After honing their at-times violent and confronting sound for little over a year, UK outfit Savages arrived on the world stage fully-formed with their debut LP, Silence Yourself, midway through 2013. The four-piece has maintained a steady course amidst a palpable explosion of hype, appearing impervious to the follies that so often sully any sudden rise to the fore.
Bassist Ayse Hassan sounds disarmingly chipper as our phone call connects, belying both the inconvenient London time zone difference and the powerfully dark nature of Savages’ music. We’re speaking a few days after the band performed alongside Australian expats HTRK for a night celebrating the legacy of songwriter Rowland S. Howard.
“He’s an absolute genius and so inspiring,” Hassan says. “I think along the way you can hear how he has inspired us, most notably in the sounds of the guitar and our attitude in some way. That night with HTRK took us so long to put together because we wanted people to come together for a Rowland S. Howard night and really experience it. It’s a shame, it doesn’t feel like he’s as big over here as he should be, because he was such an incredible guitarist. He is an influence among other influences, and it was such an honour to have Autoluminescent [the recent documentary on Howard’s life] premiere with us and HTRK playing. HTRK are a band we love very much, so to have them on the night was an honour. It was an emotional night for us, and to share that with an audience was incredible.”
After generating immense buzz since inception, Savages braved the sudden attention from labels to make things work on their own terms. “That album was a challenge to do it in the way we wanted and release it in the way we wanted. It took a lot of strength to come up with what we wanted. For us, the album means so much because it is a snapshot of that time, and we did it exactly how we wanted to do it.
“Of course, there are always people giving you advice, telling you to do this and do that, and it can be hard to close yourself off from that. I think we did really well being true to ourselves. It means a lot, because it showed that you can release an album how you want and have that control. You can do what you want if you know what you want, and do your darndest to push for that.”
Some (well, most) bands give in to temptation and take immediate monetary gratification when it’s offered, more often then not leading to a path of waning motivation. Savages instead made choices based on fostering their creative growth.
“The motivation is not to be blind to what you’re being offered,” says Hassan. “You might get offered bucketloads of money, but how are you going to return that back? We looked at our options, explored a lot and worked out between us which was the right way to go. Sure, we’ve made mistakes along the way, but from those mistakes you figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.
“The fact that the album took longer than some people expected is because it felt like it would have been too rushed to do it before that. Even now, some of the songs on the album have evolved in some way because of the fact we like to experiment with the sound as we play, keeping it interesting for the audience and ourselves. If you’re constantly trying to do that, it pushes you to be better – you intensely care about it. Over the years we were playing shows and trying to be the best band we could. When you try new things out, you gain confidence in so many ways. It keeps it interesting. There are songs that weren’t quite there for the album, but we threw them into the set here and there. It’s so important for a band to try things out in the live environment.”
Literature on Savages often paints the band as belonging in another era, placing them alongside the early ’80s post-punk vanguard. The notion of not being made for these times isn’t really one that resonates with Hassan.
“To be honest, I feel that we are what we are. There are things from the past that have influenced us, but there isn’t an intention to replicate that in any way. What we are creating now is something that is coming to us quite naturally. Each of us have very different styles in how we play and that combination of our experiences – the movies we watch, the books we read – all of that comes together to produce the band that we are, how we create events, how we created the album.
“There are bands that are current that we are interested in, but when we create music it is from that range of influences; writing from a bassline, or it might be lyrics. From that starting point it can change into anything. When people say we remind them of bands from the past, that’s great, but I don’t totally get it.”
Savages play with Kirin J Callinan at Metro Theatre on Wednesday February 5. You can also catch them with The Jezabels, Lorde, Jagwar Ma and more at Laneway Festival at Sydney College of the Arts on Sunday February 2.
Silence Yourself out now through Matador/Remote Control.