At this point, rock and roll’s death and its resurrection have come and gone enough times that we ought to know better than postulate in such Biblical terms. But still, with guitars on a downswing, the women of Savages have been experiencing the brunt of those generalizations throughout the band’s ascent over the past three years.
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Through 2012’s breakout EP I Am Here and the group’s debut album Silence Yourself in 2013, comparisons to Britain’s more raucous days of yore have been favorably pushed onto Savages. And even though similarities to Joy Division, Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees and others have been drawn mostly in praise, there is this underlying sentiment attached that this is a band of revivalists yearning for the late ’70s. But as the band’s French-born singer Jehnny Beth told Billboard, the concept of “contemporary” style isn’t even a question for her and her partners.
Leading up to the London outfit’s sophomore album, Adore Life, on Jan. 22, the band has offered two early tracks — “The Answer” and “T.I.W.Y.G.,” which came out Tuesday — both blaring with violently passionate lyrics about love. (On “The Answer,” Beth sings, “If you don’t love me/ you don’t love anybody/ Ain’t you glad it’s you?” and on “T.I.W.Y.G.” she declares repeatedly, “This is what you get when you mess with love.”) On the subject, she notes the underlying theme of the album, which relates to both a personal romance as well as the attention she and her bandmates have been attracting.
“When we started touring on the first record and all these crowds and all; the love we were receiving, it changed everything,” she said. “I think you have to be blind or fucking dumb not to be changed by that…. The thing is what do you do with it? Like, do you ignore it? What do you do? But still being true to yourself, how do you give the love back? And I think it is very similar to what happens in life as well, people are awkward with love. And someone who loves you, someone who you love, I’m awkward with that — I’m still learning. But fucking hell, it feels good.”
Billboard spoke with Beth and bassist Ayse Hassan about the new album and what it means to really rock in 2015.
Early this year, you did a nine-show New York City residency where you previewed early versions of Adore Life songs. What did you learn from testing the songs out live?
Jehnny Beth: At this point we had many songs but they were lacking a bit of adrenaline, they were lacking some kind of live experimentation, because we’d been writing in the studio and just in one room and you get to a point where you just need to get it out there and play to people.
What can fans expect from Adore Life?
Ayse Hassan: Sonically there’s a progression in the sound. From the bass side of things, for the first record a lot of the bass was clean, but for this record there’s more of an intense sound in certain songs. And that’s happened throughout the whole band there’s a progression of the sound and an evolution so to speak of what we wanted to achieve sonically.
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Beth: I think the record is more “glorious,” which was a term used by PJ Harvey when she came to listen to the songs in the studio and I’ve kept that word in my head — I think it was interesting. I think it is more open and more relaxed a little bit, more decompressed and still very fierce.
I heard some well respected names in rock wanted to produce your new album, but you returned to work with Johnny Hostile, who recorded your debut. Why is that?
Beth: Working with Johnny Hostile was a very natural thing, because he’s very, very close to the band and he knows our personal desires as musicians and individually. I think a lot of producer work is knowing the human side and managing egos and personalities and I think someone who is able to make you feel like you’re the one having all the ideas, that’s a good trick to have you know? And we’re a team and we’ve grown together.
The Danish electronic producer Anders Trentemøller mixed the album — kind of an unexpected name to see in the credits. How did that come about?
Beth: Johnny Hostile talked with him a year before we recorded and they got really close and realized they have then same kind of musical spirit and aspiration and they really admired each other and their work. So asking Anders was really bold but…
Hassan: Yeah, it was a contrast to what a band like us might normally do and I think that’s what we found quite exciting the fact that it was something that was in essence a bit of a risk because it is completely different to what we are as well, in some ways.
Beth: Anders had never mixed a rock record before, but in a way we had never done anything like this before either. And when it’s fresh and you’ve never done it before, I think that’s when it’s exciting, instead of taking the old timers who have done it a million times. It’s great to know their advise and have influence from people who have done this before because you need to learn from other artists, but to do it then yourself with your own team — it’s very exciting. And then when we get old, we’ll tell the stories like they tell their own stories.
So, using some old vet might have felt stale?
Beth: Yes, but that’s what everybody does as well. Especially for the type of music we’re doing. We’re doing rock music. Rock music’s not on the radio; R&B is everywhere, this is the current music. We’re doing something where everywhere we go people tell us this has been done before and we’re doing something from the past. No, we’re not. We’re not using anybody from the past, we’re doing this ourselves and there’s a kind of statement to that that I think is very important — to us anyway.
Is this a concept that affects the decisions you make, so as not to be seen as a retro band?
Beth: To be honest, that’s not even a question. The question comes from the outside. The fans don’t care. Maybe media… In the UK, they can’t get out of their ’80s punk time, they just can’t. And it’s just eating its own tail and it gets very uninspiring and uninspired as well.
I’ve read reviews comparing seeing Savages to seeing Joy Division in 1978, or other acts of that era…
Beth: Right, it’s insane. It’s the idea that — and it’s not just for music — you were born at the wrong time and that’s so unfair. Like, whatever you do, your parents had it great but you can never match the great time that they’ve had. It’s interesting because every decade has had that — the death of rock music — and even in the ’60s or ’70s they said we had this before this is finished. Or in the ’80s when they started with their strange haircuts and their weird synthesizers, they were like, “Where is rock and roll?” And it keeps coming back.
And even me, when I was a young girl, I remember there was a time when it was all about Tricky, Portishead and Bjork, or whoever. And then suddenly the Strokes arrives, and for me from this small town in France I was like, “Guitar music!” And I remember reading, “Guitar’s back! Guitar’s back!” And then it disappeared again! And now Kanye West is headlining festivals. And that’s fine. It doesn’t matter. As long as there’s fans mosh-pitting, it doesn’t matter.