INTERVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks

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LOVE, POLITICS AND LAST DRINKS

On an autumnal morning in Prague during her European tour, Cash Savage discusses the songwriting shift on her new album Good Citizens and talks with Chris Familton about the importance of her band The Last Drinks.

The lead-up to the release of a new album can be a tricky period for an artist to negotiate. Some take it in their stride while others ride the emotions of anticipation, self-doubt and excitement. Cash Savage had of course been through album releases before but this time around it felt different given the shift in her songwriting to address socio-political issues that she felt she could no longer avoid.

“Never more so has it been such a relief to have a new record out. This album is really different for me. Through interviews I’ve had the opportunity to self-analyse that. The day it came out we got a four star review in the Guardian and a real weight lifted off me that day,” Savage reveals. “I didn’t realise I was carrying that at all and then I was floating around the rest of the day once that happened.”

Heading into the writing of Good Citizens, an album that addresses the marriage equality debate, moral decay and the inherent problems with male dominated societal structures, Savage knew that it was essential that she start writing about those issues while also still grounding many of the songs in the world of love and relationships.

“I wanted to make the album a real snapshot of how I felt at the time and part of that was that I was (and still am) in love. I knew it was going to be more political but I didn’t ever think it wouldn’t have a couple of love songs on there too. These love songs are political too, because of who I am,” she stresses, before adding “I didn’t really ever see there was a point for me to write songs like this before. I was quite happy to have drunken rants about political systems with my mates down at the pub, but I didn’t see much point putting it in my music. This time I didn’t see there was any other way around it. I had never thought I would ever write a political album so it was surprise for me!”

Making a foray into writing about these kinds of issues begs the question as to whether the process acts as a way of Savage dealing with and processing her feelings about them. “Those issues are frustrating full stop so I don’t think the songs made it more frustrating. It definitely helped for me to write about them. I’ve actually quite enjoyed contemplating the different questions that I get asked about those issues, from different people from different walks of life. For me I guess I’ve found it quite healing.” 

Over the years Savage’s band The Last Drinks have been an integral part of the sound of her records and the power and passion of her live performances. The lineup has changed as members have taken temporary leave for other musical pursuits (guitarist Joe White is a member of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever) or for family reasons (guitarist, banjo player Brett has recently become a dad) but Savage believes the flexibility and nature of the band is its strength.

“The band has always been so organic with its changes that its never felt like it’s one sound. To have a genuine shift has given us a lot of freedom and we’ve had to re-work some arrangements. We’ve been playing some of these songs for a long time and it’s nice to mix them up a little bit. It doesn’t feel different and it does feel different at the same time. It’s been quite nice actually. There is such a camaraderie within The Last Drinks. We’re just a really good bunch of mates and there’s so much fun had on and off the stage. They’re a phenomenal live band and to be able to stand in front of them is just fucking incredible.”

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ALBUM REVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks – Good Citizens 

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On her fourth album, Cash Savage does two things. She takes an unflinching look at Australian society and gives an intimate and evocative insight into love and desire. She does it all with her characteristic swagger and assertive tone, superbly backed by her cohorts, The Last Drinks.

Better Than That is a devastating opener, honing in on the events of last year and the impact of the marriage equality debate in this country. As she sings “Secretly I’d hoped you were better than that”, the band deliver a bittersweet, melancholic sound that feels like the calm after a storm.  Similar subject matter is addressed on the insistent pulse of Human with its frayed nerve, post-punk sound that blossoms into glorious intermittent choruses and the title track where she sings, with the emotional drama of latter day Nick Cave, about the male dominated world she works in. Collapse imagines a society where socio-political structures have fallen and the world is chaos, undone by its own failings. The Last Drinks back her to the hilt with an ominous industrial junkyard blues stomp that perfectly amplifies the song’s apocalyptic leanings. 

The single Pack Animals is a magnificent example of Savage’s ability to build and maintain tension in her more rock-leaning songs. Its Krautrock pulse patiently builds like a slow-moving tsunami, with sonic flares and sparks heading off in all directions like downed psychedelic powerlines. “I keep thinking ahead, to when I don’t have to lose my head” sings Savage, one of many instances across the album where she contemplates the future of the world and whether humans will resolve their multitude of failings.

Elsewhere Savage dials back the intensity and paints a tender picture of the highs and lows of love and devotion. The melancholic longing on Sunday has the feel of the Dirty Three in its staggered rhythm and Kat Mears’ aching violin. February and Found You explore similar territory, the latter taking a big melodically swinging approach with chiming guitars and an agitated dance-floor rhythm section.

For all the stage prowling, piercing stares and stirring sound of Savage’s live performances, Good Citizens possesses a resolute sentimentality about it. She’s speaking out with conviction about societal inequalities and how they manifest and are dealt with in the public realm yet the aforementioned flip side of how to navigate the miniature minefields of personal relationships is what hits the hardest. As she sings “I’ve never been so down, never needed anyone, now all I ever want is you” on February, she captures the essence of love and common experience.

Good Citizens is a bold and astute album that thrives on its balance and range. It pulls on heartstrings as effectively as it raises questions and it thrillingly blends musicality with Savage’s emotionally and intellectually-based commentary. 

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks @ The Lansdowne, Sydney

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Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, Blake Scott, Roadhouses @ The Lansdowne, Sydney – 23rd June, 2018

With a new album Good Citizens on the horizon and a fresh new single out in the world, Cash Savage & The Last Drinks hit Sydney with a fine pair of opening acts in tow. 

Roadhouses also have new music freshly imparted to the universe and they played a typically strong set. Their sound suits the size of the Lansdowne live room with it’s compact stage and always spot-on sound. The trio showcased their new album, slowing heartbeats to the shimmering drowsy tempo of their music. They’re a band who know how to get the most out of well placed instrumentation, leaving notes hanging in the air. When they did get busier it was Cec Condon’s drums and James Bellesini’s bass that added subtle details. It was only the last minute of their set where the tempo increased into a Velvet Underground-esque accelerated strum.

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Blake Scott is travelling the solo route while his band The Peep Tempel are on hiatus. You get the sense he is finding it a therapeutic experience – getting to scratch his musical itch on stage, yet there  are also cracks in his stoicism, particularly in his between-song comments that suggest he’d rather have the full band on stage with him. There’s a real appreciation for his guitar playing that takes it’s own exploratory trip through his songs, independent of, yet also fully complementing his words and melodies. Warmly received by the audience, he’s a hard songwriter to pigeonhole and one gets the sense that’s exactly how he likes it.

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Cash Savage has firmly established herself on the strength of her songwriting and live performances, and with The Last Drinks behind her you’d be hard pressed to find a more exhilarating and heart swelling live band in this country. Their set was perfectly paced, beginning slow and moody, all their power in the restraint of their playing. Slowly, song by song they opened their shoulders and loosened their hips, fully immersing themselves in the cathartic aspect of playing the songs. Savage  possesses one of the most commanding thousand yard stares, her eyes fixed on the back wall of the venue, occasionally scanning and momentarily locking eyes with various punters. The new single Better Than That was resplendent in its warm pulse and glow, referencing the marriage equality events of last year. Other new songs sounded equally impressive but the strength of familiarity meant that crowd favourites such as Rat-A-Tat-Tat, the lurching Let Go and a version of Run With The Dogs that teased and teased before lifting off with sonic gusto. There’s a tension in the music that Savage clearly knows is crucial to protect. The more she holds onto that, the more powerful the effect when it’s released, and as evidenced by the moving mass of bodies and satiated grins, the greater the experience for both band and audience.

Chris Familton