Jehnny Beth on Savages’ return: ‘Each of us had a chance to get really personal’

New album Adore Life "is a response to the nostalgia that has surrounded rock’n’roll for too many years,’ says Beth. "We need to say no, no, no. The present belongs to us"


Jehnny Beth is explaining where a Savages’ song comes from and it has a lot to do with instinct. We’re in a room backstage at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, as the singer takes a break from rehearsals for an event saluting the work of film-maker David Lynch.

“You always start with intuition,” Beth says about the process that leads from a blank page to a finished song. “You see and hear things and expressions and you collect things and you put them in your little box and you go ‘I can use that’ because they’re the ingredients.

“When I was younger, I went to drama school and I learned that every hour of your day, every minute of your day, you are collecting material which contains elements you can use for your work.

“You don’t have the big picture view of what you want to achieve right away, but you go on your instincts and some things stay and some things don’t. There are times when something touches you and you don’t know why until you realise you used it and it influenced a song or a line in a song.”

The new album from the London band, Adore Life, is the sound of Beth and her bandmates becoming a little surer about trusting themselves and their instincts.

When their debut album, Silence Yourself, was released back in 2013, it was ferocious, intense and stark. But the band who came across as the last gang in town were in fact still getting to know each other.

“You have to remember that three months after we formed, we did our first show and we had an audience from then on,” Beth says. “Some of us in the band barely knew each other and we started to get to know each other at the same time as we were creating the band and this music. The four of us come from different backgrounds and we didn’t grow up together so touring was when we got to know each other.”

Warmth alongside the bite
Perhaps this new relationship between the band members explains the different textures, nuances and shades on Adore Life. The album is still as clear-headed, uncluttered and emotional as their debut, but there is a warmth to the tracks alongside the bite.

“I think it changed us as a band,” says Beth about the lengthy touring after the release of their debut. “The warm reaction of the crowds and getting to know each other more and learning to work with each other had that effect.”

“I remember a point halfway through the tour when the love from the crowd seemed to be stronger than what we were giving and I thought, oh, that’s not great, we need to find a way to give back and respond.

“That’s when and why we wrote Fuckers, it was to give something back. A friend of mine gave me a note saying ‘don’t let the fuckers get you down’ and I felt that was a direct, simple way to communicate with someone you love and I wanted to get that into a song.”

When Beth talks about the new record, it’s clear that there was an energy to the process which proved invigorating for the four band members.

“When we finished touring, each of us had various things we wanted to try with the new record. Silence Yourself was a snapshot of who we were at a time when we were just finding out who we were.

A real fucking ballad
“Not to be negative about the first record, but we had a natural desire for this one to be better. We felt there were ideas on the first record which needed more exploration. We also decided that we wanted to write a real fucking ballad and more uncomfortable, discordant songs. We wanted to explore some of the things the first record was exploring, but maybe only touching.”

They also worked with producer Johnny Hostile again. “We did this for various reasons, especially the fact that he’s the person who knows the band the best outside of the four of us. We really respect his insight and what he knows of us individually.

“I think a lot of producing is about psychology. It’s one thing to have an idea about what a band should do and quite another to put it into practice. You have to be a bit of a magician to deal with people and their relationship with their music and art. It’s not that easy to say ‘we’re going to change all this’. You have to make the artists feel included, you have to build trust.”

Their approach to establishing this trust involved each of them initially working separately with the producer. “We would record drums or bass or guitar and each of us would be able to hear the sound we had in mind and get our ideas recorded. It meant each of us had a chance to get really personal.”

Beth’s domain was lyrics, which is where her collection of “things and expressions” came into play. “I was able to be more personal than I was on the first record because we know each other more now and we’ve learned how to be with each other and it feels okay. It means we have a record we all feel very close to and attached to.”

A sense of now
What Savages also sought to do with the record was to articulate a sense of now. “It’s a response to the nostalgia that has surrounded rock’n’roll for too many years. We need to say ‘no, no, no’. The present belongs to us. It’s important to make music now which is about now and not something which just refers to the past.

“Rock’n’roll has always been a story of the past. It seems as if every guitar band has to have a link with what happened before. What I like about working with Johnny is that he comes from an electronic world and it was exciting to hear that we were all growing together as musicians and were making the music of today.”

It’s time for Beth to go back to rehearsals for tonight’s show. 2016 will be another year when Savages roam far and wide, though the touring will benefit from the bonds already established this time around. And the shows will also naturally benefit from an exacting attention to detail.

“We like to have a reason behind doing things and we consider things fully,” Beth says with a smile.

“This is sometimes a nightmare for people who work with us because we would examine every aspect before doing something. It matters to us greatly where our music goes and how it presented and how our shows are seen.

“It’s not just about being successful – though it is very nice to be successful – but you have to be very honest about what you do too.”

- Adore Life is out on Matador Records on January 15th

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