Savages’ Jehnny Beth tells us how David Bowie and ‘Peaky Blinders’ shaped her wild solo album

"In my core I felt that there was something that I hadn’t done yet – and that was this record"

Savages‘ singer Jehnny Beth has confirmed that a full solo album is on the way in 2020 – having originally been inspired to do it by the passing of David Bowie.

With Savages “on a break” since 2016, Beth has busied herself with a number of other projects. As well as hosting her own show Start Making Sense on Beats1, she also leant guest vocals to Gorillaz and toured with them on ‘Humanz‘, picked up a number of acting roles, wrote the score for the film XY Chelsea with partner and collaborator Johnny Hostile, launched her own music TV show in France,  and debuted new solo music on the latest season of Peaky Blinders.

The track that aired in the season turned out to be ‘I’m The Man’ – which premiered in full last month with a video featuring a spoken word cameo from Peaky Blinders‘ star Cillian Murphy and helmed by director Anthony Byrne.

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“Not a lot of people realise that it was shot in one shot,” Beth told NME. “That really makes you concentrate on doing it from start to end without fucking up. Anything else from an actor’s point of view is just waiting.”

Since then, Beth has been sharing many photos on her Instagram page that have been taken by Byrne, signalling the start of a long-term creative partnership.

“We became really good friends,” Beth explained. “He’s a really great director. Cillian warned me that they don’t often come as good as that, and he was right. As an actor, he made me feel very comfortable. He always has solutions. There’s nothing that can’t be done.”

Speaking of the world’s reaction to the track, Beth revealed: “People are doing their own readings of it, which is fine with me. I like my work to have layers of meaning, and that’s what we are as humans. I like to celebrate the multiple unique parts of who we are. I like that ‘I’m The Man’ has a complexity of ideas, but can also be taken on very simple face value.”

Beth promises that a full album is coming this year. Sonically, it will be “a mixture of light and darkness and hard and soft” and lyrically dealing with “self-reclamation, borderline sexuality and dealing with what it is that makes us human”. Speaking of the origins of the album, Beth said that she first had an epiphany after hearing of Bowie’s death back in 2016.

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“That night I was in L.A., I opened my phone at 3am, saw that [Bowie] was dead and couldn’t sleep so I listened to his music all night,” said Beth. “I was obviously really sad, but also very conscious of the fact that death is part of life. One day I’m gonna be gone, so in my core I felt that there was something that I hadn’t done yet – and that was this record.

“It took me a while to come to that, but the night that Bowie died was certainly the start of the path to this record.”

Savages' Jehnny Beth
Credit: Steve Gullick

Fans will get the chance to hear her new music when she performs at the upcoming 6Music Festival, Primavera Sound and All Points East – with more dates to be announced shortly.

“It’s funny that people are going to hear the music first live, because it was really written in the studio first and then figured out live,” said Beth. “With Savages, we always wrote live before anything else. With this album I wanted to do everything the opposite way to what I had done before. I was trying to find a narrative for the album, without a conversation between me and the audience – just between me and the work.”

She went on: “I don’t want to plan how I’m going to feel. I just want to feel how it’s going to be. I want to keep it open and as sincere as possible. I’m tailoring it at the moment.”

Savages’ Jehnny Beth

Having shared photos of herself in the studio with Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie and shared a stage with Anna Calvi at the Peaky Blinders Festival last year, Beth is no stranger to collaboration. In that same spirit, she claimed that the upcoming record will not strictly be a ‘solo’ album.

“There are collaborations on the album, but I can’t tell you who they are,” Beth teased. “People are calling it a solo record, but it’s actually a collaborative record. I’m working with a lot of people; with producers, with writers, all sorts. It’s been fun. That’s how I like to it.

“I know my own limitations and I like to see other people’s talents blooming in my own world. I like the chaos of losing my own perspective.”

Meanwhile, Beth has some upcoming episode to film of her new music chat show ECHOES, featuring the likes of IDLES, Primal Scream and King Krule.

“I love talking to musicians and artists because it elevates me and gives me hope,” Beth told NME. “I have those conversations in my private life but I feel that they’re so rich, intense and important that the public should see them as well.

“I’m recreating the conversations that we’d have backstage as the community that we are. I feel that so many things are clique-y, but this is open to discussion and debate. It’s not one against the other. Artists are more open now and I want to show that. It’s like a mini festival because it’s three artists performing each night as well as talking. The audience are witnessing something very unique. The one we’re shooting next week sold out in two minutes.”

Beth added: “There’s a lot of interest because there hasn’t been a good TV show in France in about a decade. It’s about time we brought music back to TV in a way that’s thoughtful and respects the artists. I’ve done TV before and God, it can be really awful. It can feel like it’s devoid of any soul. It’s really hard and scary, so I wanted to show something where we talk, have a good time and support the community.”

Beth will perform at the BBC 6 Music Festival in Camden, London from March 6-8.

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