Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) Talks Savages’ Silence Yourself

Silence Yourself, the debut album from the London band Savages, starts off with a vocal sample from the 1977 John Cassavetes film...

Savages’ visual aesthetic is dead-on, from what I’ve seen.  The cover art for this album is perfect — in fact, it fucking rules. It’s straight and to the point with a classic, minimalist feel, a black-and-white photo of the four band members in beautiful youth.  The album’s manifesto is laid out next to them. Is it OK to say it’s a poem? Lyrics to a song never written? It literally tells you what is inside: “angry young tunes” that will help to “recompose” yourself. While Savages’ music is a cathartic release of energy for sure, a coping mechanism for modern living, I would argue that it could not exist without this modern world. Savages’ music is visceral and you can dance to it, but it’s also fitting for a mood of existential dread, walking city streets protected only by the music playing in the headphones strapped to your ears.

I’m in the mood for a record like this so it’s working for me. It’s helping to reinforce a good attitude of “fuck you” indifference.

There’s both a familiarity and a newness to Savages’ sound that’s easy to absorb. The phrase “post-punk” has never meant much to me (we are all way post-punk at this point), but sure, it’s an apt descriptor for Savages. Immediately I hear Siouxsie Sioux and Vi Subversa from Poison Girls in singer Jehnny Beth’s voice. Minus the modern production values (this album is mastered really fucking loud), this album could easily have been released in the late ’70s/ early ’80s.

On “Husbands” (the title of another Cassavetes film), I’m reminded of Patti Smith’s “Horses” and Crass’ “Shaved Women” as Beth sings the word “Husbands, husbands, husbands, husbands” repeatedly.  On the song “She Will,” the guitar riff sounds like Billy Duffy from the Cult, straight up.  I’m OK with references like that — every band has references in their music. It often happens subconsciously, you can’t even help it. The only thing that’s important is that they are good references, and from what I can tell, Savages have good taste. If I like a new band I want to believe they would like my record collection or want to go to the same shows as me and I feel comfortable with Savages.

There is a previously released version of “Husbands” which was my introduction to the band and I have to admit that I like the original version better than the one on the album, but direct comparison of the two highlights what truly defines the sound of Silence Yourself: Ayse Hassan’s bass guitar tone. Round, midrangey, with the right kind of “clack” to it, it fills in every empty hole in Savages’ collective sound; thick like paste and yet absolutely driving, it pushes the whole album.

Guitarist Gemma Thompson plays off of Beth’s vocal — often her parts are responses to the lyrics, other times the riffs are instigations, antagonizing Beth to give us some more.  She does minimalist rhythm playing, most of it percussive stabs or runaway single string melodies that swoon in and out of feedback, creating fantastic tension. She is full of ideas.

Right at the center of the album, “Dead Nature” is maybe a little on the self-indulgent side: two minutes and eight seconds of playing around with echo chambers and delay, hit the guitar hard with your fist and listen to the delay go on and on and on and on.  It’s definitely not songwriting and I’m not so sure it counts as soundscape painting either.  Yes, it is the sound of an ominous dream but is it also kind of filler?  I get it though — it’s a pause, a rest, a regroup, a collect-yourself-before-side-two.  It underscores their frantic energy literally without saying anything.

“City’s Full” struts with attitude and yet to me, it’s about living at night and that momentary vulnerability that comes sometime between 4 AM and 5 AM. It also has some of my favorite lyrics on the album, arriving in an unexpected tender breakdown in the song: “I love the stretch marks on your thighs/ I love the wrinkles around your eyes.” An awkward lyric, celebrating what some may find grotesque, it takes some brass to pull off and Jehnny Beth does it.  I, too, love the stretch marks on her darling’s thighs when she says it.  Time slows down to a stop and the moment wants to last forever, but then the music suddenly snaps back into action.

However, the most important lyrics on the album are in the last song, “Marshal Dear.” This is when you make your closing statements and I love when a band pays attention to this fact.  Musically, “Marshal Dear” is the afterglow; carried by a soft piano melody, this is the time to think and realize the intensity of something you just went through. These are the words that absolutely encapsulate everything the band aims to achieve with this collection of songs:  “There are suicides in every dream/ Oh, Marshal dear/ Even more when the army’s on its knees/ Crowds grow crazy, and fire/ Oh Marshal dear, can’t you see we’re losing.”

That is poetry and it is so good.

I want to see Savages live. I want to see how it translates. I want Jehnny Beth and the band to freak the fuck out and sweat a frantic nervous energy as they destroy the fucking stage. I also really want to hear their next album.

Laura Jane Grace sings and plays guitar in the band Against Me! You can follow her on Twitter here.