As French-born, London-based frontwoman Jehnny Beth remembers it, her steamrolling, all-girl Goth-punk outfit Savages was never anything she saw coming. In fact, she was all set to release a third outing with her significant other Johnny Hostile as the lo-fi duo John & Jehn, on their own imprint, Pop Noire.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the pressing plant. Hostile had stumbled across a six-string textural mastermind named Gemma Thompson, and he was so stunned by her talent that he promptly invited her to back John & Jehn on an English tour. Soon, she and his missus were getting along so well, the album got shelved.
"John had a guitar crush on Gemma — he really loved the way she was self-trained, and how she was mainly a noise guitarist," recalls Beth. "She had her own style, and she was very quiet, very charismatic. So after we stopped touring with John & Jehn, Gemma was talking to me and John about how she wanted to start a new project. She wasn't sure what it was going to be, but she knew she wanted to do it with Ayse Hassan, the bassist, whom she had been working with on a different project."
Thompson had also conceived the band name Savages. "She was very enthusiastic about it all," recalls Beth. "So I just said 'Well, do you want to try it with me?' And she said yes. And then we met Fay [Milton], our drummer, by chance. So another John & Jehn album is ready. But it's just that we don't think it's the right time to do it now."
The band has embarked on a second string of mostly sold-out dates in support of their squealing, venomous Silence Yourself, a debut album that wreaths Beth's decidedly Siouxsie Sioux-ish vocals with Helmet-jarring guitars and Joy-Division-worthy rhythms. Tracks like "Strife," "City's Full" and "I Am Here" unload like a gear-grinding cement mixer, engulfing everything within earshot.
Savages penchant for drama has at least some of its roots in Beth's acting studies, which won her roles in a handful of French films. The daughter of a stage director, she spent her childhood in his theater troupe, although she barely remember what roles she played. "I was the daughter of Louis XVI, I think, and then in Peer Gynt I was a child."
Her parents were shocked, she says, when she announced she was giving up acting to move to London to play music with her beau Hostile. Still, she hasn't entirely abandoned her theatrical passions. Silence Yourself's opening salvo "Shut Up" was inspired by one of her favorite movies, John Cassavetes' Opening Night. She respects the way Cassavetes always cast his wife Gena Rowlands and the same team of actors, and kept making movies sans any huge box office success.
Beth sees Savages in the same do-or-die light. "There's a connection between what you do in life and what you put into the art," she believes. "In fact, there are really no boundaries between the two, because what you are onstage is what you are in life, as well. You just choose what you want to show."