Josh Savage; Photo: Common Spark Media
Anyone familiar with the acoustic music scene in London will have heard of singer/songwriter, Josh Savage. In their ‘Ten Artists to Watch,’ The Huffington Post says: “Fantastic song writing and a resonant, rich voice, Josh exhibits real skill as a musician and singer.”
At just 24, Savage has garnered himself an international following, performing his own acoustic rock and folk compositions in the UK, USA, Europe, Canada and the Middle East, despite being unsigned and without representation. The self disclosure of his lyrics, coupled with unexpected phrasing and emotive musical composition engages the ear, and once heard, lingers like the scent of French perfume on a silk scarf.
Listen to him once, and it is easy to get hooked.
Following the success of his first EP, Savage recently launched himself as a bilingual singer/songwriter with his 2nd EP, the french-language Quatre Épines. To promote the EP, Savage booked his own “Living Room Tour,” packed up his guitar and a bag, and with his cameraman, set off for a dizzying schedule of shows in living rooms across Europe. The tour culminated in a sold out EP launch at historic Winchester Guildhall, surrounded by friends, family and fans from across England and Europe.
We caught up with Josh Savage shortly after the launch of Quatre Épines. He had just moved to London and was working on writing his first full length album. We asked him about his sound:
“When I get asked, I say my sound is Folk/Rock but I don’t really know. I don’t believe it truly represents my music but it gives an idea. I don’t like labelling my own sound. When I write music I don’t aspire to sound like someone else, I write songs to get things off my chest. I am obviously influenced by other people’s music but more on a subconscious level.”
Savage’s voice, sometimes soulful, sometimes innocent, has a clarity that blends and contrasts with his instrumentation to generate a timbre of perfect harmony. Vocal purity, delicate features, floppy curls and a gleaming smile mix with evocative lyrics, to create a cocktail that earns Savage a place in the tradition of medieval French troubadours:
“I would say ‘troubadour’ is an accurate summary of what I do, perhaps not what I sound like. I definitely travel a lot! In time, I’d like to tour with band and more ambitious arrangements.”
Ambitious arrangements are well within Savage’s grasp. As a child in Paris, and a youth in the UK, Savage stretched and refined his voice, performing as a choral soloist in France, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. A piano player from the age of 4, it wasn’t until Savage began to sing that his passion for music was born. After school, Savage went on to complete a music degree at University of York in the UK.
The influence of classical choral and orchestral arrangements is clear in his music, as Savage moves with virtuosity between guitar, keyboards, trumpet and vocals, and glides from ballad to rock with ease.
“I recall Henry Purcell was a favourite of mine when I was singing in choirs when I was 10 and Coldplay influenced me into writing songs. I’m a sucker for melodies and I love all sorts of music like Bonobo, Bear’s Den, Olafur Arnalds and Yann Tiersen.”
For Savage, writing is something that begins with melody and composition. A piece will run through his mind and he hums out the chords, refines and rewrites the melody before he begins to work the lyrics into his melody. Yet time for composing can seem difficult to find:
“To be fair, I’ve done very little writing since releasing Spaces EP. When you’re managing, booking and tour managing yourself and couchsurfing, it’s very hard to find the right balance and unfortunately it’s difficult to find time to write songs. That’s why after 3 years since university, I decided to move to London to focus on writing.”
Part of the urban myth that has grown around his music is the story that Savage chose to write his final University thesis in French, in order to prevent his professor from grading him on his lyrics. Those who understand French will know that he is equally versatile as a French and an English lyricist.
Sais-tu je rêve toujours aux mémoires de nos baisers
Mais tu m’as brisé le coeur car tu préviens du malheur
Avant que rien n’ai vraiment commencé
Do you know I still dream of the memory of our kisses?
But you broke my heart because you foresee misfortune
Before anything really happened
–Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Quatre Épines’
Even those unable to understand French cannot fail to be moved by the title song from his EP, Quatre Épines, inspired by the devotional love of the Prince for his ‘Rose’ in Antoine de Saint Exupery’s famous parable, The Little Prince.
We asked Savage about his influences, as a writer:
“My granddad has an endearing habit of muttering random lines of poetry to himself. I ask him about his favourite poems and borrow his poetry books from time to time and they sometimes inspire me to write songs but other than that I know little of poetry.
Of course, I aspire to get better and better. The danger with art is that success tends to have an influence on your creativity. You can end up taking less risks and trapped in creating what you think you should create rather than what you want to create.”
Savage manages to keep taking risks, writing emotionally complex and mature lyrics with authentic vulnerability. Deeply personal, his unguarded songs invite the listener to visit their own private places of love, loss and hope.
New bonds won’t stretch thin
In this high tech world we live in
I could see ours rust across our shores
Then I stumble upon clues
And I see them haunt you
You’re so scared to tell the truth
–Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Your Lips’
Being an affable and optimistic young man, we wondered how Savage managed to achieve such melancholy in some of his lyrics:
“…When I hit rock bottom, I write a song about it and it gets it out of my system. I always aim to add an optimistic spin on my sad songs though. When I’m happy, I tend to be too busy making the most of it rather than writing about it, unfortunately.”
