Fireworks Magazine Online 54 - Interview with Savage

SAVAGE

One of the bands who were strongly tipped to rise above the early 80s NWOBHM pack, Savage went their separate ways after two well received albums, ‘Loose n’ Lethal’ and ‘Hyperactive’, with their story being a sadly familiar one of under qualified management, poorly run labels, disillusioned, broke musicians... and fantastic music. The band eventually came back together in the mid 90s, with their recent, excellent ‘Sons Of Malice’ being the fourth Savage offering since their reformation. Steven Reid recently caught up with singer/bassist Chris Bradley and guitarist Andy Dawson to find out more - with Chris’s son, Andy’s nephew, and Savage guitarist, Kristian Bradley also joining us halfway through our conversation to add his thoughts.

Starting with the early years of the Savage, there were loads of great reviews, positive press coverage and heaps of fan hype surrounding you guys. However neither of your first two albums went on to become the successes that they deserved to be. Are you able to put your finger on why that was the case?

Andy: Well, it’s the usual answer, which is we lacked support from label and manager. Ebony [the label that released the band’s debut ‘Loose n’ Lethal’] wanted to keep everything in-house and wouldn’t release overseas and Zebra [released album two, ‘Hyperactive’] weren’t really a label that knew the market very well. Our manager was as naive as us so he didn’t have the power needed. So at the end of the day, we weren’t able to capitalise on that early success and that led to frustration. We didn’t have the backing to be out there 24/7 which is what we should have done. I was unemployed for part of it waiting for the band to go full time but it didn’t quite work out.
Chris: All that Andy says is true, but maybe it’s as simple as it just wasn’t meant to be. Like many things in life, luck, ‘being in the right place at the right time’, and more importantly “it’s not what you know, but who you know” all play their part. It is what it is, I’m just proud that we’ve got such a great body of work and can still pull one out of the bag!

Do you look back on those days fondly, or do they feel more like a missed opportunity?

Chris: Wondering what might have been has long gone! I do get annoyed at the fondness some of those bands back then get remembered with now; they’re shit now and they where shit back then! You know who you are!
Andy: For me it is both I suppose. I have had many great things happen in my life, maybe some of that wouldn’t have happened if Savage went global. It’s not all about fame and wealth so I tend to be philosophical about it. Opportunities were definitely missed though! We were just kids really.

So what caused the band to fold at that stage?

Andy: Frustration.
Chris: Stupidity!
Andy: It stopped being fun at one point and there was a lot of friction in the band. Me and Chris weren’t communicating very well although we never fell out. We were trying a new manager which also spilt the band in to two camps and the song writing also was impeded by this. A strong manager could have resolved it. Perhaps we didn’t realise how big a deal Savage was. Being based in a small pit town clouds things a little.
Chris: We also spent far too much time listening to the ramblings of wanna be hacks who really wished they could do it but couldn’t, so had to pull those down that could, so as to re-enforce their personal beliefs of self importance! Forgetting why we started, who we were, or more importantly which of us counted the most. It was a bad time and a fucking waste of a partnership that should have gone all the way! Rant over. I’ve been asked this question a lot recently and thinking back to then reminds of the sense of loss I felt, I lost a brother! The other two [guitarist Wayne Renshaw and drummer Mark Brown] could have gone whenever they wanted I wouldn’t have bat a fucking eye lid!

Ten years elapsed between the ‘Hyperactive’ album and ‘Holy Wars’. What brought the band back together?

Andy: Garry Sharpe, a friend of ours suggested to me we should do another album. I told him “you get us a deal and we’ll do it”, and he did, with Neat Records. So we got a load of songs from mine and Chris’s latest projects plus a couple of un-released Savage tracks and went in the studio. It was very well received too and led to a festival appearance in Germany. I’d helped out on Chris’s other band XL for a radio 1 session and knew most of his tracks so it was quite easy. We got in the drummer prior to ‘Loose n’ Lethal’, Dave Lindley and did it as a 3 piece with an extra guitarist - Andy Wilson from XL - live.
Chris: Yes, Garry Sharpe Young - R.I.P. God Bless him - a good friend and artist, he’s the man behind the ‘L n’ L’ artwork. XL had run its course, I didn’t feel the need to compete against Andy anymore and that old magic was still there. We had also written a new song together while in our respective bands that turned out to be very popular ‘Down ‘n’ Dangerous (Machine Gun)’ and our first song together again as Savage was also one of our favourites, ‘How’, so it just felt right, pity we waited ten years!

