The dudes in Savagist are survivors. In the self-styled indie rock Mecca of Athens, Georgia, they dare to tough it out as a metal band in spite of the heavy music scene’s constant ebb and flow.
“It goes in cycles here,” says Savagist drummer Jason “Mohawk” Richardson. “In the next three or four years, it could very easily pick back up, but for now there’s kind of a lull.”
But even when the scene was thriving, it has always been an uphill battle for heavy bands. Richardson speaks of grassroots shows and local lineup inbreeding during the years before
“There’s all of us that had feet on the ground outside of the indie-pop scene. We all banded together and had our own house shows,” Richardson says. “Whether it was in a place like Caledonia or in somebody’s living room, it was pretty much the same crew of about 50 serious people.”
It was from this small, fertile scene that Savagist drew its roots. Richardson had been playing in a sludgy Melvins-style outfit called the Dumps while guitarist/vocalist Clem Adams was a member of Peregrine, a thrash band with black metal leanings. The two got together with no preconceived direction in mind and began jamming on songs that would eventually end up on 2012’s Domestic Becoming Feral EP.
“Basically it was based off of he and I just wanting to get together to play fun, aggressive music,” Richardson says. “We would start every band practice with us shotgunning a couple beers, and then we would sit down and start writing. It was kind of a blank slate.”
Perhaps it was the beers, or perhaps it was their laissez-faire approach to songwriting, but Savagist’s music evolved into something difficult to categorize. In the heavy metal universe, where subgenre upon subgenre is applied to groups to narrow in on their sound and audience, Savagist have slipped through the cracks.
“When people ask us to describe our band, it’s very hard to describe it because you can’t pinpoint us in one genre,” Richardson says. “We’ve been compared to old Mastodon or old Baroness, but at the same time that’s the old stuff, not the current stuff. Where Baroness or Mastodon moved into a more progressive area, we’re still holding on to that grind-your-teeth-to-the-ground, brutal metal.”
Domestic Becoming Feral is comprised of aspects of Richardson’s sludgy past, Adams’ blackened riffs, and touches of death metal and thrash. It may sound messy, but it’s an advantage in a time when the most innovative metal bands are those like Kvelertak or Deafheaven that take a melting-pot approach to genre conventions.
“The bill that we’ve played that we felt the most comfortable with was when we played with Kylesa and High On Fire,” Richardson admits. “We felt that we matched a good middle ground between the heavy, pounding, tribalistic High On Fire with the little bit busier, more psychedelic style of Kylesa.”
That tribalistic quality extends to Savagist’s lyrics too. Adams and Richardson explain that the nods to primitive man grew from their own disgust with the federal bailouts going on when the group formed in 2009. They felt that corporate greed was destroying mankind, and that the best response would be to expedite the collapse of society and return to living “by the law of the land as opposed to the law of man,” as Richardson puts it. But Savagist doesn’t want to beat anyone over the head with this message.
“There’s a very Butthole Surfers or Dr. Hook kind of element where we have something to say, but we go about it in a very serious-but-comical way where we don’t come over-the-top as overly preachy,” Richardson say. “I can love any band and love the music they play, but if they start preaching too much, I’m just instantly tuning you out.”
The tendency for dour preachiness and condescending attitudes in heavy music is another one of Savagist’s pet peeves. When they played the Odditorium in West Asheville last April, they were pleased to see the local scene was a welcoming, fun-loving bunch.
“These days, most people that are into metal who are 25 or older just kind of stand there with their arms crossed, staring at you, waiting for you to bring something,” Richardson says. “These kids [at the Odditorium] were way into it, and when they started a mosh pit, that’s the first time I actually smiled behind the drumkit in years, just watching the enthusiasm of the people there.”
Richardson says Savagist is preparing a new EP that they hope to have ready by the end of fall. Until then, the band is embarking on a small tour on which they will once again play the Odditorium, this time with Ogre Throne and Skullthunder.
“I like that place a lot,” Richardson says in anticipation of the show. “It’s dark, it’s dirty, it’s everything we love as a band. It’s almost as if you were a pirate, that’s where you would hang out in Asheville.”
Savagist plays the Odditorium on Saturday, July 27 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5. For more information visit
www.ashevilleodditorium.com or call (828) 575-9299.