Interview: Norfolk gig promising love songs with a Savages twist
- Credit: Matador
As they come to Norwich, Ayse Hassan tells ALEX BELLOTTI why the notoriously sullen four-piece Savages have opened up to embrace love on their second record, Adore Life.
Around the release of their Mercury Prize-nominated debut, 2013's Silence Yourself, Savages had a reputation for being quite difficult. Serious, sullen and loathe to elaborate on oft-guarded answers, their studied silence led to much speculation. Could the four-piece really last in such apparent misery? Did they even like each other, or being in a band?
While some thought this was all just post-punk posturing — manufactured to make the most of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees comparisons — bassist Ayse Hassan suggests it came from the heart. 'We are serious,' she insists. 'There's humour in what we do, but we spend most of our moments in the day thinking about this project and you can't do that and not be serious at some level.'
Nonetheless, the latest chapter of this 'project' does suggest a change in tone. In sharp comparison to the London group's scything early singles, which were prone to such titles as Shut Up and F***ers, Savages' second record, Adore Life, is an unlikely exploration of love.
Its conception was in part a response to the tremendous reaction they have enjoyed from fans at live shows, suggesting a sense of reciprocation that should be further evident when they come to the UEA LCR next week.
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'We've learnt to be more open because we have had some great responses from our audiences all over the world. You can't help but react to that,' says Hassan. 'It's a very human experience when you're on stage, it's the most free and vulnerable you can be because you're lost in that moment.
'Even just hearing stories from our fans about how songs have changed their lives makes you realise that you're in a position where you have a voice and that people might listen to it. You have to take responsibility for that.'
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Such is their way, even when exploring the most exhausted of pop subjects, Savages have plenty to say on Adore Life. Shredded through the agro-rock filter of lead singer Jehnny Beth, love becomes explosive, dangerous and raw.
The album's opening gambit The Answer is certainly no frolic in the meadows. Its relentless grinding guitar, thundering, tumbling drums and crashing cymbals are punctured only by singer Beth's powerful wail that 'love is the answer' if only she can find it, her heart consumed instead by jealousy.
It's a pounding, invigorating and excoriating introduction to a cocktail of post-punk, PJ Harvey and the messiness of 21st-century love and lust. And if nothing else quite matches it, the album's cathartic sonic violence remains impressive.
The headbanging turbo-rock of T.I.W.Y.G. – built around the warning: 'This is what you get when you mess with love' – will send moshpits into a frenzy, and the power of I Need Something New's drum-and-bass crescendo gives Beth's frustration near-physical form.
'Pain and pleasure will touch my hand,' Beth sings on album closer Mechanics, while earlier on in Adore, she exposes a more vulnerable sensitivity, wishing she 'hid every tear I cried'.
'There's a lot of contradictions [on the record] to reflect that love isn't always fluffy and nice; love can be f***ed up, it can be inspired by excitement or jealousy or horror,' explains Hassan, who also plays in the bass duo Kite Base.
'It explores something that's a very human subject, something that people experience so differently. I think we've done it in a way that represents us well, because it's exploring parts of love that people don't necessarily talk about — certainly in pop music.'
Taking Adore Life on tour has already been an emotional experience. The record's title became a message of defiance when the band played a show at Paris' La Maroquinerie last December – just a few weeks after ISIS killed 130 people at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan.
Having considered cancelling the show, the quartet decided instead to 'show solidarity' by appearing. In one poignant moment of the night, they paid tribute to those killed with a cover of Eagles of Death Metal's I Love You All The Time.
'Playing that show was such an intensely emotional experience,' admits Hassan, 'knowing that people in the room we'd met previously had lost people – a member of staff who worked at the venue had been killed in the attack too. So to be there and show them that we're here with them and just to be there with one another and that we care was important to do.
'It's so hard to talk about without getting upset, it's such a horrific situation. To hear people discussing stuff at the venue, about their fears and why they wanted to come to the show, it was heartbreaking but at the same time we were all there for one another.'
Such freak occurrences aside, Savages are now well prepared for life on the road, having played their first gig supporting indie stalwarts British Sea Power back in 2012.
In a contrast to the traditional idea of bands on tour, the majority of the group don't drink and make a conscious effort to stay in good shape.
As Hassan explains, as much as anything it is a necessity for withstanding the marathon of their consistently intense live shows.
'I think we're getting better at dealing with gigs, but there's a realisation that you have to be as healthy and as fit as possible to keep up. It's quite intense playing an hour or an hour-and-a-half show every night, and it takes so much out of you.
'There are moments in the past where I've come off stage and it feels like I've gone underwater, you almost feel like you can't breathe. Every muscle we have is focused on performing and observing each other, so it just becomes an assault on your body.'
Savages arrive in Norwich with equally fascinating support in the form of Mica Levi, the leftfield singer-songwriter, electronic experimentalist and member of Micachu And The Shapes. More recently she has become a film composer, notably with her acclaimed soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer's sci-fi film Under The Skin.
t Savages play UEA LCR, Norwich, on November 23, 7.30pm, £17.50, 01603 508050, www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk
t Adore Life is out now
t Further listening: savagesband.com