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Interview: The Modern Savage

In the midst of Alaksa’s “music hungry” indie scene lies post-punk group, The Modern Savage. Based in Anchorage, the quartet feeds off personal experiences to articulate the severity of the issues they write about. Their latest album, Unwilling Participants is a carefully constructed playlist detailing the correct way to handle a devastating break-up minus the sappiness. With half of the band recently going bi-costal starting with their lead singer, Jenni May Toro, Modern Savage has been able to enhance their network outside of the limited confines of Alaska. Next week, they have two shows lined up in NYC-a first for the band that has never played a show outside of their home state. Ahead of their sets, we spoke to them about sexist Youtube comments and what defines their unique sound. 

Welcome to NYC! I understand that half of you live here already and half of you are still in Anchorage? How is that working out?

Last October we celebrated five years together and had a discussion about what we wanted the next five years to look like. We knew it meant leaving home to some extent. Being bicoastal has been challenging at times. We’ve had some growing pains as we reshape our composition process, but It’s been exhilarating too. It’s tested the limits of what we thought we were capable of five years ago. It all feels new again.

Your music videos are incredibly poignant and artistically sound. Where do you draw inspiration for the visuals?

We’re drawn to visuals that make us slightly uncomfortable. How we’re representing the female spirit is discussed first. We like genderless costuming and subtle crossdressing. We’re into details. In Animal Sounds everyone has their nails painted red. In “Pull Me” Ivan’s carrying a copy of Tom’s Robbin’s Still Life with Woodpecker. In “Evil” the boots are a throw back to the boots in the opening of Animal Sounds. We argue (lovingly) about story vs. more abstract videos.

What went into filming the music video for “Pull Me?” It seems like you found half the population of anchorage to admit “what makes love stay.”

I was going through a difficult time surrounding the filming of “Pull Me” and withdrawing. “How do you make love stay?” was a reoccurring theme on Unwilling Participants. In the studio while recording UP we each wrote down our own responses to it. When we were brainstorming concepts I asked the guys what they thought of asking Anchorage. It was the most straight forward video concept we’d ever done. David had the idea of making sure we captured people’s initial reaction to being asked. I’m still in awe of the response to it. The process felt deeply personal. I cried the first time I saw it alone.

Unwilling Participants feels much more intimate and gritty than your previous albums. At times it spans from upbeat power rock ballads to wistful break-up cures. Considering the monstrosities inhabiting our earth right now, how did this album help you heal?

I was going through a divorce in my mid twenties. I’ve always been a private person but to get through it I needed to write. I knew if I did, it meant no holding back. It was terrifying and liberating—strangers shared their stories with me, it was a free fall.

Alaska is pretty foreign to New Yorkers. What is unique about performing in Anchorage? Can you give us a taste of what their current indie-rock scene is like?

Alaskans are hungry for live music. They get rowdy, almost primal. The indie-rock scene in Anchorage is struggling for for more music venues, but the scene is fiercely loyal. Alaska is isolated and brings out a unique side of artists. The music feels uninhibited by what’s in vogue.

I love your Interpol cover of “Evil,” any more covers we can look forward to in the future?

I’m glad you love it, it’s a personal favorite of ours. One day I’ll go live and read all YouTubers comments that wish I was a guy. We’re recording a new cover this winter, but I’d like it to be a secret. I’ll give a clue, It’s another monotone male vocal I’m going to ruin. Watch out internet! We’ll probably play it live at our shows in NYC.

You guys are a force on stage. Jenni, your performance style must get you lumped in with front women like Corin Tucker or Karen O all the time. Does this frustrate you? Do you feel like there are expectations as to how a woman in a rock band should sound or act on stage?

Thank you! It does at times, but overall I’m flattered. I’m pretty obsessed with strong female icons in rock and roll. I especially love Patti Smith and Kim Gordon. I’ve been influenced a lot by Iggy Pop and David Bowie also.

There’s absolutely an expectation—there’s a resistance to sex and violence in the female narrative. It jilts people, frightens them. I’ve experienced a lot of kick back for screaming on stage. It upsets some people that I cover male vocalists. When I was a very young adult I think I held back a lot more, I don’t anymore. Lately I’ve been very into altering my appearance through body painting, performing slam poetry at shows. I like to interact with the audience.   

What can we expect from The Modern Savage? What are you guys working on now?

Winter has always been a writing time for us. In Alaska it’s dark, things slow down. This winter we’ll be writing and recording. We’re gearing up for our next release. I’ve been scribbling titles down lately in anticipation. We’re going on our first extensive tour in the summer. 

Catch them at The Shrine on September 26th and at Cape House on September 29th. Keep up with them on Facebook and Instagram.

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