Get Savvy to Savak, Punks for Life
The supergroup of DC hardcore scene vets shares their new video for "Alive in Shadows," and vocalist Sohrab Habibion discusses why he's still punk after all these years.
Photos by John Von Pamer, courtesy of Savak
Savak is a supergroup. Well, Savak is a supergroup if Revolution Summer—the 1985 summer in Washington DC that birthed the genre of Emotional Hardcore—was your Woodstock. Made up of ex-members of Edsel, Obits, Silent Majority, Nation of Ulysses, Holy Fuck, and The Cops, Brooklyn’s most discontented dads don’t play emo but opt for wiry garage art-punk.
Savak make a potent and pointed agitpop racket on their new album, Best Of Luck In Future Endeavors, which manages to balance the dark and moody with the catchy as fuck. The number of bands made up of ex-hardcore dudes that both avoid indulging in pointless nostalgia and write new songs that don’t make an aging kid cringe with embarrassment can be counted on one hand. Savak is the improbable middle finger. I don’t, as a rule, question good things. I just lay a single black rose on my Egg Hunt seven-inch and give thanks.
Best of Luck In Future Endeavors is available now from Comedy Minus One. Savak guitarist and vocalist Sohrab Habibion was kind enough to chat a bit about the band and let us premiere their new video for the song, “Alive In Shadows.” The video itself is a treat; a jaunty ode to disenfranchisement accompanied by a black and white cartoon phantasmagoria by Paul Clark that’s akin to Raymond Pettibon being fellated by Walt Disney’s detached frozen head. If that doesn’t sound swell, I can’t help you in this life.
Noisey: Why make new music. Why not just do Edsel reunions? Why do you hate money? What’s your problem?
Sohrab Habibion: Clearly it’s been a problem for years for me. I think it’s an affliction. People my age who still play music at the level of professionalism/unprofessionalism at the level in the world we operate in… there is in no purpose. You just can’t help it. It’s a problem.
You’ve followed a counterintuitive path where your music has become more aggressive over the years. I mean, you’re not a straight up hardcore band but….
That’s next. That’s next. Well, it’s funny. When I was in high school I was in a hardcore band called Kids For Cash, but, yeah, Edsel was definitely more 90s DC-flavored indie rock. I guess Obits was more garage-y? This band doesn’t seem different than a combination of Edsel and Obits to me. It’s all in the same family. I always try to incorporate the sounds I want to hear in what bands I’m particularly excited about. It’s always “punk plus… something else.” Punk plus music from Chile or whatever. Not that you can necessarily hear those things all the time. But for me it’s always a hybrid of all those things I’m consuming at the time.
I read in other interviews you’ve done even influences like “musique concrete” being thrown around. But I took that as being “the first two Pere Ubu albums.”
Yeahhhh. I mean, we’re definitely not going to make musique concrete in the most formal interpretation of that, but, yeah, early Pere Ubu. I think in a lot of way that a lot of 70s bands that were slotted into “punk” after punk was a thing; they were clearly influenced by a lot of other music and I think whatever music I’m involved in will be rock ‘n’ roll in some base format but it’s those other things that keep it interesting. You try to keep it interesting and something that isn’t formulaic, and you also want the personalities of everyone in the group to come through and whatever those influences are, as wide as they me be, they still filter through rock ‘n’ roll or punk rock in some way.
In my experience a band working as a perfect democracy is doomed to failure, but I don’t know if that’s how you guys approach it. Perhaps what you guys are hoping to achieve is different than what others might be hoping to achieve?
One of the things that was really great when I was in Obits—and this carried through to Savak—is the idea that if somebody has a particular focal point that they want to take a song to, that’s cool. Everyone is willing to go with it. There is a democratic element, but everyone wants the thing to work out as best as possible, and you all have to give up a little something. And we’re all at the age where we don’t care so much. Meaning there’s not as much ego involved. With Obits, with Rick, he had such a distinct vocal presence that it’s much easier to defer to that because it’s such an integral part of the personality of that band. This band doesn’t have that voice, so I think song by song we go by what makes most sense. It’s not a democracy. It’s momentary oligarchy.
A rotating dictatorship.
Yeah. It’s like, “You got an idea for this? COOL. We’ll go your way.”
The new album feels like an angry record. It feels dissatisfied. Is that just from punk background or from current times being so absolutely terrifying?
I think it would be hard to be a sentient being in 2016 and not be angry about how the world is heading. I’m not sure how people who play music, that are supposedly evoking emotional content, can write stuff that is not angry. We live in a world that is so incredibly full of conflict. I feel like music, at least for us, is a way to react. Not that it has to be angry per se but it’s an outlet it’s… look, it feels weird to be middle aged and be in a punk band, but that’s kind of just where we are.
"Alive in Shadows" video still
Do you guys get into pissing matches about whose ties to DC Hardcore is stronger and better?
I think James wins hands down. He was in Nation of Ulysses, and his brother was in Fugazi, so we’d be fools to argue with him over that.
Fair. So tell me about the song that the new video is for.
“Alive In Shadows” is from the perspective of the downcast and disheartened. The peon. The one who’s being stepped on all the time, whether it’s the person working behind the bar, or the server in a restaurant or someone just working in a bookstore. The one for whom nothing is expected but servitude. I feel like we live in a culture where that’s so exploitative. Even as people who are adults with children, I think it’s a message I still personally relate to. We live in a world that is so stratified, and the class structure that we are constantly battling with can be reflected in the relationship between the person sitting to eat in a restaurant and the person bringing the plate to the table. “Alive In Shadow” captures that.
The perspective of the outsider is always something I relate to. I was born in the country, but I moved back here after the Iranian Revolution. So I came here, and the hostage crisis happened. And even though I’m American by birth, I felt like a non-American. I was made to feel like an outsider for many years. Which is why I connected to punk music because finally there was a voice I related to, from the periphery.
Zachary Lipez knows punk will never die. Follow him on Twitter.