John The Savage blows itself up
The Milwaukee band says goodbye to its former self with a new EP
John The Savage’s cacophonous orchestrations have gotten the Milwaukee six-piece tagged as a Tom Waits tribute act, but frontman Michael Skorcz is ready to put the kibosh on that. The band recently ditched its horns section and reset its sound for the follow-up to last year’s well-received Kitchen Voodoo, adding vocal harmonies and even synths. John The Savage capably sums up this transition in the title of its new EP, Fuck It, which includes unreleased tracks from the Kitchen Voodoo sessions. The first 50 people who come to tonight’s show at Mad Planet will receive free copies of Fuck It to; before that, Skorcz talked to The A.V. Club about the Waits comparison and how the band has changed in recent months.
The A.V. Club: Are you sick of being compared to Tom Waits yet?
Michael Skorcz: It’s difficult to explain to anyone why we’d sound like anything other than Tom Waits, but that’s the most-used reference. I mean, I love Tom Waits. He’s amazing. And Nick Cave and all that. But it’s getting old.
AVC: Is Fuck It a last hurrah of sorts before you put out another full-length?
MS: Absolutely. Everything from before, it’s hard to say whether it’s really us, but we’ve moved on. We’re not going to have horns anymore. Our trumpet player just had his own thing going on. Writing parts and having horns makes you always think, “Well, where’s the horn going to go?” Every instrument that’s used now leaves a lot more leeway for us to do whatever we want, and I feel that with the horns, there was only a certain thing we could do. I’m using a synth now, and that’s opened up a ton of shit—just some weird-ass noises. It’s adding a different flavor and texture.
AVC: You also have a cellist now, right?
MS: Right. Rachel Icenogle has been playing with us for a while, but she’s a hundred percent all about it now and she’s so talented on the cello. She can sing really well, too. I think we’re going to have a lot more vocals and harmonies we’re going to start working on. I can’t wait for that. She was singing the backups whenever we played “Girls and Boys,” and it’s a really interesting combination with my voice and hers. She’s got a really nice, sweet voice, over my more raspy voice.
AVC: When you start doing harmonies, you really have to have the lyrics nailed.
MS: Oh yeah. Whenever we’ve gone on tour lately, we’ve been trying to keep the same setlist; a decent backbone. It’ll be easier to not fuck up, playing the same setlist every night. Before that, I’d be switching verses around, accidentally, singing the shit wrong. But, I’ll pull out of it, like "fuck it." It doesn’t really bother me, but I should remember those fucking words, right?
AVC: You’re making the next album with Shane Hochstetler from Howl Street Recordings, who’s worked with lots of local bands. What brought you to Shane?
MS: Everything that I’ve heard that he’s ever done sounds really good. We had a bunch of different people on our minds to go to this time, but there’s something about what he’s done with Milwaukee musicians that I like. I want to see what he can do with us. He’s pretty excited to fall into this whole project. It’s gonna be a lot of track-per-track stuff, which will get better sounds for all the instruments. It’s gonna be just a crazy-interesting process, adding a bit more percussion.