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Raveonettes - Interview

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 24 / 7 / 2005

Raveonettes - Interview


Back for a second interview with Pennyblackmusic, the Raveonettes' frontman Sune Rose Wagner speaks to Anthony Strutt about their third album and first full-length CD 'Pretty in Black' and heavy-duty touring schedule

Since first speaking to Pennyblackmusic back in February 2003, Danish group the Raveonettes' reputation has soared both as a studio band and a live act. The group, who combine 50's beatnik and B movie influences with Jesus and Mary Chain discordance, released that year two mini album, 'Whip It On', and then a few months 'Chain Gang of Love.' The former was recorded in B minor, while the latter was recorded in B major. They have since then toured the world, working to a punishing touring schedule which found them in both 2003 and 2004 playing over 200 dates a year. Their third album, and first full-length CD, 'Pretty in Black', was released in late July. It features guest appearances from Suicide's Martin Rev, the Velvet Underground's Moe Tucker and Ronnie Spector, and incorporates together across its 17 tracks rock 'n' roll, punk, country and surf instrumentals. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Sune Rose Wagner at All Bar One in Shaftesbury Avenue after they played an acoustic gig at London’s FOPP store. PB : A lot has happened to the Raveonettes since we last spoke pre gig before you played the 100 Club back in 2003. You have toured the world several times, and while you and Sharin are still the front people you have a new bass player and Sharin has switched from bass to guitar. Was that her choice ? SRW : It was my decision really. I just felt we needed a change within the band because we had toured so much within a short period of time and had got to the point where we needed something to make it more interesting for us. I thought it would be great to get in a bass player because Sharin wasn’t really a bass player. She played bass because it was easier for us to get started and so we wouldn’t have to look around. We wanted to get started really fast. Back then all the bass parts needed just one string. It was really easy, but, with the new record, the parts are a lot harder. Sharin knew she wasn’t capable of doing it anyhow. Andres is a really good friend of ours. Sharin has known him for many years. He had just quit his band. It was like “Andres isn’t doing anything right now. Let’s ask him.” He is a big fan of the Raveonettes, and I think he saw our very first show, so it all came together. PB : When Sharin came to buy her first guitar, she bought a 1962 Gretsch, didn’t she ? Was that her dream guitar ? SRW : She always wanted a Gretsch,. She was always talking about it. If she had to play guitar, she would buy a Gretsch. We both like Poison Ivy from the Cramps and she always looked great with a Gretsch too. Eddie Cochran did too. We both thought that it would be a great guitar for her. I play a Jazzmaster. The other guy plays a Jauguar, so it made sense to get something that is less twangy than the Fenders. PB : Now that Sharin is playing guitar, would you like her to get involved with the songwriting or is that solely your job ? SRW : No, I don’t think I can. I have tried working with different people on songs before and it just never worked out. I have very clear vision of what you want. Writing songs is also the only part of music that I 100% enjoy. Touring for me is a job. It’s something I have to do, but I don’t prefer it. PB :You have more creativity when you write songs. SRW : Writing songs and being in the studio that is the only reason I do music. All the other shit I can definitely do without it. PB :The Raveonettes, however, do tour a lot more than other bands.You seem to be always on the road. SRW : Yeah, we do tour a lot. I don’t know why. It’s probably because we signed to a major label for our first record. We felt we had to prove ourselves live. We had only played 15 shows when we got signed and we sounded really bad. We wanted to go out and play too, so that people could get to know the band through live music. We did over 260 shows within a year. We did almost the same the next year and after that we were burnt out. I think we just needed to get out there and get our name out there. PB : And you did do that. I spoke to Manoj, your guitarist, at your last gig and he told me that you tour America a lot because people even after all this time still don’t get it. SRW : It’s difficult in America. It’s like Europe. It’s so fucking huge. Everywhere you go is so different. We do really well though in the major cities. We do well in Boston, New York and those types of places, and LA, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. When you get to the mid west and end up in places like Mansion, Wisconsin you, however, find about 50 people there. I don’t know why we do that to be honest. If we can sell out in New York, why don’t we just do that ? I am not so much into touring that I want to spend the rest of my life trying to convince people of my music. If they don’t get it then they don’t get it. