We met Savages at Wahaca’s Day of the Dead Festival, adrenaline-buzzed and exhausted after airing some of Adore Life.
“Are we gonna have a fucking good time, or is it too early?” Jehnny Beth of Savages croons in her French drawl to the crowd at Wahaca’s Day of the Dead festival. “Thank you darling,” she gushes to some clamouring young fans at the front. There’s a lot of teenagers but there’s a lot of dads too, that’s the appeal of Savages, I guess. They’re bringing their riff-heavy, howling sound into the mainstream, a distant and fond memory for the last generation, an entirely new experience for the next.
On stage, Gemma Thompson (guitar), Ayse Hassan (bass) and Fay Milton (drums) all play in perfect knit, airing some of their second album’s songs in the UK. The foursome slunk on stage, dressed all in black, naturally and with that achingly cool atmosphere they seem to spread everywhere they go. Crowd favourites, “Fuckers”, “Husbands” and “The Answer” (from their forthcoming sophomore album, Adore Life) get more riotous and impassioned with every minute until Beth’s jacket is flung open wide, her hair shaken out of it’s slicked back style and she’s leaping into the crowd. It’s a strange setting for Savages, a mid-sized stage at an indoor day festival, but they’ve done it all in the two years since Silence Yourself.
Their first album won over critics and gained them a cult following in fans and there’s not doubt the second will do the same. “The Answer”, their first single from the record is a relentless, rip-roaring, sing-along, scream-along mash of drums and guitars, with Beth’s almost threatening snarl, “If you don’t love me / You don’t love anybody.”
After a bone-shaking set, amidst flower-crowned fans and festivities at east London’s Tobacco Docks, I piled in a dressing room with an exhausted Hassan and Milton, an accordion player and a mariachi band (completely unrelated) to discuss the creation of album two, Adventure Time aspirations and being “semi-famous”.
Since the first album how do you think you’ve changed?
Fay: As a band we’ve been playing together for 3 or 4 years so we’ve got a lot more trust in each other’s things. We all do our parts kind of separately for this album. I’m speaking so slowly I’m sorry I’m so tired!
Ayse: Don’t worry I’ll do it! Naturally we’ve changed a lot because we’ve been on the road constantly for over two years. The most important thing we’ve learnt I think, to trust each other and be patient in all aspects of the word, on stage and when we’re touring. On stage when we’re experimenting with sound and ideas we just trust each other to know what we’re doing. But there’s loads of things! That’s just off the top of my head after immediately coming off stage.
How was that show for you?
Ayse: It’s really hard to answer that because every show is unique and we try not to think of it in that way. People have paid to come and see us and we try whatever obstacles we may face on stage or sound wise people have paid so we always try and give 100 percent regardless of what’s going wrong on stage. The audience were awesome, it was a fun show it could have been a lot better for us but it’s just the nature of these things.
Since you formed Savages it doesn’t seem like you’ve had a break?
Fay: Between finishing touring and starting to write again for the new album we took a month off and at the time it seemed like a huge amount of time because we had had no more than five days off for two years really, it was just constant. So taking a month off seemed so luxurious (a month! What can I do with a month… write an opera) you have all these grand ideas and a month was really short in the end. In hindsight I would have taken a bit longer just because resting is important.
Lots of bands get bored of what made them successful, do you look at Silence Yourself like that, are you eager to play new songs?
Fay: Not massively, I don’t think we wanted to go too far away from the first album we’ve got a new album and I guess we wanted to make a progression, not throw that away. And we’ve got some interim songs like “Fuckers”.
Ayse: For the first record it was weird because that was a snapshot of what we were at that moment so we were trying to capture what we had been doing live for a year or so. With the second record we had space to experiment and do something a little bit different, sonically and lyrically. It felt like the second record was a progression of what we had learned over the past two years. We always try to challenge ourselves with different projects just to keep ourselves interested and always learning new things so we don’t get bored, because playing the same songs can get tiresome but that’s the nature of the beast.
Did you expect with the first record to have commercial success as well as cult following?
Fay: Did we?! Success is different now because people don’t really buy records anymore. You don’t just get successful and buy a house. It’s not a life changing thing, mainly we’re really lucky that we’ve never played to an empty room and we’ve never done a show that’s not been busy and had a great atmosphere, And for that I’m really grateful. To me that’s the successful thing and we’re lucky but life hasn’t changed that much.
Are things like charting important to you? Is that a measure of success to you or is that just a nice little addition?
Ayse: A nice addition I think. For each of us we all have our different ideas about what is success and if we’re able to keep making music over the next five or ten years that will feel like more of a successful thing to us.
Do you think of yourself as famous?
Fay: When I was a kid I always said to my mum ‘I wanna be rich and semi famous.’ I love the idea of being semi-famous so you’re known but no one would recognise you; I’m satisfied with my semi-fame. You can go places and play a show be pretty sure everyone will be like “give me a drumstick” and you feel like an amazing person for an hour before you get on the bus and go home.
