By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
"Life is a love-hate type of deal," says Savage with a laugh. "Dead and Gone" is just one of many paeans to the dichotomy of passion and pain that appear on her debut full-length. Fittingly dubbed Matter of Time, the disc was made in bits and pieces over the past eleven years, in seven studios across two continents. You wouldn't think an album of such craft and ardor would have been so difficult to assemble -- especially since it was made under the patronage of Bono and Daniel Lanois and features musicians such as Mick Harvey and Hugo Race of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. And yet, Savage's pilgrimage to fulfillment has been a long and tortuous one, a trek that began in Denver's punk- rock scene of the 1980s.
"The first real band I was in was Pagan Cowboys. That was a really fun, cool time," she says, sipping a non-alcoholic beer as Merle Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down" blares out of a jukebox. It's Saturday afternoon at a downtown bar, and a boisterous crowd has started to pour in. Despite her self-deprecating claim that she's "neurotic and paranoid," Savage seems pretty relaxed talking into a tape recorder with a stranger in a public place. With nondescript dark-brown hair and a trim-fitting black coat, she looks a far cry from someone who once rocked in a shit-kicking punk band.
When presented with the assumption that her younger self went more for the dour, British, post-punk chic -- long coats and black clothes, in the style of Joy Division -- she grins warmly. "You got me pegged! I haven't really changed much since then."
Savage played with Pagan Cowboys -- a Denver group inspired heavily by the dark, contorted tones of Nick Cave's the Birthday Party -- in 1984 and 1985. Along with bands such as Acid Ranch and Brother Rat, Pagan Cowboys gigged in warehouses under the since-demolished 15th Street viaduct, as well as venues like the defunct Bamboo Gardens on East Colfax.
"I was the dork," she comments. "I was kind of an outsider. With the Cowboys, I knew I was the only one who really wanted to go for it as a musician. So I left and moved to London at the end of 1985. I always knew I was going to leave Denver."
In fact, Savage had picked England as her spiritual homeland when she was still a girl. "I would get this big atlas of the world out that we had at home," she reminisces. "I would open it up to page 73, Great Britain and Ireland. I would just stare at it all summer long."
Even at a young age, though, Savage knew the road. Born Shannon Strong in Pensacola, Florida, she spent a lot of her adolescence traveling the country -- particularly the South. "My mom is from Tennessee and Alabama. That Southern influence really stuck with me," she says. "I didn't notice it until I left America; it's kind of scary how many things are in you that you're not aware of."
Savage's family eventually planted roots in Colorado after her father died in a plane accident while working as a stunt pilot in Hawaii on the set of the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! But her childhood vision of Britain never left her, and at the age of 22, she found herself in London, with only dreams of rock stardom to sustain her.
"I was kind of disappointed by London, actually," she confesses. "It's a very big, hard, expensive city. Everybody that I knew was on the dole. The thing is, though, people get real creative when they're broke. I can still remember some of the little adventures that we'd go on, breaking into things and climbing around in abandoned old buildings. The last place I lived in London was a squat. The cops busted the door down a couple days after I left there, so I got out just in time."
Besides the economic depression, Savage found that England was suffering from a musical one: "They say it was happening in the '80s in England, but I must have missed the tail end of it. It was a pop-music place by the time I arrived. Punk had already had its huge zenith."
After a few false starts in various outfits, Savage joined a group called HorseLand, with whom she released an EP in 1987. But the allure of Britain finally fell away when she witnessed a performance by Germany's legendary Einstürzende Neubauten at London's Kilburn National Ballroom.