“My Tornado”: Why the Raveonettes are So Hard to Forget, and Why Your Ears Won’t Let You
The Raveonettes are a music junkie’s perfect fix. The Danish alternative rockers are among musicians today who still value the power of an album as a complete piece of art. Each of their concept albums are made with an eye to style that recalls their inspirations—girl groups from the 60’s, as well as early 50’s rock groups. Their latest, Raven in the Grave, dropped this spring.
It is their seventh release to date and delivers the signature feedback and harmony- heavy sound for which the duo have become famous. The band is currently touring Europe for the second time to promote this album, and played across North America as well over the past few months. Duo Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo originate from Denmark, but have made their homes on opposite sides of the U.S. (NYC and L.A. respectively) since the band hit it big. Retro harmonies and literate, yet direct choruses are their trademarks—as in hits such as “Last Dance” (In and Out of Control, 2009)—which was used on prime-time shows such as “Gossip Girl”.
All of their releases to date provide rich listening experiences not just because of the catchy melodies and singable choruses—but because underneath that artistry lies deeply poetic lyrics. Like anything truly affecting, their lyrics are not all sunshine and blue skies. But Wagner is a brilliant composer for his ability to package tales of lust, teenage delinquency, scorned love, drugs, sex and more into treats for our ears. My personal favorite album Lust Lust Lust (2007) takes the listener on an exciting and yet emotional journey through the broken-hearted tale of lovers struggling with the difference between love and carnal physical desire. One of their most famous songs,“Dead Sound”, is on this album. When you concentrate on the lyrics, underneath the shimmer and shine of the melody, you realize the song is a lament on infidelity, and how alone it will leave you, when “all the cheap words that you bought on sale won’t help you through tonight”. It is tongue-in-cheek lines like this that make Wagner such an appealing musician—he is inspired by the likes of John Waters and other “camp” heroes.
The Raveonettes are a perfect throw back, with originality to boot. Wagner explains that their juxtaposition of dark lyrical content, with girl-group and pop sounds, is more interesting to him. “It can be nice sometimes to have that contrast. I mean not for all music. I like Black Metal too, I enjoy that raw style music and raw words. But with our music we like that juxtaposition,” he explained on the phone from his New York City apartment.
Wagner knew he wanted to be a musician from the age of sixteen. He cites influences such as Bob Dylan and much of the music from the late 50’s and early 60’s. They are often compared to the Everly Brothers for their harmonies, and the Jesus and Mary Chain for their feedback-heavy rock sound. Their 2005 release Pretty in Black features their 60’s inspired groove “Love in a Trashcan”, which they performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brian. They landed a spot for their debut album as well, performing “That Great Love Sound” (from Chain Gang of Love) on David Letterman in 2003.
The band got their start thanks to a stroke of pure and amazing chance—a woman who enjoyed their music passed on her inheritance to them, because: “She believed in us,” explained Wagner. “She had inherited a great deal of money.” When asked if they keep in touch, he explained that: “She didn’t want to start a relationship with us; she just wanted to give the money to someone who could actually use it. She wanted nothing in return. She wanted to keep it semi-anonymous.”
So how can you catch up with the Raveonettes’ most current music? If you are a visual person, which they sure are as a band, treat yourself to the horror movie-esque music video for their new album. The video, directed by Tod Hidell, is for the song “Apparitions”, one of their most striking new songs. It has a driving drum beat and bass line that haunts you long after you have listened to the whole album–which is why it is perfect that Hidell chose to set the song against the backdrop of a story of murdered women and their ghosts. “In the night we run around in the street jacked up on life and hell. Thunder love has struck us again, we’re apparitions of a sinful spell,” is a line from this song, which resonates most to me out of all the lyrics on the album. What could better encapsulate that wild feeling as summer begins, the possibility to “run around in the streets”.
