October in Dunedin means spring is in the air. There is a shift in the weather – the sun comes out, and the puffer jackets retire (momentarily) back to the wardrobe. The season of rebirth is also a good time to release an album, and Dunedin noise guitar rock trio Bad Sav have done just that, making good on their reputation as one of Dunedin’s best-developing bands. Amanda Mills grilled guitarist Hope Robertson about the band’s eponymous debut album.
It’s somehow tempting to still think of them as ‘new’, but the Bad Sav story started over 10 years ago, when guitarist Hope Robertson and bassist Lucinda King met at high school, with King joining Robertson’s band.
“She used to play the guitar, and I’m like, ‘You’re tall. Have a go at playing the bass,’ and she took to it real well,” Robertson smiles.
“We only played one gig that was the two of us, and I was playing bass. I realised quickly that I can’t sing and play the bass at the same time! Then Lu came back, and I’m like, ‘Quick, quick, join my band!”
The band name is clearly ambiguous, its origins in a joke.
“We had this fictional band with some friends called Bad Sav,” Robertson reveals. “We stole the band name.” Their friends, she adds, also call them Naughty Sausage.
While Bad Sav have been metamorphosing, other bands have also staked a claim on their individual time and talents – Death and The Maiden for Robertson and King, and Shifting Sands for McLeod. The three members have learnt a lot from each other’s musical projects and instincts.
“Hearing Mike’s guitar tone, and his taste in amplifiers and guitars… I didn’t realise how much of a difference it makes to play through quality gear, and how enjoyable that experience is.”
Memorably, she called the Bad Sav sound “a missed punch and a grazed fist” eight years ago. They’ve been around the ring since, so is their sound different today?
“Just noisy pop, really, that’s just what tends to come out. It’s just nice to make a big racket, and keep it contained within that pop music format.”
The trio approach songwriting as a collaborative effort, albeit with different methods.
“I’ll write something, I’ll even make up a bassline occasionally and show it to Lucinda,” Robertson says. Then, “At band practice, I’ll go to the loo and come back, and Mike and Lucinda will have made something up. That’s where some things start.”
Their self-titled 10-song album (out on Fishrider Records) has been a decade in the making, but with many live shows along the way, and whispers about how good they are. Solo pursuits, various tours with various musicians, band members relocating overseas, the competing pull of both Death and the Maiden and Shifting Sands, and life, in general, have meant it’s taken longer than planned.
“We just kept busy, working, and trying to make money,” Robertson says. “I guess we’ve got through our 20s being in this band, having all that stuff going on… now we’ve got to 30, and finally got an album, and everything’s a bit more settled.”
A combined perfectionism impacted on the album’s delivery and also sound.
“We kind of sat on it for a while, because we all had life things going on, Mike was doing Shifting Sands touring in the States… we handed it on to Stephen [Marr], who was kind of fresh.”
The album pulls on numerous themes as it was written over that long period of time.
“It’s funny, because the ones that sound slightly happier, like Pets, are actually breakup songs,” Robertson muses. “I won’t write a breakup song until I’m over that, it seems too typical to write it at the time when you’re really sad.”
Some of the remaining tracks deal with themes of isolation and mental health, and instrumentals like Dinnerman and TV Theme Tune represent her emotions when words aren’t fitting. “I’ll just be like, ‘Okay, this music represents how I feel, and… it can stay that way.’”
‘Bad Sav’ provides a refreshing blast of simple, alt-guitar grunge, with some riot grrrl mixed in with the pop sensibilities the trio have developed. There’s also a self-confessed darkness in the album, a continuation of an aural-lyrical darkness that seems to run through many Fishrider-released albums. ‘Bad Sav’ is dense, with layers of reverb with the drums, bass and guitar all vying for supremacy at one time or another.
The tracklisting was chosen from songs that work well live. The sinuous, lighter and lyrically sparse Hen’s Teeth, in particular, is a standout. It had started life as a Birdation (Robertson’s solo project) song before being re-recorded for ‘Bad Sav’.
“That was us getting to the end of our recording session, and being, ‘Maybe we need some more stuff…’ It was funny, because it was such a slow song… the only way to make it any different was to make it fast!” she laughs.
Buy Something New (first heard on Fishrider’s ‘Temporary’ compilation in 2014) and Labradoodle are new versions, re-recorded to sound consistent across the album’s 10 tracks.
“We just wanted to all get everything done in one session so it had continuity… sometimes you take a song out to play live for a year or two, and it can change.”
“Song titles sometimes change too. Driest Dust was called Double D as a bit of a joke, because it has a bit where we hold onto a D-note for ages… I was like, ‘No, we can’t call it Double D on the album, people will think it’s some innuendo thing.’”
Bad Sav’ was recorded at The Port Chalmers Recording Service (formerly Chick’s Hotel) with Tom Bell, whom Robertson has also known since those days volunteering at Radio One.
“My band in high school won a competition to record a single, and I thought, ‘This guy’s strange, I’ll sign up and be a volunteer for him!’” she laughs.
The album cover artwork is striking, especially in 12” format, and Robertson sees a correlation between the art and her music.
“The way it looks corresponds to the way I feel about our music…” she says of the work by artist Motoko Kikkawa, describing it as incredible. “A bit chaotic, but beautiful is what I want to aim for.”
‘If guitar rock is dead, no-one told Bad Sav,’ opens the label’s Bandcamp description and indeed the act buck the trend of Fishrider’s mainly electronica bands. So why the guitar sound?
“It’s just really enjoyable to play it really loud!” she laughs. “I also play a bit quieter in Death and the Maiden, so it’s a bit of a release to turn it up a bit louder in this band! People are going back towards the stripped back guitar thing… bands with a good mix of people in them playing decent guitar pop, it just nice to hear that again.”
She also sees potential in split 7” singles saying, “I love the idea… in the future, just have a real good collection of singles out there.”
But that said, Robertson tries not to have a future vision for Bad Sav.
“I think people get really hung up on self-promotion, the idea of making it and all that kind of stuff, when I just want to potter around in my garden and play the guitar! And if people like it, then they like it. That’s always been our attitude, and it will continue to be.”