans might argue against that, too. It doesn't really matter. "People used to identify with a genre and that was their lifestyle," Burke says. "But I feel like younger people, they're not set on one genre of music, necessarily."
What she and Waters envision for Weaves is finding beauty amid cacophony. It lets them be loud, lets them be fun. Other descriptors don't really matter. Unless you try reverse-engineering their music. "It's pop music," Waters says. "It's verse, chorus, verse, chorus."