Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Sune Rose - Exclusive Interview

Ever since it was announced that Sune Rose Wagner would be returning to New York to live and work, the goal to conduct an up close and personal face-to-face catch-up interview with the man became an accessible reality. The long-time Raveonettes visionary has recently re-branded himself by dropping his last name, presenting new works as simply Sune Rose.

Arranging a time and location for an early Tuesday afternoon, I met up with Sune at his favorite local cafe in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood (Le Pain Quotidien on 7th Avenue) on one of those extremely hot and humid days we've been having for the entire month of August.

D:  So, why the move back to New York, after all that time in Los Angeles?

Sune: I know – it's a really good question. I believe I have what's called 'seasonal affective disorder' – but in reverse. Meaning that – most people get depressed if it's too grey or when the days are too short. But I have the opposite where I get depressed if every day is always bright and sunny out.

D:  Well you are from Denmark and were raised in cooler climates where seasonal changes occur through the year.

S:  Yes, I very much like seasons and the feeling that the year is rolling, and that can be a big blow when it's Christmas and it's hot out like this. The whole palm tree Christmas can be a bit confusing. So that was one of the reasons for the change. Another reason was that I do have a lot of old friends here that I missed and wanted to reconnect with them. But to be quite honest with you, I'm not completely enjoying the move, and I don't see myself living here for a very long time.

D:   Were some of the reasons for the change so you could get involved in different aspects of music? Perhaps other opportunities for more production work, radio, tv, film or things like that?

S:  Everytime I make a move I hope and assume that there will be other people you can meet and other jobs becoming available – and maybe other people that can inspire you.

D:   I understand you had been doing a bit of acting recently.  Tell me about this work you've done for Kansas Bowling and a film called “Cuddly Toys.”

S:  Kansas is a girl that I met right before I left LA. I wish I had known her for all the years that I was there, but unfortunately I only met her a few months before I left. She's a young budding actress, screenwriter and film director. I have no doubt that she is going to be huge one day.

D:  Has the film come out yet?

S:  I think she's still working on it. I wrote a song for the movie for a Russian young woman who is also in the movie named Sasha. Independent from this film, I'm also writing songs with Sasha right now.

D:   There's been a number of in-progress posts covering this activity on your Instagram account.

D:  Are those clips and pictures from your studio?

S:  Yes, that's my home recording studio. That's where I do everything.

D:  I did some research on Sasha Belyaeva and see that she's interested in numbers and economics, along with being an accomplished violinist.

S:  She's a great violin and piano player and a really good singer too.

D:  And you are currently co-writing material with her?

S:  Yes, we have quite a few now. There's no target date for releasing any of these at this time as of yet, however. We want to make sure we like a specific song first. She also travels a lot working as a model, and is presently back home in Russia visiting her parents.

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D:  Anyone who has followed your career is aware of the inspiration American “Beat Generation” writer Jack Kerouac has provided you.  Have you read all of his books?

S:  Actually, no. I still to this day have never read his very first book “The Town And The City.” I've read all the others, though.

S:  One way that I used to draw inspiration from him was, I would have a pen and paper next to me, and every time there was a word or sentence – or something that evoked some kind of imagery in me - I would just write it down. I would just take notes, and before I knew it I had multiple papers laid out. Sometimes small sentences and sometimes just single words that would lead to emotional reactions that would start an avalanche of writing. I still do that to this very day. That's how I write lyrics. I need words to set everything into motion.

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D:  The first song you released is “Ambush,” and I see you have a fuller video to go along with the lyric one you initially put out.

S:  I didn't really mean to do it, but it evolved out of something else. The day before I left Los Angeles it was one of those rare days in California when it rains. I remember waking up and thinking that I need some press photos and didn't want to repeat the beach shots we did with "Peahi."  I wanted to do the pictures within the hour and I called up the photographer we always use, Ashlie Chavez.

S:  I said can you meet me downtown somewhere and shoot some photos in the rain – that's my biggest dream. She agreed to meet and said she knew a great roof we could shoot them on. As I was driving in I thought maybe she can shoot some clips of me singing or walking around. If you look close at the video, in the first verse I'm standing up against the wall in the hallway of the hotel miming along with the words, but it took us 100 takes to get it somewhat right.

D:  That's cool. Well, as a writer and reviewer I'm a big fan of lyric videos for the obvious reason of having the words in front of me. I don't have to ask for them or try to figure them out myself.

D:  You recently announced a “new single and lyric video coming soon” and that “it's gonna get noisy.”  Is that going to be a real guitar heavy song?

S:  Yes, for sure!  I shot another lyric video up in Nyack for this next single “After All,” and the mastered audio from Sterling Sound is now complete, so we will be releasing that soon.

S:  It's very much way more of a Raveonettes type of song. That is kind of the style that I write. The response so far has been very positive, from all the PR and management people, Scott – are all absolutely loving it. So, I think this will really resonate with people a lot more and I think they will say – oh, great! We thought he was just going to start releasing some weird synthy stuff, but hey – this is going to be interesting. Now we can't wait to see what he's going to do next.

D:  Right. Because the final track on your last album (the Atomizer collection) - “Pendejo” was a weird, synthy, long, instrumental, swirling – almost film score music.

S:  One of my best friends Johnny was with me up in wine country and he speaks Mexican slang with all his buddies working in the hotel industry. At one point he just said flat out, why don't you do a 12 minute instrumental song called “Pendejo.” Two days after, I sent him the version that appears on the record, I didn't change anything. And I said “oh, you mean like this?” - and he was laughing, he didn't think I would do it. So we actually have him to thank for that.

