It’s been ten years since Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo burst on to the scene as The Raveonettes with the glorious sonic blitzkrieg that was ‘Attack of The Ghost Riders’. To mark a decade of ‘whiplash rock n’roll’ 2012 saw the duo release their six studio album, the fabulous ‘Observator’ and demonstrate they have lost none of their flair for writing and producing timeless and beautifully crafted music. However, it wasn’t an easy album to make, Sune has gone on record as saying he’d been struggling with terrible back pain, which led to depression, too much drinking and going ‘a bit Jim Morrison.’
Bizarrely there are some still critics who glibly dismiss these dynamic Danes as nothing more than nostalgic revivalists, based on the dreary curse of genre specific pigeonholing. Of course, such a blinkered view means completely missing out on the genius of Sune Rose Wagner’s song writing! We will yield to no-one in our view that Mr Wagner has written songs of such timeless appeal that they more than stand up to any of popular music’s ‘canonised classics’ from any given era. With The Raveonettes it’s a case of taking their influences [Buddy Hill Phil Spector, The Cramps, The Stooges, The Mary Chain and even hip hop beats] and transforming them into something that is truly their own. In doing so The Raveonettes have developed their unique”Great Love Sound” and produced music that is both timeless and utterly contemporary – “It’s like a homage to all the great movies and all the great literature and music that we’re inspired by,” says Wagner.
Incredibly despite being one of our favourite bands we’d never actually managed to catch The Raveonettes live. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, after all we’d tried on at least seven previous occasions to attend Raveonettes gigs! But broken limbs, family illness, and car crashes all conspired against us on each occasion! We felt cursed! Happily we finally achieved a long standing ambition to catch the band during the UK stint of their ‘Observator’ tour at Eric’s Club in Liverpool . Suffice to say we avoided walking under ladders, stepping on cracks in pavements and gave a particularly wide birth to wild eyed old ladies selling ‘lucky heather’ in the run up to the gig. After such a long wait to see the band we felt rather like a bride on her wedding night, could they live up to our impossibly high expectations? Well in word “yes” and then some. We can report that The Raveonettes not only all met our expectations they completely blew them out of the water and we were left to marvel at how just three people (Sharin, Sune and their drummer) could make such a vast, glorious, all encompassing noise. By the time the band had produced an epic soul shredding pysch-jam version of ‘Aly Walk With Me’ our tiny minds had been well and truly blown! Truly one of the best bands we’ve seen live in all our years of gig going. It was certainly well worth the wait!
We spoke to Sune before the gig and he told us why ‘Observator’ will be their last album, why Dum Dum Girl Dee Dee could be the new Stevie Nicks, and why guitar music is dead!
VP: Hi Sune, it’s over a decade together now as a band, was there a grand plan. Are you surprised at times that you’re still performing as The Raveonettes ten years on?
SUNE: Hello! No, we never discussed a plan we never thought about it, it was just a case of writing our music and seeing what happens. And no I can’t say I’m surprised to be still doing it really, I mean when you get so deep into it you just go with it you know? It becomes your life so I’d be very surprised if I wasn’t doing it!
VP: Despite being regarded as a prolific song writer you’ve said ‘Observator’ was a difficult album to complete, with your back problems, leading to depression, and going through a “Jim Morrison period “were there times when you thought the album wouldn’t see the light of day ?
SUNE: Well, to be honest I’m not a fan of making albums, I mean I like writing songs, but I don’t believe in the concept of an album…not anymore. I think the best albums have been made and I don’t think there’ll ever be great albums made that sell ever again as times have changed so much. And I’m totally fine with that, I love that we are actually back to the beginning where people just concentrate on songs. That’s how I started out, just listening to good songs. I mean with this album and the last album, you start off in a place were you have maybe four or five really good songs and then you need to write some other songs, which is a bit crap… but you just have to. So I don’t think we are going to make albums anymore, I just don’t see it y’know?
VP:So ‘Observator’ could be the last Raveonettes album?
SUNE: Yeah this will probably be the last album as such we’ll write, I mean we’ll still do great songs and maybe EP’s but I don’t see the point , I mean whose gonna tell you what track 9 is on ‘Lust Lust Lust’ no one knows, no one cares, (VP: sadly I knew ) So I don’t see the point of it, I mean I don’t care either [laughs]. Listening habits have changed so much, I mean I couldn’t even name ten albums released this year!
VP: You’ve called the album ‘a nostalgic glorification of unrequited love’ yet as ever with the Raves you seem to be able to transform seemingly bleak subject matter into something incredibly uplifting…
SUNE: Yeah you take something terrible and you cloak it in something beautiful and by doing so almost fool people. I think that’s a nice draw, it’s very enticing; you suck people into this vortex of schizophrenia almost. So yeah I think it’s important in music that you have those contrasts and elements otherwise it’s too one dimensional, which isn’t for me.
