There’s something about Savages which instantly grabs – nay – seizes your attention. From their clinical, often monochromatic appearance to an unforgiving sound bleeding intensity and throbbing with rugged basslines – they are, undoubtedly, a serious band playing serious music.
But this hasn’t prevented the London four-piece from enjoying a great deal of well-deserved mainstream success, especially since the release of their second album Adore Life earlier this year, which sees lead singer Jehnny Beth exploring love and its many vices across ten dramatic, dark and deeply candid tracks.
Currently in the midst of touring the latest record around the US, the post-punk outfit return to the UK this summer for a string of festival dates, including an appearance at Leeds & Reading Festival in August. We managed to snag an exclusive and spoke to Beth about the latest record, searching for the positive and the importance of a strong performance.
How has your day been so far?
Great! I’m currently in Dallas, Texas, and after waking up a little too early I’ve been spending most of my time checking my phone and emails – just general work stuff.
So you’re currently out on tour in the US. How are the live shows going?
Amazingly well. We’ve been playing and visiting some of our favourite places in the country, but we’ve also been travelling to places we haven’t visited before. It’s been incredible to see how the songs have been reaching so many people and on such a deep level. There’s not been a bad show yet.
With the intensity of live shows, how does the band manage with touring? Is it difficult on an emotional level to repeatedly immerse yourself into them if you’re playing for five nights in a row?
Yeah, it’s true. We used to do a whole week of performing each night and it was very tiring. Now we have a schedule in place that allows us to rest, and we try to conserve energy in the build-up to shows. We’re even watchful of what we eat and how much sleep we’re getting to make sure that there is no burnout.
So is there a sense of pressure to continually tap into your emotions and bring out the passion which is captured on the album?
There’s always a pressure to do a good show, and there’s also a challenge not to repeat ourselves or let our performance slip, but it’s nothing that we can’t deal with.
Adore Life is a record largely about life, love and lust, which I imagine was inspired largely by personal experience. I wondered whether your relationship with the songs changes as your outlook on those things does?
I mean, yeah, it always comes from a personal place and those feelings may change with time. But I’ve always said that once you release a song, it’s not just yours anymore: it belongs to other people too. People will take their own interpretations from it and that’s the nature of music; it’s exactly what I also do with other people’s music.
There are two questions posed in the track ‘Adore’ which have become something of a tagline for the record: ‘Is it human to ask for more? Is it human to adore life?’ It’s like you’re asking the listener to search themselves. Is that what you want people to do when they listen to the album?
Um, I think it would be selfish to focus on what I want. We certainly searched ourselves to make the record, and soul-searching is definitely an important thing to do – it’s what fuels us as individuals. As a band we’re very much connected with the meaning of our music: the clarity is always important. Making music together is not just a job to us; it’s us trying to work out who we are as people.
There’s also a conciseness to the album – the ten tracks seem to whizz by. Were you conscious of not allowing it to become long-winded?
Why, do you think it’s a bit too short? *Laughs*
Concise. But in an effective way. It makes you want to play it back again straight away.
That’s a compliment then! We were certainly careful not to repeat ourselves; we made sure that the songs we chose said what we wanted to say and didn’t take it any further.
There’s also a theme of looking for change on the record: searching for the positive and asking whether, to borrow directly from a song title, we ‘need something new’. It’s something that perhaps strikes a raw nerve because we seem to be asking that question a lot as a society nowadays – you link it with British politics, for example, and the change offered by Jeremy Corbyn.
Yeah, I understand why it might resonate with people. I think it’s definitely something to do with a general fed-up feeling, particularly from the youth today. It is a positive record though. The thing is: for positivity to grow, you first need to identify what’s wrong. And once you’ve found that, you can’t afford to drown in what’s wrong or complain too much about it – just change it.
There is almost a therapy-style of discourse present at times. On ‘Sad Person’, you talk about taking sadness for a ride, questioning everything, never being satisfied. I guess that’s where the album feels at its most personal.
Absolutely. ‘Sad Person’ is about me, and when I first showed the lyrics to the girls they laughed and told me it was like I was insulting myself for being sad; however, in my head, there’s no bigger insult than being told that I’m sad. So yeah, sometimes you have to be negative to become positive. It’s about being honest, because if you feel unhappy about something but just decide to smile about it and not tackle it – then, I’m sorry, but you’re a muppet.
Can you remember when you first decided that you wanted to make music?
I can remember learning music at around eight years old, and I can’t really explain it, but I knew that I just wanted to learn and play. I used to listen to a lot of jazz, and I can particularly remember loving Nina Simone.
Were you from a musical background?
No, not so much. Both of my parents were in theatre. My father was actually a drama teacher and I went to drama school, but I was also educated in music.
Is that what inspires the sense of theatre in Savages’ performances?
Yeah, because I grew up in the theatre world, I guess it’s all in my blood. But all of us as a band understand the importance of performance. When we first got together we would watch bands who were not performing for the people, but for themselves and A&R labels. That was really sad to see. We’re not here to chase anything; and I think people know what they see is genuine.
Speaking of live performances, I really enjoyed your Bowie tribute. His music obviously had a lot of impact on yourself and the rest of the band. What, for you, is his legacy?
His legacy was in everything that he did, a true artist every step of the way. He obviously gave us his image and his music, but he also gave us his integrity, especially in his final two records.
There’s a spoken word segment at the beginning of a session video you filmed recently with Antoine Carlier. It’s a powerful piece and one line in particular stood out for me: ‘You need all the energy you’ve got; you won’t find it in drugs and alcohol… there are many more ways to get fucked up and high.’ Considering the industry you’re in, that’s an interesting statement. Is music your drug?
Um, music certainly has a transcendent power; I don’t need drugs or alcohol to lose myself in it and that’s certainly empowering. Of course, there are some moronic attitudes towards drugs, especially in the industry in which we are in, but we’ve got an awareness of ourselves and also our responsibility to others.
Finally, you’ll be touring the festival circuit this summer. Is there anywhere in particular you’re looking forward to visiting?
I’m really looking forward to performing at Primavera Festival, but particularly the one in Porto – that’s a really amazing event.
And will there be the potential of some new material being played at any of these dates?
I don’t know! The new album has only recently come out, right? So hopefully that’s enough for now.