Interview The Raveonettes: ‘Our Ambition Draws Us Together’

Dom Smith catches up with Sune Rose Wagner to talk about recording, cooking and really inspirational TV.

Celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, The Raveonettes’ Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner are also unleashing a brand new album, ‘Observator’. Set to be released next week (17th September) via The Orchard and the band’s own Beat Dies Records, the full-length was recorded at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios with mentor Richard Gottehrer (Blondie, Go-Gos, Richard Hell) and marks the Danish band’s sixth studio release. Dom Smith catches up with Sune to talk about recording, cooking and really inspirational TV.

We heard that you wrote for this record in isolation, and how you would just meet people in bars and restaurants and listen to their stories – can you give me an example of a particularly inspiring story?
Of course! I met a girl in New York and she was called Loan [her second name is Tran, and there is actually a considerably amount of info about her online]. I was at Madison Square Garden, and I was watching The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys play. All of a sudden, I see this girl, and she is just dancing by herself in front of everybody else, and everybody was watching her. She was just going for it and didn’t care at all. I met her after the show and she told me her story, about how she used to be a dancer and go to the clubs and dance on her own, but people thought she was crazy and she would get thrown out! She took to the streets of New York and now she just dances there! People still think she is crazy and they call the police who then arrest her and take her in for evaluation. I wrote ‘She Owns The Streets’ about her.

Watching people can be very useful when it comes to gaining inspiration for a range of things, but what do you find most interesting about the way humans interact, is it simply relationships or is it about mannerisms as well?
Well, I think that it’s both things. The mannerisms are definitely important, but I think you need to go deeper and examine what lies behind these things; whether that is a level of insecurity or whatever. People’s interactions and reactions to other people are just so interesting; for someone to see another person in the street dancing like Loan, and think that she is crazy and call the police – to me, that’s crazy!

‘Observations’ itself is another very dark tune about relationships, quite hypnotic in a way – you’ve said it’s about feeling like the outsider, but was there a specific experience or thought that inspired that tune?
These are just moments and observations where I think that this is such a crazy life – being a musician. All my friends, they have to go to work all day, and I can just sleep all the time if I want to, until I have to tour and make an album. It’s just a very weird feeling, you know? And it effects my life – family, friends and everything. That’s what I was writing about.

The cover for the ‘Observator’ album is really interesting as well – what are you looking at?
Yeah! Thank you. I really like that picture as well. It was actually one that we took over in Los Angeles for some press photos. It fits the album really well, because it’s like we are looking into ‘the unknown’. It’s about all the observations - that craziness in life and all of the insecurities that come with that. We never really know what’s going to happen.

You went drinking for three days before heading into the studio, and you have said that you try to channel your drinking into creativity – how do you manage that?
Well, I get really joyful and spirited when I drink. I have a lot of ideas and I lose my inhibitions! I’ll go out and drink with my mates and be like, “I’m going to go home and write a song with two guitars playing this way, and some drums like this…” I’ll just scribble these ideas down on my phone, and then the next day, I will look at all those ideas and try them out. Most of them work, because they were done in a much more free-spirited environment where I didn’t over-think anything.

Is there a track from the new record (aside from the ones that we’ve heard before its release) that you feel perfectly defines where the band is right now, and why?
There’s obviously a few, but just off the top of my head I would say the opening track of the album, called ‘Young And Cold’ – it’s a very different Raveonettes song. It was written while we were recording the album at Sunset Sound Studios [Los Angeles], I got up early one morning at 8.00am, before anyone else had shown up, and I was like, ‘]”I need to write a song in this studio, because of all the great people that have recorded here before me [Van Halen, The Doors, Paul McCartney and more]”. I went in, and within an hour I had written this song, and Sharin [Foo, vocals, guitars] came in, and we immediately recorded it. We love the song, and wanted it to open the album.

You guys have been going for ten years now. How do you feel you have developed as a musician personally over that time?
I have definitely expanded my horizons professionally. I am producing and mixing other bands. I also made a Danish solo album [self-titled, 2008] and I would love to make one in English this time. I think that progression is natural, and it’s very easy to broaden your horizons in different ways, you start listening to other music, movies and books. I mean, it’s very important for us to evolve and grow as a band, but we don’t want to alienate people either. It’s a very fine line to tread when trying not to repeat ourselves, but maintain what the ‘core’ of this band is. We’ve made pretty varied albums over the years.

