We first sat down with Savannah a little over a year ago when she was just about to release her LP “Atlantis”. Since then, she’s been on a tear of live shows and creation, until Covid 19 derailed her plans (along with the rest of the music world). Not one to sit idle, she took the time to finish up new music, along with a video for her incredible new single song “He Sees Me”. It was a pleasure getting caught up with her, and as usual she wasn’t short on interesting insights!
– We last spoke with you just a little over a year ago, when you were celebrating the release of the video for “Creature”, which was incredible. You spent over a year working on that particular video. What was the reception for the video like long term? Was it worth those long hours of editing?
Thanks! That marked the official launch of my solo career. The reception was fucking delightful. It made Yahoo’s Top 20 List, which was wild. I was the only unsigned artist on there, so a real underdog; everyone else was pretty much Beyonce. Then a few well-known artists, like director Edgar Wright, shared the video on social media. The creation process was, as you mentioned, crazy laborious…so it meant a lot to get a bit of recognition.
– Are videos more or less important, in your opinion, than they were in the heyday of MTV?
I think they’re more important, especially for indies like me. Artists have a lot more control now. With that, of course, comes a lot less money up-front. But it’s also accompanied by an intense need to prove oneself in an authentic way. When record companies were footing the bill for every new artist, you got a lot of the same video. You know, the band onstage, looking kinda cool, very marketable and straightforward. That’s offensively boring to me. I’m taking this opportunity to make the things I see in my head, and to learn every part of the process along the way.
– Which brings us to your new release, “He Sees Me”. What approach did you take with this video, as opposed to “Creature” and “Rock and Roll No More”, which were fairly high concept and epically produced?
I always end up going baroque, drawing on my background as a painter. I should just start calling my stuff Barock. That’s especially true for this piece. In fact, it’s literally saturated with paint. This one’s a lot sexier, though.
– Having seen a sneak preview of the video, it’s definitely going to shake things up. You strike me as being someone who is a true artist in every sense of the word. So many artists these days seem to be playing it safe, and you appear to be very comfortable taking chances. What do you attribute this to?
Interesting. As you suggested, I didn’t go into this video trying to be a provocateur. In my mind, nudity is an age-old ingredient. There’s a reason it’s been in art for thousands of years. The human form is fascinating. Laid bare, it evokes this incredible cocktail of power and vulnerability. It’s such a great contradiction.
I tend to dress pretty scantily in some of my stage performances, but I’ve never really done anything like this in a video before. Both me and my co-star were naked during the shoot, which took a while to get used to.
I did a small test screening of the video with a sample audience. Some people were a bit shocked, which I hadn’t anticipated. To me, it was all just a given. But I think people really aren’t used to sexuality – or even sexless nudity – coming from a woman with agency and creative control. Less so for a woman of my body type. Of course, lots of contemporary artists have been tackling this beautifully in their own right. But it’s still very taboo. Think about it this way: It’s illegal for women to go topless in most of the country, but you can buy magazines full of topless women in most convenience stores. And those bodies are predominantly curated by men.
-What would you say to people that might be offended by “He Sees Me”? There are a some potentially controversial elements to the video, but it doesn’t seem calculated or provocative for the sake of being provocative.
I think that, especially now, saying anything is controversial. But saying nothing is dangerous. It’s insidious, and it kills art.
One of the test viewers I mentioned earlier came up to me and asked me if I was trying to make a statement about race with the video. I’m honestly not. The song is about the experience of being truly seen by someone, and seeing them back. It’s about how incredible our unique qualities are. At the same time, it’s about how many perceived differences fade away when two people are vulnerable with one another. That process is painful but so beautiful in the end. When I met up with my friends for pre-production, I described the visual idea as a “super contrasted black and white Cocteau movie melting into glorious technicolor soup.” I knew I wanted to be painted completely white in the beginning, and it followed that my counterpart should be painted completely black. I was definitely not comfortable painting a white person black, that’s for sure! So it really became a matter of consulting a diverse range of people and trying to convey this visual idea in the most respectful, artful way possible without focusing on race at all.
I just hope people see that, at its core, this is a love story. I hope that the respect we put into conceptualizing and creating it comes through.
-As we’re doing this interview, we’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. How has the current world outlook dictated how to strategize and promote a new product?
This shit is bananas. I’m really floored by what the world is going through, and grateful for everything I have.
I was booked to play my release show at the Whisky, and that’s not happening anymore. All my other gigs – festivals, clubs, everything – are cancelled. So I have to retool. For instance, I did an interview / mini show with Lauren Ruth Ward on Instagram Live yesterday, which was really cool. I’m definitely mourning the loss of that physical energy exchange, but it’s important to be flexible right now. Bigger picture times.
I had a teacher in school who told me that, if I had to be an artist, my life would never be comfortable. At the time, I just assumed she was talking about money. But I am learning more and more what an important statement that really was.
– Music aside, are there any other artists or performers that instilled in you the confidence to take risks? Or does it seem to just come naturally?
It definitely comes naturally. I recently heard from my kindergarden teacher, of all things. She said she’d always wondered how I’d turn out because, as a child, I constantly jumped off the walls. Literally. When she asked me to stop, I’d break down sobbing and accuse her of destroying my fairy magic.
Anyway, the artists I love have shown me how to accept that quality in myself. I’m so thankful for them. When I was promoting Creature, I talked a lot about my formative influences: Bowie, Klimt, Leigh Bowery, etc. Lately, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my fellow contemporary weirdos. Linda Perry’s label has some really amazing local artists on it, so I’ve been going to their showcases. And I love Lauren Ruth Ward’s new album so much. What a unicorn!
– What does the next year have in store for you?
I’m already working on my next video, which is going to be Creature-level involved. I’ll be releasing an EP that I’m very excited about later this year. I’m playing around with the idea of an acoustic album, or at least an acoustic b-side, too. And I just can’t wait to get back onstage.
– Since your last release, your debut EP “Atlantis”, you’ve obviously been working on new material. On the whole, how does the new music compare with what we heard on the previous release?
It’s catchier. And there’s more blues to it. Not a trace of the 80s…mostly classic 60s / 70s meets something new, something grittier. Still very much me, though.
-What advice would you give to 15 year old Savannah Pope? And would she listen to you?
TAKE PIANO LESSONS. Never do Ketamine. And no, apparently.
Check out the video here