Gig preview: Savages at Leeds Irish Centre

Savages. Picture: Dustin Cohen
Savages. Picture: Dustin Cohen
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When it came to knuckling down to write the follow-up to their widely acclaimed debut album Silence Yourself, post-punk band Savages burrowed themselves away in west London studio.

“It was great, it was isolated, we could go there every day,” says singer Jehnny Beth.

The problem was the building’s low ceiling, which cramped the band’s normal style.

“What it does if it’s too low you can’t really play at full volume; the drums fill up the room,” Jehnny Beth says. “We ended up writing a lot of ballads.

“At that point we said ‘Now we need to write the loud songs on the record’.”

So in January last year the four-piece jetted off to New York City where they spent three weeks developing new songs for what was to become Adore Life through a string of live performances.

Savages. Picture: Dustin Cohen

Savages. Picture: Dustin Cohen

“It felt very natural,” says French-born singer Jehnny Beth. “When Savages formed after three or four months we played our first show then we had an audience. We were constantly playing new songs, trying out unfinished material in front of an audience sometimes.

“When we started writing Adore Life we had a period of isolation but the four of us felt we needed to play these songs live, to get out of London, get really focused and play shows three nights a week then review what we had done and finish writing the songs. It’s a very Savages way to do it. Our music needs adrenaline.”

In a departure from their previous work, almost every song on Adore Life mentions love in some form. For lyricist Jehnny Beth it was something of an awakening, but finding a way to address the subject without sounding hackneyed took time.

“I’m always writing lyrics on the road but a lot of the things I wrote on tour stayed in my notebook. I was experiencing some personal dramas, I did not necessarily want all of it to be out there. But a sense of intensity was on the record. ‘How to speak about love?’ was a question we asked outselves.

Whenever we were in a room there was something electric from day one. I can’t explain it but it’s here and as long as it’s here, that connection, the band will be here.

“Finally the music informed the direction of the lyrics and vice-versa. When the sound was so aggressive and speedy I could attach more naive thoughts like ‘love is the answer’. It was possible to say that. I liked the contrast, it felt like I was not being cliched.”

Savages’ drummer Fay Milton described the second side of Adore Life as “organised chaos”. Jehnny Beth agrees the band let themselves go a bit more. “It really feels like we put something personal in the record, that means we’re quite attached to it. I would say there was more room for openness for more personal feelings than on the first one.”

The warm reaction that Savages received while touring the world to promote Silence Yourself also proved life-enhancing for their singer.

“When we went on a world tour we ended up playing in places we had never been before. It was a real eye-opener. We realised we had a voice, that people were actually listening, there was so much love for us. They were more than music shows sometimes, there was a real life-changing connection. People would be extremely thankful. It’s something we have always tried to push in our music, a sense of connection. We are saying something about ourselves that’s hopefully true enough so that people can see themselves it.”

One of the album’s key songs was inspired by the American poet and academic Minnie Bruce Pratt, who lost custody of her children after leaving her husband for a female partner. She subsequently became a leading campaigner for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Jehnny Beth explains: “What touched me was not necessarily the homosexual story – that’s part of it – but what I was touched about was it’s a story of someone who has done something and who has lost a lot in order to become herself. It just shows that sometimes there’s a lot to lose but it’s worth it.

“What touched me was the fact that she became a poet through the experience. She started writing and became this amazing poet that we now know because she found her inner voice. It’s the story of a very brave woman. There’s a sense of guilt that is put on people who do that, or even ourselves we can put in situations that are really unhealthy when we don’t become the people we are supposed to become, that touched me.”

Though Jehnny Beth may not have known her fellow bandmates that well when Savages formed, it seems she feels a strong kinship today. “The purpose of being together in this band was music. There’s so much determination from each of us to make it work. We know that being in a band is not easy, it demands a lot of you, but there is pretty much an understanding of all that. Whenever we were in a room there was something electric from day one. I can’t explain it but it’s here and as long as it’s here, that connection, the band will be here.”

Savages play at Leeds Irish Centre on Tuesday February 23. For details visit http://savagesband.com/

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