Savages are a newly-formed London four piece who excel at making bracingly loud and minimalistic post-punk, and much like a good steak, or the hunting of human beings for sport, it’s something that we never tire of when done right, and Savages are really doing it right. We’re not going to bombastically declare them the saviors of rock and roll, but they do decisively prove that there’s still plenty of life to be wrung from a classic guitar, bass, and drums setup as long as you approach it with the right mind-set and enough commitment and passion. Playing really loud doesn’t hurt either.
You’ll have to catch Savages in the flesh if you want to experience their gloriously punishing yet satisfying noise yourself, as at least for the moment they’re concentrating on their live show (though there is one high quality live recording floating about that’s sure to whet your appetites). In the meantime, we chatted to the band and found out about their impeccable taste and Ballardian inspirations. Plus they offered us an intriguing reading list of bleak modernist fiction. What more could you want?
How did Savages come about?
Gemma Thompson: a series of coincidences and London being a small town…We were all individually pursuing what we love doing – making music, and as our paths kept clashing we ended up in a rehearsal room in Deptford to see what we could do with each other.
What’s the origin of your name?
GT: It comes from thoughts and images implying a human descent or a loss of control. Literature by Kōbō Abe, such as Woman in the Dunes, The Face of Another, J G Ballard’s The Drowned World, short stories by Saki – at the push of a button, basic survival instincts, primordial instincts would take over… and a puerile enjoyment of that.
What influences you?
GT: Quiet people, repetitive noises, New York Noise of the late 70s/early 80s, Mary Kingsly, Swans, The Birthday Party, Clinic, Killing Joke, Jim Jarmusch, Harry Dean Stanton, Einstürzende Neubauten, elegant characters against a malignant Nature.
You’re refreshingly minimalistic. Was that a conscious creative decision, or did it come about more organically?
Jehnny Beth : Minimalist music is for me associated to American composers from the 60’s like Steve Reich, Philip Glass… But also listening to other influences such as The Fall, Wire… from the beginning we felt the need to strip down our music and use repetition as a tool for composition. There is never pressure of writing a pop song with us, only what sounds right and natural. I like to think our music follows a stream, and all with have to do is get on board with it.
GT: We enjoy focussing on the simplicity of the sounds, cutting back from a lengthy description and replacing it with minimum strokes. This came about quite naturally, at the beginning, when we individually accessed our own instruments and what we could do with them. We try to be quite primordial and use emotions and instincts to help guide the sound.
Have you ever thought of incorporating synths or samplers into your sound, or are you more interested in coaxing new sounds out of a more traditional band setup?
JB: I think there is a nice feeling of immediacy to play with a traditional rock’n’roll set up and we wanted that feeling to lead us and choose for us in a way.
GT: We are not so much after ‘new sounds’ but we like to think about the character behind the instrument – the input or intent that each musician puts into creating the overall sound. Also, there is something romantic about the immediacy of the set-up, the plug in and play attitude.
You seem to be getting a very positive critical reception at the very beginning of your career as a band. Is that a concern at all or something that you welcome?
JB: I definitely welcome that. Especially when it comes from artists we love and respect and who encourage us to carry on. But we’ve all been in bands before, so none of us are really impressed easily – and in a way, we’ve learned to acknowledge when there’s something good happening.
I believe you have your own label Pop Noire that you plan to release your music on? Is being D.I.Y and self-releasing your own music more of an ideological point for you, or is it just a question of practicality?
JB: I started the label Pop Noire with my partner Johnny Hostile who plays with me in ‘John & Jehn’. We wanted to start something that mattered to us, so associated ourselves with people who are also creative artists, who we have been working with for years. The idea was to release new John & Jehn music and all the other projects that we were involved in. We first released the 4 tracks of LESCOP that John is producing. John will produce Savages as well… we’re kind of a family.. a weird one!
GT: I think that it just makes sense to work with and amongst people that we respect and trust greatly, in order to keep the whole process close to heart. I suppose it also allows us to experiment and proceed with ideas without so much explanation and more instinct.
Words: James Ubaghs