An old soul in a youthful form, Savage achieves a wide range of lyrical moods. He is a musician that is hard to categorise.
“My demographic is actually pretty spread out and I’m not sure why. I have an international fanbase and my music seems to suit older audiences as well as younger ones. When I first toured the US, Poland and Germany for the first time, I often had people coming up to me after the show saying they’ve been listening to my music for a while and it blows my mind!”
Savage is particularly beloved in Europe. While in Poland this spring, Savage was invited to participate in his first TedX performance. The performance has helped to showcase him to a large crowd in Warsaw, and to a larger, worldwide, TedX audience.
Savage has striven for every bit of exposure he has achieved. As a teenager in Winchester, he worked the summer music festival circuit, studying the bands and meeting people in the business. Over time, he has been steadily invited to play more and more of these same festivals which are so important for showcasing musicians. His summer tour schedule is already filling up with festival gigs. Large audiences, according to Savage, bring a great energy and unpredictability to his performances.
But perhaps it is in intimate settings where his poignant music is best experienced. Savage holds the worldwide record for performing the most shows (over 40 shows as of last month) with Sofar Sounds, the secret-location, indie gig organiser that was founded in 2010. Taking the ethos of Sofar to towns even without a local group, Savage booked 44 living room concerts across the UK and Europe in the summer of 2015. The previous year, Savage undertook a similar living room tour of the UK and France.
TTDOG has had the pleasure of hearing Josh Savage perform in both large and small venues, but the living room concert is a uniquely intimate experience.
“If I had never played my first Sofar Sounds show in Oxford back in January 2013, I might not still be doing music today. It was the best show I had ever played and it was such a breath of fresh air compared to demoralising shows playing to drunken audiences who talk over you. Sofar Sounds has been a great way to introduce my music to new audiences in new cities where you don’t have the pressure of bringing an audience and can actually focus on playing a good set.”
Savage doesn’t just show up and play Sofar concerts. This enterprising musician took the idea of these gigs to his own town, organising local acts and venues. TTDOG wondered how Savage, a singer/songwriter, manager, performer, promoter, and tour manager found the energy and time to take on the committment of organising a concert series involving other bands.
“The energy and hard work I’ve put into setting up Sofar Winchester has never been an issue. Hampshire in general doesn’t have a great music scene and I felt it needed something like Sofar. It’s made me really happy to see Sofar Winchester flourish in the last 3 years and supporting other struggling acts I’m passionate about. I’ve had people help me in my music career and it’s my way of giving back.”
TTDOG asked Savage if he had further plans to work with other musicians in their own careers:
“I would love to produce other musicians but there are only so many hours in the day. That may be something for a later time.”
What strikes everyone about Josh Savage is his unwavering hope, both for himself and for others. Perhaps the most personal piece he has written is ‘Mountains in Hurricanes,’ a track from his first EP, Spaces. Savage explains that the song is about someone close to him, who was suffering psychosis. The way this person managed his psychotic episodes was to take long runs along a path that led up a local hill. His lyrics reveal a man willing to go to almost any length to overcome, and to help others overcome adversity.
If it’s too much, give me a call
But I doubt that too much will be enough
You can take it all
You can take on mountains in hurricanes
And if you fall…
I’ll give you my bones to break ’cause I have faith
I’ll give you my bones to break ’cause I have faith
–Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Mountains in Hurricanes’
At many of his gigs, Savage tells the story of his talented friends who have given up practicing their art, because it is unlikely that they will succeed in the business. Josh Savage is not so daunted. He is a man of passion and determination to pursue his dreams and that serves as an inspiration to other musicians and to his audience. Savage relates a story of a former heroin addict, who, upon hearing his music, decided to walk to the South Pole and achieve his own dream. TTDOG admits that on days when it seems difficult to be inspired to write, the memory of Josh Savage quoting Nelson Mandela to inspire his audience to never lose sight of their dreams is enough to shake off any lurking defeatism.
Josh Savage is no starry-eyed dreamer. He knows the odds and yet, he persists:
“I have 3 part-time jobs to keep me going and the reality is that you may never be able to make a living solely in the music business, which is why if you go down that path you have to be very very passionate about it. If it never leads to anywhere, I can safely say I’ve had a fantastic journey and no regrets.
…I don’t see any point in thinking that far ahead. If it feels right to move on from being a singer/songwriter, I will know. However, I have a feeling that whatever I do will always involve music.”
Savage has begun work on his debut album and plans to release another English language EP, shortly. Yet, he knows that everyone must have a Plan B. Should he fail in the pursuit of his dreams, Savage’s plan B is to get lost in his childhood city, Paris. The thought inspired this song and video from his Spaces EP.
Whether at a Sofar gig, in the recording studio, on a festival stage, or lost in Paris, we at TTDOG are grateful that Josh Savage has found and continues to share his passion: Music.
TTDOG asked Josh Savage: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?
“My friends and family who keep me grounded and have helped me on my journey.
I find my greatest joy after finishing a song, performing or losing myself in a beautiful place.”
To hear more of Josh Savage’s music, buy his EPs , attend a gig, send him jars of honey, or fresh roses, click the links below:
Josh Savage on Twitter