Made up of four of the smartest, edgiest women we’ve ever met – Jehnny Beth, Gemma Thompson, Ayse Hassan and Fay Milton – Savages present us with the purest form of post millennial, post punk out there. The band was formed with a manifesto underpinning their existence, a purposeful challenge against modern humanity via a return to something raw, and something primal. But if you never knew any of that, you’d still understand the essence of it all simply because the music is so physical and so confrontational. They’re weighted by gravitas and stark sombreness, but the mood isn’t so much sad as it is resistant. We speak to Jehnny Beth about the disquieting power of their debut, Silence Yourself, and the unflinching nature of their art.
Was the name Savages specifically picked to reflect the primal energy in your music?
Yeah! It was Gemma, our guitarist, who came up with the name Savages. Part of it was the energy but part of it was also her reading a lot of dystopian and science fiction novels. She was into this idea of human evolution and she came up with that name from that angle, trying to express a desire to strip down our evolved natures.
Where does that aggression in your music come from?
I don’t think the idea is to be provocative, I think the idea of aggression that you refer to is simply the physicality of the sound we’re creating. We’re just trying to engage the body as much as possible.
Every time a new impassioned girl group appears, like say Warpaint, much is made of the fact that they’re a gang of girls. Was the idea of fierce femininity an integral concept to the band?
Oh, not at all, gender never went into the thought process. Although we do think that it’s important to represent ourselves well as girls.
Your drummer, Fay Milton, said somewhere that her background was in UK garage, which may be surprising to some. Is dance music and getting people to dance a big thing for Savages?
Yeah absolutely! She’s quite successful in that aspect actually. But whatever the reaction is, it’s fine, especially dancing.
How has the increased attention and the incessant touring affected your personal lives?
Besides being home less, nothing much has changed. We’re basically the same people, we just work harder I guess, and maybe have a little more money (laughs).
What inspires you lyrically?
Mostly my personal life, but sometimes it’s inspired by the books I read.
You collaborated with one of our favourite bands, Bo Ningen, for a ‘Sonic Simultaneous Poem’. What was the idea behind that?
The idea came from Johnny Hostile, the producer of our album. He wanted to put Savages and Bo Ningen in the same room and have us perform at the same time. It then evolved with the idea of simultaneous poetry, so we wrote a 40-minute track with them, where we both recited poems at the same time in two different languages, French and Japanese.
What was the live performance like?
It becomes this real intense battle, quite hardcore, violent and extreme. It was something we really enjoyed. It was really loud, with two drummers, three guitarists, two bassists and two singers so it was a lot of noise. Bo Ningen is already pretty loud on its own (laughs).
Did you girls enjoy working with Bo Ningen?
Yeah it’s very enjoyable working with a band that’s willing to experiment like that. I had previously sung on their track ‘Nichijyou’ so I had a good relationship with them from before. But it was really nice to get together and work on music with new people. That’s always exciting!
We understand that it was a one-off performance though, so we’re a little sad that we didn’t get to catch it. Would both bands be open to doing a reprise?
We recorded the performance actually! It’s going to be released on my label Pop Noire Records, very soon.
Savages performed at Laneway Festival Singapore ’14 on Saturday 25 January ’14.