By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal
Rejuvenated British rock veterans Savage have made a strong comeback this year with their sixth studio album “Sons Of Malice”, a solid 13-song effort that captures the vibe of Savage’s classic sound, but with a modern approach. They’ve also just signed on to Indian label Infestdead Records, and the album will be released in India in the near future. Recently, I caught up with bassist/vocalist Chris Bradley and guitarists Andy Dawson and Kristian Bradley to talk in detail about the band’s comeback, the process behind this album, future plans and other things, in a 2-part interview. Read part 1 of the in-depth conversation below, check out a song off of “Sons Of Malice” by using the YouTube player, and find the link for Part 2 at the bottom.
First of all, tell me about your decision to make a comeback. It’s great that you guys are back, but how did it happen?
Chris: The honest truth is, we actually didn’t really ever go away. We all split up in about 1985 and went our separate ways for about ten years, then got back together again in ’95. We did three more albums. We all intended to do the next album, but basically our lives just got in the way. We had a lot of different personal issues to sort out that were not really related to the band. Andy lost his father, I got divorced, and Mark lost his mother. So we hadn’t actually split up, we just weren’t in a position to anything. But it was in 2009-10, when we decided that the time was right to get together and start writing.
Do you see this a restart for the band? I feel it’s like a fresh start, a debut album almost.
Chris: Yeah, to a certain extent, because the idea was to do something very similar to the first album but with a bit more of a modernness to it. The first album was so iconic, and everybody refers to it, but we just couldn’t do that again. If we had tried to do the exact same album, it wouldn’t sound right. The whole idea was to do something that’d bring us to the 21st century.
You started out back in 1979 as teenagers, and obviously now you are older and wiser. But would you say you still have that same enthusiasm?
Chris: Well, I do (laughs). Yeah, me and Andy are kind of getting on a bit, and I’m the oldest in the band, but my son and Andy’s nephew is actually in the band now, which sort of gives us a new element because he’s a metal guitar player and a metal guitar fan. He’s come through a different era, listening to stuff that’s different from what we used to listen to. The bands that we used to listened to back in the day played what we referred to as ‘heavy rock’, the Deep Purples, Black Sabbaths and Led Zeppelins of this world, and then later on Thin Lizzy and UFO. But the sort of bands that he listens to are Machine Head and Metallica, more modern bands I suppose.
In terms of the musical direction, I would say the new album sounds like Savage, but it’s more modern and your music has changed for the better. Would you go along with that?
Chris: Yeah! We really like the album. The test was what Kristian thought about it, with him being a young metal fan. He loves the album as well and is really behind it, so I think we’ve achieved what we set out to do, quite frankly. Yeah, it’s a whole new thing, but the minute me and Andy start writing songs together, it sounds like Savage no matter what song it is and what people say about it. For the last album, people said that there’s a lot of grunge influence on it, although I didn’t particularly see that myself. The bottom line is, Savage never does the same album twice.
Yeah, exactly. This album leans more towards the hard rock side, and it’s a good thing because it kind of separates you from the NWOBHM bands.
Chris: Yeah I think so. The honest truth is, we never really considered ourselves to be NWOBHM.
Andy: It’s just the time we were in, we just got caught up in that whole movement, which was a good thing because it gave the band a lot of profile, but I don’t think we ever felt that we had a lot in common musically to a lot of those bands. Not entirety sure honestly what their influences were, but we were very much into classic hard rock of the 70s. The bands that Chris referred to earlier were the bands we’ve listened to. AC/DC as well, and even Van Halen in the late 70s. We were teenagers at the time. When you’re a teenager, you kind of soak up a lot of those things into your music and your writing. We just did the same thing as we do now. You kind of get in a room, bang out some guitar riffs and put it together. You don’t really set out to sound like anybody. You just try and create. We’ve always been about big riffs and strong melodies. One or two people have said that we’re more hard rock than we were, and we were more ‘metal’ before, but I think this album is probably heavier than the early stuff. “Hyperactive”, our second album, was certainly melodic and I suppose aimed a little bit at the American market. I personally think we’ve come full circle back to our roots. Whatever we were listening to back then, I’m now listening to the same stuff again, Purple, Lizzy, and those types of bands.
