Tagged: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks

“I hoped it might drive home the words a bit more”

What does it mean to be a “good citizen”? The question was on the mind of queer Melbourne songwriter Cash Savage last year, as national debate over the marriage equality postal survey roiled around her. Until the survey, she says, she never felt any different from anyone else. Suddenly, in the words of her song Better Than That, every day brought another intrusion.

At the time, her partner was pregnant with the couple’s first child. “To be having a debate around whether or not queer people should get married and connecting that to whether or not they should raise children, at the same time as planning ahead and being excited about bringing a child into the world, [made] the cut a little deeper,” she says.

The experience fed into the writing of Savage’s fourth album, Good Citizens, with her band the Last Drinks, and when it came to making a video for the title track – written in about 10 minutes – Savage had an unusual idea. She wouldn’t appear in it, or even sing her own song. It would, instead, be sung live by a group of 18 men: the “Good Citizens Choir”.

The song’s lyrics are, at least in part, an oblique critique of the codes and rituals of Australian masculinity. “I get asked a lot of questions [about] how we make things better, and I don’t have any answers, but I do think there is a fair bit of responsibility on the oppressors to make the change, not the oppressed,” she says.

The result is funereal but also powerful. “Saturday night is gonna be a big night / And Monday morning is gonna be rough” is the key refrain, Savage says: “Whatever’s going on, we’ll all go out and get fucked up [on the weekend], and we’ll all come back to work on Monday and we’ll all tell our war stories.

“A really big thing about this song for me is how we all think that we are good citizens without having empathy or trying to relate to other people in society. We’re quite happy to prop up this Australian larrikin ideal, but is that even real? To have that message coming from men, I guess I hoped that that would actually drive home the words a bit more.”

The song was written very quickly, while Savage was trying to watch the footy. She is a keen Essendon supporter, and also a former coach of mixed-gender Australian rules team the Old Bar Unicorns. The Unicorns are part of the Renegade Pub Football League, with teams put together by various Melbourne music venues.

The Good Citizens clip features several members of Old Bar Unicorns, and Savage got two of them to sing the song’s defiant closing lyric – “Get fucked if you think I’m gonna be one of them!” – alone, before the choir responded in kind. “I think we all go along with that flow, and no one questions whether or not we have to do that.

“I got two very lovely men from the Old Bar Unicorns – I said I want a couple of guys to sing it first, before everybody echoes it, and I want them to be friends, because I want there to be camaraderie in what they were singing, and I think that’s important. If we all want to question what a good citizen is, we also have to say what’s not right.”

First published in The Guardian, 1 November 2018

Here are all the great Aussie protest songs

On Tuesday an Australian newspaper of repute published an earnest think-piece asking the question: where are all the great Aussie protest songs? Where oh where – in this, our Age of Unreason – are the new Midnight Oils, Goannas, Redgums and Chisels, the author, Jeff Apter, asks?

“Why do the musos of today … seem more concerned with navel-gazing and their fragile broken hearts than weightier, more universal issues?” he writes. “Why the resistance? It’s not like there’s a shortage of subjects to rail against.”

Indeed there isn’t: asylum seekers, Australia Day, violence against women, Aboriginal deaths in custody, marriage equality. And if you spare a moment to actually listen to the musos of today – particularly women, who don’t rate a mention in the piece, and people of colour – you’ll find each of those subjects feature in some of the best new Australian protest music around.

So, where are all the great Aussie protest songs? Well, a lot of them are on Spotify, where it took us about 10 minutes to make a playlist. Feel free to make your own!

AB Original: January 26 (2016)

mic drop on the nation. If the mark of a good protest song is to start a conversation, this song applied a set of jumper leads to the question of when we should hold our national day of celebration – and got voted to #16 in Triple J’s Hottest 100, before Triple J decided to change that date too. In Briggs’s words, holding Australia Day on the day of the invasion of the first fleet in 1788 is about as offensive as “[doing] it on my nan’s grave”.

