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Savages

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

Is there anyone you’re hoping to catch at the festival?

Jehnny Beth (vocals): I don’t think we’ll have time. I mean, Bo Ningen at breakfast was amazing. (Laughs.) I just had Bo Ningen at breakfast, and that was the best breakfast I’ve ever had.

Have you played with them before?

JB: They invited me last January to sing on their single, “Nichijiyou,” so I recorded the vocals for them and we released that. It seemed like it was a bit too small as a collaboration — it would’ve been great to push it further — and so the idea was to put Savages and Bo Ningen in the same room and write a piece of music together. It’s called “Words to the Blind.” It started as an idea just to have a battle between the two bands, and then Gemma Thompson, the guitarist, wanted to integrate the idea of Dadaist poetry, simultaneous poetry. They used to perform that in 1916, at the Cabaret Voltaire in Switzerland: poets would go on stage and perform poetry in different languages at the same time, so it would create a kind of sense of chaos, but at the same time you would have individuality in the chaos. We wanted to take that idea but make it a simultaneous sonic poem, starting with French and Japanese and then with all the instruments getting involved. So it’s five chapters and 40 minutes of music. We recorded it, we filmed it, it’s going to be released on my label.

So why Bo Ningen?

JB: There wasn’t any (other) band in London we could’ve done that with. I think they’re very unique. We could do it with them because they’re really open to collaborations — but truly, and for good reasons. For artistic reasons: not because their manager tells them to do it, or whatever. The music in London is quite business-driven.

A British friend of mine who’s a big Savages fan told me that you’re a band who really need to be seen live…

JB: Well, I suppose we started consciously to write music for the live experience. We never really thought about recording: the first three months where we were just writing the core of what became our songs, we were aiming to present the songs in a live environment. To be loud and fast was the first idea. Savages started with a very strong idea to say something, to express yourself, so as long as that lives, the band will live.

You’ve been touring solidly for the past 18 months or so. Has your relationship with the songs changed after playing them hundreds of times?

JB: We’re quite lucky, we never get bored of them. I don’t know why, but it’s never ending.

Ayse Hassan (bass): There’s always room for adapting or putting something randomly into a song, depending on how we feel on the night. We may have an idea to add extra vocals in a section, or a slightly different bass line or drum part, which does help kind of keep it fresh. Also, we adapt the set to the night: we don’t have a particular order that we play each night. We let the venue direct it.

JB: We like to take risks. We’ve always tried the songs first live. I think there’s a version of “Shut Up” online which was the first time we ever played it, in Manchester, and I have my notebook and we’re still improvising the song. We almost evolve with an audience: we always had people watching us as we were writing these songs. I think we got used to that … we don’t have time to rehearse. I wish we’d have more time to practice these ideas before, but because we don’t, we take the risk to try these ideas live, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.

Is it true that your plane got struck by lightning in Russia?

AH: (Laughs.) Yeah, kind of. We weren’t on it — it was the plane we were due to take.

And that means you haven’t been home since then?

JB: If you go to my blog, I’ve written a big piece on that day in Russia. It’s called “Russian Nightmare,” something like that. It’s been pretty hectic, yeah.

Is that hard to cope with, being away from home for so long?

JB: I mean, it’s better than being stuck in Shoreditch in London. If you want to complain, go back to Shoreditch. (Laughs.)