"I don't even know the words": Sune Rose Wagner on the new Raveonettes record...
There's no shortage of bands keen to wear their Jesus and Mary Chain and Velvet Underground influences on their sleeves these days, but things were different when The Raveonettes were born. Their 2002 debut mini album Whip It On in was as much in thrall to guitar bands like The Cramps and the Velvets as it was to 50s rock’n’roll and doo-wop – and that formula has stuck.
Paving the way for the nugaze revival, they are a decade old this year, and their seventh record Observator is out on Monday (it’s their finest since 2005’s Pretty in Black). To mark its release, chief songwriter Sune Rose Wagner chatted to us about the lure of America, unlikely influences and being seriously down in Los Angeles…
Is it correct that you moved to Los Angeles to record Observator, but things didn’t work out as you’d hoped?
Yeah, it was a pretty tough album to make. It’s been a tumultuous time. I wanted it to be more of an ‘LA album’, but in the end I wrote it all in New York. To me it still has an LA vibe to it though.
Los Angeles has a strong place in the cultural imagination, but being disillusioned with it, as a city, is common.
Definitely. It’s a town of mythical proportions. I always regarded it as the end of the world. When you take those long cross-country trips from the east to the west coast, all you see is the setting sun. You know where the sun is setting, that’s the end – and that’s where LA is. It’s where I came up with the idea for the Raveonettes in 1999, too, so it has a strong pull.
Thematically, a lot of Raveonettes songs play on a romantic vision of America. Does being European give America a special allure?
Growing up in a small, secluded town five hours outside of Copenhagen definitely encouraged that. When you’re in the States – I’ve lived here for ten years – you see quite a different picture, but coming from a small country makes the notion of the big country, the open road and all that very enticing. It still is… when you don’t dig in too deep.
There’s always been a strong cinematic feel and look to your music. Does that come from being a movie fan?
Absolutely. The first time I came to LA in 1999, I thought it looked like a 1940s film noir set. The buildings and streets all looked the same, and I had this crazy notion of walking into a dive bar and hanging out with Raymond Chandler. It still has that quality – when you drive up into the hills, or along Mulholland Drive and all that. New York, I always associate with Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese. Driving across the country too, you end up thinking of old road movies.
You’ve mentioned you had some health issues while recording the new album. What happened?
I had a herniated disc in August last year. I was driving my car and it kind of just exploded. I had to get picked up by the ambulance and I was basically paralysed for three days. After that, I had to spend a lot of time alone in bed and it’s not good for me to spend too much time alone, I get very depressed, so I had a tough time.
Then I started going out a lot, which I probably shouldn’t have and it got pretty crazy. Sometimes I’m proud that we managed to make this album at all. It’s funny, I spoke to Sharin the other day and we were saying how we can’t wait to rehearse songs for the new album for the tour because we hardly know them – We got to sing them four or five times and then recorded them, so I don’t even know the words.
The Raveonettes always been upfront about your influences, but was there anything (other than LA) that you drew on particularly for this record?
It sounds crazy but I’m not much of a music listener. I always to go back to the same music that I like anyway, old hip-hop. That’s what got me into music in the first place. I can go on Pitchfork and listen to the new music they recommend and often I think ‘Oh, really? You mean that?’ I’d rather just go back and listen to an old Eric B Rakim song.
Though it must be nice to see bands emerging on Pitchfork and other sites who are obviously influenced by the Raveonettes.
For sure! It’s very flattering and I also had the opportunity to work with some of those bands, like The Drums and I’ve been producing The Dum Dum Girls – the last EP I did with them just got Best New Track on Pitchfork. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good bands out there, but sometimes the whole alternative indie scene gets a little tiresome. New electronic music is a lot more exciting than rock.
You once said you write three or four songs a day. Is that still the case? What’s a typical songwriting process like?
When I feel good, it’s still true. I wrote four songs yesterday. But I need to be in the right frame of mind. I’m lazy, basically. I’ll sit at home and write some ideas on the piano and record everything. Then, when I have about 8 hours of music I’ll listen to it and take away everything I don’t like, then do it again and keep scrapping until I end up with maybe 2 hours.
How does Observator fit in with other Raveonettes records?
There are always new elements with every record. That’s just natural progression. We certainly don’t want to repeat ourselves. Sometimes people say ‘Why don’t you do another “Attack of the Ghost Riders”?’ and the answer is, we already have it and we still play it! We’ll always have an element of that Raveonettes sound in there, because I have a distinct way of writing songs, and Sharin and I have a distinct way of singing. That’s the core of the band, then we can disguise ourselves in whatever musical guise we want.
The Raveonettes have been going for over a decade now, how do you reflect on your back catalogue?
I look back with pride. It’s very varied. People will ask me, ‘what’s a good song to describe the band?’ and it’s hard. Sometimes I say ‘That Great Love Sound’ because it has most of the elements that are still in our music.
What about a favourite Raveonettes record?
Whip It On, because that started it all, and is the first album I ever made. I recorded and mixed everything and still think it sounds very impressive for a first album. The other is Lust Lust Lust . A lot of the things the band stood for in the beginning are summed up on that album, with regards to the lyrics, the hip-hop beats. It has a lot of doo-wop singing and it’s very dark and simple.
Your career seems to have run concurrently with the rise of file sharing and illegal downloading. Do you have any thoughts on what the future of making a living from music might be?
Most bands don’t really make a living from selling albums, it comes from publishing and live shows. There will always be someone who wants to buy your song for a commercial or a movie and there will always be people who want to see you live.
I never really worry about the whole downloading thing. I’ve always been pretty bad with stealing music myself. I can safely say that if it hadn’t been for Napster I would never have started this band. I remember going to the library and stealing The Cramps biography (which is a really great book) and at the back there were all these lists like ‘Lux Interior’s Favourite 10 Songs’, and I’d never heard of any of those songs. I went on Napster and found every song on there, and they inspired me to start the band. Ever since, if I want to hear a song I’ll just get it.
What’s next for the Raveonettes?
Touring and then another album. It sounds boring, doing the same thing year after year but the music makes all the difference.
Observator is out on Monday 10th September. Read the latest reviews here.
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