For such an intense name, Savages have hearts that are surprisingly bigger than any artist rendering can draw.
The rock quartet from London-via-France formed back in 2011 when singer Jehnny Beth, guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayse Hassan, and drummer Fay Milton felt a pull towards the studio. The outcome of their early efforts, 2013’s Silence Yourself LP, was slathered in praise. Rightfully so; the four women perform with an intense delivery and emotional depth that challenges rock stereotypes to push things farther. On this year’s Adore Life, they push even farther.
After touring Silence Yourself, the band took a month off and retreated to a small studio in North London with the intent to write extremely loud, harsh songs. “It was a really small studio so it turned out we couldn’t actually make much noise,” Thompson says with a laugh. As she begins to explain over the phone, it seems the album content pushed them to write things from an alternate headspace. After writing quieter material, they broke out of the studio, took some of the sketches, and reworked them in other spaces until they evolved enough to be played live. Cue the nine-show residency at three different clubs in New York City.
“We honed the record live because the first record is so much about the live performance,” she says, noting the importance of lead single “Adore”. “There’s something about [‘Adore’] that, especially in a small club, allows the lyrics to resonate between us and the audience. It’s a very open piece. It was a joy to see the audience’s reaction with that. We did warn them before we went on that we’re writing and they would hear new songs that weren’t finished. This idea of taking a risk onstage, that the stage is this pinnacle where things are partly written and continue to be written or made self-consciously opens up the sacred space where everything needs to be finished. I remember trying to play ‘Surrender’ and it never worked because how we attempted to play it live couldn’t shift for the live sound. That’s just part of the process.”
Even when they wrapped up Adore Life, the record stayed complex. It’s an aggressive tone combined with heartfelt themes. In today’s society, that vulnerability simply isn’t popular. It’s cool not to care – tilde, asterisk, tilde, asterisk – especially when you’re in a band with a stereotype as tough as theirs. But the way these four see it, the world is too beautiful to waste time focusing on what’s not. “That’s something we’ve always had from the beginning, this contrast,” says Thompson. “When Gemma’s writing the lyrics, we’re talking about love and all its different forms and contexts. We have to figure out how to apply it to Savages. I think there’s an acceptance that there isn’t one way of love. Sometimes you have to go through love to get to the real love. You have to take risks or give up what you have to find it, the anger and frustration behind it, the presumed ways you should go about things. I guess it’s why people have always gone on to form bands: you want to question everything. It defined us, but this record let us push further to an openness to question human vulnerability and also strength.”
That’s because Savages made sure to push themselves. The four members recorded their parts individually, a decision they had never done before in the studio. It allowed for exploratory moments where they could delve into their own strengths. “When we started writing this, we agreed to push every idea further than we thought possible,” says Thompson. “If it’s a melodic part, we’ll push the melody. If it’s heavier, we’ll push that heaviness. We didn’t do that on the first record because it was so much a document of us playing together and staying strict.”
Thompson is the only member who drinks. The rest stay sober both onstage and off. It may not seem like a feat, but look at their lyrics, their growling guitars, their gloomy presence. It’s easier to do things you’re afraid of in life when there’s alcohol lessening the stress. Savages had to push themselves naturally through Adore Life’s dark moments, examining these themes without drunken armor. “You’re testing yourself as well by pushing everything about yourself: the risk, the nerves, the fear,” Thompson says. “It goes directly back into the music.”
One listen to Adore Life is all it takes to see what she means – and, in all likeliness, to feel what she’s describing. It’s an intense, emotive experience. Ignoring a cathartic cleanse that honest is a denial of what life has to offer and your ability to grow stronger in its light. J’adore… and, well, you can, too.