Sometimes they’re back – with a vengeance. That’s how it goes for the British band SAVAGE. Feeling uneasy about their commonplace association with New Wave of British Heavy Metal, because their stylistic palette is much wider, the group burst onto the scene in the late ’70s and are revered by many an aficionado, including their erstwhile tour mates METALLICA, yet remain less famous than their music deserves.
This is to be rectified now with SAVAGE’s 2012 album, "Sons Of Malice", a molten blast of metallic blues and sharp riffs as conjured up by the band’s founding members, bassist Chris Bradley and guitarist Andy Dawson, and their young colleagues. And it was Andy and Chris who we spent some time with going up and down the ensemble’s start-stop history and deep into the collective’s philosophy.
– Why did you decide to start again now, guys?
Chris Bradley: We didn’t really stop, it’s just we had to deal with lots of personal problems. It got in the way of our last album, but it had nothing to do with the band, and it’s only now that we’re able to get back to doing this thing together.
– You’re a family, right?
CB: Me and Andy have been family since the early days – I was married to his sister, so he used to be my brother-in-law. The only difference now is that my son [Kristian], Andy’s nephew, is in the band with us as well.
– And how does it inform the dynamics in the band?
Andy Dawson: We know each other really well, and being brothers-in-law doesn’t make any difference, it’s just the years and years of knowing what works and how we’d like to write songs – the kind of things we both share, I suppose.
– Speaking of your last album… I once read, although I can’t agree with this, that there’s a line between heavy metal and hard rock, as metal doesn’t have a blues component. But “Sons Of Malice” is a very bluesy album to my ears. Was this direction deliberate?
AD: No, not really, it’s just the way it turned out. I think we do live in that place between hard rock and heavy metal, so we didn’t set out to make a bluesy album. It’s just how we are.
CB: We never set out to make any particular type of album, it’s just a case of us listening to the things that used to influence us when we were much younger, bands like DEEP PURPLE, LED ZEPPELIN, so for us it’s very much a retro album that goes back to where we were before we started work on our first album.
– I surely heard a lot of DEEP PURPLE-like riffs in your music, of the “Stormbringer” kind, but there was one more influence I seemed to hear on the previous records: SWEET.
AD: When I first started getting into music as a very young teenager, the bands you would see on the television, on music programs all the time were the bands like SWEET, SLADE and T.REX, so yeah, they were big influences on me at that time. And then I got into DEEP PURPLE and LED ZEPPELIN through school friends, because their older brothers and sisters were listening to those as well as WISHBONE ASH and BLACK SABBATH.
– Having said that, you have a song called “We Got The Edge”. Did you write it to oppose the hair metal of the ’80s?
AD: No, it was written right after we’d recorded “Loose ‘n Lethal”. And there were three or four songs on “Hyperactive” that were written for “Loose ‘n Lethal” but didn’t make it onto that album. And there’s one song on “Holy Wars”, that came out ten years later, which was actually written before “Loose ‘n Lethal” as well.
CB: “We Got The Edge” is quite powerful, and it wasn’t a go at hair metal, it was more about having a go at British rock press. We’d done “Loose ‘n Lethal” and, according to “Kerrang!”, we were best thing since sliced bread. We did the “Hyperactive” album, which got a five-star review in “Kerrang!”, and then all of a sudden, there was a decision made: they wanted to knock us back down. So “We Got The Edge” was a sort of reaction to that. At that time magazines like “Kerrang!” were very fickle, and that’s why we don’t have much in way of heavy metal in the U.K. anymore. Even though it’s still got a large fanbase, and lots of bigger bands pull massive crowds, you won’t get see those bands on TV programs or hear them on the radio.
– So it’s kind of underground at the moment?
AD & CB (simultaneously): Yeah!
CB: Pretty much.
– Would you argue that songs like “Keep It On Ice” have wild but slightly commercial sound?
CB: Yes, I think it was so. But with those bands we were influenced by, it was always about a chorus that people could remember, and that’s always been our style. The fact that each album is different, it’s just the way we are, we don’t want to repeat ourselves.
– And then, “Ain’t No Fit Place” was a comment on the situation in the UK at the time, and you still try to be relevant in the subject matter of your songs.
