Savages Really Like Playing Hard to Get

I pursued them for a year, but they're worth it.

Sep 16 2013, 6:44pm

Savages are aloof. They're elusive. They’re a tease and for over a year I let them string me along. I guess they know the power of delayed gratification. It started last May, when the UK post-punk quartet—led by lead singer (and Grindcore enthusiast) Jehnny Beth, guitarist Gemma Thompson, drummer Fay Milton, and bassist Ayse Hassan—released double A-side “Husbands”/“Flying to Berlin.” They sounded like Siouxsie and Ian and all the other other British, darkwave-y musicians from the 80s that I love, but Savages were more modern, cerebral, disordered, and more self-aware. I had to talk with them. I sent dozens of emails requesting an interview and was told no every time. Apparently they wanted their “music to do the talking.” I was dogged in my pursuit, and I was also disappointed and amazed that a fast-rising band was refusing to talk. I could never imagine Foxygen or Haim passing up an interview, but whatever, I hounded them like a crazy person and eventually scored some time with bassist Ayse Hassan to talk about their debut LP, Silence Yourselves, how they see their music as a galvanizing force, not to mention why they've been playing hard to get. And although their standoffishness made me cry (a little, on the inside), the gratification I received the second they said yes was proof enough that I'm a glutton for pain and a sucker for Savages.

Noisey: You’ve been avoiding the press for a while. Even when “Flying to Berlin”/“Husbands,” came out at the beginning of last year, Savages avoided talking to the press. What’s changed?
Ayse Hassan: Within ourselves we know what we want out of our live shows. And I feel that embracing a little bit of pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What’s changed is that we’re willing to give a little bit of ourselves to explain certain things that may have been misinterpreted in the past. I mean, we still haven’t given that much, but if you want people to understand you, you don’t have to necessarily give much away. There’s more room for people to get the wrong idea if you don’t do anything.

What I’ve taken from Savages is that you view music as a way to connect to yourself; it’s a physical and mental experience. And I noticed on your website that you want people to discover a new way of life through listening to Savages. Why is this important?
We’ve always tried to make the music we write to be like actions; to have them possess a real power and an effect that reaches people on a primitive level of hearing. I feel that when someone comes to our show it might evoke a feeling or a memory or something that is productive. I really hope that if people listen to our music, they connect to it. Even if it’s something they might not be able to describe in words, at least they feel something. It’s the hope that what we’re doing can inspire people to find the confidence to make a change and find that holding hand that pushes them and to say, “Actually, I’m not happy doing this, I’m going to do it that way because that’s what’s true to me.” They should trust their instincts. I guess that’s one thing that we’ve all tried to do in the music we’ve made—both through the music and in the decisions we’ve made to release our music. As a band, we’ve always tried to listen to our instincts and think about how we want to move forward together in order to keep making music.

And avoid influences that might distract from that.
Absolutely. We’re living in a world where there’s so much distraction. It’s just ridiculous. Sometimes you really have to focus yourself and really have to think down to the simplest of things, because otherwise it can be easy to not get anything done.

Do you think social media—and the internet in general—is distracting?
I would like to say that I can step back from that distraction, but it’s hard work because the internet is such a forceful thing. It’s like everything we do now is integrated into the internet. Most people I know you can get ahold of instantly—through email, phone—and I think that’s a distraction because you can never really have quiet time. If you wanted to be away from people, you’d have to leave anything technological and just go out into the wild. Yet, it’s so hard not to be distracted and not look at your phone—I’m guilty of it. There’s times when I’ve spent more time than I’m proud to say doing something that’s completely alone and ridiculous online. But for some reason, it’s easy to get engrossed. And that inevitably stops you from being productive. It can be a good thing though too, because people have access to information, which is important. It’s a double-edged sword.

What about the internet for bands? Do you think it’s helpful?
I say it depends on how you look at it. For some bands it’s proved to be very good for them, but for others it can be detrimental. I mean, it depends on what band and how the internet is portraying them.

A moment ago you talked about the “discovery process” in music. Were there bands in particular that led you to discoveries within yourself?
Oh, wow. There’s loads of bands! I was massively into The Cure. There was a connection to the lyrics and the ways the songs were composed. People like David Bowie, I love so many things about him, like how over the years you can see how his career has evolved. There are very distinct periods in his career when he’s reinvented himself over and over again. And even the way he’s been portrayed nowadays. Occasionally I see things that pop up which is related to his [recent] album release. It’s quite interesting the way he’s created—or recreated—such interest again. His image is really inspiring. I also like, The Beatles. The list is endless. There’s lots of bands that I really respect that have had an impact on different phases in my life.

I wanted to ask about themes throughout the album. I know there are songs that relate to female empowerment and self-love. Are there any others on Silence Yourself that I’ve missed?
There are lots of themes, but also, I don’t want to take away from the fact that people might find their own meaning [in the music]. “Hit Me” is a song that people frequently misinterpret. It’s quite interesting to see what different themes mean to different people. It’s a personal thing, so I’d hate to give specific messages that people should look for or try to get from it. I think it’s important that when people listen to our music that they make it their own and kind of steal something that’s relevant to them.

Savages Tour Dates
09.17 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
09.18 - Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon
09.20 - Denver, CO - Bluebird Theater
09.23 - Seattle, WA - Neumo’s
09.24 - Vancouver, British Columbia - Biltmore Cabaret
09.25 - Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom
09.27 - San Francisco, CA - The Independent
10.01 - Phoenix, AZ - Crescent Ballroom
10.04 - Austin, TX - Austin City Limits
10.05 - Grand Prairie, TX - Verizon Theater *
10.07 - Nashville, TN - Municipal Auditorium *
10.08 - Fayetteville, AR - Arkansas Music Pavilion *
10.09 - Tulsa, OK - The Brady Theater *
10.11 - Austin, TX - Austin City Limits
10.13 - Mexico City, Mexico - Corona Capital Festival

* with Queens of the Stone Age