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it. I am not going to force feed my music and say to them you have to like this. PB : ‘Pretty It Black’ was produced by Richard Gottreiher, who worked on ‘Chain Gang of Love.’ What do you think he has added to the sound ? SRW : We have a strange relationship. Richard and I are best friends. We hang out together all the time in New York. We go and see bands together. He has an apartment in New York, so I go up there at the weekends and just chill out. I spent weeks there last summer before we did the album. It’s just a really good vibe. We don’t really use him for his expertise because we find it to be quite dated (Laughs). PB : He wrote ‘My Boyfriend’s Back ‘(Which The Raveonettes cover on this new album-AS) back in the 60’s, didn’t he ? SRW : Yeah, he has these ideas. Sometimes he thinks our lyrics are too explicit and he wants to change them to something nicer. It’s just the way he comes up with words and stuff. It’s like “Come on ! We are not in 1963. We are actually in 2005.” We just laugh at him, but the good thing about Richard is that we can say these things to him. PB : You’re not that explicit. You do mention sex a lot though. SRW : The whole censorship thing is a big issue. You can do an album and say exactly what you want to say and find yourself labeled with a parental advisory guidance sticker. Then, unless you’re a rapper like 50 Cent, you are going to have a hard time selling your CD because many stores in the States won’t stock them. We can’t afford to do that right now, so the songs become very different from the way that they are written. The songs are more explicit than the way that they end up on the album, so we try and work around it, and find a way that makes it comfortable. It always creates a big argument every time. I always freak out and say that I don’t want to be involved in music anymore because I can’t deal with these things like censorship. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like “What is going on ? Why can’t I say these things ?” PB : The Jesus and Mary Chain used to say “Fuck” in almost every song and it wasn’t a big deal. SRW : But back then it wasn’t a big deal. It’s different now because the world is so corporate now. Music is a small market now, so it’s all lumped together. That’s why we love the internet because you can do totally what the fuck you want to do there. I think the ideal position for bands in the future is to take control of themselves on the internet, and have their stuff and give it to people and sometimes they can buy it or whatever. You can do whatever you want to do. You can say whatever you want to say. That’s how it should be. Richard is good for us though. He brings a good vibe into the studio. PB : Was he like a Phil Spector type of guy in the 60’s ? SRW : No, he was in a band called the Strangeloves. Their biggest hit was ‘I Want Candy’ which he also wrote. He’s cool. PB : There’ s a lot been made of the guests that play on this album, Ronnie Spector, Martin Rev and Moe Tucker. Did you approach anyone else and did anyone turn you down? SRW : No, that’s it. I really wanted to have Mary Wells from the Shangri-Las on the album, but we couldn’t find her. Someone told me she was dead, which turned out not to be true. We never made the effort unfortunately. PB : Martin Rev isn’t credited on the album apart from as “The Instrument.” SRW : That’s what he wanted. He is actually on songs you don’t expect him to be on. He is on ‘Uncertain Times’ and he is on ‘You Say, You Lie.’ He also recorded a version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’. In the case of Ronnie, she wanted to do what she does best, which is to sing her usual type of song and to do those Woah, woahs, woahs. She actually came up with that. We never asked her to do that. That was her idea, to do the woah, woah, woahs. We were like “Alright, that sounds good.” We wanted Moe just to do the Velvets stuff because that’s what she does best but with Martin we wanted him to do something else. We wanted him to play something completely different. That was the most inspiring part of the album for me to see him going from total noise avant garde to doing this really mellow type of stuff. It was really beautiful and strange. PB :Moe played on four tracks. Were they written with her in mind or were they just songs you had at the time ? SRW : No, none of the songs were written with anyone in mind. When we were mixing the record I made up a list of people that it would be interesting to add on to it. After that it was pretty easy to figure out what we wanted them to play PB : Did your normal drummer think “Now that you’ve got Moe Tucker drumming. Why do you want me ?” SRW : He was really egotistical about working with Moe (Laughs). He is so proud of it because he played along with her at the same time. PB : ‘Pretty In Black’ is your longest album in length. You released it in America 3 months ago as a 12 track version. The UK release has 17 tracks. Have you