Post-punk revivalists-of-the-moment Savages only fully came together in 2011, but their musical baby has quickly developed teeth.
Alongside widespread acclaim for their singles “Flying to Berlin” and “Husbands”, a nomination for the BBC Sound of 2013 award and frequent comparisons to the major players of punk history, their turbulent trajectory includes unsurmountable differences with previous managers and slights from sexist sound guys. Bassist and down-to-earth London girl Ayse Hassan has a lot to say about staying firmly in the driver’s seat. Savages shall be Flying to Berlin once again to rock the Pitchfork Stage at Berlin Festival on Saturday, September 7, 6:30pm.
Do you think that as an all-woman group people expect you to be easier to push around?
You know, I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately. Being lucky enough to live the lives we’re living now, it’s kind of hard to imagine feeling unequal. I never really felt that. If someone does expect us to behave a certain way, we set them right pretty quickly. [laughs] I guess there’ll always be gender inequality, but yeah, hopefully things will change for the better. I think the best thing we can do now is just know what we want for ourselves and be firm about that as individuals.
The lyrics to “Hit Me” are pretty provocative (“I took a beating tonight/And that’s was the best I ever had”).
That song is actually about a porn actress, Belladonna – it’s written in her voice. Jehnny’s talked a lot about her reasons for writing what she does and there’s always a really mixed reaction, like some people will find it offensive and some people will just love it because it’s a great dance track. “Hit Me” is one of the craziest songs on the album in terms of it just being very full on and musically relentless, so what usually happens is that people just get carried away by it and dance like hell.
The title of your album, Silence Yourself (Matador), seems central to your message as band.
It’s meant to be quite a fun, playful title but I guess we do really care about getting people to listen. It’s only recently that I’ve realised how little people really listen to each other. Like, even when you’re talking to someone else, everyone has mobile phones. That’s why we’re so keen with our live shows to get people to switch off their phones and really absorb themselves in the music. Even at gigs there are people recording everything and it’s like they’re not really there. I’ve been stuck behind guys who are a lot taller than me and they’re holding their arm up with a phone to record the show, and you half end up watching it on a screen, because it’s so distracting. We just want people to learn to listen – like, genuinely listen.
Is that partly why the disruptive elements of the live shows are so important to you?
Yeah, we really try and make every show a special event. In one show in London, we had a group of physical performers choreograph a piece for us and perform it on stage. We were playing and there were these women sliding along the floor; it was amazing. We talked to them beforehand about what we wanted to happen but mostly we just let them do what they felt like in the moment. At first it was quite uncomfortable because people didn’t quite know how to take it, but then they got into it. We really like to mess with people’s expectations – what they think they’re going to see when the go to a live show.
How else do you keep them fresh?
We change the set list all the time – we have a different one every night. It can be a mixture of really old stuff and new songs, whatever we think is going to fit. If someone comes to one of our shows two or three times, we don’t want it to be boring, and that’s our way of giving something back to them. It keeps us on our toes and it keeps them on their toes, because we really want the audience to be involved as well. We don’t want to just be playing to them, we want it to be a collective effort. We choose our own support acts now, as well. Like, recently, we had Johnny Hostile – Jehnny’s boyfriend – opening for us. That was wicked.
It seems like you guys have had to struggle to maintain creative control in the past. How do you manage it?
Having integrity is all about knowing what you want. You’ve got to be able to speak for yourself, both in the music industry but also in life. We knew what we wanted to do from the start and we’ve really tried to stick to that. I think that’s important. I hope we’ll manage to keep doing the same thing in the future, I know it’s not an easy thing to do but I think we’re strong enough as a group. It’s really important to our future as a band.
Savages, Sat, Sep 7, 18:30 | Pitchfork Stage, Berlin Festival, Flughafen Tempelhof, Tempelhofer Damm 1-7, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Platz der Luftbrücke
Photo: From left to right: Jehnny Beth, Ayse Hassan, Fay Milton, Gemma Thompson