CB: Yes. The lyrical themes are basically a reflection of what is happening at the time or what’s been happening recently. “Ain’t No Fit Place” was written in 1981, and it was all about the inner city riots that we were having at that time in this country. Someone said recently that we were a very political band, but we’ve never seen it like that; we’re more socially aware – I suppose this is the right way of putting it across. We’ve always written songs about real things as opposed to demons and wizards, and the devils and angels – we write about real stuff, the things that are relevant.
AD: The songs are written at the time that they’re written, so it’s a snapshot – through our lives and through our history – of what’s going on: songs such as “Berlin” that preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall, or “Sons Of Malice” which refers to the banking crisis. Those songs reflected of what was happening at that period, that’s why our songs are current – because they’re moving with the time.
– Yet “New Messiah” can be considered a very controversial song. Not every band have the guts to write about Hitler and not be afraid to be thought of as Nazis.
CB: It was not particularly about Adolf Hitler, it was about these leaders who have this charisma and large, massive following that get people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Hitler was one, yeah, and sometimes there are religious situations where people believe everything these leaders say and do things that in the normal world they wouldn’t consider the right things to do. It was never a celebration of Nazism.
– Sure, in the album’s context it’s anti-war, and war theme is a common denominator to all of your albums. Why do you keep on coming back to this subject?
AD: Because war is always there, it’s a constant through our history, and it’s never ever a good thing. And all the songs where we commented on that have always been pretty much against war aggression and violence. People are being misled, and people are being hurt and people are being killed, and that’s never going to be something that we would want to see happen.
CB: It never seems to solve any problems, it just creates more problems. No-one seems to really benefit from these things at all.
AD: Lots and lots of people get harmed, maimed, killed – and for what? For piece of ground?
CB: And then it changes hands down the line, it’s somebody else’s piece of ground. It really makes no sense to us. Although we’re not deeply religious people, we certainly believe in the fact that we’re all in this together.
– Still, “Sons Of Malice” doesn’t sound as angry as your previous albums. Did your anger subside a little bit?
AD: I suppose, no. Maybe that’s about being more comfortable with who we are and having more fun, so one or two lyrical threads are a bit more light-hearted. Although if you listen to “The Rage Within”…
– Yes, but it’s still less angry than earlier songs.
AD: It may seem so in contrast with “Xtreme Machine”, which is a very dark album. But all this, anger, aggression… I think we’re just having an attitude and an opinion.
– But what does feed your aggression and attitude at this stage of your life? I mean, you’re not teenagers anymore and you surely don’t write your songs after watching football at your local pub.
AD: Watching the news!
CB: There’s still plenty of things happen that we get angry at. Basically, we just don’t like injustice, we don’t like the strong domineering the weak. We almost sound very religious here. “The Rage Within” is very much a personal song to me: it’s about how I feel about a lot of things, I’m mad at the world because things are still the same, still not great. I think the difference is, now we’re more mature and we can say things in a different way without having to scream and shout, and almost get violent in the music to express that point.
– Speaking about injustice… How do you feel about this situation with METALLICA who covered your song but didn’t actually put it out to make millions for you? Is that injustice?
CB: It’s more unluck. They did that “Garage Days” album and did a lot of stuff by all the bands that influenced them, and sold six million copies, and made for lot of people a lot of money. Unfortunately, they didn’t put “Loose ‘n Lethal” out. I’m not sure why, you would have to ask them. It just seems a little bit strange: I mean if you look at the sleeve notes for their album, there are all these little set-lists from lots of different gigs, and you will see “Loose ‘n Lethal” and “Dirty Money” on there, but they didn’t make it onto the album, but there are lots of obscure punk bands and lots the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands that we didn’t really rate highly. And that was another thing: we never really felt part of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. But there’s no point in thinking about it – it was a long time ago. METALLICA didn’t do the song, unfortunately, it would have made us a lot of money.
– Before “Loose ‘n Lethal” you’d played for about five years. So were there new songs on that album or the songs from all the initial period?