Has there ever been a moment when you’ve all been together and thought, “we’re doing quite well”?
Ayse: I guess it’s probably meeting people that we respect in music: we’ve met so many people who we love and grown up with… PJ Harvey and Queens of the Stone Age.
Fays: Did you just say grown ups?
Ayse: My adrenaline is going down so might not be making sense! But you know, growing up listening to music that you love and then getting to support those artists and being able to have a conversation with people I really respected growing up.
You recently did a show at Dismaland, how was that?
Fay: Brilliant. That whole event was really well done. Most of the photos that came through the press showed the main site but actually there was such attention to detail. It was very satirical, very kind of apparent and huge galleries with amazing paintings in. The whole thing felt very honest and funny as well… There was something about being surrounded by incredibly miserable people that made you feel very happy. It was like the opposite of being in Disney land with this like cheesy forced happiness that kind of pushes you in the opposite direction. Essentially it felt quite free in the misery of it all which was great.
So your album, Adore Life is coming in January, how long has it been finished?
Fay: What month are we in?
Ayse: What day is it?! It’s been a couple of months now.
Fay: So we finished in the summer and then went on a little tour and that was great because it was like a nice holiday after loads of had work.
Are your favourite shows the smaller and more intimate ones?
Fay: I think you’d get a different response from each one of us in the band. I think Gemma likes the really weird gigs. Honestly, I love the massive festival shows. We played Lollapalooza. I love them. I’m in my element it’s so great, and massive festival shows despite there being so many people, you can really see people’s faces and characters and everything. You wouldn’t think you could but you really can.
Ayse: I’m the opposite I prefer the smaller more intimate shows, where you can get up real close and feel people and like transfer the energy.
Do you ever get nervous playing shows anymore?
Ayse: It’s a different type of nervousness that I used to get. It’s more of a you’re thinking of 110 different things that need to happen during that show and I don’t really think that I get nervous nervous anymore.
Do you get nervous about playing the new stuff?
Ayse: Do you know what actually we went to New York in January and we did three shows a week for three weeks so we played and road tested a lot of the songs although they were slightly different then because they were trying to shape them on stage so it kind of feels ready.
Fay: Yeah. I do. Because a lot depends on the drummer. We don’t have much time for rehearsing at the moment so yeah I’m really looking forward to getting some time to play together off stage and getting things really tight cause it’s so enjoyable to play a show when you know you’re really good.
Do you think of yourselves as a live band or you prefer that time in the studio to make stuff and do things together?
Fay: I love the studio but definitely we think of ourselves as a live band. Everything we write is as we play. We don’t use anything that we don’t take on tour with us, there’s not extra sound and no strong orchestra, gospel singers. But even you know there’s not really any effects particularly, a few little studio effects that we use but its written so we can take it around the world and share it with people. the record’s as it’s supposed to sound live.
Do you write with the fans in mind or do you write what you want to write?
Fay: I think you have to write what you want to write. I think if we wrote what we thought people wanted to hear, we’d be wrong.
Ayse: No-one would like it!
Fay: I think people come to see us to hear what we do. Hopefully, fingers crossed! I think if you get into the zone of writing what you think people want you’d be wrong. Sometimes you have a terrible show and make loads of mistakes but people love to mistakes.
The first track off the album as well, “The Answer” you’ve released a brilliantly intense video for! Why did you decide to put that one out first? Was it your decision?
Fay: It was our decision yeah, it just felt right, it was one of the first songs we wrote for the record, was it two years ago now?
Ayse: Bloody hell yeah.
Fay: It’s got the two things that really sum up the album, one is the energy, the music is heavy and it’s fast and brutal but the lyrics are saying “Love Is The Answer” which is the theme of the record I suppose. It’s a lot more themed around love in all its weird and wonderful aspects, they’re two opposite ends of the spectrum.
You’ve done the theme very well by the way guys, the word love is in every single song!
Fay: Well you don’t want to leave anything to the imagination.
How involved do you guys get in the production side of things?
Fay: Very involved. We all know exactly what we want in the studio which is one of the reasons why we can have all this trust in each other and do exactly what we want to do. We’re very involved.
Ayse: We’re very involved in everything we do! It’s probably why we’re so tired!
Fay: Our photo shoots, our video shoots, everything. It’s really difficult to be presented perfectly and exactly how you want to be without being involved and we want to do that.
Is there anything you didn’t get to do with the first album that you want to do with this one, is there anywhere you want to tour? Do you want a number one?
Fay: I would love to play in the Middle East. I don’t know, maybe Egypt or somewhere. I think it’d be a really strong image having an all female rock band playing there. They have a lot more problems with sexism than we do. We also want to be in an episode of The Simpsons and Adventure Time.
A TV career!
Fay: Yeah all of that stuff that bands get to do! We want to get more semi famous!
That’d be very famous – on The Simpsons.
Ayse: Or even in Adventure Time, I’d be a little bit of fluff or something!
Adore Life is out 22nd January 2016 on Matador Records.
Words: Lily Walker