Photography by Shay Rowan
Savages are the best new band in the UK, already covered extensively on LTW here is an interview with our current favourite new band.
I don’t believe that there is a more exciting band in the world right now than Savages. So fresh, so brand new, and with a dark, punk nihilism that kicks everyone else out of the water, Savages have taken over the British music scene in such a short few months. For this interview, I was called to the stomping ground of alternative radio, BBC 6 Music to join (or interrupt) the band during their first BBC radio session with Marc Riley yesterday evening.
“We all have our feet on the ground at the minute. It’s really exciting. It’s gone much faster than we expected. We started in October but out first gig was in January.”Â Gemma Thompson (guitar) explains. Camille Berthomier AKA Jehnny Beth (vocals) was formally a member of the lo-fi duo, John and Jehn, hence the meeting of Savages comes to place due to Thompson performing with the duo on previous occasions.
Already, in the very early stages of the group’s formation, the band have drawn comparisons to the great post-punk bands of the late 70s and early 80s, namely Joy Division, Magazine, The Pop Group and Public Image to name just a few. “We all bring different influences to the band as well. I think we all share the same overall influences but we also have what we like individually. And that may not be music, it may be the way we were brought up and the reasons we were in London, but we all bring something separate to the table.”Â
On the topic of how well their influences would be presented live, the band suggest that the way their music is created is simply based on how the band play naturally as individuals, as if there is some fusion of creative outputs. “I think it all became apparent when we played our first gig. It just sounded really cool”Â Fay Milton (guitar) passionately explains with proceeding laughter.
Sitting and watching their session with Marc Riley was a new experience. Having seen Savages live before, and with the intention of seeing them later that evening, I knew how raw they could be; I knew how thrashy they could be, I understood the relationship between Gemma Thompson and Jehnny Beth, I had seen Fay Milton hitting the drums with what can only be described a penetrable force, as if she wishes to drive the sticks through her drumset, and I had heard the hypnotic bass from Ayse Hassan holding the group together. All four elements of this group are what makes the band what they are, and more importantly reaffirms them as a great live act. What I’d never seen is how they would sound in a studio.
With a hint of professionalism, the four band members sounded so clear and well-constructed compared to the noise-rock of their live gigs. They still performed with the same sound, but with no audience to please, there were no restrictions on how they were expected to look. The natural energy exerted by Jehnny Beth manages to still resonate and take over the room. She fronts the band with an energy likening to Joe Strummer, just stomping one leg as she closes her eyes and wails into the microphone. The studio session was an interesting addition to the interview and the day as a whole, showing the band as live performers and as studio musicians.
“We never let Gemma turn up her guitar to the sound she wants it when practicing.”Â Milton enlightens .
“Yeah, that’s why I was so excited when we played our first gig. I could turn my amp up to the volume I wanted to play it! So I was excited because of that.”Â Gemma Thompson is one of those great guitarists, one that can go from playing the solos that wrap around the bassline and intertwine with the rest of the band, and then split within a short second and contrast with the annihilation of her guitar, ending with a string breaking later at their Islington Mill gig.
On the subject of their quite impressive support slot with The Vaccines last month, Beth explains that the tour was “not as self-rewarding. Playing in clubs means you can share the experience.”Â, supported by the band explaining that gigs such as the Fuhrer Bunker in Salford are actually the natural place for the band to be at this moment in time.
Out of the mystique of the band comes a surprise when you realise that each member is surprisingly more normal to talk to than you would expect. The same thing happened to Joy Division. You create dark and enigmatic music, you expect dark and enigmatic people. It’s not always the case. The most interesting force that may adhere to this theory may just be Jehnny Beth. “I was brought up in the theatre world so I was exposed to a lot of culture. I was exposed to a lot of strong theatre culture and things that relate to that. Maybe later when I met people my age I listened to a wider variety.”Â Quiet and so delicate she evidently takes a back seat in interview and speaks very little. If someone had never seen the group before, it would come as a shock to see her performance at Islington Mill later that evening. Dressed in all black and high heels, later kicked off, she grips the audience with her hypnotic stare and the flailing of her elbows, much like a female Ian Curtis.
As the conversation faded from professional interview to an off record conversation, there were talks of Lux Interior and The Cramps, of Johnny Cash. It seems Savages’ depth of knowledge regarding the music industry sits solely with the greats, the musicians with flair, hinting that Savagea my just continue in that direction.
I left the BBC to go towards the venue where they would play a triumphant second gig in Manchester. Before leaving, I hear Jehn insecurely discussing what she should have said on the radio, talking about her respect for Siouxsie Sioux, but resenting the fact that as a female frontwoman she consistently attracts these comparisons.
The band have a lot more to offer than just a nostalgia group; making middle-aged men feel like they’re 18 again, or making the youth of today believe they are in an era as exciting as 1979. Savages are a band in their infancy, and witnessing them both in a studio and live environment leaves me only optimistic. I can see something occurring in the near future. It’s unclear how Savages are going to expand and develop, but it’s clear that something big may just be happening within this exhilarating new group.