On their debut album, 2013’s Silence Yourself, Savages built themselves an uncompromising reputation as makers of spiky post-punk anthems such as “Husbands” and “Shut Up.” But as the Anglo-French four-piece started writing for the follow-up, sequestered in a tiny studio in Primrose Hill, North London, strange things started to happen.
“We wanted to write the hardest, most extreme songs we could ever write,” says singer Jehnny Beth, sipping water in the more expansive surroundings of RAK Studios, also in North London. “But the room was really small so we started to write ballads. We were like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ We had to move out eventually.”
Even in other locations, however, Beth found that her approach to songwriting was changing. Previously, she’d “consciously avoided” writing love songs, but this time, she initially found herself unable to write anything else.
“While we were on tour, I kept writing lyrics, and every time I was thinking, ‘OK, this is not for Savages,'” she says. “But I ended up with a whole pile of things which were not supposed to be for Savages. Then I took a [blank piece of] paper and said, ‘Now, I need to start writing for Savages.’ And nothing came. I just had to go with what I had in me. It’s hard, because I feel like I’ve exposed myself a lot.”
Rest assured, however, the Savages beast has not been completely soothed. Beth stresses “there’s still a lot of anger” on the as-yet-untitled record, and before recording began, the band reacquainted itself with its edge via a January residency in New York, playing nine sold-out shows in three different venues.
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“We felt we should be in contact with our audience again,” says Beth. “The songs needed the adrenalin. By the second week, people were singing the lyrics. That was a good sign.”
New songs with working titles such as “The Answer,” “When in Love,” “This Is What You Get” and “Sad Person” were debuted at those gigs, but today, Beth and bassist Ayse Hassan are reluctant to reveal which ones will appear on the final album. Those likely to make the cut include “Adore,” a torch song about emotional guilt (“All the choices we make that are supposed to be good for us are always going to hurt someone else,” says Beth), and “I Need Something New,” which was written onstage over the course of a year as Hassan, guitarist Gemma Thompson and drummer Fay Milton improvised underneath Beth’s spoken word piece.
Now set up in RAK, the band has spent the past couple of weeks hoping to spot the resident studio ghost and once again reach demanding musical territory. According to Beth, the band took considerable influence from veteran noise-rockers Swans, as well as its own “100 percent experimental” collaboration with Japanese acid rockers Bo Ningen, 2014’s Words to the Blind.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of harsh-sounding electronic music,” Hassan says. Her ominous bass lines, so prominent on Silence Yourself, are now pushing at sonic extremes. “For the last record, I played a lot of clean bass and didn’t have that many effects. For this record, I really wanted something aggressive.”
“You should see her walking very gently to the live room,” says Beth, laughing. “And then producing the most evil, loudest sound you’ve ever heard.”
Indeed, despite its gentle beginnings, Beth says the album is now shaping up to be “a beast.”
“It’s very heavy, very mean,” she says. “It’s evil.”
Like Black Sabbath? “It could be that,” she continues. “I hope so. There are some variations, but mainly yeah, it’s quite Black Sabbath.”
Beth will record her vocals in Paris after the London sessions. She’s also putting the finishing touches to a single she’s making with the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas. “We recorded it with him in L.A. or New York and me here, so it’s like a long-distance relationship,” she says, “But it’s fun.” Savages hit the road for festival dates in Europe throughout June and July and will play West Coast dates in August, with a full tour likely in the fall.
Silence Yourself peaked at Number 70 on the Billboard album chart and cracked the U.K. Top 20, before being nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize. While Beth was honored to receive the approval of artists like PJ Harvey, Ian MacKaye and Thurston Moore, she professes not to be concerned with commercial success or critical acclaim.
“Establishment recognition is a bit empty,” she shrugs. “Any recognition is always more touching when it comes one-to-one with a fan, when [they say] you changed his or her life. That’s what you do it for – music changed your life, so you want to give it back.”
Fans in need of further inspiration will likely have to wait until January 2016 for the new album to be released on Matador Records. But when it does arrive, Beth warns people should expect the unexpected.
“You always need something new to keep the excitement,” she says. “If you don’t have a sense of danger, you’re probably going the wrong way.”