It was a further four years between 1996’s ‘Babylon’ album and ‘Xtreme Machines’. Why did you wait so long to release another album?

Chris: I don’t remember it quite like that... We seemed to follow one after the other again once we had done ‘Holy Wars’. I’m sure ‘Babylon’ was nearer 97 or 98 and ‘Xtreme Machine’ 2000. We were never contracted to Neat for ‘XM’, although because they sold their catalogue to Sanctuary not long before monies became due, they said it was up to Sanctuary to pay us, so basically we saw nothing, I couldn’t even tell you how many it sold!
Andy: ‘Babylon’ was great, we wrote it quite quickly but ‘XM’ was done more in the studio and we tried too hard to modernise the sound of the band which some Savage fans resisted. I can’t remember why there was a gap, it didn’t feel that long.

So after another 11 years away, why did you decide that 2012 was the right time to unleash your excellent new album ‘Sons of Malice’?

Andy: Mark [Nelson], our drummer suggested to me we should do a new album. I’d already given some ideas to Chris a couple of years earlier but he didn’t seem to be up for it, maybe the ideas sucked!! There was no master plan, just old school writing, rehearsing, demoing and realising that we could have full control for the first time and that the internet opened things up for us.
Chris: It was more to do with the fact that we had just had a period free of any personal tragedy and everyone was ready to get going again. Going back to Andy taking the blame for ‘XM’, I was as much a part of that as he, it was my concept to do a really dark album where the themes would be about the darker and more extreme sides of the “human condition” and I was really proud of how we had started to bring Savage into the 21st century while still retaining the Savage sound. One of my favourite Savage songs is on that album ‘Smiling Assassin’; you could say we needed to do that album to get to ‘Sons of Malice’. What I did feel was wrong was how we wrote that album. Much of it was done via little demos where Andy would pretty much lay down a track then give it to me and go “ok sing on that!” So I was very keen to get back to writing in a rehearsal room as a band again like it was in the old days. That’s how we did ‘Sons of Malice’. Andy, they didn’t all suck, some made it to ‘SOM’! [laughs].

[At this stage Kristian joins us]

With such a gap between albums, had you at any stage begun to give up on the idea of releasing a new CD?

Kristian: Ha! Yes! It seemed as though for every step forward we took, we ended up having to take two steps back. Real life gets in the way sometimes.
Chris: Shit I still think that! All the guys have got other projects and Savage seems to have to fit in around that, which is not for me. Savage is all that interests me so I would prefer it to be the only project, where if we’re not rehearsing for a show we would be working on new stuff or planning the next thing. To me the creativity pool could become watered down, luckily each of the other bands are very different to Savage, but I still think it gets in the way.
Andy: Whereas for me there was a time when I thought there would be no more Savage albums. I was always playing, writing, recording, so I never felt that music was over for me, far from it. I think I’m more passionate now than ever, music is something I have to do. I think the amount of interest in the new album makes you realise that we still have something to offer, we still feel like new boys and underdogs!!

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So, how easy did you all find it was to get back in the groove with writing new songs?

Chris: To be honest I didn’t find it too hard, as I said before it was good to get back to putting the songs together as a band again. Although I predominantly come up with the melodies and lyrical ideas, I still like to throw musical ideas in, it’s this combination that give Savage its sound. It will usually start with Andy getting a riff, we then play around with it as a band, and we pretty much know very quickly if it’s worth pursuing. Then we throw it down in stereo and I take it away and start thinking up melodies and lyrics, I will then always sing them to Andy as they come to me, to get his feedback! Occasionally I come up with a riff, like ‘Cry Wolf’, but as I am not a guitar player and don’t even own a six string, it’s not that often. Sometimes the song may start with a bass line like ‘Master of War’ and Andy will feed off of that and then sometimes Andy has a melody and the start of a lyrical idea and I develop it like ‘How’ and ‘Fallen Idols’, it always feels very organic and for me our best stuff comes this way. As I remember ‘Let It Loose’ was just me and Andy at his Mum and Dads, they had gone on Holiday and Andy’s dad had just had a big extension on the back of the house, so we set the stacks up in there ‘cause the acoustics were awesome! Andy just let rip with this riff and we shouted key changes at each other, I even had the ‘Let It Loose’ thing in my head as we were playing. Musically the song was done in ten minutes, including the arrangement. We even talked about the lyrical ideas based on the ‘Let It Loose’ line and the idea was to write a song that summed up a live metal show to use as an opening number. I think we managed that! [laughs].
Kristian: For me, I never really took a break. I’ve been writing music with my band, Metal Cross, for the last five years.

