"I'm Definitely Not Trying To Be Nice!" Jehnny Beth On Accepting Her Own Darkness
Savages frontwoman and solo artist Jehnny Beth is on the phone to Clash, attempting to pin down the visceral nature of her new song 'I'm The Man'.
“The first intention was aggression - which in itself is hard to explain because it is a primal feeling,” she laughs, acknowledging the paradox created by attempting to explain a track that’s intention is to not make you think at all. “Sometimes when you think too much you can hear it in the music - you can lose that first intent which is sometimes the best, and through the different processes of production and arrangements it is important to me not to lose the original purpose.”
There is something to be said for the magic that comes with resisting the urge to perfect a piece of music. “There were moments when I thought we should curve the edges - but it didn’t feel right, it has to stay rough - a rough diamond.”
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Despite obvious interpretations of 'I’m The Man', Beth frankly states that her initial idea for the track was in fact not gendered. While the lyrics perhaps suggest the inverse, she explains: “It’s true - my first intention was less about gender and more about the good and bad in humanity- about the finger pointing at the ‘evil’ people of this planet.”
She talks about how easy it is to discard someone “saying oh they are bad they are bad without even considering for one moment that we are all part of the same species and if they are bad then we are bad, also. Then obviously the masculinity comes with it because there are a lot of bad stigmas attached to that.”
Aggression, violence and brutality are just some of these negative masculine traits embodied by the shudder inducing intense guitar riffs and persisting drums on the track, and elaborating on these themes, Beth states: “When I say masculinity I don’t think of just men - I think of the masculinity that’s in all of us.”
Delving into this further, Beth says: “I have been a bit obsessed with this idea of opening the bad parts of yourself and not hiding them away to try to present a better front. By saying 'I’m the man / the evil man' I am equating myself to the man. It’s the idea that I take on the responsibility of his evil 'bad' dark side and I don’t try to necessarily say that I’m standing on the right side of the fence.”
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'I’m The Man' premiered on Season 5 of the notoriously gritty Peaky Blinders. The songs ability to hack away at moral binaries matches perfectly that of the show itself, and perhaps explains what Cillian Murphy was alluring to when he described Beth herself as “peaky material”.
Viewing that as an honour (as many of us would) Beth interprets what that could mean… “maybe it means, not being afraid to be dark, some people present a really good happy face which is good and I do it sometimes…but my music is dark, you know, there is a darkness that is always persisting.”
The characters of Peaky Blinders each present their own unique relationship of vulnerability vs brutality. “Being gentle, being innocent, almost childlike, alongside a certain brutality for me is so interesting – there is not always the happy ending. Arthur is one of my favourite characters - he can’t help the violence inside him, and even Tommy is shaped by the brutality of the war and once the war is over what do you do with that aggression? Going to war is the ultimate display of masculinity so when you don’t have the war where do you put that?”
These extreme juxtapositions are overtly played with throughout the show, and we see that the two qualities are not mutually exclusive. Just as we often see moments of vulnerability in the characters, 'I’m The Man' also offers moments of respite from the violence, a break in the chaos - exposing an innocence.
The ambient piano echoes and washes over us as Beth’s silky vocals move away from rage and into a melodic tenderness. “Look at my love, look at my hands / look at my heart / I’m the man.”
However, this “twist in the song” as Beth calls it, is merely the calm before the (second) storm – an interlude before its explosive finale – and this is the unhappy ending which Beth was talking about.
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When asked whether this unapologetically raw intensity is going to be something that continues throughout future projects, Beth answers, “I hope so - I mean that’s the goal – through all of the music I’ve been writing recently I’ve tried to be uncensored - you know no meat on the bone kind of thing.”
Beth discloses that despite her wanting to give away every detail of what is around the corner for her musically, she must keep things under wraps for the time being, while admitting: “There is definitely some good stuff coming.”
She also notes that she is very much eager to get back on stage after a yearlong hiatus; “it’s one of the parts of my job that I love the most.”
'I’m The Man' is bound to have a formidable impact on an audience when performed live, and Beth agrees. One of the reasons it works so well is because it's so tempting to imagine that it will be an incredible song to perform live because of its raw energy. Traversing right and wrong, blurring the boundaries of good and bad, and accepting the dark parts of yourself as human - all this and more is what post-punk gem 'I’m The Man' stands for.
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'I'm The Man' is out now.
Words: Megan Warrender
Photography: Steve Gullick
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