An interview with Savak

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Wednesday, October 18th, 2017 at 6:36 PM
An interview with Savak by Dakota Palmer
Press Photo: John Van Pamer

Indie rock tetrad, Savak, of Brooklyn, New York is a definite listen if you’re into the rockabilly scene. Their songs are consistently inconsistent; the folky attitude of the band shines through on each of their tracks. However, each song has its own persona and carries a different weight — making every track a pleasant and unexpected listening experience.

Consisting of vocalist and guitarist Sohrab Habibion; vocalist and guitarist Michael Jaworski; bassist James Canty; and drummer Matt Schulz, the group formed in 2015. They released their first record, “Best of Luck in Future Endeavors,” in 2016, and their sophomore album, “Cut-Ups,” will be available on Oct. 27.

Most recently, Savak opened for indie rock band Pinback on a few dates of the band’s “Autumn of the Seraphs” 10th anniversary tour. The Spectator had a chance to speak with Habibion about the band’s history and path forward.

Q: Why did you choose the name Savak and how does it pertain to your band?

Sohrab Habibion: My father is Iranian, and I lived in Iran as a kid. Savak were hated and feared for the awful things that they did to people. It's a terrible band name for that reason, but I felt it was important to take that risk, to distinguish between barbaric historical acts and art. I grew up listening to Butthole Surfers, Dead Kennedys, Millions of Dead Cops, Fearless Iranians from Hell and so on. It's important in these highly sensitive times to remember that not everything should be taken at face value and that there are degrees of subtlety when it comes to using one's middle finger. Also, it's just a band.

Q: If you could describe the band’s sound in three words, what would they be?

SH: Baklava. Kimchi. Tostones.

Q: How did the band form?

SH: Michael Jaworski, the other guitarist/ singer, and I met at the Bell House, a venue in Brooklyn, and agreed to jam with a drummer friend named Benjamin Van Dyke, who I knew because he was my son's second grade teacher. At the same time, I was playing with Greg Simpson, who I was in the Obits with, and Matt Schulz, who I knew from his days in Enon and [who] had started to play with Obits towards the end of that band. Basically, it seemed silly to have two simultaneous projects that were overlapping musically, so we joined together and decided to split the shows between the drummers, depending on who was available, though on a couple of occasions they actually each played half the set.

Q: What can we expect from your upcoming album, “Cut-Ups”?

SH: Guitars, drums and singing about the world as we see it. There are flourishes of analog keyboards, percussion, horns, backing vocals, etc., but the overall vibe is pretty unfussy. 

It's the guitar-based music of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s filtered through our interest in free jazz, contemporary classical, international folk and just random curiosity about sound and culture and whatever we happen to get inspiration from at the time. There's little bits of everything from psychedelic rock to punk and more straight-ahead power pop, but in the end, it's just us making the kind of clamor that we want to hear.

Q: What was the recording process for “Cut-Ups” like?

SH: We did a lot of the basic tracks (drums, bass, guitars) with our friend Geoff Sanoff at Renegade, the studio where he works. Then, we took those recordings and overdubbed tracks at home and in our practice space. We gave that stuff to Geoff, who used whatever was decent and had us re-do the things that weren't working, and then we recorded vocals and Geoff mixed the whole thing. Because of various schedules, it took place over several months, but once it was reasonably in focus, things came together pretty quickly. It was a blast. Geoff is really good at what he does and encourages a productive but casual atmosphere to be creative in.

Q: What was your experience playing with Pinback like?

SH: Terrific. They are wonderful people and were generous to us and just a lot of fun to be around. The fact that their audience was open to hearing 45 minutes of our music every night was icing on the cake.

Q: Are you planning a tour in support of the album?

SH: We are going to Europe right after the record officially comes out and then playing some more east coast shows through the end of the year. We're just starting to make plans for next year. Basically, as much as we can comfortably do, we will. 

We like playing, and if there are reasonable opportunities to do so, then we'll try to make it work. That said, I think some bands get caught in a weird cycle where they make a record, then tour on the record and just keep repeating that pattern as if the record is a product and the shows are the way they sell that product. 

I don't really approach music like that. Albums are snapshots of particular musicians at a particular time. For better and for worse. The live band may actually develop into something else. Or maybe the studio affords certain chances to experiment with sound. I like to keep a looser relationship between recordings and performances. My goal is to always improve at both, but they don't necessarily have to reflect each other perfectly.

Q: Who are your biggest musical influences?

SH: Charles Mingus, Wire, DC hardcore from the ‘80s, Mission of Burma, Television, Duke Ellington, Minutemen, Shostakovich, Hamza El Din, Talk Talk, Roxy Music, Fugazi, Umm Kulthum, John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, The Stooges, Can, Skip James, The Velvet Underground, Mahler, Sonic Youth, Flamin' Groovies, Serge Gainsbourg, Wipers, etc.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

SH: Try to be positive. Don't filter the world through complaints. Make art. Solve problems. Be fun to be around. Listen to people. Read real books. Let whole albums play from start to finish. Try new foods. Start a band. Travel. Say hello to people. Do stuff. Stay curious. And, if you're still reading this, please and thank you.

Dakota Palmer is the news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at

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