When you find a great local band all you really want to do is tell everyone about them. The New Savages are a great Blues Rock combo from Melbourne who love that old Delta Blues. They also happen to have a singer who sounds like Jim Morrison in his L.A. Woman vintage. You really need to do yourselves a favour and check these guys out now!
Mark: Hi Milan how are you? We loved the EPs you sent through! I loved that modern interpretation of Delta Blues with vocals spookily like Jim Morrison – it just works!
Milan: How are you! Thanks for having me, and thank you for the compliment.
Mark: As well as new music on the way soon, you’re actually paying your first visit to WA this month?
Milan: Yeah, I’m really excited about it, it’ll soon be here.
Mark: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to the Rockpit. For those who aren’t familiar with The New Savages and their music can you recap how it all started and how you got to where you are today? How did you get started?
Milan: I started playing guitar quite late – I was seventeen and in the last year of High School and I had this almost religious experience. I picked up the guitar and stopped worrying about school! Everything seemed to make sense to me on the guitar. I mean I started listening to The Beatles and Nirvana and kinda sixties and nineties rock. But I really just wanted to understand where the artists that I admired got their inspiration from, and where their music sat in the history of popular music. And I kept going back, and back, and back and the more I got back the more fascinating it was. I was like “Wow there’s music like this in the 50’s! That’s cool, that’s really old! And here’s some music from the 20’s and 30’s – wow! Cool as fuck!” and it just drew me back there was just something about it and when I started listening to the Delta Blues and the early electric blues of people like John Lee hooker and Muddy Waters I just couldn’t go back! This was it – this was where the ‘soul of a man dies’ as someone once said. It seemed really natural to me and once I got into that I didn’t want to play anything else. I actually started out wanting to be a singer songwriter like Leonard Cohen – a poet with a guitar. So that’s how I started out but once I got into Son House! I would have been 18 maybe 19, and I wanted to pay some of his songs and I realised they were all in open tuning so I play everything in open tuning and I got that from him. And the more I started listening to the old Delta guys the ore I realised they were all doing it and for me that is where the real magic is. I just wanted to ‘be’ Son House very much for a very long time and I still do!
Mark: That’s certainly something I don’t hear every day especially from a 24 year old! (laughs)
Milan: (laughs) And I don’t understand why not – to me it just makes complete sense! I just think it’s so powerful, if you get past the fuzz it’s just Rock N Roll, there’s this guy just hammering away playing with such force and rhythm it’s amazing. Mississippi Fred McDowell is another intense influence of mine, and Blind Willie Johnson I listen to him religiously, but there’s so many.
Mark: So is it part of your mission to get younger people listening to those old dead Delta blues masters? I mean even older people might not go back quite that far, some people’s appreciation of the blues starts and ends with Clapton, sadly.
Milan: That would be nice, but at the same time I understand that the music I’m making is far from being culturally relevant to a lot of people, cool if people get turned onto it by us, and were pretty accessible so that’s cool. But our goal is to be heard by as many people as possible, world domination!
Mark: I loved the first EP, but the thing that I loved about the second EP was that when I picked it up all the titles are recycled – when I first looked at it I thought – wow it’s all covers, but you’ve just recycled the titles, it’s all original music! I loved that idea and what it says about music I guess.
Milan: Pretty sneaky I know!
Milan: there’s two things I guess – a lot of the time when I write songs they start off as different songs, I’m very derivative in a way, and so if I don’t have a lyric I’ll just make one up – like ‘Pretty Polly’ and Pretty Polly will be this Appalachian Folk song character and then later on Pretty Polly will be resurrected into a whole other song. And that way if someone is looking at it the song still has a place in the tradition of Blues and Country music, it’s not out of a vacuum, I’m constantly looking into the river and taking from it.
Mark: I like that thinking. It’s mature music from a very young band, I expected to see you on the Bluesfest line-up or something?
Milan: No, we’re pretty new to this, still starting out, still self-managed, we’re pretty new to this but we are touring pretty much non-stop and we’ve got pretty good at booking shows. But we don’t know anyone! We just hammer out e-mails and try and get what we can. I’m just glad people like you took the time to listen.
Mark: I’m glad I did. I don’t often get excited about local bands but you’ve certainly got something there that people need to hear, and that’s what I enjoy – telling people! For me the test is if the CD gets into the car, and this is in the car! So give us a little taste of what to expect from the new EP?
Milan: Each EP is a small step forward I’m just trying to write good songs in the style that we’ve developed. Small steps definitely a progression but nothing too extreme, no heavy metal soloing or anything!
Mark: And you’re headed over to WA in May, where can we catch you?
Milan: We play The Carine on May 19th, Settlers Tavern in Margaret River on May 20th and The Indi Bar May 21st.
