The heart of the Dark Matter

Jane Vain steps out of the basement and into the spotlight

For the longest time Jane Vain & the Dark Matter’s Jamie Fooks (Jane isn’t actually her name kids) has kept hold of a brilliant idea for a bit of band merchandising. Rather than a button with her band’s name scrawled across it Fooks & co. would sell tiny one-inch circular pin mirrors to fans at shows. When approached after the band’s set Fooks could then stare into the mirror pin catching her own reflection not only perfectly capturing her namesake but also maintaining just the right distance. Once Fooks steps away the reflection’s gone and Jane Vain disappears. The fans can have the music but they’ll never have her.

As the attention grows around her — as it’s doing on a national level on the eve of Jane Vain’s full-length debut Love is Where the Smoke Is — so must Fooks’s shield and her control over what she chooses to reveal. “I have trouble holding back” she admits. “I just kind of say whatever comes to mind. But I think there’s a time and place for certain information and now is not the time and place for the most important stuff.” Has she revealed anything she wishes she’d kept a lid on? “Probably. I’m lucky though because [the interviewers] didn’t write it in.”

The first time one hears Fooks’s voice it’s tempting to make comparisons. There are traces of the smoky husk of Cat Power’s Chan Marshall (whose music she once loved) and the flirtatious timings of Beth Orton (whom she’s always hated). There’s a dash or two of Fiona Apple’s extraordinary machines at work in Smoke ’s sky-gazing arrangements skittering beats ticking next to Foon Yap’s howling violins and Fooks’s ghostly multi-tracked backing harmonies.

Still there’s something new and entirely Fooks at play here — it’s the sound of a genius in the works stepping out from behind the curtain (or in this case the industrial area near Chinook Centre where Smoke was recorded over the course of more than three years). There’s also the realization of what sets Fooks apart — whereas all of the aforementioned artists lean heavily upon their collaborators and producers the entirety of Smoke was recorded and finished by her own hand. It’s that rare breed of singular-minded debut that both introduces a bold new voice and reveals a surprisingly wise sense of composition and lyric.

A lush and revealing adventure of a record Smoke ’s tales of love lost flirt with sea shanties (the deliriously romantic “Oh Captain”) haunted house soundtracks (“These Ghosts”) and folktronica (“Moving Notes”). The simple chord progression of “I’m So Afraid” the unforgettable admission “I’m so afraid/ of everything/ everybody” paired with a melody so tragic it sticks like an ink stain on cashmere while “The Bird Song” even dips its toes into the darkest of Vaudevillian tempo changes.

“The process for this album was started in 2004 and is ending in 2008 and that’s the course this specific album had to take” Fooks says. “The stuff I’m talking about needed that long to come out and I’ve got a different perspective on it all now. It’s almost like a story that I’ve read.”

That story is one of major change and reorganization. Initially known as The Beautiful Creep Cabaret (and at various other points as Rabbit Claw Holy Crow and finally The Dark Matter) Fooks’s current backing roster bears little resemblance to the one she first started appearing alongside on Calgary stages. Next to herself the only constant member from the outset has been guitarist Dillon Whitfield whose intricate parts are every bit as much a calling card for Jane Vain as Fooks’s vocals.

On the constantly changing face of The Dark Matter Fooks says “Right now the people in the band are the people I’ve always wanted in the band and I love the opportunity to work with them. It’s been quite the undertaking and it’s been hard. I’ve found new ways of going about things that’s a lot more effective than just asking random strangers to join the band and then just rejecting them awhile later. A lot of it was my fault but I’m learning how to do it right.”

When it comes to epic undertakings Fooks is no stranger. Several of Smoke ’s songs have required upwards of 800 takes to record all saved on Fooks’s computer on which each and every one was recorded using a single microphone. Given its gestation period and the number of changes the songs have gone through (early versions bear very little similarity to those seeing release) Fooks confesses it was sometimes difficult to know when to stop.

“I never know when it’s done” she says. “I just have to walk away for awhile. It seems like if I don’t listen to it for three months then it’s done. I could keep working obsessively on these songs but it’s almost like I have to hate it for a song to be done. If I can’t listen to it anymore then it’s done — and then I can go back to it a couple of months later and feel really proud of myself.”

For Fooks music is about letting things go and moving on no matter how long it takes. “Once a song is written I’m pretty much over the event that inspired it and I’m grateful for that event in a strange way. Even if it was a bad one I got some music out of it” she says but puts it even better on Smoke ’s closing track the anthem-in-waiting “We Must Destroy.” “By the time this thing’s done” Fooks sings over strummed guitars and aching piano “it is already a dark part of our past/ We must destroy it.”