If you pay any attention to the music media in this country, you would have seen a certain dinosaur wheezing about a perceived lack of protest songs in the current Australian climate. Needless to say, said dinosaur was quickly shut down by a plethora of examples – the most recent of which came out a matter of weeks ago.
‘Better Than That’ is the second number on Good Citizens, the fourth studio album by Melbourne band Cash Savage and The Last Drinks, and it explicitly details the frustration and crushing disappointment felt by the band's eponymous leader in the wake of the plebiscite on marriage equality in 2017.
“It's definitely a protest song,” says Savage. “Absolutely. When people hear that song, I hope that it stings. I know it's a very pretty song – it's melodic and it's mournful – but I truly hope that when people really take the time to listen to the lyrics, I want it to sting them. I truly did think Australia was better than that, although it's not necessarily about the country as a whole. It's more to do with the many, many conversations that I had to have with people. I hope the people that have put their friends and family through this horrible, awkward thing hear this song, and I hope that it hurts to hear.”
There's plenty more where that came from on Good Citizens. What awaits beyond is a defiant, snarling, sprawling record that lurches back and forth between rattling pubrock and dust-kicking alt-country, expanding the sound of The Last Drinks to a wider musical spectrum and taking no prisoners in their approach. It comes just over two years after the release of album number three, One of Us, and the band has spent more or less that entire time out on the road in support of it. Good Citizens was not born out of any grand plan – as a matter of fact, Savage is the first to admit she had no idea what to expect when the band came together to record this past January.
“There were a fair few songs I'd written in that time that I had no real expectations for,” she says. “I didn't even know if we'd be able to turn them into songs. There's a track on the album called 'Kings’, which started out with just the chords and most of the words. It wasn't really formed at all. I brought it to the studio with the band, and by the end of the day we'd finished it. That actually ended up being one of my favourite songs on the entire album.”
Savage credits her trusty band – as well as their producer, Nick Finch – as being instrumental to how a song will typically transform from her bedroom sketches into something fully realised. “When we're in the studio, we're always thinking of different ways to do the songs,” she says. “Nick is all over it. Whatever direction we want to take, he's ready to record it. The Last Drinks, being who they are, can handle pretty much anything I throw at them. I can ask Kat [Mear] to play the violin like she's being attacked, or I can ask her to make it really pretty. She can go either way very easily – sometimes in the same song.”
What started out as a ragtag collective of whoever might be available on any given night has long since evolved into a core group of musicians that have made light work of more or less every venue in Melbourne you can think of, from the dingiest of pubs to the grandest of theatre stages. As Savage prepares for a headlining tour this November with the inimitable Cable Ties in tow, she couldn't be prouder to have her name associated with The Last Drinks.
“Playing music with them is such a joy,” she says. “They know that if I've written a song, it means a lot to me. They take care with it. They're respectful, and they want to get the best out of it as well. It's truly such a pleasure.”
Cash Savage and The Last Drinks will tour around Australia in November/December. Good Citizens is out now via Mistletone/Inertia Music.