The Raveonettes


True innovators are never in style. To carry culture’s musical flag it’s important to be just ahead of the double helix that is popularity versus critical adoration. The Raveonettes have made rock and roll when guitars were scarce; mysterious ballads when ecstasy-soaked house beats were the rage, and have abandoned their clap along beat just as bands they’ve influenced have begun to explode on the scene. On their new effort Raven In The Grave, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo look like they won’t ever run out of hooks, beautiful words, or ways to make us swoon. In fact, they may even be just honing their sound now.


You’ve been known to have dark lyrical content but very catchy, happy music. By making a record without your signature surf beat were you worried about alienating a certain section of your fan base, or losing that juxtaposition that makes the Raveonettes sound?
Sharin: Not really actually. We really didn’t worry about that when we made the record. It’s not too much about whoever is on the receiving end. We initially just try and make ourselves happy. Lots of our albums have been very different from one another. It’s kind of like each album is a reaction to the previous one and is a departure in some ways. To me they’re all very Raveonettes and also pretty different from one another. It wasn’t a conscious decision. There wasn’t a discussion about how it’s going to turn out. It’s just the creative process where you’re trying to find a direction of a record. Instead of a record that has the tension that we’ve been known for and the juxtaposition with the noise and sweetness, this record still has that but just less so than before. It’s got more of a purified ambience, melancholy darkness and tenderness.
Sune: We never worry about anything when we do albums because we’re just pleasing ourselves really. We just want to do whatever we feel is the right thing to do at any given time. We actually never thought about it until afterwards. I realized ‘Wow that’s weird. We didn’t use any surf beat’. It wasn’t a conscious decision not to use it.

When you say you only want to please yourself, have you done that with all your records, or is that something you learned over time?
Sune: I think all our albums have been trying to do that. We’ve always been lucky in the sense that we never really had an A & R guy work for us or a label that wanted to hear demos. We’ve always just been given freedom with whatever we wanted to do. It’s a great position to be in.

The songwriting on Raven In The Grave is definitely different. Is it going to be the direction going forward on future records?
Sharin: That’s a good question. I don’t have a good answer to that. I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. We just do one record at a time. I have to say that it reminds me a lot of the first record, but it’s much more celebratory. It has a feel to it that reminds me of our first record although it’s much more intimate. It’s inspirational and encouraging the same way that Whip It On was to me.
Sune: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. The album is different because most of the music was composed on piano and not a guitar. It’s definitely got different arrangements and different tones. We’re always up for trying something. It’s hard to say what we want to do next really.

What’s your favourite moment on the new album?
Sharin: I have a lot of favourite moments. I love the very subtle dance feel that it has. It’s not a very outgoing dance-y feel but it has that underlying heartbeat and I love that. It’s got that house beat and some cinematic moments on the intros to songs like on “War In Heaven”. I also love the vocal harmonies that are extremely old fashioned. There’s some very nostalgic melodies.
Sune: I have so many because the album is quite new and it’s really quite new to us too because it was sort of just done and then mastered. I actually don’t know the album that well yet because we don’t do demos for our songs. We just get an idea and do it. We haven’t listened to these songs a lot.

Well do you have a favourite song you’ve ever written?
Sune: I like the words for “Recharge and Revolt” because it really was the first time that I captured what it was that I wanted to say. It was a big, epic feeling of being on the road in America and all the emotions and thoughts that go through your mind when you travel such a vast country. It’s a beautiful love song and it really hit home with me. Musically, I think there’s a lot of great music on this new album. I think “Summer Moon” is a beautiful song and I really like the music for “Apparitions”.

When making a Raveonettes record, how do you decide what’s a digital sound (drums, synths) and what’s more organic and analog?
Sharin: In a way we’re very not organic. We definitely embrace technology very much and we’re very lo-fi in a way. We don’t even have amps on this record. Actually we haven’t had amps on very many records, except for maybe Pretty In Black. We just always end up liking the electronic approach. Somehow that just sounds right to us.
Sune: Even on Pretty In Black we didn’t use amplifiers for all the songs. There are certain elements where we used amplifiers like the solo for “Love In A Trashcan”, but most of the stuff on that album was done straight into the computer. It’s just a sound I always liked. I don’t want to spend too much time finding sounds because I’m really not that interested in it. I kind of know what I want, I feel I know what the song needs. I’ve been doing music for so many years so I know how to get certain sounds really fast. In regards to drum programming and guitar tones I know exactly what works for our music. We never used any live drums on our albums really either except for some stuff on Pretty In Black and a few things on this album. Like the beat for “Recharge and Revolt” was recorded in our studio and it’s just a pattern that we then looped throughout the song, and the same thing for “Forget That You’re Young”.

Can you take me through the Raveonettes’ writing process then?
Sharin: Sune is the one who starts the composition for the Raveonettes. The way it typically works is that he’ll put down some ideas in the studio. He’ll start recording them straight into a session. Sometimes it’s just recording an acoustic guitar and vocals and sometimes it’s just putting down a beat. I will say that it’s very rare that Sune sits at home on his guitar and writes a song. It’s mainly just sitting in the studio and just putting down little ideas or little guitar parts and then we go through it together and start navigating the ideas. We also live on different coasts so there’s lots of emailing files back and forth and having a creative conversation like that.
Sune: We have a studio in New York so most of the songs are basically little snippets that I try out to see if we can find a tone or a vibe or a sound for the album. I compose everything at home and then I go out to the studio and I record certain little things. For instance, that song “Forget That You’re Young” was one of those little experiments that sounded really good. I didn’t need to re-record it for the album. It already sounded great the way it sounded. It was sloppily played and the drum sound is not the best drum sound in the world but it had a certain charm to it that we didn’t want to change. You write a riff like that and then loop it for as long as Sharin wants to sing on it and then we end it. It’s very simple music but we don’t care about traditional forms and arrangements and we don’t care about choruses or anything like that. We do whatever we feel is right for any song.