D:  What's great about the video that goes along with it is you use this image of Jack Kerouac in his football uniform from his time at Columbia University. Which is a photo of him that wasn't all that commonly known. And you alter it so that it moves, with this shaky effect. Were you involved in the video creation of that?

S:  Yeah, yeah – I do everything – every single thing. It's hard for me to give that control away because – first off – I have ideas that are hard to explain. And I don't want to spend unnecessary time and resources on going back and forth with these things. I want to work quickly and I've taught myself how to use these programs for that very reason – how to make videos and how to do all that stuff. When I have an idea I just want to sit down and make it. Because that's the last thing I want to spend my time on. I want to focus on the music rather than spend two weeks with someone making a video. I've tried that before and the videos never turned out the way I wanted them to.

D: Sure. Or, they're these beautiful works of art that stand apart, in a way, from the actual song.  I'm thinking of the video for “Heart Of Stone.

S: Oh, yes! Well, there were two, because “Heart Of Stone” was almost like a steam-punk thing – but then there was the song “Black and White” which was very beautifully done with back and white animation – that one I was really crazy about.

S:   It almost looked like a Tim Burton film, so it definitely can be done. You have to remember that whoever they hired to do that video was extremely good, but they also had the money to do it because it was for a Gap campaign. Now when you are financing everything yourself, I don't want to spend all my money on that, I'd rather buy a new guitar.

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D:  Recently you produced an album for the band Gateway Drugs.  Has that been released yet? 

S:  No, I'm actually mixing it right now. 

D:  I believe a number of the band members are children of a musician who enjoyed a level of success, correct? 

S:  Yes, two brothers and a sister – Gabe, Noa and Liv.  They're the children of Prescott Niles who was The Knack's bassplayer and responsible for that famous “My Sharona” riff.  The band used that actual bass to record the stuff I'm working on now.

D:  You've done a whole album with them? How deeply where you involved in the recording? 

S:  We did ten songs.   As their producer I would make suggestions for their arrangements and to make sure they got their best performance.  I had ideas for backing vocals and extra guitar lines where I would say “why don't you go in and try something like this” just to make sure we had everything.  It's easier to have too much than too little.  I don't want to sit in the mixing process and all of the sudden go 'damn I wish we would have done those harmonies on the second chorus.'

S:  So we try to do as much as we can, and then we can start muting stuff – and get into what we actually need.  It the same thing when I write for myself.  I just do it, and then eventually I'll just start muting things and say "well, what do I actually need?”

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D:  Beginning with your 5th full-length studio album “Raven in the Grave,” you began including lyrical stories of recurring historical themes touching on war and combat. What is your fascination with World War II, Hawaii and the devastating effects of chemicals like Napalm?

S:  I just have a fascination with war overall, both past and present.  I think World War II can sometimes be glamorized a bit too much.

D:  I think all wars are glamorized too much, especially from a literary point of view – where there is a tendency to smooth over how awful in reality it actually is.

S:  Yes, of course. What fascinates me about it as it relates to music is the juxtaposition of evil and beauty.  Pearl Harbor is a great example of that.  If you sometimes look at a picture of the Pearl Harbor bombings, you'll see palm trees in the foreground and the sun is shining – it's all very idyllic – its very exotic - and in the background you have this massive theater of destruction.  That always interested me in how it was very strange you could actually have that, whereas other wars don't have that.

S:  If you look at the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina – the old Yugoslavia, it's just misery all around.  All wars are misery, don't get me wrong, it's just that the scenery can be very different.  Look at the Atom bomb and the trinity testing on bikini island.  If you look at that photo and scan it from bottom up you see a beautiful beach with little tree huts, palm trees, nice clear water and then suddenly this huge mushroom cloud – and you say “what's wrong with this picture?!”

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D:  I see that you and Richard Gottehrer have been doing other things together recently, like going to an archery range. How did that all come about?

S:  A couple of weekends ago I visited him up in Nyack - it was his wife's birthday, and we drove down to New Jersey to do some archery.

D:   Had you ever done it before, and how did you do at it?

S:  I had never done it before and actually did pretty good but I got a little bored of it. For me it's like bowling and golfing, which I see as similar activities.

D:  I know that in your early years you were very into tennis in your home country of Denmark. You appeared to be on that “tennis track” of going to tennis camps and schools, and basicially were being groomed to go pro. 

S:  Yes, I got very good at it. I actually was suppose to go pro, but my mom wanted me to go to school and finish my education, so I wound up doing that instead which put a stop on the tennis.

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D:  You recently posted about producing a track by an artist named Casssie Gaffaney.  What is that all about?

S:  We did that one in Los Angeles, actually.  I believe Richard Gottehrer found her and asked if I could do a song with her.  So I looked at the list of songs available and chose Bruce Springsteen's “I'm On Fire,” which is one I've always liked.  It's a very stripped down version that allows for emphasis on her very cool voice. I did the backing track and she came in and sang on it.

D:  There had been talk of this project a while back, that songs written from a male point of view were going to be released by female vocalists.

S:  Yes, that's right.  I did the Beach Boys song “Don’t Worry Baby” prior to this with a singer named Rachael Fannan.

(and check out the unmistakable Sune Rose guitar sound on it)

D:  So, these songs are basically being released one at a time, and the primary motivation for presenting these songs to the world reverts back to the vocalists?

S:  Yes.  Each one at a time.  I currently have a track ready to go for The Knack song “My Sharona,” if we can find someone to sing on that.

D:  Is this primarily a Richard Gottehrer project? 

S:  There are different people involved.  I've done two now and have a third one ready to go.  When Richard does a song with people then he is producing those songs, yes.

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For further reading on the work of Sune Rose, check out this full track-by-track review of all 12 “Atomized” songs.

 Eight additional Raveonettes reviews can be found linked at the end of that.

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