Read up on Savages and you’ll rake in a list of adjectives that peg them as the latest band to redefine “punk”–pop-punk (The Guardian), post-punk (Pitchfork; MTV Hive; BBC) and neo-post-punk (Brooklyn Vegan, MOJO) are all monikers that have painted an honest picture of the paradoxically meticulous, frenzied, meditative, sporadic, insightful, explosive and metallic noise propelling from the ripped strings and frayed vocal cords of the London four-piece. For vocalist Jehnny Beth, this game of Pin The Tail On The Genre isn’t entirely off the mark (though “neo-post-punk” is the one she finds the most amusing) but it isn’t entirely accurate, either.
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“We never thought we were going to be a post-punk band,” she says. “We weren’t thinking at all. It’s been a word that’s been put on us by journalists and people who talk about us. I would agree that there are some similarities; there are bands from that era that maybe use the same ways to profess the same ideas. What I like about punk — let’s take out the word ‘post’ — is that it’s about modernity. It’s about the present. It’s not about future or past, it’s about you having a reaction to what’s around you and you’re treating yourself in the present time. I think that’s something I identify with.”
It’s impossible to listen through Silence Yourself — Savages’ official debut out on Matador/Pop Noire today — without embracing this revelatory, confidently confrontational attitude in some capacity. Thirty eight straight minutes of distortion, declarations of independence and snare hits that hack through the reverb with the merciless voracity of a sharpened machete, Silence Yourself is less of a punk manifesto and more a portrait of a band who’s crowning into consciousness. Whether it’s a rumination on the fruitless labor of unrequited love (“Waiting For A Sign”) or a nightmare set to a frenzied pace (“Husbands”), Savages have found their collective voice — or scream — and whether it’s post or pop or neo-post-pop-whatever, the DNA of their exclamations is undeniably of a powerful punk strain that’s perpetually shirking definition.
You’ve mentioned before that the name of the band was inspired by Lord of the Flies and other works of literature. What were some other non-musical influences that impacted how you write and perform together as a band?
You would get a different answer from each member. Gemma Thompson [guitar] was an art student, so she tends to have an interesting appetite and mind and way of thinking about things. When she came up with the name Savages it was in a time when she was reading those novels, and I’d hear of those kind of ideas about humankind and civilization and the future and overflow of information, and we were interested in all of these concepts. She’s got quite a scientific mind as well. She was interested in being a pilot and airplanes, and I think she wanted to try and find this representation in these ideas, you know, how the voice finds its agility through the chaos of the sound … One of the first things that influenced us when we were writing songs at the beginning was the idea of the concept of playing them live, the idea of a performance — putting on a show, the invitation, how a sound can effect the body and how it can affect the audience. All of those things, it gives you space and figures and something to play with.
You open the album with a clip from John Cassavetes’ Opening Night — and that “Loosen up, have a drink” line from the movie makes for an interesting and cinematic (literally!) choice here. How’d you arrive at the clip, and why’d you choose to include it as the intro to “Shut Up?”
When we were making the record, we were talking about trying to find an intro that would match with “Shut Up” that would also sum up the ideas we had, with the song and with the band in general. I’ve been a huge fan of Cassavetes. When our producer (Johnny Hostile) put together the intro and the backing track and the clip from the film, we all thought it was a great idea. It’s a great scene from an incredible film, and if people can discover the film from listening to the record, we’d be really happy, because Cassavetes is one of the best directors and one of my favorites. I would recommend anyone to watch an interview with him and see what he has to say. The team of actors he was working with at the time was really one of people who were being faithful to each other, coming on and doing films together and being really creative–we really responded to this idea that life and art are really connected. The way you are in life and who you choose to do things with is very important.
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Delving into the themes of the record, I think it’s fascinating that such censoring statements–Silence Yourself as the title; “Shut Up” as its first track–are coming from such an expressive, brutally honest band. Does Silence Yourself have a unifying message, or would you say that each song on the record is more of an autonomous statement?
There was a natural selection going on with the songs on the record. As we were recording the tracks, we selected the ones that had the best parts sonically, the ones where we thought we achieved the best performances. I wrote extra wording to unify things as one and to provide people with more doors they can open and be open to their own interpretation on what the record is about. It’s an open poem–it can be seriously and can be taken lightly. It has different layers, and that’s what I like about it.
I want to revisit the connection you made between punk and modernity. What’s the most exciting thing about being a rock musician in 2013, and to put out a record in this particular creative climate?
I want to stay focused and concentrate on the things that really matter, which is writing music, always being a reaction to what’s around me, writing more lyrics, trying to find a new recording rehearsal place where we can set everything up and carry on being productive and creative, release other projects, meeting people … that’s what matters to me the most. Instead of a band, we perceive this to be more of a collaboration. Savages is people trying to discover an experience together and come up with a creative form together. It’s exciting to feel free to express your ideas and your reaction to the present.