Wagner said all of Hidell’s ideas for their videos have been “…really great! I like his images a lot. They are quite universal. We asked him if he could find something to do with a particular song, and told him he could do whatever he wanted.” The Raveonettes are admirable not just for their own artistic vision, but for seeking out interesting artists like Hidell and sometimes still handing off the creative freedom to let their image flourish.
Although their other popular music videos, for songs such as “Dead Sound” and “Last Dance”, do not feature Wagner and Foo, you can enjoy them in their full campy film-noir theatricality in the video for “Attack of the Ghost Riders” off their debut album Chain Gang of Love. It is often noted that Foo was named one of the hottest women in rock in 2006 by Blender Magazine. The video was a great chance for her to flaunt her buffount hairstyle and full mystery movie, 50’s era regalia. Their album art work has often included flashy, movie-poster like images of the duo as well. Wagner explained that the band’s attention to aesthetics is just: “What we like. We try to fit in what is important to us. Whatever fits the specific thing we do for each album, we go down that road. So we are inspired by many different things.”
Although fans may picture a magical long distance process between Wagner and Foo, like an extended version that of Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamberello during their single album union Postal Service; Wagner says it is actually quite hard, and frankly a “Shitty situation. We are a little more used to it now though. Sharin has personal reasons to stay in L.A. Her family is there, and I am in NY for the music scene. So our process for this album was the same as always. I write the songs, and then send the ideas to Sharin. She comments on what she likes, and we then work from there. Then we go off what we both really enjoy, and I finish writing. We add the vocals from there.”
Wagner’s writing process is not directly influenced by his country of residence though–in fact he explained that he is mainly inspired by what he reads. “We travel a lot, so I am never really anywhere. Everything is quite inspiring to me”. Wagner is incredibly thankful for his loyal fan base, and says they are “The ones we play to. Some people who understand what we are about. There are other people who never really care, they have a certain notion of what we are like, and they haven’t bothered seeing how we progress. That’s fine though.” The Raveonettes are so specific, that many people may think they are “not for them” or a “hate them or love them” type band–but I would insist that seeing them live is fun no matter what kind of music you like. Wagner actually loves rap and hip hop, and their shows always raise the roof, no matter what songs they throw into their sets.
His favorite musicians show quite the variety– he loves 70’s band such as Sailor, as well as Dutch band Iceage, and American rap-rockers Beastie Boys.
“Usually my lyrics come from my own experiences, but sometimes they are about other people too. On this album, it is mostly my own experiences. Mainly because it is easier to write about what you know, than to create fictitous stories. I write about what I see and hear.”
One song that stands out from their anthology to date is “Boys Who Rape (Should All be Destroyed)” (from In and Out of Control), their only overtly political song. Wagner does not set out to write songs with particular themes though—he explained that whether they will release more political songs will just depend on what mood he is in and “What I’m up to. You never know what is going to happen from album to album and song to song, so you can’t anticipate these things. They just come and go, I guess.”
Interestingly, they encountered some obstacles with that album’s U.S. release, and had to find a way around censorship issues. Wagner said they have not had any similar problems since.
“As a musician, you have the freedom to do what I really want to do. It is a great job. We can do whatever we want to do at any given time. If we wanted to make and album today and put it out tomorrow, we could. Nothing holds you down. It’s a great way to live. Our career so far has been a crazy roller coaster. So far it has been some really amazing years. We keep experiencing great things.”
Part of Wagner’s journey is that he had also found himself as a behind the scenes man for bands such as the Dum Dum Girls. He helped record their new album, and raved about the experience. “I helped with their first EP, and now this is their first album. It is really good, a great album. They are amazing songwriters. They are certainly a band to watch, to watch them grow.”
The band is already working on material for their next album, to which I echo back their line “Let’s rave on cause I know that you want it….Let’s go down where the hearts are all broken/ Fix ’em all in time…” Buddy Holly’s legacy proudly lives in them, with his “Rave On” song as the basis of their namesake.