While performing a set at the Village Voice's Siren Festival, Danish duo the Raveonettes opened up for a Q&A about songwriting, Kerouac and their distain for violence against women. Part of Vice Records American roster, their forthcoming release of 'In and Out of Control' in set for the Fall. Dive into a whirlwind interview as we talk shop.
For a ninth consecutive year the Village Voice held it's annual Siren Fest on the shores of Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Along with the always-present carnival atmosphere, wild rides and various "freak shows" (some not even part of the official boardwalk), a full day of music festival mayhem was launched. On discovering that one of my all time favorite bands - The Raveonettes would be a featured performer on this day, I made the necessary arrangements to secure and interview with them, on the day of their performance here.
Despite the comings and goings of various side musicians, the core duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have been ever constant for nearly a decade now. Wagner is the songwriter, principal guitarist and creative visionary. Sharin has always been the perfect counterpart for him, with her striking good looks, fantastic voice and multi-instrumental ability. Both natives of Denmark, they are now fully rooted in America, with Sune calling New York home and Sharin residing in LA. They have toured as a four, then five piece band - as well as only a duo, where Sune & Sharin have alternated between playing guitar, bass and drums as any individual song may require. Having recently wrapped up the recording of their fifth studio album (due for release in October) they are only playing a few festivals this summer, until embarking on a proper tour in the fall.
DaveCromwell: Who do you have playing bass and drums for this show?
Sharin: Two young guys named Jens and Adrian who play in the Danish band Mellemblond.
Were they already familiar with your music?
Sharin: I think they were, yeah. They seemed very well prepared. They are really great musicians. Denmark has some really great musicians.
The new album is to be called In And Out of Control. You've posted the 11 song titles, yet the title track did not make the record.
Sune: It's going to be a good B-side.
I heard an advance song where you have gone into a dance, keyboardy direction. Was there a conscious decision to go in this direction?
Sune: Not really. The songs on this album are so different from each other. The one you heard is the dance song. On Pretty In Black (their second full-length) we had "Twilight", and that was the dance song there. So we need a dance song every once in a while - cause we like to dance. That one is a good dance song, but it is the only one on the album.
Sure, I'm well aware you like to dance. For instance, I was in attendance at your DJ set after your Webster Hall show this past January. You played a lot of rap and hip-hop, which caught me a bit by surprise.
Sune: It's the best music to dance to.
Looking through some of the songs you posted on your blogs, it was surprising to see how all over the place it was, and how much hard-edged rap and hip-hop there was.
Sune: Wu Tang, NWA, Schooly D, sure.
Whereas, what I gathered from your recent web chat with the fans last month, Sharin, was that you're not particularly much of a fan of that kind of music; that you are into more sophisticated and classical music.
[Both members burst out in laughter]
Why are you two laughing so hard?
Sharin: Well, I appreciate hip-hop but I must confess, I don't know a lot about it. I would say that Sune introduces me to this stuff.
I don't usually listen to much of it either, but I had to admit when I was at Sune's dance party, that I found myself getting into it. He mixed it up good, though.
Sune: I played Springsteen too -- "Born To Run".
Yes, I remember that as well. I have to admit though, up until that point I wasn't aware you were so knowledgeable with all these various styles of music. Something you said recently in your blogs was how you needed to get back together with Sharin, and how you need that "Raveonettes building block" to make things happen. Can you define what the Raveonettes building block is?
Sune: It's never really a "Raveonettes song" until we start singing on it. A lot of the time we do a lot of instrumental tracks that are just sort of there, and we think it sounds pretty good, but then when we put the vocals on it, at that point, it truly becomes a Raveonettes song.
Some of the early videos from the studio sessions showed Sharin and your producer Thomas Troelson whipping up interesting beats. Do you like doing this? Is it fun for you?
Sharin: Yeah, sure. I like playing the drums. When we did our solo duo tour I got to play quite a bit on the drums. I love it.
I know you both play drums, guitar and bass. What about keyboards? Have you delved into that at all?
Sharin: In the studio sometimes, yeah. That would be the instrument I find the most challenging.
When you were recording these beats with Thomas, would you first record the drum shot and then loop it on the computer, advising him on how you wanted it to sound?
Sune: We would work on stuff during the day, then Thomas would go home and we'd continue to work on it at night. Just adding on to the beats. If I felt it needed a different snare drum I would put that in -- or needed another kick drum, I'd add that.
Was it all natural acoustic sounds at first?
Sune: No, we used a lot of sampled sounds, just a good mixture of the two.
When you first started writing the new material, you stated that you were struggling somewhat to write the words to some of the songs. Were you suffering from some kind of writers block?
Sune: I had some lack of inspiration due to the fact that I was sitting in an apartment that wasn't mine in Copenhagen, so it was a little difficult to find the proper mood to write.
When you asked the fans to post their top song lyrics from over the years on your webpage, did you find any inspiration in that?
Sune: These things are always great to learn. It's good to hear different opinions of people and see what they like. It's like someone saying to you, 'you should read this book it's good,' you know. It's great to get recommendations. There were a lot of songs that people posted that had lyrics I never heard before, so it was interesting to check out.
So, as your time in the studio progressed, it then started to flow?
Sune: Yeah, it became easier, the more we started getting into the songs.
Sharin: It's always like this when you start an album, you have to find a direction. It takes a while to get the feeling of where the album is going to go, or what the album needs. So the first few weeks were very much a search for whatever that was going to be -- the centerpiece.
