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The Beauty of the Ride

Feb 24, 2017 Savages Bookmark and Share

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Savages’ astounding 2013 debut album, Silence Yourself, began with a quote nicked from the John Cassavetes’ 1977 film Opening Night, in which Gena Rowlands’ character, the protagonist Myrtle Gordon, stares down the barrel of her professional life, opining despondently into the mirror as an actress in her 40s, “How old are you, really?” That rhetorical sentiment served as a manifesto for the band’s steadfast belief in the power of art to galvanize, with age being a state of mind, specifically pertaining to the notion that female musicians and actresses generally have a much younger expiration date within the sphere of public consciousness than their male counterparts. On their auspicious sophomore follow-up, 2016’s Adore Life, they blast these concerns into oblivion, assuming a more romantic mindset, courtesy primarily to Jehnny Beth’s elliptically lovelorn lyrics. If this one had a snippet included from a film, it would be akin to Nina Simone’s assertion in the documentary Nina Simone: Historica Perspective in which she conflates the notion of love to being on stage, completely fearless. Witness Savages’ live show, and one can grasp this opaque connection.

Singer Jehnny Beth asserts that Adore Life‘s songs transcend the often odiously trite genre of “love,” and are transformed into something decidedly different dependent upon serendipitous circumstances. “It’s funny about songs, because you write them for the purpose of yourself, and then they take on their own lives and they don’t really belong to you anymore,” she admits. “For example, when we play ‘Adore’ in Paris, it has a different meaning now, and that was a love song initially. It’s emotional, and people cry, because it arrived at the moment the attacks happened there [in November of 2015]. And it seemed very essential for them to be able to hang on to life. When you’re facing death, whether it’s denying your friend is gone or when something catastrophic happens, you just give into life.”

Despite being the front-person, lyricist, and general center of attention, the band is more than Beth’s backing vehicle, particularly during their primal, howling performances that take their albums to another level. They’re one in a classic sense-protean entities who are much more whole than they are as individual parts, cultivating a divine alchemy with the interplay of Beth, bassist Ayse Hassan, guitarist Gemma Thompson, and drummer Fay Milton.

The rather diffident Hassan hints that 2016’s been a hectic one for the band. At the time of our interview in late 2016, following a large festival in Queens which capped a long year of touring, Hassan was looking forward to some year-end shows with her side-project Kite Base. She suggests that Savages will be taking some time off in 2017. She emphatically adds that there’s a pragmatic impetus for the planned breakavoiding creative stagnation, as they did on Adore Life, in which they largely sculpted the songs recklessly in a live setting. “When we’re doing something somewhat intrinsically formulated, we’re trying to create something new to us,” she says. “It’s us trying to find ways to inspire progression as musicians. How this will happen, we don’t know, but we’ll keep pushing ourselves.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Under the Radar’s Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue (January/February/March 2017). This is its debut online.]

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