This interview was originally published via Instagram Music in January 2016.
Savages don’t pull any punches. But there’s more to the fist on the London-based quartet’s new album artwork than that. Adore Life, the cinematic post-punks’ second LP, is by turns inflammatory, menacing and tender, and if the cover’s fist aloft suggests protest, empowerment and jubilation – and maybe holding something (a person?) tight – then their recent singles further explore the myriad expressions of the human hand. The sleeve for “T.I.W.Y.G”’ is almost a wave, or a letting -go. “The Answer” sets forth a raised palm, like in a classroom.
What is the question? The answer is love.
“The idea for the artwork started in the back of the tour bus,” recalls Fay Milton, who plays drums in Savages alongside Jehnny Beth (vocals), Ayse Hassan (bass) and Gemma Thompson (guitar). “We realised we needed something very personal to the band, and something very human. We liked the idea of using the heart tattoo on Jehnny’s wrist. We wanted something which represented the message and the sound of the record,” she explains. “The fist is such a great icon of strength, positivity, resistance, confrontation and solidarity. The tattooed anatomical heart is the depiction of the pain and reality of love.”
Since they formed in London in 2011, Savages have invoked minimalist, dramatic rock that’s primal yet precision-tooled. It’s honed by a democratic creative process which, says Milton, involves, “All of us bringing ideas, [and] working and reworking the songs until they don’t even resemble their starting point… like a long four-way train of thought.”
True to this collective spirit, the visual imagery of Adore Life, and its attendant singles, variously features the hands of each band member. The half-open palm on the artwork for ferocious rock avowal, “The Answer”, belongs to Milton. “I wanted to try a gesture that was more welcoming than the fist,” she offers. The day before their album artwork deadline, she and Beth had an extensive discussion via text message about the myriad meanings of the angles and positions . “That’s just like us to be over-thinking things at the last minute,” Milton says with a laugh.
Savages’ 2013 debut album, Silence Yourself, was dispatched with a 36-line manifesto on its sleeve, and while their their second album cover text is minimal in comparison (reading simply, SAVAGES // ADORE LIFE), its image speaks volumes about its direction; suggests a sense of breaking through, of pushing things – to the limit, perhaps. “We definitely wanted to take all of the elements from Silence Yourself and push them further and in different directions,” Milton nods. “And the title, Adore Life, could be seen as a two-word manifesto for the record.”
Adore Life was recorded in London in April 2015, a few months after the band played a live residency in New York with a view to firing up (and road testing) their new material onstage. “The songs really take form in that environment,” offers Milton. “It’s the place where anything unnecessary is cut out, and everything becomes harder and faster. It breathes life into the songs.”
Savages thrive on fan interaction, as their recent, chaotic, crowd-surfing video for “The Answer” attests. “That was an amazing day,” Milton recalls. “About 100 fans came to the shoot [in Lisbon] and jumped and moshed for 10 hours straight. When we weren’t in shot, we went and joined them, so if you look really closely you can probably see us jumping around at the back. It was like one giant party.”
There’s a photo of those fans en route to make the video, and they look delirious. It’s one of many behind-the-scenes images that illustrates Savages’ relationship with their fans. “It’s a two way thing, so we need to reflect that in our videos, writing process and Instagrams,” Milton offers.
And what of the shot of their Christmas party – the four of them huddled behind a couple of teapots? Did they don party hats? Sing festive songs? “Haha, no crackers or carols I’m afraid. Just a lot of laughing.”
There’s an aesthetic theme that unifies Savages’ Christmas tea parties, Portuguese moshpits, promo shots and gripping cover art – and that is the band’s predominant framing in black-andwhite. Is it designed as an extension of their stark music – of their impeccable study in the tension between dark and light (and in-between) – or is it an austere kick against our frantic, technicolour media landscape?
“It does reflect our minimalist tendencies,” Milton nods. “But it was an intuitive decision, and it’s a look that’s been part of Savages from the start. We became monochrome and monochrome became us.”