You said that you were caught up in that whole NWOBHM movement. Did you think it affected the band negatively at all, because you were compared to those bands even though you really shouldn’t have been?
Andy: Not really. I’m not entirely sure that we were even aware that we were part of that. We were slightly at the back end of it, because I think it did start in ’78 and we were in the ‘second wave’, or whatever it was. We were just focused on making good rock music, and the influences that we had were there. We were a little naive as musicians because we were very young, but looking back, I think you can see that it was a good thing for British bands throughout, and the fact that people are still talking about that era and that time, is good and doesn’t do us any harm, but we’ve always felt slightly separate from that. Whether it helps us or not, I don’t know.
Can you tell me about the idea behind the album’s title?
Chris: The idea behind “Sons Of Malice” is basically making a big reference to how the bankers created the world recession that we’re all suffering in at the moment. It wasn’t just about the bankers. It was taking the old-fashioned attitude that basically you’ve got these people who are in charge of everything. It’s almost like a conspiracy theory thing that these people take everything from you, make all the decisions, and you don’t really control your life at all.
Andy: That kind of idea does lend itself to being in a band and being a part of the music industry as well. I think the songs always reflect what goes on around you now, and around us in the world, but as a band you kind of like being in a gang. You stick together and do your thing. We were kind of knocked around by British press, Kerrang in particular. They were very supportive, but then they were also trying to influence how we should look or not look, what we should sound like, and I think it shows in the 80s. The British industry and press made a lot of mistakes because they were trying to lean towards what was going on in America and all the bands that were kicking off there. The British media was looking at British bands to be the same. The record companies were signing a lot of “American sounding” bands, and we were being pushed down that route too quite a lot. So this album comes full circle. We’re just doing exactly what it is that we want to do, and going back to one of your earlier questions, it just feels like starting again. We’re not listening to what’s ‘in’ this week or this year. We’re just trying to make really good rock music that will last as long as it can.
Coming to the music itself, what was the songwriting process like, and how much time did you guys spend on it?
Chris: We pretty much started the songwriting in October 2009, and by the end of 2010 we had 16 songs written.
Andy: Yeah, at the beginning we were just kicking ideas around. We didn’t rush through it. We worked on one idea at a time. As Chris said earlier, even then we were going through some personal stuff. Bereavements and various things were going off, and it did delay quite a lot. We got together when we could, threw some ideas around, did a rough recording and then moved on. Over the next year or so, we got 16 really solid pieces of music which we could fine down to record.
Chris: And then we did something else that we did many, many years ago in the early days. We actually demoed all the songs. Everything that was on “Loose ‘N Lethal”, with the exception of two songs, we actually recorded them as demos to get a better feel, where the arrangement was going, and what worked or didn’t work. So we did the exact same thing on this album, and demoed all 16 songs before we went back to the studio to record for the album. When we finished, it was a difficult choice to get the number of songs down. We were going to do a 12-song album, but we were just so impressed with all 16 that we threw in an extra track in the final list. We’ll probably release the other three songs also at some point, perhaps as an EP or something just to get them out there, because we’re proud of those songs as well. So we went back to doing things exactly like the first album, because the albums after that were not completely written in the studio but we’d spend a lot of time going through arrangements in the studio as opposed to working it out fully as a band. This time we actually went in a rehearsal room as a band and started playing.
Another interesting thing you mentioned earlier was, you never really went for the look that the press wanted you to go for. Would you say that it’s always been your thing to not go for the 80s look other bands went for?
Andy: To be honest, we did get pushed down a few roads during that time, and it certainly didn’t work. We got stick for not doing it. In hindsight, we should have been much more solid in saying ‘we are what we are. We look like this and we play like this.’ But it was difficult in the 80s because we were really young and we were managed by a guy that was not very experienced. We didn’t have anybody on our side who could see that we don’t need to worry about image. Image became quite a big thing in the 80s, and if you look back now, most of them were quite ridiculous (laughs). The bands that have survived longest, like AC/DC for example, just stuck to what they do throughout, and that worked.
