Jane Vain & the Dark Matter learned on the job

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      When Jane Vain &  the Dark Matter go into the recording studio to make their next CD, they’ll be using real drums rather than programmed beats. And in an even more shocking departure from the Calgary-based sextet’s debut, Love Is Where the Smoke Is, the songs will be written well in advance.

      Finished songs? A human drummer? Both are standard operating procedure for most bands. But as singer, songwriter, and keyboardist Jamie Fooks explains, when she decided to make music her life’s work in 2004, she started with a computer and worked backward from there.

      “I didn’t really play that well when I started writing the album,” she says, calling on her cellphone en route from Winnipeg to Regina. “I basically just wrote it note by note. I was learning how to record, learning my recording software—just kind of figuring out how to work it—and as I went on, there were songs emerging out of it.”

      Fooks sounds almost embarrassed that she’s had to teach herself to play and sing at the same time in order to take her songs on the road. She also considers Love Is Where the Smoke Is a somewhat compromised effort, lacking the organic vitality of a record made by seasoned musicians playing as a band.

      But the resolutely self-critical musician is too hard on herself: her debut, on which she’s assisted by guitarist and Dark Matter bandmate Dillon Whitfield, is a sophisticated melding of indie-rock and avant-cabaret styles.

      And while Fooks’s songs are undeniably cryptic—she’s considering posting the lyrics on her band’s MySpace page, which might help—they paint a compelling picture of a lost soul who’s just found a path back to her true self.

      Which, Fooks cautiously concedes, is essentially the state she was in when she embarked on her audio adventure.

      “I’d made some choices right before I started recording the album that put me in a pretty isolated spot,” she says. “I was living in an industrial area in the middle of South Calgary. My apartment was like a basement suite, and there was nothing all around but industrial properties; I kind of frequented a gas station to eat PowerBars and drink coffee. So there wasn’t a lot of social interaction. I felt pretty much socially ostracized from everybody in my age group. I didn’t really understand how to fit in at all, so I guess I was having a little bit of a personality crisis.”

      Today, though, she’s just sleepy—an inevitable consequence of the touring musician’s late-night lifestyle. The tradeoff is that she’s found a sense of belonging as part of her band—and that, in turn, will influence the creation of her next CD every bit as much as her growing musical confidence.

      “There are so many I’s on Love Is Where the Smoke Is,” Fooks points out. “Everything is in first-person narrative. So with the new songs I’m writing, I’m trying to address things from different points of view. I don’t want it to come off as contrived, though, because I think people can figure out if it’s forced. But I’m sure there’s still going to be a couple of songs that come from that perspective. That’s kind of the easiest and most natural thing for me to do.”

      Jane Vain & the Dark Matter play the Biltmore Cabaret next Thursday (August 21).