Brother, Neighbor, Friend: The World According to JD Weaver
With straightforward, yet solid vocals and downright impressive lyrical content, it’s hard not to be impressed by JD Weaver’s latest EP Where Eagles Fly. After having shared with me the ways in which he lightheartedly pranked his friends and mother in his youth by using his lack of mobility in his wheelchair to his advantage, the 19 year old British folk musician began answering questions involving his Duchenne muscular dystrophy (which I strongly encourage readers to research), his uncanny relationship with the music industry, and the message that he wishes to share through his music.
24: While I was listening to your latest EP, Where Eagles Fly, the first thing that struck me about it was its unique sound. I couldn’t help but wonder: what kind of music did you listen to when you were younger and what would you say are your biggest musical inspirations now?
JD: Let me start by saying that anything in mainstream pop is the antithesis of me. For me, my early inspirations were rock music: Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, AC DC. Then I moved into some more progressive stuff: so like, Genesis, Styx, and other bands like that. But then, when I was first diagnosed, I always wanted to find a form of music that could transcend to me. I had to ask myself “what kind of music can I listen to that I can relate to and that can express pain.” So I started listening to blues music. I bought every CD of Howlin’ Wolf that I could find, and then I got into Muddy Waters and BB King. I embraced it because I could hear my sorrow through that music. Those musicians and I might have been from different backgrounds, but I still felt like I could understand their suffering, given that the African American community has been dealt horrible cards throughout history—be it economically or politically, they were oppressed.
I might not be an African American person, but, as a disabled person, my very existence is always questioned by society. For that reason, I really related to that type of music. Feeling broken, beaten and oppressed—these were all things that I had felt. To me, it was human music—music that was from here [points to his heart], not from your bank account, but just from a release for pain. In the past seven or eight years, the biggest inspirations for me have been Buffy Saint-Marie and Joni Mitchell, who are both Canadians.
24: Go Canada!
JD: [Laughs]. It’s just that I feel like with a lot of musicians from Canada there’s this bond with nature, and you can hear it in the music; you can hear that earthiness; you can hear the message of us all being a part of this planet and sharing a similar existence and having a responsibility to look after each other. Native Americans and Native Canadians are a huge source of inspiration for me, not in the sort of faux hippie way, but because after thousands of years of just awful treatment they still grab their cultural identity and hold onto it. They still praise it like they should, and even though I could never match that strength, it still hits me because it’s so human.
I’m not a son of England or Britain; I don’t particularly believe in nationalism or patriotism, because Britain’s done nothing for me. It’s a country of lies to me.
24: Indeed I noticed that you’ve said some very interesting things about David Cameron on social media.
JD: Oh yeah, I’ve got some horrible things to say about him. Sorry for the foul language that I’ve used on Twitter and Facebook. But I have to. I owe nothing to England; St. George has never done anything for me.
24: If I remember correctly, you have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, correct?
JD: Yeah, yeah. I know that I’m not going to get the most out of my life. I’m not saying that to sound negative, but I’m not going to be rich, I’m probably never going to get to fully enjoy my life because of my disability, but the idea that what I do and say counts is very important to me. The meaning that I try to present in my music goes far beyond me: it’s my legacy. Music that doesn’t have meaning is just a song, that’s what I personally believe. There’s a difference between song and music: a song you can forget, but music gets patched onto you; it stays within you and it’s something you’ll never forget.
24: That’s the interesting part about the EP. If I was in your position, I’d be so tempted to talk about my own specific struggles with my disability. So when I listen to something like “Eagle Song”, I get this sense of wholeness: you’re choosing not to limit your content to your own struggles, but instead allowing your lyrics to transcend your own experiences and discuss the issues of other groups that you feel have been treated unjustly.
JD: It could be very easy for me as a disabled person to sit here and just say “I hate the rest of the world” because of the way that I’ve been treated. But I know that I have a responsibility to rise above the BS that’s been thrown at me and just appreciate this beautiful world. When I really look around, I notice that there are so many people who feel the same way that I do, but in a different context. If you’re part of an indigenous community, part of the LGBT community, if you’re African American, if you’re female: you’re going to have known what it’s like to be discriminated against and feeling the chains that keep you down.
We all have this collective, shared experience of the world, and that’s why I don’t choose to identify as part of any group in particular. I don’t want to be Jason Weaver the Englishman, or Jason Weaver the disabled person—I just want to be Jason Weaver the human being. And that is the goal of my work and my legacy: enjoying the wonderful diversity that we have on this earth and just embrace it. The road might be long and hard, but we have to walk it … or roll it in my case.
24: On the subject of discrimination, which you discuss a lot in your music, you’ve got a very interesting relationship with the music industry that you were telling me about before. Would you mind elaborating on that a little bit more?
JD: [Reluctantly] Yeah sure.
24: You don’t have to mention any specific names or anything like that.
JD: No no, that’s not it. It’s just frustrating to talk about sometimes. Like, I know I’m no fantastic musician; I’m no genius when it comes to writing music. But I’ve been doing this for … gosh … how many years has it been? Probably about five years now. And I know that still makes me a minnow in terms of music, but from an early age I started writing music, getting my name out there, and making EPs and stuff like that. There’s a definite ignorance in many people’s minds about people with disabilities, and the two biggest industries where this is most prominent is in the movie industry and the music industry. I’ve been denied many things in my life that you know I would give everything for—if I could go back to when I was eight years old when I didn’t know that I was disabled, then I would.