‘Sons of Malice’ while nodding at the band’s past, still manages to sound fresh and current. Was this something that you tried to keep in mind when putting the album together, or did it just happen organically?

Kristian: Everything we do is organic. It all comes naturally. We don’t try to be this or that or sound a particular way. We write music we enjoy playing and the lyrics are about things, situations, people we feel strongly about.
Andy: I was keen to look backwards a bit, realising the mistakes of ‘XM’ but you can’t help but develop and try different grooves and rhythms. I think I went back to some of my earliest influences to try and find it, Lizzy, UFO, Purple. The sound of the album is very current because Mark engineered it that way and it leaps out of the speakers as we always hoped it would. The production keeps it fresh.

The album title ‘Sons of Malice’, the cover art and most of the album’s lyrics suggest an anger at modern society and culture. What would you say is the main motivation behind the lyrics and music on this album?

Chris: I like to write about things that are real and tangible, I think they have far more resonance; I leave the devil, demons, witches, wizards and warlocks to others. Someone recently said “why are the themes in Savage songs so political?”, to be honest I’d never really thought of it like that, to me they are more commentaries on society and the human condition, and always have been! Although occasionally I do write the odd short story, like ‘Dirty Money’, ‘Running Scared’ and ‘The Hangin Tree’.

There was a time where any band being referred to as anything to do with, or sounding like NWOBHM, was seen as a bit of an insult. Whereas now there are loads of bands springing up again playing and referencing this style of music and the movement that created it. What would you say the reasons behind this are?

Andy: I think NWOBHM has been characterised and lampooned for being a bit stuck in a time warp. The important bands from that time such as Maiden, Saxon and Leppard don’t refer to themselves as NWOBHM so neither do we really, I think of us as a hard rock band and indeed timeless! [laughs]. Metallica wouldn’t be here without that music but they moved it forward and made it their own.
Chris: We never really felt part of that movement and to us the lampooning was deserved by a lot of those bands, like the ‘Comic Strip’ band Bad News. That was so funny because there was so much truth to it, as I said earlier the fondness felt for some of those bands back then has been coloured by the passage of time and very few actually deserve it!

You guys have been in and around the music business for a long time now, and witnessed a huge amount of change, good and bad. Do you think it is tougher to make albums, play gigs and get your music heard now than it has ever been?

Andy: Making albums has never been easier, technologically. The internet means that anybody can get to hear it, but often for free which is not helpful to bands like us who need to earn a buck to survive and carry on. Indeed you always need new young bands to keep the music alive. Gigs are hard especially in the UK, almost impossible sometimes. You have to work hard. At least the industry is not just half a dozen major labels, ‘cause they fucked it all up!
Kristian: I haven’t been around the business for very long, but I’ve always been in bands and recorded a tonne of music. When I was younger there were ALWAYS people at gigs, loads of venues to play, but that’s not the case anymore. It’s difficult to get yourself heard unless you play shows with people who have a bit of a following. The good thing though is that there are so many different outlets in terms of radio stations, online magazines and so on to be able to put yourself out there.
Chris: Andy pretty much summed it up, it’s easier to make records and to get them out there for people to hear but harder to make money and there are less places to play for this style of music, which has also fragmented into a dozen different sub genres. In my opinion it’s much harder for the good bands to survive and progress to the next level due to the amount of bands, choice, product and options to get it for free that are out there. It still costs a lot to get the music made and tour. Without the returns bands just can’t survive!

Do you guys have any gigs planned to support the album?

Chris: We will be playing Hard Rock Hell here in the UK in December and we also have a festival in Belgium the same month. We are currently exploring options to play, so promoters get on the blower now! We’d like to get out there to say thank you for all the positive feedback we have received for this album and the biggest thank you to all our fans that have stayed with us through thick and thin as well as to any new fans, to whom we would like to say ‘Hi and welcome to the Gang’! Rock ‘n Rollllllllllll!!!!!!!!!

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