A Chat With Savages' Jehnny Beth on Festival Etiquette, Flash Tats & Feminism


The best description I can conjure for the music of post-punk revival band Savages is what my four-year-old niece said while thrashing along to their first (and only) album, 2013’s Silence Yourself. As she flung her body around my living room, both violently and joyously, she yelled “What this makes me feel is jumping!”

The next best description I’ve seen is from lead singer Jehnny Beth, who wrote, “The music of Savages was imagined to function like armor. Four women facing the world, facing the industry, protected by their sound, indestructible.” It’s French-born Beth’s demanding-to-be-heard vocals, powerhouse guitarist Gemma Thompson, and the most talented rhythm section around, bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton, who is basically the lady-version of Animal from The Muppets, if he could actually play. Highest compliment.

Savages is playing Los Angeles’ FYF Fest this weekend, and I talked on the phone with Beth, who is currently in Paris. The band plays a goodly amount of festivals, and I thought she might want to complain about her upcoming trip to America to play yet another—I mean, after one trip to Coachella, I couldn’t talk to another human being for like two weeks and god help you if you tried to show me a flower crown—but Beth is excited about interacting with the masses. “I love the crowds. I love interacting with them and I love receiving their love and giving it back. It has changed me a lot over the years and I really appreciate how it has changed me,” she says.

How do you think it has changed you?

You know, I don’t remember the difficult parts. It is humbling. That is it. You have to be blind and a little bit stupid not to open up to that and not be touched by that. And it, I don’t know, it made me a happier person.

That’s really lovely. Speaking of crowds, I saw at a show recently, you guys had a sign up asking people to not be on their phones during your performance. How did that idea come about?

Well, at the beginning it seemed that when people came to see us and the first reaction they would have is to pick up their phone and they would bring their phone up to their nose. So, we wanted to share with the audience the idea that maybe, that is not what we wanted. We really wanted to them to be into the moment and have a really good time and have the interaction with the audience that was different from the cold approach of disassociation and using your phones and re-posting these. Maybe that is not the priority right now. Maybe you need to dance or I don’t know. Do something, that enables a little bit more of yourself and your buddies.

When we started putting these signs people started use less and less of their phones. It was a positive message from the start. It wasn’t trying to give restrictions to people, it was trying to help, maybe.

I mean, now it is has changed. Actually, I have not seen a phone for a long time at a gig. [laughs]

I went to a wedding recently and they had a similar thing: leave your phone at the door. I just remember the wedding so much better than any others that I’ve been to recently.

Right. That is really good.

You guys are really popular on Tumblr, you have a lot of great stuff shared about you. Do you ever get any really great fan art or gifts from fans?

There is a clothing brand that I really really like. They are three sisters and they became friends of mine. I have been working with them. They do really good designs. They are based in Stockholm in Sweden and called Minimarket. They have been really generous. They were fans and I was a fan of what they were doing and we got in touch. Yeah, now we are working together so that is pretty good.

Speaking of fashiony stuff, have you seen at these festivals, these flash tattoos? They are the gold and silver temporary tattoos that you see on everyone?

Temporary tattoos?

Yeah, and they are kind of metallic and shimmery? I think they’re supposed to be like jewelery?

Oh right!


No, I have never seen them. I am more into permanent. [laughs]

Maybe you’ll see them in your trip to LA. You just released a teaser for your second album. Do you have a release date?

Not a date specifically, but it will be early 2016.

I heard that you guys started playing music that will appear on your second album earlier this year. Has it evolved a lot since you originally started playing?

Yeah. In general, we were in New York for several weeks. We played club shows there before going to the studio. We were playing the new songs and writing them at the same time. So, we were doing the writing with the audience. It was really great. Then once we finished that, we went to the studio. We recorded the album with our producer, Johnny Hostile in London. Then, after that was done, we started playing gigs again. And it has been really good. I can’t wait for the people to hear the songs because people’s reaction is really strong to the new songs. I can’t wait for them to know this. It is good stuff, really great.

Can’t wait. I read that when you were writing the lyrics for Silence Yourself, you were inspired by (Belgian-born poet) Henri Michaux and his book, Darkness Moves. Are there any artist or writers who inspired you on the new album?

Um. Shit, yeah, I need to think about these things. Uh. Well, I don’t know. I am reading a book. Should I tell you what I am reading now?

Yeah, absolutely.

I am reading a book by Milan Kundera. Do you know him?


He is a Czech writer andI have read quite a few of his books, but this one is Life Is Elsewhere. It is really dark, but it is good. It is about a young poet who is doing all the mistakes and it is about relationships between mother and sons, it is really deep. It is really beautiful. It is about being a teenager and a writer and about his direction, death and love, virginity.

That sounds deep.

It is deep, definitely.

I read that you said before that you are not necessarily feminist, but the more that you tour the more you meet women who are inspired by you. Has this changed your perception of your work?

I would like to live in a world where you don’t have to necessarily talk about the reason when a woman starts to live a little bit louder than usual. You know? But I always loved to see young woman in the front row, but I also love to see young boys. It is cool, watching any young is good and exciting to inspire. You know? As long as it is inspiring for anyone who is feeling restrained or feeling that they have to fight against something to get what they want in life. To help someone to break free, that is really the goal. That is really the idea.

I love that.

Oh yeah, wait. There is actually a book that I was inspired by. It just came back to me. It inspired one of the songs called Adore. It is a very good book of poems called Crime Against Nature by Minnie Bruce Pratt. She wrote it about her life because she was a mother of two sons and she had a husband, she was married, she had a quite conventional life. I think, the story of that book is how she fell in love with a woman and then left everything behind. She wasn’t able to see her sons for 10 years and all of the guilt that came with that. The reading that I had of it was more, not just about being gay and going for it, about how she became a poet through that because she became who she was inside. Then all of this aggression came out and she became a poet. She started writing beautifully and finally found her voice through that story. I was really touched by that story, so the song, some things on the album, underlying themes speak into it.

The kind of becoming your true self?

Yes. Yes.

Laura Beck is a writer who supplements her Mariah Carey addiction with punk music. Follow her on Twitter.

Photo by Tom Hines/Facebook.

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