got a bigger fan base in Britain ? Is that why you released it here with bonus tracks? SRW : I don’t know about those things. That’s the record company. It could be other things like it was on the internet a long time before it officially come out and people could download it. Perhaps when it came out here they wanted to give people something extra. I don’t know how these things work. PB : ‘Ode to LA’ was, however, having said that, originally released here on 10 inch vinyl only. Do you think it suffered because of that? SRW : I don’t really get too involved in these things. I don’t listen to radio, so I don’t know what works. Someone has to say “I think this will work on the radio” and I will say then “Okay, great. Put it out.” The only thing I was sad about was that when that song was released it was my favourite track on the album. I think, if it was a proper release instead of a limited vinyl release, it would have been really great, so I was a little disappointed that ‘Love in a Thrash Can’ became the first single because I would of liked ‘Ode to LA’ to be the first , but we are thinking now about re releasing it as a proper single. PB : ‘Whip it On’ was 22 minutes long. ‘Chain Gang of Love’ was 33 minutes long. ‘Pretty in Black’ runs at just under an hour with it extra tracks . Did it take longer to write as a result? SRW : Actually this was the fastest record to write. It was pretty much written in a week. I wrote 7 songs in a day and the rest just came. It was an easy album to write because at that time I hadn’t written anything for 2 years because we had toured so much with ‘Chain Gang.’ PB : The first two albums were recorded with lots of effect peddles. Did it feel weird recording ‘Pretty in Black’ as you didn’t use effect peddles at all ? SRW : At first in was, but then I didn’t think about it too much. I was just after writing a good song, because that’s what matters to me. Sharin and I thought it would nice to do something different. We could of easily done another ‘Chain Gang of Love’ album, but I don’t think that would have been very interesting. I think as a band you want to evolve and do something different. I don’t want to get struck into doing the same thing. For me that is not interesting at all. PB : The album as a whole is acoustic, downbeat, and has a 50’s twang. This is the first time you have used acoustic guitars. Why did it take you so long to first using acoustic guitars ? Had you just never thought about playing them before? SRW : What a lot of people don’t know is that as I was doing ‘Whip It On’ I was also doing ‘Chain Gang of Love,’. Those were only going to come out on an indie label in Denmark with two months between them. There are 8 songs on ‘Whip It On’ and 8 songs on ‘Chain Gang of Love’ so you put them together. That’s 16 songs, 8 songs in B flat minor, 8 songs in B flat major, all with three chords. We were then going to go on and do a proper album but because we signed with Sony with ‘Whip It On’ we then ended up touring a lot with ‘Chain Gang of Love’, so much so that we had to release it as a full length album. We became known as this band, with restrictions and rules and dogma, and all that sort of stuff, and that was never the intention. The intention was to do those pretty fast, put them out, and then we were going to do an album. It was just inspiring to do it at the time, because we were sick of the music scene. It was over produced, with long songs, slick guitars, and big productions. We thought “Fuck it,!” so we were actually fucking around with it. We were having fun with it. We didn’t even put a hi hat on the record because everyone had a hi hat. We were basically fucking with the whole concept of how to do rock at the time, but it was never meant to pan out the way it did. At the time, I was writing these beautiful love songs on acoustic guitars. I wrote ‘Somewhere In Texas’ and ’If I was Young’ at the time. There’s a lot of songs on ‘Pretty in Black’ from when I was recording ‘Whip It On.’ PB : There’s a 17 track remix of ‘Love in a Thrashcan’ available as a download. Is that a record company idea? SRW : No, that’s actually our own idea again. I think the internet these days is kind of interesting and what you can do with it. I think you should be able to pay a monthly fee to someone and then download whatever you want to in that month. If it was the way we wanted it, we would give 17 versions of ‘Love in a Thrashcan’, but we are not in a position right now because we are in a corporate business, but it was a fun thing to do. Sometimes I download stuff off the internet that I think is interesting. Sometimes I find a really obscure demo version of a song that I really like. I recently bought some lost tapes of Richie Valance.’ You can hear these demos of him writing ‘Donna’, and all these other songs like ‘We Belong Together.’ It’s really interesting to hear how these evolved. I thought we should do the same. You can hear how the first mix sounded, the original demo, that I did, but I want to do more of this stuff. I would like us to do a newsletter everyday, and update pictures everyday and say “Last night we did this and this.” Sometimes it bothers us that we can’t do this, but it would be interesting. It would be fun. PB : I believe you discovered Buddy Holly through a movie (The Buddy Holly Story, 1978-Ed). That seems like a weird place to discover him. SRW : Yeah, that movie is really, really good. I think it’s a really good movie. I still watch it too this day. I just really love the music a lot. He sticks out as an interesting character. PB. : When, I first interviewed you, you told me that you had been in a few bands, but nothing worth talking about, but after seeing the Raveonettes, I discovered you were in Psyched up Janus, whom were on This Way Up. How did that evolve ? Was that your first band? SRW : It was my first serious band, Yeah, I had it for about 10 years, but it was mostly Danish-based. PB : But you played here ? SRW : Yeah, we did some shows. We did a month with Killing Joke around Europe, and a couple of shows in the States. PB : And you put out one album, ‘Swell’, and a few singles? SRW : No, there’s 5 full length albums, and 3 EPs, but only one got released here. PB : And were you in any other bands ? SRW : The last band was The Trembelow Beer Garden, which was a spy/surf instrumental band. Jon Spencer was our number 1 fan, so we played with his band, the Blues Explosion, and his wife’s band Boss Hogg. We did European tours with them. We recorded a single with them actually. PB : With a lot of Raveonettes material, there’s a Christmas feel. Maybe it’s just the tambourines. I know you have done a Christmas single, but would you like to do a Christmas album? SRW : Yeah, definitely. I did actually write a Christmas record for Ronnie Spector, so maybe she might do it when Christmas comes. Yeah, I am really into Christmas. I am totally into it. I would love to do a Christmas album, but the only problem I have with it, is that lyrically I think it’s hard to do. You can go with all the clichés, but it’s hard to write a personal Christmas album. It’s too sad or too jolly or too cheesy. I don’t think, I could do 12 Christmas songs. I think it would be horrible. PB : You could do an EP. SR : Or we could do some Christmas instrumentals. PB : I imagine the new album was written about a year ago. Any ideas for the new one? SRW : Yeah, I am always working and always have lots of ideas, I always take notes, and take inspiration from pictures I see or stories I hear, so I remember to write them down, I have a lot of good ideas. I always know what I want, but it takes a while to get it together. PB : And what sort of direction will it be ? A cross between the old sound and the new? SRW : It will probably be a bit more of a modern sounding record, I think. PB : ‘Pretty In Black’ is very 50s sounding. SRW : Actually, that’s funny, because it has the most samples on it of all our records. I think the noises on it make it sound very retro and 50’s. Theres so many keyboards and samples on it, I think a song like ‘Seductress of Bums’ is really modern. I said in the press release that I think Beyonce should do this stuff. It would be great too listen too. I don’t know why modern R and B artists don’t look back a bit more and do stuff like Mary Wells or something, because that’s where there roots are. I can’t see why they can’t do a bit of retro sound and new sound. ‘Seductress of Bums’ was done totally like that. I think it will be a more electronic sounding record, and very brutal the way it is coming along now. It’s going to be dark and evil. I might record it in a year’s time, and I might change my mind. If I did ‘Pretty in Black’ now it would be different. It just felt right. PB : Your gigs are going very well. You now have people stage diving and dressing up 50’s style. SRW : They are really getting into it. We are very happy with it, and we are having fun with it. PB : There’s a lot more twang on the album. Do you think this dates it a bit because it gives it a 50’s feel ? SRW : No, I love it. I love surf music. I love instrumentals, surf music, Hawaiian music. Like I said, I played in a surf band for 4 years. PB : I did find with ‘Here Comes Mary’ that it sounds like ‘All I Have to Do is Dream’ by the Everly Brothers. SRW : That’s what it is. That’s the whole point. I wanted to do a song. That’s one of my favourite songs of all time. I wanted to do that song, but I didn’t want to do a cover of it. I wanted to do it so it sounds pretty much like it. I changed the lyrics, and made it more evil, and we had a big ending and made it more electronic too. PB : It sounds like a tribute to the Everlys, but a lot of your songs sound like tributes anyhow without being copies. Your version of ‘Everyday’, is quite restrained compared to the live version, which was very brutal. SRW : Yeah, yeah, that changed a lot when Martin came in. It ended up sounding 80’s which was interesting, because we had already recorded the other version, and we thought we would do something completely different. PB : Thank you for your time. SRW : Thank you. Good to see you again.

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