VP: When people ask you to explain your songs in interviews such as this are you reluctant to do so, not just that they might be personal, but also because it might colour the listeners own interpretation of the song ?
SUNE: For sure, I definitely think people should put their own interpretation on it, that’s the beauty of it.
VP: I remember when Last Dance came out and I’d just heard a friend was seriously ill (she’s ok now) and that song really resonated I put my own interpretation on it, and made this huge emotional connection, which I’m sure was very different from the original meaning.
SUNE: I’m sorry to hear that, but that’s a really good example, and people should connect in a way that’s meaningful to them without being too bothered about the ins and outs. Also I guess because when a song is very personal it might actually reflect situations that are not that interesting to other people, so it’s best to leave it open.
VP: So have you ever written a song and somebody has said, “That’s about me isn’t it?!”
SUNE: Not really but I have written songs for specific people and when do I’m pretty open and upfront about it. For example, ‘She Owns The Streets’ is about a girl called Loan who’s a New York street dancer and ‘Aly Walk with Me’ is about my friend Alison. I wrote those songs for them, not for the band. When I wrote ‘Aly’ that was for her, I never played it to Sharin or anybody it wasn’t until we were doing ‘Lust,Lust,Lust’ and I heard it again randomly that I thought ‘hey that’s a pretty good song’ and it would maybe fit in with this album. So I played it to Sharin and she was like yeah we should definitely use it! So those kinds of things happen!
VP: Richard Gotterer, mentor collaborator, friend, produced the album, you’ve said he’s a bit like part of your adopted American family, as you were having a bit of a tough time was it important to get somebody you implicitly trusted involved with Observator
SUNE: It depends, I mean sometimes you don’t want to be bothered with anybody, you just want to do it all yourself. For example when we did ‘Raven In The Grave’ we had a studio in Brooklyn and I just sat there every day and I didn’t really want people to be there you know, and that was fine. But with this album when you go to Sunset Sound and these really legendary places and with the nostalgia of recording in LA, because that was where the band first started, all the first songs for ‘Whip It On’ were written in L.A. there’s a certain sense of full circle! So it felt good to then invite these people along who have been such a big part of your musical life and upbringing.
VP: When you write songs, do you have in mind who’ll do the vocal? Or is it in the studio you decide which works best?
SUNE: It changes a lot actually, we have to try it out in the studio and see what happens when we’re in the studio singing, because sometimes we’ll be surprised. For example on this album Sharin wasn’t supposed to sing ‘The Enemy’ it was in a totally different key and different structure and everything, but when she sang it, it sounded really great ! So we aren’t really egotistical about it, it’s just whatever works for the song is what we have to do, so if that means – you sing ten songs and I sing one, so be it. The only thing that can suck about that if it’s a split is that live I can end up singing a lot of songs and I’d much rather just play guitar [laughs]
VP: And remarkably, this is the first time you have used a piano on any album? Any reason why you’ve never employed one in the past and why now?
SUNE: No big reason other than it sounded good for the particular songs. Really it was just a case of I started writing a nice riff for the song ‘Observations’ which didn’t really translate well to the guitar, so we used a piano. We had no choice really, it was the only way we could do it and it had a really good sound and worked well for those particular songs.
VP: Do you ever get tired of being labelled with the 50s/60’s tag? I mean for me you take influences and then transform them into music that sounds timeless?
SUNE: I think we have so many different elements, I mean yeah there’s 50’s/ 60’s stuff, but I hear 80’s influences and modern stuff. I think what happened with us when we first started is people saw pictures of us which had a film noir, retro vibe and started writing we were a garage band and part of some retro revival. The thing is these monikers, these names they stick with you throughout your entire career, which is kind of sad in a way as it closes a lot of doors for us. A lot of people if you ask ‘have you heard the Raveonettes recently?’ are like ‘no I heard them seven years ago doing garage stuff’ and they don’t realise a lots happened over the years. So I think in that way it can be a little annoying that there’s a notion that we’re these 50’s and 60’s fanatics, where as in actuality we were basically an electronic band when we first started and we still are really. We never recorded live drums, we never used guitar amplifiers we never used the bass amplifier, everything was done via computers and samples, even when we played live its computers and triggers and samples and our most prized possessions are our computers! We’re very much into technology, electronic music, and dance music. I mean sometimes people just put a name on it and it sticks. My first love was actually hip-hop when I was growing up, if you asked for my ten all time favourite albums at least five would be hip hop albums ! Then as I grew up I listened to 50’s and 60’s albums, so when we started The Raveonettes it was kind of easy, we’ll have dirty hip hop beats, some 50’s guitars and we’ll sample it …
VP: You said recently that you find electronic music much more interesting and innovative than guitar music these days..?