Camp Cope: The Opener (2018)

Stella Donnelly: Boys Will Be Boys (2017)

More specifically in this vein, Perth musician Stella Donnelly’s wrenching Boys Will Be Boys (an old phrase, and now also the title of a new book by feminist commentator Clementine Ford) cuts to the bone: “Why was she all alone / Wearing her shirt that low? / They said ‘Boys will be boys’ / Deaf to the word ‘no’.”

Jen Cloher: Analysis Paralysis (2017)

Before last year’s marriage equality postal survey, Jen Cloher wrote this song about our parliament’s inability to resolve a matter entirely within its own purview to legislate. She took no prisoners in this evisceration of both the “feral right” and hashtag activist left: “Devoted to the show, not deeds of compassion / Full of good intentions but never any action.”

Cash Savage & the Last Drinks: Better Than That (2018)

Released only last week on her brilliant new album Good Citizens, Savage artfully documents the emotional and psychological impact of that risible and unnecessary survey on the LGBTIQ community, explaining how it feels for an entire country to have its say on your identity and humanity: “Every day brings another intrusion.”

Courtney Barnett: Nameless, Faceless (2018)

Barnett has sold quite a lot of records in the past five years, and is the darling of the American chat show circuit. She writes brilliant pop songs that often have a snarky edge, like this one about her wish to walk through a park after dark without having to hold her keys between her fingers. The song took on more potency weeks after its release when young Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon was murdered walking through a park in Carlton.

Kudzai Chirunga: 4 Deep in the Suburbs (2018)

Cash Savage & The Last Drinks: Good Citizens

Everyone’s got a “fucked-up way” of being good citizens – or so Melbourne’s Cash Savage tells us on the title track of her fourth album. Some of the things that might help us feel good about ourselves are rooted in inequalities and injustice. Like, for example, voting in a voluntary postal survey on whether or not LGBTIQ people should be able to marry.

Good Citizens was written against the backdrop of that risible survey, the trauma it caused Savage’s community, and the aftermath: that even when you might have got the result a large majority of the population wanted, amid the celebrations and self-congratulations, the scars of being asked to justify and defend your own identity and humanity remain.

That trauma though has produced her most focused, cohesive record. Gone is any vestige of the faint Americana leanings of her earlier albums. The nine songs here are all brawling rock & roll and crushing ballads. It’s got more in common with Nick Cave and the Dirty Three, in Savage’s vocals and Kat Mear’s sawing violin, than Wilco – much less the Band.

But while the basic reference points are clear, Savage has never sounded more self-assured – or more Australian. Her voice is magnificent throughout, whether she’s gently chiding her country on Better Than That (“There’s a lot of people thinking I’m up for discussion”, she notes) or tearing through the pub-punk rock of Pack Animals.

It’s a voice that’s got more in common with Tex Perkins and Jeffrey Lee Pierce than Jen Cloher or Courtney Barnett – a deep, feral growl that can rise to the occasion when the moment demands – and her unpredictability helps invest the taut arrangements of the Last Drinks, one of the most powerful bands in the country, with coiled-spring tension.

That tension and power is nowhere more evident than Good Citizens’ opening track, Human, I Am, which hurtles out of the gates at a speed the rest of the album doesn’t try to match and redoubles in force with each verse. “Sometimes it’s hard to be when everyone’s talking at you, about you,” Savage declares. “I am human / Not your human.”

There’s a huge amount of hurt shot through this record. Savage asks whether she’s being oversensitive in Pack Animals, right after telling us she’s done with trying to express herself in a way that won’t cause offence in Better Than That. It finds solace in love, and Savage shows her capacity for great vocal tenderness in February, the most moving song here.

But it also kicks back in fury. On the graceful, swaying title track, Savage takes aim at, perhaps, a Sydney tabloid newspaper, which after the marriage equality vote was carried pictured Al Bundy (the fictional male archetype of the American sitcom Married With Children) on its front page: “Ain’t it funny how they joke about their wives as if they hate them?” she sneers.

Savage has been moving towards this record for a while. Her last two albums, The Hypnotiser (2013) and One Of Us (2016), were both compelling, with soaring high points. Good Citizens is more evenly measured, her band even tighter, and it’s her best set of songs to date. You won’t hear much that’s better than this in 2018.

First published in The Guardian, 21 September 2018