Mark: And now for the question I didn’t know how to ask – where do The Doors come into the equation for you?
Milan: Well I was a fan of The Doors growing up but I don’t think I consciously tried to sound like Jim Morrison, I thing I picked up on his ‘vibe’ but I think it’s just natural, a lot of people have told me I sound like him. Maybe in my approach I have a similar outlook, but I really tried to sound a million times more like Bob Dylan, or Townes Van Zant, Son House or Fred McDowell. All kinds of people, but I am pretty flattered people think that I mean if you’re gonna be compared to someone Jim Morrison is a pretty damn cool.
Mark: You were talking about discovering ‘old’ music earlier it’s scary to think we’re nearly 50 years away from the end of the 60’s, and that L.A. Woman by the Doors is 50 this year!
Milan: And people like me are still listening to that music.
Mark: I loved when you told that story about digging back to discover that Delta Blues. If more young people did that the music industry would be a damn sight healthier, and we wouldn’t have ‘auto tune’! Or any of these damned ‘talent’ programs!
Milan: (laughs) For me it made sense like I said, I needed to understand what came before me, I can’t reinvent the wheel, I needed to study these artists to have any kind of creativity that was interesting. That was my outlook and still is, I don’t think I’m that much of a creative person, I’m just very passionate and interesting about music and learning about The Blues in particular.
Mark: Without the Blues there’s no Rock N Roll, no Soul, no Hard Rock nothing. It’s a desolate place without the Blues – we’d only have Big Bands and Crooners.
Milan: I can’t even imagine.
Mark: So when’s the new EP coming out.
Milan: ‘Baby Don’t Lay Lonesome’ the third EP is being launched on June 11th at The Retreat Hotel in Melbourne. Then we start a massive tour around it.
Mark: Well, good luck with the tour and the new release. We’ll be down to check you out in WA and now it’s that time of the interview for our closing pair of questions. First up: If you could have been a ‘Fly on the wall’ for the creation of any great album from any period, just to see how the magic happened and it all came together, what would it have been for you any why?
Milan: Easy – when Alan Lomax recorded Muddy Waters on the porch when he first found him in Mississippi! Where he’s just playing acoustic and it’s like this picturesque romantic vision of what Blues is, just there on the porch playing and it’s amazing. I have loved to have been there. Or Blind Willie Johnson when he was recording in the 20’s just to see what he looked like! Just to see how he played! I still can’t understand it. One of those two!
Mark: And the easiest question of all to close: What is the meaning of life?
Milan: (laughs) yeah! I don’t know drinking? Music?
Mark: Maybe The Blues?
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After our interview Milan shared his thoughts on music, it’s eloquent, honest and it’s well worth reading:
A lot of what I do is writing a song about another song, like what listening to that song did to me – or could do to me if I just let it. That’s why I leave bits and pieces of other songs inside my songs. My songs are never original compositions, but they aren’t covers either. I think of myself, and always have, of being a part of the great folk-blues tradition that gave out to the greats like Son House, Charley Patton and Blind Willie Johnson. Songwriting used to be a spectrum, not an absolute. And I think it is the greatest, most touching and artful form. I didn’t want to be a 21st century songwriter. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I wanted to go back to that mythical Delta, which has existed for millions of years, all the way back in Mesopotamia, maybe it used to be the Euphrates. That mythical Delta river where artistry existed before humans started labeling it, forming it and trying to logically make sense of it. Like every artist I wanted to be free. I want my art to be so primitive, and pure that it is free of needing to be understood by human pretension.
That’s what Smokestack Lightnin’, our first single was and that’s what our new single I’ve Lost My Little Girl is. I was writing about what Skip James’ “Hard Time Killin’ Floor” made me feel. I wanted just to sing the original but I couldn’t. I had to put my own lyrics on top of it. I couldn’t sing about the hard times of the Jim Crow south, and the great depression. But I could feel that pain and it sang to me something universal. And I tried to take that universality and make something of my own with it, something personal.
Everything I write is a tribute. To be honest I am afraid of myself sometimes, but really it is the myth of the delta that draws me in. It is a spiritual place that is closer to religion to me. It is a belief system, it is something that I have to be fully committed to, it is almost something that I need to worship. I have to have full faith in the delta for my commitment to give something back.
A very big formative experience for me was seeing Chris Russell, another Melbourne local play live. I think he understood all of this, and seeing this played live opened my eyes to it. From the first time I heard “Skinny Girl”, and it’s nod to R.L. Burnside’s “Skinny Woman”, something clicked in my brain about how I should approach the blues, and I finally felt like I was ready to take the next step in my artistic development.
So what do I think art is? Art is philosophy, Art is raw freedom, Art is a feeling, and sometimes it is just a craft, and it is sometimes even propaganda. But Art to me is just me trying to find my way back to that Mythical Delta.