You’ve said that the new record has a real cinematic feel to it – can you expand on that?
Our music has always been very cinematic. We always wanted to make music that was very visual and we’ve definitely managed to maintain that. I think that comes from just travelling a lot. From growing up in a small town in Denmark and dreaming of seeing the world, and then actually doing that for the first time is such a thrill, and then when you go back again you get to know more about these places and explore deeper into them. I think our music helps to describe what we see, and our dreams and longings. To be more specific, it’s always been the same types of movies and TV that has inspired us.

What movie or TV show is a constant inspiration?
I’d say that Twin Peaks, the TV series, is one of the biggest influences on our music, in the sense that there’s this brilliant combination of new and old. Twin Peaks is in a modern setting, but it has so many references to the past. There are so many iconic characters. I think that show has inspired us to always take things from the past and make them present by using whatever means we have available. I think sometimes people got it quite wrong, saying that we were an ‘all-out retro band who only use old guitars and amps’ – that couldn’t be further from the truth. When we started out ten years ago amidst the whole garage scene and the likes of The Strokes and White Stripes, we were probably the least ‘garage-y’ band! We only wanted to record with computers, and we never used amplifiers! We just recorded guitars straight into computers and all the drums and beats were made with samples. That inspiration came from my upbringing with hip-hop music in the early 80s. We just had an ability to make things sound really ‘dirty’ because we used a lot of grimey drum samples and all that stuff.

You suffered a herniated disk which has made it difficult to write for this record, how do you cope with that?
For me, it seems like it just comes and goes. I can never figure out what’s going on. Sometimes I can be pain-free for a week and then all of a sudden, the next day I am in total pain! To me it’s very hit and miss. When you have that pain, it’s very tiring and I don’t feel like doing anything. It hurts the creative process. Especially when there is no telling whether it’s going to be there or not if I have to get on a plane or to a show! I try to do the things that I need to like stretching and exercise. As long as I do those I can keep it under control.

You recently produced Dum Dum Girls, is that something you want to get into more?
My best friend is a producer [Richard Gottehrer] and he worked on our latest album. He did some other albums for us too. ‘Chain Gang Of Love’ and ‘Pretty In Black’. He’s involved with a lot of bands, and he asked me to get involved with the Dum Dum Girls, and their singer [Dee Dee] was also interested in getting me onboard. We ended up working on their latest album, and now we’ve just done an EP for them, and we’ll most likely do the next full-length as well. Now, bands just ask me randomly and send me e-mails or messages and I will listen to the music and if I like it, I’ll get involved. I haven’t quite figured out how much I enjoy it. It’s a different way of looking at music, for sure.

What would you say the biggest challenges are for The Raveonettes in 2012?
I think the biggest challenge is to maintain a healthy level of ambition. I think that if you lose that, then there’s no challenge in it anymore. It’s important for us to remember how we started out with nothing. Of course, we fought to get to this point, but that doesn’t mean our fight is over. There are still places to conquer, records to be sold and great songs to be written. I think it’s important to just charge ahead. I am very grateful and appreciative of where I am, but we must look at it like, ‘Yeah, we made a great album, and now we are going to make one that’s even greater.’

You’re incredibly active on Facebook releasing lyrics to new tracks and posting directly to fans – how important is social media to you?
It’s incredibly important because the music business has changed so much. There’s no telling whether or not we are going to get played on the radio. There are no major labels for smaller bands anymore. The greatest means of communication we have now is through the fans, and there’s nobody better than them to do it. We treat our fans with respect and give them exclusive stuff and they get the news first before anyone else, because they are the ones allowing us to do this.

How has your relationship with bandmate Sharin developed over the last ten years you have been together?
The relationship is fine. It’s not perfect because we don’t see each other as much as we’d like! We both have very different lifestyles and we live in different parts of the country. We are very far apart emotionally, you could say. We still have a strong level of ambition which is really what draws us together. As long as we have a very strong sense of what we want to do creatively and professionally, then that’s what I consider to be a good relationship. As far as personally, yeah. We have a great time together when we are out touring, but I wish we could spend more time together as friends and have dinner or watch movies!

We know that you’re a fan of cooking – do you ever get inspired to write while you cook?
When I cook and it has to do with food, that’s another outlet for me. I feel very stressed out a lot of the time, because there’s always a lot of deadlines. When I cook it calms me down, and I can be in a completely different world where everything tastes good!

What dish would you think might go best with the new album?
Yes! A good ol’ steak is perfect for this album; a big bottle of red wine and a steak. You’re set to go!

The Raveonettes’ new album ‘Observator’ will be released on 17th September via The Orchard / Beat Dies Records.

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