Friday, July 1, 2011

Interview: The Raveonettes

I wrote the following for a publication at the invitation of Ms. Hilary Beck, but as it wasn't printed, thought I may as well post it here...

With their fifth full-length, Raven In The Grave, The Raveonettes take their sunkissed sonic spaces to more morose territory. Danish duo Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo certainly aren’t strangers to darker lyrical themes, (over their ten year career sex, drugs, and death have always been fodder), but on this record, they create walls of sound that smolder with post-punk sturm und drang.

The album opens with “Recharge and Revolt” as cinematic synths add texture behind guitars ringing above a propulsive bassline. “Forget That You’re Young” has a similar Joy Divisionesque sound with the addition of synthesizers that inject an early Depeche Mode brightness towards the end while bassist Foo sings innocently about the age of a potential paramour. Despite their turn toward gloom, Wagner dismisses any attempt to label this record the band’s Disintegration. “I think it was just what we felt like doing at that particular time. We always do different albums because we’re in different stages of our lives, so this was just what came out of this one. It wasn’t intentional.”

The murky mood on Raven In The Grave gets sadder and sweeter on “War In Heaven,” which brings on the balladry, offering chimes to offset dissonant guitars and a synthpop beat driving the melancholy sprawl. Chords ascend and descend until they waste away into white noise at the end of this delicate gem. Later, the romantic dirge “Summer Moon” finds Wagner and Foo spinning winsome harmonies. “Most of all I can’t let go, this perfect thing is dying,” they lament, giving off an attitude of woeful resignation laced with laissez faire lightness that permeates the rest of the record. The song has the sonic simplicity of a decaying music box tune, and highlights much of what the band does best: deceptively simple yet infectious songs for daydreams.

When pressed further about any conscious choices of sounds or themes in the songwriting for this record, Wagner again rejects the insinuation of premeditation. “Nothing is intentional,” he affirms. “You just sort of try all kinds of stuff and then all of a sudden you hear something you like and then you end up using it. You don’t plan anything. I just write a lot of songs and record a lot and whatever we think sounds good, we’ll just use. It’s not like we have a grand idea behind it or anything. We just like to do spontaneous music. We know when it works, ‘cause we both like it.”

In many ways, not much has changed. Wagner still lists teenage rebellion movies like 1983’s Bad Boys with Sean Penn and Ally Sheedy as an inspiration, and describes the lushly morose “Evil Seeds” track as being based on the tried and true topic of all great 60’s pop: “loving and holding on to something that you love.” Despite the band’s shadowy veneer, the fuzzy 60’s psych by way of 80’s shoegaze still pulses beneath the surface. Once you dig on “Let Me On Out” with its perfectly tripped out groove and “My Times Up,” which is surely a theme for a surf rock prom, you’ll question whether The Raveonettes have really strayed very far at all.

In fact, listening to the band’s more classic sounding songs in the context of recent buzzed about bands (Dum Dum Girls, Crocodiles, Tennis), it’s pretty clear that Wagner and Foo were way ahead of the curve. Their revival of these sounds obviously began far before the current resurgence of atmospheric garage rock. When asked about this phenomenon, and how he views the The Raveonettes’ influence on this new cadre of noisemakers, Wagner agrees that they’re forerunners of the revival. “It’s flattering that we can inspire bands, you know? It’s always nice to give something back, and to help people to carry on,” he says. “I think that’s really flattering. I like it.”

Undeniably a force in this new post-Raveonettes breed is Tamaryn. The San Francisco duo of Tamaryn Brown and Rex John Shelverton is making waves with their brand of languid, Siouxsie-soaked noisepop, and were handpicked by Wagner to open for their current tour. Of frontwoman Tamaryn he explains: “I’ve known her for almost ten years. We’re good old friends. It’s the perfect tour. It couldn’t be better.”

While on tour Wagner says that he doesn’t have any hard and fast pre-show rituals, but certainly doesn’t shy away from imbibing a bit. “We usually just go out and eat and drink some wine and then we go back and drink some vodka and then we go on stage and have a blast. We always have a fun time. We do a lot of promo during the day, early, when we do shows, so we can get sleep. We don’t have time to do much. At night we just hang out with friends. We’ll hang out with friends tonight since we’re in New York. This is where I live so I have a lot of friends here.”

Along with a great opening act, Wagner excitedly mentions their new setup of two drummers and “the best sound guy we ever had [and] the best players we ever had.” Wagner’s excitement about this current lineup and tour extends to his upcoming stint in Europe and his hopeful return to the States next Fall. However, lest we think his happiness hinges too much on their live show or their record’s reception, Wagner reminds us that in the end the band is just for two.

“I only make music for Sharin and I. That’s the only two persons I make music for. They’re the only ones I really have to impress. If people like it, wow that’s great, but if they don’t like it, I couldn’t care less either.”

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