Savages' Jehnny Beth: John Cassavetes is one of my biggest influences

Categories: Interview
Photo By Erik Hess

Savages are currently in the process of kicking -- some would even go so far as to say saving -- rock 'n' roll's ass. The London-based post-punk quartet steamrolled the music world with a blistering initial live EP, I Am Here, before building on that promise with their fierce debut LP, Silence Yourself, which was recently named to the shortlist for the UK's coveted Mercury Music Prize.

Ahead of Savages' highly anticipated show at First Avenue tonight, Gimme Noise was able to chat with frontwoman Jehnny Beth from her London flat while the band were preparing for their current U.S. tour. Beth, who is from France originally, proved to be quite affable as we spoke about the origins of Savages, the record label she founded with Johnny Hostile, and how John Cassavetes influences her as an artist.

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Gimme Noise: Some fans in the States are still in the process of familiarizing themselves with Savages. How did the band come together initially, and what were the early days like for you?

Jehnny Beth: It was initially the idea of Gemma Thompson, our guitarist. She had been touring with Johnny Hostile and I in our project called John & Jehn, and we had been playing together for two years or something. She had mentioned to us that she wanted to start a group with Ayse Hassan, the bassist in Savages, who she had played with before in a few other projects. She was coming up with different demos and trying out different kinds of people, and it didn't really work out. And so she initially wanted John to sing, but he was very busy producing other records and didn't really have the time. So, I proposed if she wanted to try out with me, so that's how I joined. And that was September or August of 2011, I think.

We tried things with just the three of us, and we started writing songs and everything just seemed to match. She called the band Savages, so before I joined the band they were already called Savages, and I thought it was a really good name, and the references where she was coming from with that name were kind of matching what I wanted to write about at that time. Then, we needed a drummer, so through a friend of a friend we met Fay [Milton] like that, and she was the last to join.

You started your own record label, Pop Noire, and released Savages debut single as well as the I Am Here EP -- What was that creative process like for you?

That was really important to me to have freedom from the start, and try and work with people that I really trusted. I had an experience in the past where I had learned that it was more appropriate for me to be a little bit careful with how the business was going to get introduced into a new project I was going to do, because I had problems in the past with that kind of relationships. So, when Johnny and I started the label, it wasn't initially for Savages, but when I started Savages it just made sense to release things ourselves.

We had propositions for Savages very early on, to sign deals and stuff, but I always thought it would have been a mistake to sign very early. I wanted us to have the freedom of being able to release things ourselves, and I think it's always a better experience that way. It's like a better learning process, in a way, because you do everything yourself.

I remember when the first single came out [the double A-side "Flying To Berlin/Husbands"], all the pre-orders we had -- we sold so many, it was incredible, the demand -- we didn't expect that at all. And so, I was packing everything in my house and we were doing everything ourselves. That was really interesting, because it's always nice to not only have the actual object in your hands, but you actually post it to the people who bought it. It's an amazing feeling.

Did you change your approach at all for the full-length, knowing that you had more space to make a more fully realized artistic statement with your album?

It was an interesting process, because when we started I was writing some manifestos on the side, much more by necessity because I didn't want anybody else to write a press release, I wanted us to be understood as best that we could. I knew that there were ways I could do that, through writing some text on the side and trying to create a world of our own.

With the album, of course there was more space to explore that, but also exploring more melodies of the band. Gemma was able, in the studio, to work on doing some sound installations, and create some different atmospheres. She loves to go to the abstract side of music, so she was exploring those sides. And for me, it was writing for the Silence Yourself subtitle, I call it, and trying to come up with the names and the emotions, and all of that was a lot of work. But I think we did a good step, because we did the live EP in the middle, and we were trying to capture our sound as it was live, and we didn't feel ready to go in the studio at that point.

We only went in the studio three months later. It just didn't feel right to record straight away, because we knew what we were like live but we didn't know how we were going to sound in the studio. It was a good way to process these ideas, by just recording ourselves live, so we did that. And it was a good learning process, it was a good step for us to learn what we wanted, in terms of the album.

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