What’s going to be the advantage of having two drummers on stage?
Sharin: Well we’re still to find out. We wanted to incorporate the electronic elements of our music which we didn’t do on the previous record. We toured without samples. It’s about having the drummer trigger a lot of sounds. It was also an attempt to have a very cyclical element to the live experience. It’s not like the signature surf beat, it’s almost sort of tribal marching drum beats. Maybe it’s going to be a disaster. As far as I know they’re pretty good drummers. We played with Adrian (Aurelius) the one drummer on tour for the last year and a half so we can count on him for sure.
Sune: When we started the Raveonettes that was actually the setup that we wanted. We got thrown into tours so we didn’t have any time to rehearse with two drummers. After so many years now we finally had a little time off so I said to Sharin ‘Why don’t we go back and try to do the original lineup?’ Our music is so incredibly simple but it’s very beat driven. To have two drummers playing beats will really emphasize the beats that we have and I think it will suit our music really well. They’ll trigger certain samples and different sounds and sometimes one of the drummers will play guitar as well. Sometimes we won’t have any drums, we’ll just have a looped drum pattern and then we’ll all play. We have so many different things we can do with this setup to make it really interesting for us and hopefully for the viewer.

Six years ago you worked with Ronnie Spector and Moe Tucker. Why the sparseness on collaborations since then?
Sune: We just can’t really find anyone we want to collaborate with. I think the only person right now that I feel would be great to work with, and I think we’re going to ask him because we’re friends with him, would be Martin Gore from Depeche Mode. He’s a totally fifties/sixties fanatic. He knows ten times more songs from that period than I do. When we toured with them he would sing songs into my ear into the wee hours of the morning. I know he has love for that type of music and at the same time he has a love for everything that’s programmed and digital, and I feel like that’s what we have. We like older music and we love making beats and using computers. We’re in no way an analog band because it’s something about time. We just like to work fast.

Actually, the more I learn about the Raveonettes the more it reminds me of Depeche Mode. They wrote all their songs on an acoustic guitar but the band was just four keyboards.
Sune: I think that’s great and I think if he would be up for it maybe he could produce an album for us or maybe we could write some songs together. It’ll be something we’ll have to discuss at some point. That’s just the only person I could think of.

Whip It On was released right around the time of a rock and roll resurgence. Since then the popular state of radio in most countries is very electronic sounding and house music oriented. On the eve of another rock and roll movement, you’re ready to lead again. Have you had any struggles remaining popular and relevant between these ice ages?
Sharin: I’ll say that we’re not too concerned when we’re writing or recording a record but obviously we would like a lot of people to enjoy our music. Yeah, sometimes we do get frustrated because we would like a lot of people to enjoy the Raveonettes but it’s not a struggle. We have a certain flair for being out of fashion, except for maybe right when we started off. So yeah, we’re famously out of fashion all the time, and it’s okay.
Sune: We just never really cared about it. We knew when we made Whip It On that a lot of people were really going to dig that album because it’s a great album. We also knew that we weren’t going to play stadiums with this type of music. We really don’t think about anything like that. We have such a great fan base and we cater to them because they’re the ones that we’re playing for and we’ll do anything for them. That’s really the most important thing for us is to communicate directly with our fans. We don’t need a lot of people for us to do what we do. We’re just our own brand. We control our own albums and we just go from album to album and no one questions anything. I couldn’t think of a better position to be in.

The final two bars in the chorus of “Ignite” are beautiful and kind of function as a the tipping point of the song and even the entire record. Was it instinctual or did it take hours of finding the right move?
Sharin: That song was a very natural composition for the Raveonettes, and it’s probably the one that people will recognize the most in terms of sounding like the Raveonettes. That was in many ways a very easy song, like production wise. It was writing itself and recording itself.

Now you’re in a position where you inspire a lot of younger bands. When did you first see that developing and how does it make you feel?
Sune: I guess there’s a certain sound that people like. It’s like surf music and girl group stuff and Sonic Youth noise. It’s just something that I’ve always been fond of and I think a lot of people are fond of it. When we started the Raveonettes no one was really doing it at that time. It felt very natural for us to make music in that vein. I’m sure a lot of people had thought about it but no one was really doing it. I thought we could make an impact if we made the music that we really loved. Then it died down a little bit and it came up again with the lo-fi resurgence in some of the early demos I heard from Best Coast and some Dum Dum Girls stuff and certainly the first Glasvegas album. It’s flattering that some of those people realize that. I’m friends with most of these people now and that’s probably because of the music and the mutual respect we have for one another and the music that we love and adore.

Leave a comment

ION Magazine 170-422 Richards Street Vancouver BC Canada V6B 2Z4
© Copyright ION Publishing Group 2013