SUNE: Absolutely, I don’t listen to guitar music much at all these days. I mean there’s so much great guitar music already been made and I can always but on an Iggy And The Stooges album, Bad Religion or The Ramones or something like that rather than a new guitar band. I just don’t have any room for it, I don’t think there’s been an evolution in guitar music, y’know the way people use it? I really don’t give a shit about four guys in a pub band, it just doesn’t interest me, it all sounds the same, it’s all been done. I think electronic music, hip-hop etc is far more interesting these days, and I love film scores and classical music. Mind you as a band we don’t really listen to much music on the tour bus we’d rather read a book or watch a good movie.
VP: As we’ve said, I guess people would have you down as watching a lot of film noir?
SUNE: I like all sorts, from silly comedies to film noir, I like Hitchcock, French cinema, Swedish cinema, Woody Allen. As long as it’s good, I mean I don’t really go around wearing a badge that says ‘I’m Goth!’ or ‘I’m Emo’ or this that or the other. Forget labels, if it’s good, I like it. The Sex Pistols were good, but I won’t be wearing a safety pin!
VP: You’ve also been working with one of my favourite bands to emerge recently Dum Dum Girls, I interviewed Dee Dee last year and she’s a big fan of your work. Is it gratifying to be regarded as a bit of a legend by great emerging bands?
SUNE: Definitely! In terms of Dum Dum Girls who I guess a lot of people would see as a new guitar band I don’t see that, in fact I don’t really even see a band as such. I see Dee Dee and she’s really an amazing songwriter she’s so good she could be the new Stevie Nicks – I guess with the four girls on stage is just how she showcases her songs. Actually we’ve just finished the new album with her before this tour and it was just me and Dee Dee and Richard [Gotterer] and I think it’s gonna turn out really, really well. She really is on the path to greatness. Understandably when you first start out you can be a little wary of how you feel about it, how other people will react and it takes guts to take that final step, to really stand out loud and proud, not a lot of people are prepared to do it but I think she will be one of the greats one day because her songs just keep getting better and better. Especially on this new album so I’ll be following her career closely.
VP: Yeah I mean the progressions from say early songs like “Longhair” and ‘Catholicked’ is phenomenal
SUNE: Oh yeah I mean I can see a symphony orchestra, I can see a lot of great things if she’s prepared to take that final step, if she’s up for it I’m up for it. Maybe a bit like us image can get in the way when people say ‘oh yeah those four girls blah blah’ but when people do that they can miss out on the actual greatness of the songs!
VP: Sharin and her family now live in LA and you’ve moved there. Is that for band reasons?
SUNE: No, it’s more personal; I’d lived in New York for ten years and just wanted to try something different. I’ve went to Nashville four times last year and looked at houses, I found great houses but I’m at a point in my life were I don’t want to start over in a town where I don’t know anyone. So it’s easier to move to a place that’s very different from New York but at least you know people there and I have more friends in L.A. than do in New York and it’s a completely different life style
VP: You seem good at engaging with fans, through new technology in the past you have had live streaming sessions and frequent web chats. Social media really seems to have changed the way fans and bands interact, do you think this is a good thing or do you think maybe it kills some of the mystique? I mean could you imagine if Jim Morrison had of had Twitter and tweeting, “just washed the car,” or “Hello I love you, but I’m just off to Wal-Mart for groceries lolz”
[At this point Sharin arrived]
SUNE: It’s something you have to do these days, it can be great it depends what mood you’re in. It can suck when it feels like work, as work is never fun, other times it can be good fun. It’s just part of the times, we live in. Jim Morrison on twitter [laughs] he’d probably have been tweeting completely crazy things!
VP: Well we’ve got Christmas coming up, and in our house we always play a few Raveonette Christmas songs, you haven’t done any for a while, any plans for some new ones ?
SUNE: Not at the moment , I mean we wrote ‘The Christmas Song’ way back in 2001 and I think it’s still one of our best songs, and as a Christmas song I don’t think we can write anything as good as that so there’s no sense in trying [laughs] I mean we already have it ! Likewise, we aren’t going to try to write another ‘Attack Of The Ghost Riders’ because we already have it, we don’t need it!
VP: Sharin you have your daughter with you on tour, does she normally travel with you?
SHARIN: Not normally but sometimes, I don’t like to be away from her for more than two weeks and this tours three weeks, I get miserable if I’m away for her for too long !
VP: I think that about wraps it up !Nice to meet you both finally, any plans for Christmas?
SUNE: Nice to meet you, no, no plans for Christmas yet
SHARIN: L.A. with the family & friends for Christmas.
Read out 2008 interview with Sharin Foo HERE