SAVAGES exploded on to the scene two years ago with a debut album called Silence Yourself and a combustible mix of post-punk that doesn’t so much ask as scream and demand to be acknowledged. SAVAGES is four women, led by vocalist Jehnny Beth (Camille Berthomier), who is heir apparent to hypnotic, exacting singers like Karen O (YEAH YEAH YEAHS) and Siouxsie Sioux. With Gemma Thompson on guitar, Ayşe Hassan on bass and Fay Milton on drums, SAVAGES combine to make a sound that is best translated live: they accost you, they confront, and they question what you hold dear. Before their gig at Berlin Festival 2013 (that meant a rapt crowd and one of the most confrontational sets of the day) NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sat down with piercing and quietly intense Jehnny Beth to talk about where the world is going, transcendental meditation, and the beginnings of great love affairs.
I looked at your list of influences, and it is all science fiction writers: Phillip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut.
That’s actually Gemma, Gemma Thompson the guitarist. She came up with the term “savages,” the name came from these things she was reading.
Which are all kind of dystopian.
Yeah, about de-evolution. She would be better to talk to about that. We have conversations about that a lot.
In terms of dystopia, where do you see the world going?
Do you have that kind of view where every thing kind of devolving, or if it’s improving or if it’s just holding?
I think the idea of calling the band SAVAGES… the idea is this reference that we are not so evolved but we pretend we are. In a way music shouldn’t be about trying to be a developed creature, you can be as primal as you want. We have this thing were we want to make something in yourself that’s already there. Music has this power, it’s pure emotion really. The idea of evolution, really, it’s almost a distraction. That’s what we were playing with when chose the name.
You’ve been a band for less than two years. Where do you see yourselves in five to ten years?
I have no idea. It’s really hard to tell, and it’s a good thing. I didn’t expect five years ago I would start a band like SAVAGES. Anything can happen really.
Is there anyone you dream to collaborate with?
We collaborated with a band called BO NINGEN [Japanese acid punk band] and that was really great. I did a song with them. Then we wrote a forty-minute piece together, Words to the Blind, and it’s inspired by the exercises in simultaneous poetry that the Dadaists were doing.
That was kind of a dream come true. I think it’s pretty rare to find young artists today who want to collaborate, who want to take the time and actually make shit happen, you know? It’s fucking rare, because everyone is too busy their career, trying to make it or whatever, making plans with their management or whatever, and not trying to focus on the artistic anymore. I think that’s a real shame. When you are actually able to make things like that happen, it feels like a real success.
Bands get focused on marketing themselves, and they lose a sense of artistry. So you would say that’s really important to you?
Yeah, it is. You can’t avoid the marketing thing but I think the fact that it’s so …We’re not an example of purity or integrity, I’m not trying to say we are perfect. It’s pretty obvious, more and more in the music industry anyway. Music is less and less considered as an art, it’s really mercantile, everywhere. I think it’s a shame because it’s one of the first arts. And also one of the most direct ones: it touches your soul straightaway. It’s more precious than that.
With SAVAGES there is this sense of being confrontational and trying to awake this pure feeling. How do you feel like you can do that without becoming dogmatic?
We’re trying [laughs] We’re trying really hard. I think there are moments where you have to forget about that as well. I write my blog, which is maybe a place where I can – I see it as a freedom place where I can say things. I think you are right, there’s this context for it. For example, I’m talking with you now and I feel I can say these things because I feel you have the same understanding of it. There’s some people, sometimes you don’t feel that thing and what you can say can be taken the wrong way, or be taken into the big headline thing or dogmatic thing. Which is a shame.
“I wouldn’t like to go back to the beginning, it’s just getting better and better. I think with SAVAGES it’s the same.”
You said “We’re submerged by voices, opinions, images. They take us away from who we are. The idea with SAVAGES is to get back to this more focused attention, so you’re harder to reach.” Why do you think this is? Why do you think our identities are subsumed?
Well, it’s really a question of personal experience. I realize at some point that I couldn’t focus on anything, and it was really hard for me write music. So by writing I solved that problem. Also doing some meditation.
What type of meditation do you do?
You and David Lynch?
Yeah. Me and Johnny, who lives with me and produces SAVAGES, we kind of got into this practice. I realized that it was helping me a lot with the idea of … stop being constantly in an effort. I realized how I had been constantly trying hard, when actually I was stopping things from happening. Transcendental meditation helps you to focus your mind. So things get really easier and simpler, it really changes your life.
Recently, I’ve met a few people who told me their experiences with it and who practice meditation. It’s something to think about: how overwhelmed we are and thinking about what you are doing. We are constantly metacognating and everything is being shared.
There’s no time when the mind rests.
Can you tell me about keeping your identity versus being part of a group?
You mean SAVAGES?
Obviously, it’s very hard for each other in a way. You are part of something that demands all your attention and your time, and your intelligence, and your talent, your energy. At the same time, it doesn’t …you have no control over it. It’s something that you are sharing. It’s a weird mix. It’s definitely interesting though. It’s a relationship that gets better and better. I think that’s how the best love relationships are.
I’ve never had a love relationship actually where it would start amazing. People believe that: you know you have the big romance at the beginning and then it gets really shitty. My biggest relationship is with Johnny. I wouldn’t like to go back to the beginning, it’s just getting better and better. I think with SAVAGES it’s the same.
That’s really sweet to hear. Okay one more question. What do hope and passion mean to you? What do those words mean to you?
[takes some time to think] I’m sorry I’m really shit at that. [laughs] That can be your answer.