If you like the Avett Brothers, you'll like the Friendly Savages. Wedged like columns of bumper-to-bumper cars on Lamar, twenty-somethings fill Stubbs’ indoor venue. At the front of the basement sits the stage, and dim lights cast a mood across the crowd. A bumblebee buzz of chatter bounces off of the walls and up onto the railing of the first floor, which sports a row of human faces peering down at the concert. A sudden silence sets itself upon the room, meaning only one thing — the band is coming — and eyes scramble to locate the four men as they walk on stage. In button-downs and jeans, the musicians find their respective instruments, and the sound of plucked strings and tuning riffs command the college-aged listeners. The fans lie in hungry wait for the Friendly Savages to begin.
By Jane Claire Hervey
John, Michael, Malcolm and Josh make up the folk/rock four-piece that is the Friendly Savages. Although the band has only been around for about two years, the group has amassed a large college student following. The band recently released their first album “Oh, Joshua,” which already has about 100,000 plays on Spotify, in April before their miniature spring tour that included a headline at Stubbs and Nashville’s Exit/In.
Through a series of catalytic friendships, the boys met each other over the past few years. Jam sessions turned into songwriting and rehearsals, which then turned into bigger shows, the album and the tour. “Now, we’re kind of stuck between being an opening band and a headliner,” upright bass player Michael says. Michael came into the band only a year ago after he attended a couple of practices, because “it just worked,” he explains. Even friendlier than their band name, the group tries to make their practices and songwriting process as collaborative and open as possible. Because each of the guys still has his day job, the band does not have to book show after show to survive, and they have the ability to pick and choose their performances. John, the lead vocalist, works for Google; Michael plays in a worship band at an Austin church; Malcolm, who John calls the band’s “savant,” works in software engineering; mandolin player and back-up vocalist Josh works for a non-profit.
Owing to the band’s range of personalities, the guys have been able to write a variety of songs with atypical lyrics and surprising melodies. “Whenever we write a song, we try to write something new. We always want to do something different,” Josh says. Each song on their album features string-heavy instrumentation and strong vocals, but stark contrasts in tempo and tune make each song strikingly different, yet recognizably Friendly Savages material. Tracks like “Her Locket on a Chain,” “Counted Lost” and “Natchez Trace” are among the band’s fan favorites on the album, but a live performance from the group outshines any available recording. Despite their toddler age as a band, the guys have developed a distinguishable sound, perhaps growing from their consistent use of banjo and mandolin throughout their record.
Like any foursome of friends, the band has a chemistry onstage and off. Together, they conquered their first tour, which required a 14-hour, through-the-night road trip from Dallas, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee. Hustling from city to city, the band only had time to eat at Chili’s while they were in Nashville. Malcolm jokes that if the band were to have any type of restaurant preference, it would have to be Chili’s. “We tweet at Chili’s all of the time, and they never re-tweet, never respond. And that’s because they have a pretty low threshold for re-tweets and favorites,” he jokes.
The band plans to play at SXSW in the spring, which will hopefully bring them more fans — or at least a Chili’s re-tweet. For now, the band plays shows in the Austin area and different cities across Texas. To keep up with the band, check their website, follow them on Twitter, buy their album on iTunes, or listen to them on Spotify.
JAM THESE TUNES:
Band Favorites — "Her Locket on a Chain" and "Counted Lost"
ORANGE Favorite — "I Have Your Ghost"