CB: The “Loose ‘n Lethal” was a collection of all the best songs that we’d written before 1981 and 1983 when we put the album together. But there are three songs at the end of the CD version of “Loose ‘n Lethal” which were from the ’70s; in fact, there’s one song on there, “Back On The Road”, that was the very first song that me and Andy wrote together. We weren’t particularly happy about putting it out because on that early stuff we were still learning our craft. The songs that become the “Loose ‘n Lethal” album had been out before that but they didn’t sell so much and weren’t so widely available, so not many people knew of them. We did the double A-side single, “Ain’t No Fit Place / The China Run” and again didn’t sell that many, but it got Ebony Records to get us to do an album with all those songs. We didn’t really want to miss out on four of our best songs being on the album because they’d been out in a different format before.
– From that period to now, you’ve gone from a quartet to trio and a foursome again. How did it change your approach to playing?
AD: Being a two-guitar band from day one defined our sound, but the guitar player we had in the early days, Wayne [Renshaw], was not as good as he could be, so sometimes we had to double-track my parts to cover that. And when we started off again in 1995, I just carried on double-tracking, so having two guitars in the band was always there, and when we played live, we had another guitar player, Andy Wilson. When Kristian played on the new album, suddenly it felt like it was two distinctly different guitar parts: we played the same thing but we played it slightly differently, with a bigger sound.
CB: It also changed us as we went back how we used to write songs in the early days, when all the members of SAVAGE gathered in the rehearsal room, Andy would come along and we’d decide on a riff, we thrashed it up together as a band, I’d sort of take it away and come up with bass parts and ideas for lyrics and melody and then come back to Andy and say, “What do you think?” We used to write this way for the first two albums, when it was just a core of me and Andy, but when we started to put it all together again in 1995 it was different, as a lot of the stuff had been written apart: there were songs from other bands [of ours] as well as some songs that were left over from “Hyperactive” or written after “Hyperactive”, plus a couple of new songs that we wrote together, and those were written in the studio as opposed to the band situation. And that’s pretty much how we went with “Babylon” and “Xtreme Machine”. But with “Sons Of Malice”, it was back to the rehearsal room, and for me personally, I prefer to do it this way – it makes it more powerful. Before the pressure was always on me and Andy to come up with the stuff, so it’s just nice to have this input from the other guys now.
– Most people perceive you as a genuine metal band, but you’re also masters of power ballads such as acoustic “Suffer The Children”, and then there’s “Smiling Assassin”, which is funk. So there are more facets to the band…
CB: That’s because we don’t limit ourselves to listening to heavy metal bands: we really do not like all these sub-genres of heavy rock. When we first started off, there was not such thing as heavy metal, everybody was called heavy rock band – or a rock band. Heavy metal was a term that came in the late ’70s – early ’80s, and after that there were all these sub-genres: power metal, speed metal, thrash metal. But for us, it has always been a case of: is it rock? has it got a good riff? does it sound good? A lot of metal bands hated grunge of the late ’90s – early Noughties, but we didn’t! We could see where it was coming from, it was good music, it rocked – why would we not like it? It’s like the nu-metal bands that came out of America in the early Noughties – bands like DISTURBED, KORN and SLIPKNOT – we didn’t dislike them. Everybody seems to so categorize now when it comes to what they listen and they won’t listen to anything outside their chosen genre. As for “Suffer The Children”, I’m a big QUEEN fan and always remembered “’39” from “A Night At The Opera”, a great folky song. It’s just the way we are.
– Yes, but it feels like you could let these other strains bloom and still constrain it all with a metal framework. You could be a folk group or a prog band or whatever but still keep within your genre.
AD: But this is what we like!
CB: This is our style. We bring all these things in and we like to mix them up.
AD: I like funky music and that style of guitar playing, and I bring just a flavor of these things into the band, but we’re not taking music in a different direction. If you played “Let It Loose” without distortion, it would be funk music. But the new album is everything what we wanted it to be.
CB: We like to groove! And we don’t do the same album twice.
– So what can we expect from your next album? And will it come out in the near future?
CB: We’re hoping to do a live album this year to mark the fact that it’s been 30 years since “Loose ‘n Lethal” was released. Then we will be starting to write new material at some point to put out an album next year or year after.
AD: I’ve already got strong ideas for four or five songs, but what it will be like we don’t know until we get in the room and start doing it.