Coming back to the songwriting, you said that it started in October 2009. Before that, did you consider using any leftover songs that you were not able to use on previous albums, or was it completely fresh?
Andy: It’s all completely new. There are a couple of songs floating about that have never been released, but we didn’t use them and never considered them, because they came from a different era. We basically just started from scratch and wrote 16 brand new songs. We’re not a band that writes 30 songs and then picks 10. We write 10 songs and we pick 10 (laughs). So we don’t have a lot of material put away that is to be released or adjusted. I think we kind of do a quality control as we write.
Chris: Yeah, it pretty much starts with the riff, quite honestly. That is were the quality control comes in, because if everybody likes the riff, we take it forward from there, but if all of us are not a 100% in favor of it, we don’t develop it any further. That’s how we do it, and that’s why the best riffs get worked into songs.
Talking of the lineup now, you mentioned that Kristian is also bringing his own modern influence into the music. So, how did this lineup come together?
Chris: Well actually, we talked about Kristian being in the band when we do the next album many years ago, in fact not a lot long after we did “Extreme Machine”. And it was certainly before Eddie Van Halen brought his son into Van Halen, so it wasn’t done for that reason (laughs). Kristian’s got his own band, but it seems to have worked out well. Kristian is here actually. Why don’t you say something? Why are you in the band?
Kristian: Why not? I’ve been a fan of the band since day one. I’m Savage’s number 1 fan, you know. It always felt right. I’ve always grown up sort of playing Andy’s riffs and sing along with the vocal melodies and things like that. So it felt right for me personally being in the band, although I’ve never actually seen Savage play live. But being in the band is a big opportunity for me and it’s a big honor, really.
That’s awesome to hear, man. Other than the songwriting part, what’s your contribution to the band? I believe you also help out in the production and stuff like that, if I’m not wrong?
Kristian: A little bit, in terms of pressing buttons and offering my opinion on levels and tones and things like that. I didn’t sit there with the headphones and going on telling everyone what to do. It was just purely pushing buttons.
Chris: Plus, his way of playing complements the way Andy plays, because of the fact that he’s been brought up listening to Andy. So he sorts of plays in a similar way and sometimes he adapts. And we’ve got one song that was written after his own riff. “Look At Yourself” is basically based on his riff.
That’s great. What plans do you guys have, now that the album is out? Can people expect to see Savage on stage?
Andy: It’s going to be a while, because we’re taking it quite slowly. We got the album out, and we’re doing press as we speak. We’re hoping to look at some festival options towards the end of the year, and I think we’ll go on to next year to profile the band. We’re letting people know that we’re available. These things take a lot of forward planning. So I would say by the end of the year we’ll be out on the road, and you should see quite a lot of us next year, and possibly another album at that point if things go well.
Savage has been a British band with a largely British following, and a European following to some extent. When was the last time you visited North America and when you do plan to visit again?
Chris: Last time we played in North America was after “Extreme Machine”, which was round about year 2000. But yeah, the gigs that we’ve played have generally been in Europe. But, we’d dearly love to go to South America, we’d love to come across to India. We want to go to all these places where we’ve never played before.
Do you think this new album and the response to it will ignite another stint in your career wherein you release albums regularly?
Andy: We hope so. We have to understand that it’s been a ten-year break, so we’re kind of getting our profile back, and the reviews that we’ve had, more or less everyone has been outstanding. The reviews for this album are some of the best we’ve ever had, so that obviously signals a really positive response. There seems to be a good resurgence of that kind of music. People are wanting to hear it. We’re controlling everything, the writing, the production, the recording, the artwork, and therefore if we decide that we’re doing another album, we’ll just go and do it. Personally, if we are out there playing live, I’d like to do some live recording as well. That’s a side of the band we’d like more people to hear. If they can’t get to see us live, may be they can hear us through a live album or a podcast or something like that.
Chris: Or a Spinal Tap-esque rockumentary. (laughs)
Related: Part 2 of the interview | Album Review