That being said, I work really hard on my music, especially considering I’m a small town boy who’s pretty much had almost no promotion for any of my EPs. To go to where I’m at now with the listeners I’ve got, I’m clearly doing something right. And so when A and R people come up to you, you start thinking “Hey, maybe I do have something after all.” But then, as I’ve said earlier to you Adrian, it’s when you get to the executives, the most important thing to them is money. To me, money is a curse, and it makes them think “Well, we can’t make money off of this guy because he’s not normal.” I’m sorry, but “normal” doesn’t exist, and we can’t keep playing this game of eugenics in the world, because perfection doesn’t exist.
The stupid idea that I have less to offer the world really is annoying, but that’s constantly thrown at you from people who want to make money. I like to think that most people aren’t horrible enough to judge a guy just because he’s in a wheelchair. Even if you’re looking at it from a marketing perspective, you have to imagine how big the disabled community is in the world—there are millions and millions of people. I don’t like thinking about this, but if I was a horrible businessman who was morally decayed on the inside and just wanted money, I would think “If I could sell my music to every disabled person in the world, then I would be a very rich man.”
24: Even from a business standpoint, this exclusionary behaviour doesn’t make any sense to me. Not that I’m saying that this is right in any way, but I can at least see a reason behind the awful discrimination in the movie industry because there’s the misconception that all audiences want to see is white, able-bodied people on a screen. I can still think of a few examples of representation in the disabled community with Breaking Bad and The Intouchables being the unfortunately few examples, but I didn’t know that this was such an issue in the music industry. In an industry that relies so heavily on auditory stimulation, why do you think that something so superficially visual is taken into consideration by executives?
JD: It’s just arrogance. It’s white, able-bodied people that run these industries. This type of discrimination just fits into the hyperbole that all disabled people are weak, different, and deformed. It’s as though they think that if I were to go up on stage in a wheelchair that anyone who went to see me would be disgusted. I can’t explain why it exists because I’m not an ignorant person; I love everyone on this earth, and I believe that if anyone has something to give, then they should be able to give it.
Disabilities have been made by these executives into a horrible thing, but to me my disability is like my purple hair or my eye colour—it’s a part of me. It’s become the elephant in the room, and no one wants to talk about the issue, and that makes people with disabilities feel like it isn’t worth being creative at all. And when I see certain representations of disabled people on television, like the guy on Glee playing a guy in a wheelchair when the actor isn’t actually disabled: that doesn’t just annoy me, that disgusts me. I find that absolutely appalling. That’s not relatable to me—I look out in the public and don’t see anyone I can relate to. I don’t feel like my voice is heard.
24: On the subject of your voice, I actually think you short sell yourself—I think you’re a phenomenal singer. Even though you were telling me that you wrote “Eagle Song” in such a short amount of time, lyrics like “a land so vast yet so empty” really struck a chord with me. Have you ever had any vocal training or any education regarding song writing?
JD: Thing is, being in my position, I find breathing to be a big challenge quite a lot of the time. I can’t belt or anything, and I’m in no way a great singer, or even a good one; I’m just a normal one. I do consider myself to be a storyteller though, and the lyrics are what I’m giving to you. For me, I listen to a lot of folk music, and feel that music isn’t about being a talented singer: it’s about conveying a message. I consider my music to be an extension of me talking, so I have in no way a great voice. I also have an accent that’s very thick, so even if I was a very good singer I’d still sound like Liam Gallagher; I sound like a northerner.
There’s no technical ability to my work, I just though “I’ve got a message, I’ve got a voice, I can convey it.” I’m glad that when people hear the lyrics “a land so vast yet so empty,” that it sticks with them—that fills me with so much joy. That’s what my music’s about, it’s about looking at you, Adrian, talking to you directly, and telling you what I’ve got to say. And I’ve had no formal training in anything; I just practice from my bed basically. Anyone can do music—everybody’s got some sort of energy about them. My new album that I’m going to be working on soon is called Neon Soul because I believe that everyone has a neon soul—some sort of thought or opinion that they want to express.
24: I’ve got a rather strange final question for you: If the entire world was locked on you for 30 seconds—for 30 seconds everyone in the world would hear your voice and one sole message—what would you tell everyone?
JD: That I am just like you: I am your brother, I am your friend, I am your neighbour, and I want to fight for each and every one of you. I just wish for a society and a system that would allow for me to be me. And that goes for everyone else in this world that feels repressed. I just want to tell people “I am alive, I am human, and I’ve got something to say. My name is Jason Weaver: I’m not disabled, I’m just a human being.”
24: So, for our readers at 24ourmusic, you currently have your EP out on Soundcloud, “Where Eagles Fly,” correct?
JD: Yes yes.
24: And you’ve also got a new album coming out pretty soon as well?
JD: Yes. It’s called Neon Soul. Finger’s crossed on that. I’ve written all of the songs for it and now I’m just trying to get some musicians on board. I’m just trying to keep building onto what I’ve created, as well as maintaining the bonds that I’ve created with my audience through my music. If I can create an album before my condition makes it much harder for me to do so, then I will be so happy. I hope that people at the 24our network liked what I had to say and liked what I’ve made. I just really want my next album to chart—that’s the dream.
24: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to conduct this interview with you JD.
JD: I’m absolutely honored to have this opportunity to speak my mind. Thank you.