In her 1958 paper "Modern Moral Philosophy," Elizabeth Anscombe coined "consequentialism," a phrase to describe what she saw as the central error of certain moral theories. Basically, she questions the tenet of the end justifying the means. Anscombe's is a pretty heavy text to have placed on the front of a record cover. But Andrew Savage seems up to the task of asking and reflecting on some deeper questions on Thawing Dawn, his debut solo album, released under the A. Savage moniker.
In the photograph, the Parquet Courts' singer/guitarist sits on a bed, holding a guitar, next to Anscombe's influential philosophical book, and an ashtray. Though the photo was taken by Vince McClelland, Savage, known for his distinctive visual design, played a hand in the album design.
"I wanted to make a record that, for one, looked different than a Parquet Courts record yet still looked essentially like my art, but also, a record that had a sort of classic look of a solo record," he explains. "There's a lot of great sleeves that use a great photograph. Luckily I knew a great photographer, Vince McClelland, who I think took a really cool photograph. So in that way I consider the cover to be a collaboration with Vince."
While Savage is best known as the frontman for Parquet Courts [a duty split with fellow Texan Austin Brown], where he often spits wordy and frantic songs about broken hearts, the ten songs for Thawing Dawn, were assembled during a time that Savage fell in love. As a result, the record, recorded at Woods' Jarvis Taveniere's Thump Studios in Brooklyn, reflects on and explores the mysteries of romance and prove Savage as a sensitive and skilled vocalist.
Noisey: The album seems quite literate with quite a few witty one liners. Do you write these quips down in a Moleskine to save for songs?
Andrew Savage: Sometimes, but not generally. My notebook usually has several versions of songs and I tend to have to do quite a lot of editing. Sometimes a phrase will inspire an idea for a song, but I try to stay away from using filler lines like that.
There's a country feel to some of the songs. Texas has a long history of country songwriters and storytellers.
Yeah sure, I grew up hearing that stuff, not really listening to it though. No doubt that it's an influence on me and my songwriting. I wonder though if people don't insert that whole country thing superficially sometimes though. I read a few reviews of "Winter in the South" that called it "country fried" which really makes no sense to me as there is really nothing in that song, the way I sing it, the structure, or style, that has anything to do with country. Parquet Courts has constantly been called a Texas band, which just isn't true at all. So it's become clear that there is something about Texas that people are fascinated about and is impossible not to mention when writing about me. On Thawing Dawn, some songs have pedal steel on them, so it would be a hard argument to make to say that those aren't country influenced. I mean, country was omnipresent in my childhood, but not really any more omnipresent than latin music or hip-hop or rock, which also have inspired me.
Did you grow up listening to much country music? Do you have a favorite?
I got into country later in my life. I think when I was a kid I couldn't appreciate it because it seemed corny to me. At a certain point I became less snobby and more forgiving with music. Now that I am a fan I think the 70s were sort of a golden era for country. Willie, David Allan Coe, Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Townes... all those guys were great.
You fell in love during the assembling of the album. Did this affect it in any way? Many of the songs seem pretty self-reflective.
Yeah I mean there are love songs on Thawing Dawn, no doubt. Essentially, had that not happened this album would not exist at all. Self reflection, that's always there, that's a lot of what songwriting and the creative process is for me. We should all hold a mirror up to ourselves, and look at our lives and behavior critically.
I'm curious about the track "Buffalo Calf Road Woman" that's named after the Cheyenne fighter who fought in the Battle of Little Big Horn and is credited with knocking Custer off his horse before he died.
I had my mind on the Standing Rock situation, and thought about how tragic it was, especially in the context of the way the American government and power structure at large have treated indigenous Americans and American Indians. So many promises have been broken and Standing Rock was the latest. It's indicative of what America values in theory versus what it values in practice: money and wealth and maintaining status quo power structures.
Your voice on "Wild, Wild, Horses" really shines. Are you more self-conscious when the songs are stripped back compared to Parquet Courts?
Thanks man. Had I not treated the song in that way, I think it would have risked sounding too similar to others, or just too predictable in general. It's quite a raw song emotionally, and therefore I thought the sound of the song should fall in line with the rawness of the lyrics. You know that John Cale record Music for a New Society? I like how some of those songs feel like they are falling apart of crashing, or just amorphous.
The album features contributions from Woods, Ultimate Painting, PC Worship, EZTV, and Psychic TV. How did the contributions come about? Are you thinking about this when you are writing songs?
There are a lot of musicians I've wanted to work with but haven't had the chance to. Both Jack Cooper [Ultimate Painting] and Jarvis Taverniere [Woods] came to me separately and said, "Hey, if you ever do a solo record I'd like to play on it." Some people I've collaborated with before, like Shannon Sigley from PC Worship and Jeff Tobias from Sunwatchers. I wanted the people who played on this record to be an accurate representation of my music community. And also, ideally, to generate interest in their projects. There are lots of fans of mine that might not be familiar with the local, New York scene that I'm involved with, maybe because they think that Parquet Courts has ascended to a place where we aren't really considered local to anywhere, but that's not true. These are the people that inspire me in the place that I live, and I'm proud to play music with them.
An album highlight is "Ladies From Houston." Have you spent much time in Houston?
Houston is a great city. It's one of the biggest in the country but it doesn't get its dues culturally as much as it should. It has a bad reputation for reasons like pollution, traffic, and the unforgivable offense of being a city in Texas that isn't Austin, which to non-Texans makes it automatically unimportant. But yet it has The Manil, the Cy Twombly house, the Rothko Chapel... nothing in Texas, art-wise, can rival what it has. And as far as hip-hop, the sounds that come out of Houston have defined hip-hop in America and beyond. But that really doesn't have anything to do with the song. The song doesn't take place in Houston. It just mentions ladies I know from there.
The opening vocals of "Indian Style" sounds like an Oasis song. Ha! How do you rate the Gallagher Brothers as songwriters?
Oasis was one of my first favorite bands. I was absolutely obsessed. I've never thought about it in regard to "Indian Style", but I'm now imagining Liam singing that song. He's a better singer than me, but I think on this one my voice fits better. Sorry Liam.
'Thawing Dawn' is available Oct 13 through Dull Tools.
A. Savage Tour Dates:
Nov. 1 - Pittsburgh at The Funhouse at Mr. Smalls
Nov. 2 - Chicago at The Empty Bottle
Nov. 3 - Detroit at Jumbo's
Nov. 4 - Columbus at Double Happiness
Nov. 5 - Louisville at Kaiju
Nov. 6 - Nashville at The End
Nov. 8 - Atlanta at the Drunken Unicorn
Nov. 9 - Durham at The Pinhook
Nov. 10 - Washington at DC9
Nov. 11- Brooklyn at Murmrr Ballroom
Nov. 30 - Philadelphia at PhilaMOCA
Dec. 1 -Jersey City at Monty Hall
Dec. 2 - Portsmouth at 3S Artspace
Dec. 3 - Allston at The Great Scott
Dec. 4 - Montreal at l'Escogriffe Bar Spectacle
Dec. 5 - Toronto at The Garrison