Moniker aside, SAVAK’s tunes and intentions are no laughing matter
As a joke, SAVAK singer/songwriter/guitarist Sohrab Habibion—formerly of Obits and great ’90s outfit Edsel—named the NYC band after the notorious, CIA-enabled Iranian secret police established by Mohammad Reza Shah. But he seriously doesn’t care if someone finds the name objectionable—after all, not even his father likes it.
“Anyone who takes issue with us calling ourselves SAVAK can have a chat with my 83-year-old dad,” says the half-Iranian Habibion from the Brooklyn home he shares with his wife and son. “He sincerely believes it’s a terrible band name, but offensive? Fuck off.”
Habibion’s worldview was partially formed by immersing himself in punk and hardcore as a teenager, but an earlier event—the American embassy hostage crisis in Iran that began in 1979, when he was in grade school—left an indelible impression. In addition to enduring “basic ignorance and casual harassment” after the family returned to the U.S. to flee the revolution, his father, with a Ph.D. in economics, had to change his first name and could only find work as a carpet salesman; his mother went on job interviews that were ultimately pointless due to the origin of her married name.
“Over Gorton’s fish sticks and Green Giant sweet peas in friends’ homes, I was asked by suburban parents for my take on the hostage situation,” says Habibion. “That really shaped the way I see myself in the world. I’ve always related to the outsider, the underdog, the weary, the bedraggled, the slowpoke, the goofy-footed. That’s undoubtedly in every song I’ve ever tried to write.”
Though the bulk of the band’s terrific second LP, Cut-Ups (Ernest Jenning), was recorded prior to Trump’s inauguration, the taut, jittery-yet-catchy tunes reflect the widespread malaise and unease the dipshit-in-chief has fomented. Co-singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Jaworski’s “Loma Prieta” is a specific response to Trump’s rise: “Now a beast is forming/No longer hides among the rest/His mouth is open as he rears his ugly head.”
“I wrote the song way before any of the primaries, back when so many of my liberal friends, myself included, didn’t think it was possible that someone so openly vile and hateful could be considered as a serious candidate to run this country,” says Jaworski, who lives with his wife and daughter in Manhattan. “It was hard to witness the fervor and racism among his supporters and wonder where we’d gone wrong.”
In the style of the tense Hüsker Dü partnership of Bob Mould and the late Grant Hart, Jaworski and Habibion alternate songs on record, minus the animosity and adding collaboration. “(Michael’s) the Bob Mould in this relationship,” says Habibion. “He’s got a better penchant for melody.” The duo (joined on Cut-Ups by bassist James Canty and drummer Matt Schulz) not only share songwriting duties but also a relatively sunny view of the future in the face of what feels like daily negativity and tension.
“I’m generally a pretty positive person, so I look for the good in things,” says Habibion. “This city is jammed with every kind of person doing every kind of thing, and we have no choice but to coexist, so we do. And we find the humanity in each other, regardless of whether you toast your bagel or not.”
“I’m also a generally positive person, but it takes some effort for me not to let the current political climate bum me out,” says Jaworski. “I’m disheartened by some people’s views, but I also believe that good wins over bad.”