Sune: Once you start finding the sound of the album its a lot easier to write words for it, because the sound creates a certain mood for the song. So if you sit there with just an acoustic guitar, its sometimes difficult to find words for it. You need to be inspired by the music, I think personally.
Sune: For instance, there is only one lyric you could write for "Aly, Walk With Me" because it's so fitting for that song. There's only one thing you could do for "That Great Love Sound", it fits the sound of that song. That's usually how it works.
Someone told me that due to your literary interests in books, movies and music, that you sometimes seem to almost lead a little movement of retro future beats. That the dog-eared paperbacks have been swapped for blogs, but the principles are still the same.
Sune: Yes, someone wants me to be a leader of a generation. I'm not so sure. I don't feel that powerful.
Obviously your fascination with Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson points to fact that you are a very literary individual. I'm sure you find inspiration in that.
Sune: Sure, definitely. When I was a teenager that was the stuff I started reading and obviously it inspired me to travel and see the world - see the beauty in things I might not have seen before. When I really need inspiration, I always turn to Kerouac, Ginsberg or Gregory Corso. Someone like that because it's where I come from.
In their corner since 2003.
As you are a great admirer of Jack Kerouac, could you name a single favorite book he has written?
Sune: That's a very difficult question. There is a very beautiful book of his called "Visions of Gerard" where he wrote about his brother who died of rheumatic fever. It's a little bit of an unusual book. But it's very heartfelt - a short account of the memory of his brother.
Have you read Kerouac, Sharin?
What do you read?
Sune: Only sophisticated books [laughter]
Sharin: Right now, to be honest with you , I don't read a lot of fiction. I read a lot of non-fiction about having a child.
Of course, since you are now a parent.
Sharin: Other than that, I like to read poetry. Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton.
Do you write your own poetry?
Sharin: No, I don't.
What is the best time of day for you - mornings or late at night?
Sharin: Well, right now late at night is not really an option.
You're a morning person because of your daughter.
Sharin: But I'm not a good morning person.
What about you, Sune - are you a morning or night person?
Sune: I'm a morning person. I'm usually more inspired in the morning.
One of the songs who's lyrics you have shared with us via your blogs is titled "Break Up Girls." Have you witnessed the sort of behavior you write about in it? Where boys are abusive to their girlfriends?
Sune: Yes. I saw a girl who was systematically abused by her uncle for a period of six years. I saw how that had taken a toll on her and affected her life; how it actually ruined her life. So, this song is a little bit inspired by that experience.
This is somewhat of a new direction for you, lyrically. You now have two songs that deal with violence against women - "Boys Who Rape" and this one. You are taking a stand against this sort of violence.
Sune: I take a stand against violence in general. I think it's horrible.
Previously you wrote in your blog that you would be documenting the entire album recording process on video. Any additional info on this?
[Nervous laughter from both Sune & Sharin]
Sune: Yeah, well in ten years time . . . [more laughter]
So, you have a lot of raw footage that needs to be edited?
Sharin: It actually fell apart.
Sune: Someone needed their camera back. [More laughter]
Well at least we got the two video chats that each of you did, and the two viewings of your recording sessions. One thing I couldn't help but notice was, Sharin - that in your video chat you said that you don't really read the fans comments on your various social networking sites.
Sune: [turning to Sharin] yes, you said that! I was horrified when I saw that. [much laughing]
I don't want to put words in your mouth, but was that a reaction to the fact you had just been accused of putting up a plea for people to help with your record?
Sharin: I guess what I meant was -- and I still do mean -- that it's interesting to hear what people think, but ultimately were going to make the music that we make.
Right. It's not that you don't read them, it's that you don't use it as a guide for what you're going to do.
Sune: I always read them.
Sure, I know you want feedback.
Sharin: And I probably don't read them as much as Sune does.
But, you control the Twitter account, don't you?
Sharin: Yes, I read all those messages. And you're right, my comment on the chat was a reaction to us being annoyed by the fact that some people thought we needed help.
How much of that was written? Because I read a lot of stuff, but I didn't see it anywhere.
Sharin: It was more like a media twist on what we were doing. I think they thought this would be a better story.
Early on in your blogging, you stated that you were adding a lot of synths - which points to your producer Thomas Troelson's influence - and will have a charming deal of noise psychedelic. Which songs contain the noise psychedelic?
Sune: That was actually before we did the album (both laugh). Well, "Break Up Girls" has a very nice noisy intro on that one.
Sharin: It's not very psychedelic.
Sune: We skipped the psychedelic because everyone is doing that now.
You just got right to the noise!
Sune: After The Horrors did their Primary Colors album - they did the psychedelic album of the year, so we felt there was no reason to do that again.
It is often true that everything you do is a reaction to what has just happened. There are certain record producers who have the reputation of pushing the artists they are working with in certain ways. Did you find that to be the case with Thomas Troelson?
Sharin: This is sort of what we were looking for in a way -- someone that would come in and really challenge us in a way he hadn't been before.
So, he wouldn't be afraid to tell you when something might not be working?
Sune: Yes, that's exactly what we wanted.
Sharin: He would suggest that we try and do something we hadn't done before, and encourage us to get out of our comfort zone. To try and do it differently.
Rolling with photographer and friend KAS.
No, that's not Keith Richards behind us.
Jamie of Vice Records. Has got it all under control.