The fourth record by Melbourne’s raucous country-blues aficionados, Cash Savage and The Last Drinks, wasn’t necessarily a product of choice. “I feel like my hand was forced,” says Savage of Good Citizens’ fed up, political lyricisms over lunch at Rising Sun Workshop café in Newtown. The smell of diesel rises from the floor below us where mechanics work away on motorbikes – it’s a familiar setting for Savage, having worked as a mechanic’s apprentice in her early twenties.
During last year’s marriage equality plebiscite, she discovered her identity was suddenly a topic for dinner table conversation. “I never thought I would be political at all. I was pretty happy writing love songs,” she explains. “But, you know, last year was fucked with the plebiscite. People would ask me my opinion on politics all of a sudden and I felt like my hand was forced to give an answer – and I guess this album is that.”
Earlier this year, Savage’s wife Amy Middleton (founder of Archer, a magazine that bolsters LGBT+ activism as its backbone) gave birth to their first child. “Probably why I squirreled away all those songs [was] because, really, I was writing them for the child,” she says. “Just as a little bit of like, ‘This is exactly how I feel’. I feel terrified about the future of our current civilisation. I am deeply in love with her mother. And I’m angry. So I guess I hoped that if she listened to it, she would get that vibe – she would know.”
In ‘Pack Animals’ she confronts the men who consistently give her unsolicited advice, a not uncommon experience for women working in the music industry. “One person actually said, ‘I really like that song ‘Pack Animals’, but can I tell you one thing?’ And I was like, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” she says, breaking into laughter.
“I think that people take whatever they want away from a song, to the point where someone said, ‘You’re right, people are being too sensitive.’ I was like, nope, that’s not the point. You have missed it,” she laughs. According to Savage, it’s all in the ear of the beholder. “Which is great, but it’s also hilarious.”
Watch the clip for ‘Pack Animals’ by Cash Savage and the Last Drinks below
She notes how the songs seemed to fall from her mind, as opposed to previous records, which required more lamenting. Due to the anger in their lyrics, Savage let the songs sit and breathe before recording with the band and shipping ‘em off to their label, Mistletone Records.
“I think going into parenthood was probably a big reason why the album was so quick to write, because it’s a really good time to reflect on who you are and the world that we live in,” she explains. “While my partner was pregnant, the world was a really ugly place for queer people in Australia, uglier than it normally is.”
On bringing up folks who responded to the plebiscite’s results with the casual remark ‘at least you won the fight’, she’s quick to reply: “Fuck that man. That fight should have never have happened … All the polls said that’s what Australia wanted. It didn’t need to go to a vote. I had a bad time during the plebiscite. It hit some of my loved ones harder than it hit me.”
While Cash Savage and the Last Drinks’ third record One Of Us was predominately a result of grief and loss, she says that “[Good Citizens] is a bit more observational.” In a way, Savage is tackling what it means to be an Australian today. And to be perfectly honest, right now, it’s not looking good.
While my partner was pregnant, the world was a really ugly place for queer people in Australia; uglier than it normally is.
Perhaps the most noteworthy track the record is ‘Collapse’, which sees Savage take on the paradoxical values that Australian’s have towards violence – values that enable our collective complacency towards the suffering of those around us. During our 40 minutes together, we touch on those detained on Nauru and Manus; the women who die at the hands of male partners week-by-week, and police brutality against Aboriginal folk, people of colour and queer people.
“I don’t have any violence in my life. And that’s great,” she says. “But there are heaps of people that do and we just turn blind eyes to them. And then when there is times of social upheaval or when they make laws about protests,” – in this case, the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s recent call for martial law and therefore the potential suppression of future democratic protests – “they say, ‘we can be more civilised than that’, but the reality is that we’re not civilised.”
In ‘Collapse’, Savage sings the refrain, “I’m thinking violence is the answer / don’t be afraid of the violence.” When queried on the lyric, she says, “I think to lead a non-violent life is to lead a privileged life. And I think that there are a lot of people who live violent lives, not because they want to, but because that’s how it is for them. And there’s violence imposed on them. So when I say, ‘Don’t be afraid of the violence’, I’m really saying that, you know, be aware of it’.”
While she doesn’t expect Good Citizens to change anything, what she does seem to be asking is that Australian’s take some responsibility for the harms we collectively contribute to, in particular for those detained on Nauru.
“Those people didn’t want to have violent lives! And we have created that. We have to own that that’s Australia doing that: that our violence has done that,” she says. “We act like we’re above the rest of the animals, but we’re worse. That violence is just sitting there underneath the surface of what we call civilised.”
In ‘Kings’, a co-write between herself and Nick Finch, the record’s producer and bassist, Kat Mear’s violin swirls and withholds a sense of sorrow while Savage sings, “So let’s take it out on each other.” “[Nick and I] were both reading books about the collapse of society,” she says of ‘Kings’ inspiration.
“We make comments about how’s there’s gonna be a collapse of the housing market or that the capitalist system itself has inherent issues and then surely there must be a time where that’s gonna fall apart, but at the same time we all just have these petty quarrels with each other, you know? We’re arguing about whether or not fucking cricketers should be fired for ball tampering…”
We act like we’re above the rest of the animals, but we’re worse. That violence is just sitting there underneath the surface of what we call civilised
I interrupt to say how huge the ball tampering debate was. “It was huge! It was massive! It’s two dudes with a bit of sand paper on another continent, and I fucking love cricket,” she says, exasperated and slightly joking. “I kind of feel like we enjoy losing sight on the bigger picture. Maybe the bigger picture’s too grim … But two white guys had a bit of sand paper in their pants and that’s fucking news for five days.”
She pauses to catch her breath. “It’s just about my general despair towards the end of the world,” says Savage, before resigning to laughter. “I have this theory that we used to have kings and if everything got out of whack, we’d just go kill the king and take all his money and give it to the rest of the people, and now who the fuck are the kings? We’ve got one of the richest men in Australia leading the country and that’s fucked up. I just feel like at what point do we say that’s not good enough? Not yet.”