The Raveonettes, Ten Years In

Published October 5, 2012

THE RAVEONETTES’ SHARIN FOO (LEFT) AND SUNE ROSE WAGNER. IMAGE COURTESY OF SØREN SOLKAER STARBIRD

The Raveonettes are Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo from Denmark—a duo whose vocal harmonies and jagged guitars are drenched in reverb, recalling 1980s noise rock with a splash of sugar. They released their sixth album, Observator, last month—and, perhaps even more notably, recently celebrated their 10-year anniversary as a musical duo. They’ve come a long way since MTV censored their video for “Attack of the Ghost Riders.”

On the eve of their show at Webster Hall tonight, Interview caught up with Sune Rose Wagner to talk about the new album and look back on the last decade.

ROLAND LI: How does the new album compare to your old work? What were some things you were trying to change up?

SUNE ROSE WAGNER: It’s just different sounding, I guess, a bit of different guitar sounds. We added the piano on some songs, which we haven’t tried before. Mainly, we really just focus on good songwriting. We don’t really care so much how it compares to other stuff.

LI: Were there certain themes that you focused on?

WAGNER: They’re all love songs, which they usually are. They’re usually more sad love songs. We have quite a happy song called “She Owns the Streets,” which is about a New York street painter. But beside that, I’d say it’s about unrequited love. It’s about unfulfilled promises.

LI: I also read that you’ve had some back problems recently. Did that change the songwriting?

WAGNER: About a year ago, I had a herniated disc. I wound up in the hospital in New York for four days. After that, there was a lot of physical therapy, and I was bedridden for a long time. I was super sad and depressed. You feel young, and you can’t even put on your own pants. It upset me a lot. I definitely think that affected a lot of the songwriting. Personally, this is by far the darkest that I’ve ever written.

LI: How does the writing process work between you and Sharin?

WAGNER: I do all the writing. And then we talk about the different songs and what we like about them and what we don’t like about them. We try to see if we can come up with something we can agree on.

LI: Are there ever disagreements?

WAGNER: There always is, yeah. I’m more easygoing about certain things, about timing and stuff like that. Sharin always is like, “We don’t have time to finish the album.” I’m always like, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll make it.”

LI: Who was the producer that you worked with?

WAGNER: His name is Richard Gottehrer. He’s a legend. He started back in the 1960s writing for girl groups in the Brill Building. Even before that, he had written a song called “I’m on Fire” for Jerry Lee Lewis. In the ’70s, he co-founded Sire Records and he did Blondie. Then in the ’80s, he did the Go-Gos. We worked with him on a few albums. He’s been our best friend for over 10 years now. I consider him my American dad.

LI: I know that your music gets labeled as retro a lot. How do you feel about that?

WAGNER: I don’t really care about labels that much. I wouldn’t really call it retro. There are influences of things from the past, which there is in everything. I think we’re quite a modern band, actually. We don’t record with old equipment. We use computers and programmed drums. We don’t use any guitar amplifiers. We’re very much a modern band in the sense that we love computers and what they can do to music. I guess we’re just good at a different sound.

LI: Is translating that into a live setting a challenge?

WAGNER: No, not at all, because we also play with samples and computers live. We don’t like the sound of a drum kit just mic’d up onstage. It sounds boring to us. We bring our own sound and the drummer triggers different sounds that we find interesting.

LI: You’ve said that cinema is a big influence in your music.

WAGNER: Yeah. I think both Sharin and I are more movie lovers than we are music lovers. We tend to find inspiration a lot more in cinematic things like photo and film. I think our music has a very cinematic quality to it. When you listen to the music, you see little movies in your head, and that’s the beauty of it, I think. People can make up their own stories. They don’t necessarily have to know exactly what each song is about. It’s their way of interpreting of interpreting different feelings or emotions.

LI: Was there a specific film or genre that influenced your writing?

WAGNER: I think the Twin Peaks series is probably the biggest one. I think it’s the perfect combination of new and old blended together. I think that TV series was pretty perfect.

LI: Anything you’ve been into recently?

WAGNER: I think the new Wes Anderson movie, Moonrise Kingdom, was really good. It’s definitely my favorite movie in years. I just love his universe.  I thought the dialogue was very dead-on. It was very clever, and it was very cute.

LI: The band is now over 10 years old. Did you ever think it would be such a long project?

WAGNER: I think when you’re in it, you don’t really have time to think about it. I do question a band’s longevity, because most of my favorite bands only made one or two good albums. After that, I didn’t care about them anymore. Sometimes I wonder if people feel the same thing about us. The way I look at it is, if we can continue to inspire ourselves and write really beautiful music that we’re proud of, I don’t think there’s any intention to stop. It’s all about a good songs, that’s something I learned from Richard Gottehrer.

LI: Any lessons from your career?

WAGNER: We started out with a lot of bands in the same generation as ours, and there are very few left. Mainly, I think people get into it for the wrong reasons. They either want fame or the girls. I think music has to be a fun experience, but it also needs to be in your blood. I firmly believe I was born to write beautiful music, and that’s what I do, and that’s why I don’t do anything else, because I have no interest and no passion for it.

LI: How did you first get into music?

WAGNER: I got a drum kit when I was five years old. When I was 12, I wanted to be a songwriter because I heard Bob Dylan for the first time. I didn’t know anything about music. We didn’t have any music at home. I come from a very small town near the German border in Denmark, so I had to travel five hours if I wanted to buy an album. So I had to read about it and I borrowed a lot of albums from the library.

LI: Is rock music as exciting as it once was? It seems that hip-hop and electronic music have taken over in popularity.

WAGNER: I’m lacking a little bit of excitement. The key moments in your life are when you realize how exciting music can be, like when you hear Nevermind for the first time. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s. I was introduced to hip-hop when it first came out. Hip-hop music will always be my first love. That’s why I love playing the drums. Any day of the week, I would rather listen to a hip-hop album than a rock album.

LI: That’s really interesting, because people always compare you to bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain.

WAGNER: I really love hip-hop music, and I really love doo wop groups and girl groups. I’m more into what I grew up with. Those were exciting days, you’d take the train to Copenhagen and you’d buy the new Beastie Boys or the new Curtis Blow or Run-DMC. You held onto that record on the train back home, and you couldn’t wait.

LI: Have you tried rapping at all?

WAGNER: I never tried,because I know I can’t do it. Right now, I’m working on a project called The Sound of New York. I want to do a really grimy, hip-hop kind of thing and have a doo-wop group sing on the entire album, and then bring in all the noise and craziness from the days of CBGB. It’s taking all the stuff that came out of NY and mashing all together. I made some preliminary beats. It sounds very promising. I change my mind a lot and have a short attention span, so we’ll see what happens. I’ve lived in New York for 10 years, and I’m moving to Los Angeles in November. It’s a huge change for me. I think I got nostalgic about it and I wanted to commemorate my time here. It’s my little present to New York.

LI: What made you decide to move?

WAGNER: I’m just the kind of person who needs a change every once in a while. I’m not comfortable staying in the same spot for too long. Even 10 years, for me, is a very long time. I usually don’t stay longer than a few years in a place. Sharin also lives there. But I will move back to New York at some point.

THE RAVEONETTES PLAY WEBSTER HALL TONIGHT, OCTOBER 5. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.