In early 2013, within just a matter of months, Savages went from complete unknowns to the talk of the town, and anyone who gave any damn about rock music suddenly had an opinion about them. It's hard not to have a magnetic attraction—or repulsion, even—to this U.K. foursome that seemingly exploded onto the scene out of thin air. But whatever it was, it was exciting: Frontwoman Jehnny Beth and co. brought back a sound buried with Factory Records-era post-punk (specifically, Joy Division; apologies for the tired comparison) with a look reminiscent of cult classic Heathers (except all four of them as Veronica Sawyer at the funeral).
With Jehnny Beth's manic brand of breathy chanting and howling tailored for combat boot mashing, Savages have always concerned themselves with making good, loud, guitar-bass-drums rock ’n’ roll at their core. Though Silence Yourself established the band's sonic authority—often labeled "aggressive"—the follow-up, Adore Life (out Jan. 22, 2016), is thematically softer, while still maintaining their intensity. There are love songs, even, but only in the way Savages could have written them.
With so much immediate buzz surrounding their debut album, the band really took the time with their sophomore record, even using live gigs in New York City to test new material on focus groups. Adore Life is just as much for the fans as it is just Savages doing exactly what they want to be doing. With the release of another new song ("T.I.W.Y.G.") off their upcoming album, Complex caught up with the frontwoman to talk about the artist/fan collaboration, a secret new project, and a certain popular slang related to their band name.
I was listening to the new album, and it’s really fantastic. I actually saw you guys two years ago, I was in the front row and you grabbed my head.
No, it was such a great moment. So you guys focus-tested your new record. How did people sort of give you feedback after the shows and stuff?
We had been writing for six months, and we felt we really wanted to finish writing the songs while playing shows in New York to extract ourselves from London and be somewhere else and because we love American crowds. We've had really great relationships with them in the past and the shows were always so warm and exciting, and they like loud music, and they like the intensity of our music, so we felt the songs really needed that kind of urge so we could see which ones are key, which ones don’t work, et cetera. We didn’t really expect the audience to tell us how to finish writing the songs.
They would tell you after the shows?
Yeah, or even during the show, if they didn't like that one or you know. The purpose of it was more for us to feel what was right, or we wouldn't involve them in the writing. Maybe I would think about it on stage, or make a few jokes, like, "If you don't like it, tell us."
I feel like I’ve never really seen a band let its audience affect its sound quite as directly as that. I thought that was so interesting.
Well, for Savages, it’s a natural place for us because three months after we formed, we played our first show and then we never stopped having an audience from then and you can find very early shows we have versions of “Shut Up,” which are very different from how it ended up to be. There’s even versions of me and my notebook on stage reading, still learning the lyrics. I'm happy that the audience in New York was like, “Is that a finished song?”
And I’m sure as anyone who makes art, you also get a lot of hate. Do you embrace that sort of criticism also?
Yeah of course. We really think about every aspect of everything all the time, so I think we’re pretty harsh critics in music as well.
How do you give back to your fans?
Writing “Fuckers” was the first step towards that, giving back. Giving something that people can take home and might find useful. You know someone told me the other day that they quit their job? They wanted to do it forever. After listening to “Fuckers” it really gave them the strength.
I feel like there’s a perception that you guys only make angry music, but I know a lot of the songs on the new album are love songs. Did you want to change that perception of the band from being very harsh and loud to show you guys also have a soft side, and you adore life—like the title?
We started off writing the new record, and we were writing in the studio in London, which has quite a low ceiling. I know this sounds like a detail, but it didn't help us to come up with the loudest sound. We moved to another place, and we set out to write our new songs, loud and fast songs because at that point we had reached mostly slow songs and more ballads, and so we wanted the record to be new and definitely wanted the loud and intense records. That’s what happened. When you talk about Adore, for me to say I adore life expresses vulnerability and openness that is as strong and intense. I think you can reach intensity from various ways.
I think that intensity definitely holds throughout the entire album even during the softer moments. I think my favorite song right now is "Sad Person."
Can I ask you the reason?
I love the melody, but also I just really love that line like, "I’m not gonna hurt you ’cause I’m flirting with you." That’s really great.
Did you feel that you had that experience before?
Maybe, but I also can see that in like a romantic horror movie.
Oh wow, OK, I see that’s interesting.
You’re a bit of a cinephile.
Yeah, of course, I don’t have a large knowledge of history of movies, but I definitely watch films.
Visuals and aesthetic play a pretty big role in Savages also.
What interests me in general, especially for this record, is other artists or the director or the writer. I’ve been reading recently a lot of interviews from great artists I really love, and what I’m interested in is the connection between the life and the art they are making because I don’t think there’s an art for living and an art for creating. I think they’re both the same, and I’m usually hooked into another artist’s work because I’m hooked on the person. To give a contemporary example someone like Bradford Cox has always been, for me, someone I really admire. Really opening up and really showing the source of his inspiration and really sharing his life and his art, and I think that’s pretty brave showing your vulnerability like that, it’s very touching, and it’s transformed into his music in something very beautiful. In this record, I think a lot of trajectories like that have informed some of the lyrics and how someone at some point in their life has made a change. I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of missing out on your life, and missing your destiny and accomplishing yourself as a person. I find it very frightening when people I love are stopping themselves from becoming the person that I think they are.
I just want to know what a day in your life is like. What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I’m always working that’s the problem. If I’m not working on Savages, I’m working on my record label in Paris, Pop Noire.
Planning releases or talking with my associates on the label and thinking of what we’re gonna prepare and projects we have. I’m also working on another project with my sister, but I can’t really reveal it for now.
Is it a music project?
No, it’s a writing project. I really like to see my best friend in London, and she’s wonderful, full of life, independent, free-spirited with a real knowledge about rock ’n’ roll. I really like spending time and drinking coffee with her.
Are you aware of the slang Savage that’s popular right now?
It’s a word that young people use?
A lot right now.
Really?! I had no idea. In what way?
Just like if someone’s like sort of brutal or unapologetic. It's like, “she’s a savage” or “he’s a savage.”
Do you know how long it’s been used?
It’s very recent. I hear it all the time now.
No way! I love it. I’m gonna do research on that. I like it
You guys can embrace that then.