Savages drummer Fay Milton is in an elevator in El Paso, Texas, and failing to hear anything I’m saying. “You sound like you’re in a distortion tunnel,” she laughs. It’s the band’s first day off during their blistering U.S. tour, which has taken them from sweaty gig to sweaty gig across North America, to land, finally, at Coachella. After a few minutes of communication breakdown, we elect to switch to email.
Savages may turn out to be one of the most important bands of this generation. Their first record, the vicious Silence Yourself, came off the back of months of hype around their live shows – not just for their ferocious energy but also their fierce anti-phone manifesto, which ironically created a swell of discussion online.
Silence Yourself was pure, angry nihilism – directed at an establishment that valued noise over substance – but the follow up, Adore Life, took a swift diversion, into a scalpel-like examination in the many facets of love. There’s its sexual power, its fluidity, its messiness – at one point vocalist Jehnny Beth likens it to a disease.
Then there was another overarching message: on the album’s pinnacle – the hushed, menacing Adore – where Jehnny Beth asks “Is it human to adore life?” over Ayse Hassan’s curling bassline, before gently repeating “I adore life.” For all its sonic emptiness, it’s supremely commanding.
They’ve just announced shows in Australia in mid June – headlining art festival Dark Mofo in Hobart, as well as headlining dates in Sydney and Melbourne. After the brief and crackly phone call, Music Feeds asked Milton some questions about how the hell they maintain such an exhausting live show, how the songs have changed since their initial record release, and whether simplicity is really the answer.
Music Feeds: You’re currently near the end of your US tour – how’s it going? Any particular highlights?
We’ve had a lot of highlights but a few that stand out were our New York shows and the Chicago show at Metro, they were really great, and also we played a show in Lawrence, Kansas, I didn’t realise that Lawrence would be such a cool place, really easy going, loads of interesting little shops, great vibe there. It was only brought down by a group of Westboro Baptists who came along and protest against our evil rock and roll ways….!
Music Feeds: Have the songs changed for you now that you’ve been performing them for a while? Have they uncovered new meanings?
Yes I think the meanings always keep morphing, new lyrics pop out to me all of the time mirroring my life, it’s funny… if you have something on your mind, there will new lyric that speaks to it!
Music Feeds: Have they altered musically at all?
Yes, some of the songs have been altered to work better in the set, lengthening or shortening parts. We never feel tied to performing the songs exactly as they were recorded.
Music Feeds: I’ve read that you once likened performing as like running 15km every night – does it ever get too much?
Yes! But no. I mean, sometimes when you think it’s too much but you have to go on stage anyway, you find out that we all have hidden reserves of energy we never knew about. now on tour, I’m a bit more experienced at it, so I know when to party and when to chill with a kombucha.
Music Feeds: Your lives shows are pretty much legendary – there’s almost a point in your shows when it all goes to complete chaos – and then you’ll bring it back – do you try to push the show to the brink of where it will go?
Yes, we have to otherwise we get bored. We need things to be 110% otherwise we feel like we failed.
Music Feeds: Going back a bit to the creation of Adore Life – you recorded all the instrument tracks individually instead of live – how do you think that impacted the dynamics of the songs?
It has definitely impacted the sound of the record, it’s much clearer in many ways, sonically. we started with a base of playing the songs all together then went over each part, so the live energy is still there.
Music Feeds: You’ve said that Adore Life was a warmer record for you guys, do you think you’ve relaxed a little as a band?
Yes, we have, although the songs are still heavy and angry and wild even though they’re warmer!
Music Feeds: In a way it’s a very simple concept – to Adore Life. Do you think that a simplicity of thinking and approach is the way forward? In politics and society.
Yes, I think we’ve been in an ago of mass confusing, too much bad information and we’re realising that things are simpler. ‘Love is the answer’ is a lyric but actually if you added greater compassion to any situation it would be improved.
Music Feeds: It’s also perhaps a utopian ideal – you’re currently in the midst of the US elections – does that utopia seem very far away?
With regards to the US election, utopia seems so close but so likely to slip through our fingers. That’s why the world feels on a knife edge at the moment..
Music Feeds: If Silence Yourself was the problem, is Adore Life the solution?
That would seem too finite. we need to leave a “to be continued…” for the next album, so maybe Adore Life is about being in the moment and loving what is around you no matter how imperfect.
Savages hit Australia mid-June. Check out the dates and ticket links below.
Savages 2016 Australian Tour
Thursday, 16th June
The Metro Theatre, Sydney
Saturday, 18th June
Dark Mofo @ The Odeon Theatre, Hobart
Tickets: Dark Mofo
Sunday, 19th June
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tickets: Corner Hotel