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Meet the Nashville band keeping the 70s alive and freaky

Listen to the self-titled debut album by Savoy Motel, a killer party band who describe themselves as ‘ten times groovier than most white acts on the scene today’

There’ve been odd murmurings of a glam revival of late, with acts like The Lemon Twigs and Meilyr Jones interpreted – in some quarters, at least – as the first stirrings of a full-blown 70s rock revival. Into this melee step Nashville’s Savoy Motel, whose acrylic, fuzz-toned grooves sound like the gawky lovechild of Sparks, Roxy Music, and Funkadelic – but frontman Jeffrey Novak is more interested in grooves than glitter.

“Once you start getting funky, it becomes very addictive, like a drug or religion,” he says. “George Clinton really turned my ears upside down. He is a musical saint and an American treasure.” Musical trends aside, though, the band’s self-titled debut is a killer collection of kitschy, thrift-store grooves of the sort you’d imagine a young David Byrne taking to heart.

With the record available to stream in full below ahead of its release on Friday (Oct 21), we spoke to Novak about the power of P-funk and why, when it comes to writing his songs, the “first thought is usually the best thought”.

Hi Jeffrey. Are all the members of Savoy Motel local to Nashville?

Jeffrey Novak: None of us are actually from Nashville proper. Mimi (Galbierz, guitar/vocals) and Dillon (guitar) both grew up right outside the city, while Jessica (McFarland, drums/vocals) and I are both from west Tennessee, closer to Memphis. We were all drawn to the city by the music and the people.

Nashville hasn’t exactly been a hotbed for underground rock bands traditionally, has it? Or is that all part of the charm?

Jeffrey Novak: Apart from the big business of country music, Nashville is maybe best known for established, successful musicians moving here to set up shop. A lot of the city’s charm seems to come from its low crime rate and conservative nature. 

On the other hand, one of you mentioned that there’s a scene springing up there now. Why do you think that is?

Jeffrey Novak: It’s still the same old scene, as Bryan Ferry would say. Natural Child, who have been around for years, are really hitting a stride with their newest and best album, Oakey Dokey. My favorite local band is Teddy and the Rough Riders, but they don’t have any records out yet. 

This is your third record but the first that you’ve actually released, right? What was up with the first two?

Jeffrey Novak: Yes, that is the case. I really like the early recordings – especially the second unreleased album Indisposed, which is probably my favourite thing I’ve ever produced – but no one was interested in releasing them. We still play many of those songs live, and will probably end up rerecording certain songs down the road. 

“I like things to sound dense, but not too overthought or complicated. The first thought usually is the best thought” – Jeffrey Novak, Savoy Motel

I read that this one is more of a full-band effort than the first two. Was this the first time you felt that a Savoy Motel sound was emerging as distinct from its individual parts?

Jeffrey Novak: Jessica might have said that. She definitely said something about how she could hear the third one on college radio compared to the first two, while we were recording it. We hadn’t played live until after the first two were recorded, so they’re both a lot more experimental compared to our debut. The early stuff was mostly first takes and us trying to evolve a new musical language that wasn’t necessarily tied to what any of us had done before.

You try a lot of different hats on stylistically. What do you think are the common threads uniting your sound?

Jeffrey Novak: A consistent groove, tasty lead guitar, and colourful lyrical content. 

Your working method apparently involves ‘spending the least amount of time possible writing the song and the longest amount of time we can afford recording it until it’s perfect’. What’s the philosophy behind that?

Jeffrey Novak: That’s maybe more of my personal philosophy that I’ve developed for songwriting and record production. I like things to sound dense, but not too overthought or complicated. The first thought usually is the best thought. The best songs rarely take more than half an hour to write. It’s all about tapping into the right headspace to create them. Getting the right sounds and tones is a different story altogether. Sometimes it takes a long time to get it right, but it’s worth the investment. 

The solo on ‘Hot Ones’ took two days to finish – is that some kind of record?

Jeffrey Novak: Compared to how we recorded the earlier stuff, it was. I rarely allowed Dillon more than one or two takes on the first two albums, because I wanted to capture that sort of energy the first Faust album has. By the time we were cutting ‘Hot One’, Dillon kept saying he wanted his solos to be ‘SD perfect’, in reference to Steely Dan, who he’s not even really a fan of yet. I just really enjoyed his enthusiasm and work ethic, and we had a blast getting that solo right. 

You claim to be ‘ten times groovier than most white acts on the scene today’. Are there too many unfunky bands out there nowadays?

Jeffrey Novak: Being funky doesn't seem too popular these days, and some people don’t dig our sound for that reason. Once you start getting funky, though, it becomes very addictive, like a drug or religion. It turns life into Allen Toussaint’s ‘Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky’. It makes a lot of sense why Parliament-Funkadelic treat funk like a religious movement.

Speaking of which, the solo on ‘International Language’ is like something off an early Funkadelic record – it’s great! I take it you’re big fans?

Jeffrey Novak: In many ways there is no higher music than the countless artists under the P-funk banner. It’s as high as music gets on so many levels. George Clinton really turned my ears upside down. He is a musical saint and an American treasure. 

“Once you start getting funky... it becomes very addictive, like a drug or religion” – Jeffrey Novak, Savoy Motel

I think the glam thing people are picking up on with your music might refer to a certain affinity for kitsch. Do you naturally gravitate towards styles of music or art that might be considered unfashionable?

Jeffrey Novak: No, we just do our own thing. Maybe it will be fashionable next year, but we’re not banking on it. We’re just doing something together that we all love and makes us really happy. 

You have a song called ‘Souvenir Shop Rock’. Do you enjoy making new things out of the old? How would you describe your look as a band?

Jeffrey Novak: I would describe our look as very natural and presentable.

Am I right in hearing a bit of a Pulp homage in ‘Hot One’? It sounds like an early song of theirs called ‘Countdown’. Are you fans? I like the idea of a Nashville band inspired by Pulp.

Jeffrey Novak: I’ve been a Pulp fan since I saw the ‘Common People’ video on on MTV at school, and I got Different Class on cassette back then. I’ve never heard ‘Countdown’, but I think ‘Common People’ sounds like it rips off Peter Hammill’s song ‘Polaroid’. Pulp were probably the best UK band of the 90s, especially when they were working with the producer Chris Thomas. We would love to work with Chris Thomas some day.

Savoy Motel is out via What’s Your Rupture? on October 21