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Savages on Avoiding Cliches, Becoming More Vulnerable

“With this album, we’re bearing our open wounds”, says drummer Fay Milton about the UK band’s second LP ‘Adore Life’.

UK band Savages thrives in live performance; energised, focused and playful, they land in an electric flow state that’s as kinetic for the audience as it is for the players.

“It becomes rarer and rarer in the world of backing tracks and ‘play to a clique’ that you can actually be free with the music,” drummer Fay Milton says, explaining that every song is written with a live performance in mind.

Savages cut through the haze of broody, post-punk garage bands two years ago with their debut, Silence Yourself, a record that blends dark poetics with razor sharp insight. Their second album, Adore Life, takes a more melodic turn towards subtle harmonies, dynamic vocals and lyrical unguardedness, as French-native Jenny Behn delivers each word with effortless intimacy.

“Definitely the intention was to open up a bit,” Milton says. “Silence Yourself is very guarded, we have our armour on. With this album, we’re bearing our open wounds. It’s more vulnerable.” Adore Life is neither defeatist or pessimistic, nor is it sullen or sarcastic. It muses on love in all its many lights and shades. Or as the drummer says: “the beautiful, the filthy, and ugly.”

We caught up with Milton amidst the band’s North American tour, discussing their new album, culling the cliches and running into evangelical protestors.

Do you write the songs with live performance in mind?
Absolutely. We played the songs live before we recorded them, we have to use everything we have on stage, there’s no bringing in string instruments or samples. When we were writing this album, we decided to go to New York for three weeks and played a whole bunch of shows over there. So instead of doing a tour at that point, we decided to set up camp in New York and stay there for a while.

When you’re on stage, do the songs loosen up, do you have space to to play around or improvise?
Yeah, definitely. Keeping that in the music is really important. It becomes rarer and rarer in the world of backing tracks and ‘play to a clique’ that you can actually be free with the music. Everything becomes faster and harder. We change them [the songs] quite often in different ways, and make alterations to the set as a whole.

You’ve spent a lot of time touring North America and the UK, do you write when you’re on the road?
Not really, we don’t really have time. The way in which we write as a band is to get the four of us in a room all together, making a lot of loud noise. It’s not always that easy to do that on the road. Definitely some of the writing for our last album, we wrote in between tours, here and there.

Do you prefer big festival stages or intimate venues?
I really love massive festival stages. I know most people say the opposite, but I really do. I would say that if you asked the members of the band, they’d probably say more intimate spaces. But my best memories are of playing to huge crowds. A festival is really simple, you turn up and it’s just about playing, about the music. You have people checking you out who wouldn’t necessarily come to your shows. So you get a different demographic of audience at festivals, so that’s really nice as well.

What’s the most unforgettable experience you’ve ever had touring? A best or a worst?
There’s been a best and a worst in one day. We went to Lawrence, Kansas, and I didn’t know what Kansas was like. I thought it was going to be some super Republican, straight-laced, big place. But it’s really amazing, it’s this super chilled town with all these different shops and really nice people, it was just super cool. We spent the whole day in this town vintage shopping and getting really excited.

Then the Westborough Baptists came and protested outside of our show. They’re a hate group, and they preach not only the Bible, but they sort of just preach. I don’t want to connect them with actual Baptists, they’re negative extremists. Apparently they haven’t protested outside on that street for two years, so I think obviously they saw the name ‘Savages’ and thought we were some kind of evil people. It was a really bad vibe, like it was kind of funny, but I felt sorry for them because they were such mad, angry, hateful people.

Was the recording process of Adore Life different from your last album?
It was. We started from the same place in a way: we recorded each song all together, really lightly. Then this time we went back individually over each instrument and filled in the colour, the sound and the texture. I think it’s made the sound more sonic. It was great, we had that time to look into each of our own instruments with a microscope.

How did the vision behind the album evolve?
What came out of our writing sessions and recording and picking songs was that the album has a really strong theme about love, and all the different sides of love. The beautiful, the filthy, and ugly. But it wasn’t for us, like, ‘let’s write an album about love’. The songs that had those themes came out the strongest. It’s a kind of filtering process I suppose.

Are the songs based on personal stories, or were you trying to capture that broader concept of love?
Definitely, love as a concept is explored on this album lyrically. But there’s also some very personal lyrics in there that Jenny wrote. It’s funny, she and I had a discussion about the lyrics, and we were talking about the lyrics of ‘Mechanics’ and whether or not they were very personal. She was explaining to me that sometimes the lyrics that sound most personal aren’t, and the ones that sound most general are really, really personal. So I don’t think you can always tell. Definitely the intention was to open up a bit. Silence Yourself is very guarded, we have our armour on. With this album, we’re bearing our open wounds. It’s more vulnerable.

There’s an interesting line in the Adore Life manifesto on your website, it says it’s about ‘finding the poetry and avoiding the cliche’. How do you know when you’ve cut through the naff and produced something that feels genuine?
I think a lot of what I do on drums is avoiding cliche. If you take a song like ‘Adore’, and put a rock ballad beat on it, it’d be so cliched. It’s like that for a lot of our songwriting – finding that thing that doesn’t slide into the groove of what’s already been done. We’re not breaking down boundaries, but maybe avoiding those well trodden paths and deciding how we want it to sound. On drums, it’s often a case of avoiding the most obvious thing because that’s how you turn a song into a really cheesy, stupid rock song.

Savages will touch down in Australia this June for the Dark Mofo festival and their own run of headline shows.

Savages Australian Tour
Thursday, June 16th: Metro Theatre, Sydney
Saturday, June 18th: Dark Mofo, The Odeon Theatre, Hobart
Sunday, June 19th: The Corner Hotel, Melbourne