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more... GuitaristsIndie-RockJune 2011Raveonettes

Raveonettes: Grave-Pop Serenades

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Raveonettes: Grave-Pop Serenades
Raveonettes frontman/guitarist Sune Rose Wagner wants to seduce you, lure you in, lull you into a false sense of pop-melodic security so strong that you don’t notice the darkness until it’s too late. And that’s been the MO for him and his Raveonettes counterpart, singer/bassist Sharin Foo, from their acclaimed 2002 debut, Whip It On all the way to this year’s Raven in the Grave.

“It’s like when you meet new people,” Wagner explains, “You see them from the outside and you have a certain notion of what they’re about, but you don’t really know what lurks behind there. Sometimes it’s nice to make music that’s incredibly appealing and almost sweet and very innocent sounding, but then when you read the words you figure out that this has nothing to do with innocence.”


Wagner onstage with his Japanese-made Fender
Ventures Jazzmaster at the Bowery Ballroom in New
York City on March 26, 2008. The guitar has become
Wagner’s favorite because “It doesn’t have all the s
witches that a normal Jazzmaster has, and it feels a little
bit heavier. It feels like one of those guitars that you
can really travel with and nothing will break it.”
Wagner’s sinister slyness may be the perfect description of the Raveonettes and what makes their unique brand of atmospheric, melodic indie rock so consistently appealing. It’s an artful blend of pop hooks, effect-laden walls of sound à la Phil Spector, and dark-side-of-the-street lyrics that could easily have come from the mind of David Lynch, Rimbaud, or… well, Phil Spector. But, in fact, it all came from Denmark.

Roots of the Rave
Wagner and Foo met in Copenhagen and were immediately drawn to each other by their shared fondness for the Everly Brothers. Foo came from a musical family and grew up surrounded by music. “My very first instrument was actually piano when I was like 7 years old,” she remembers. “That was what I started out with. My dad was a guitar player, so there were lots of guitars at home—and keyboards and pianos and 4-track and 8-track recorders. There was always that element around.”

Wagner, on the other hand, was lured to the guitar at age 15 after seeing a Dire Straits concert on television. He soon branched out, drawing inspiration from great players in a wide range of genres. “Back in the day, it was mostly a lot of blues—a lot of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and B.B. King and stuff like that. And then, gradually, I got into players like Jimi Hendrix. I was always a huge Randy Rhoads fan and a huge Jimmy Page fan, as well. Those were the big influences when I was growing up.”

But Wagner also developed a love of melodic songs by bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Velvet Underground, and through them he discovered the classic sounds of the 1950s and early ’60s. “I think there’s a certain vibe to the music that I like,” Wagner says. “Sometimes it’s like an innocent or nostalgic feeling, but the main reason is because a lot of it is really good songwriting by really good performers—y’know, great singers, great players. It’s always been appealing to me when people can really play their instruments.”

When Foo first met Wagner, she was deeply absorbed in the Danish jazz scene. “I was in the conservatory circuit, which was more the jazz cats, and there were some incredible musicians. So I was going out a lot late at night, listening to and watching a lot of jam sessions—but not participating that much, because I’ve always been completely intimidated by jam sessions.”

But under Foo’s cool jazz-cat exterior beat the burning heart of a true rocker, and it didn’t take long for Wagner to lure her into the indie-rock scene. “It was kind of a new place,” she recalls, “but I felt very comfortable there because my heart really did belong to the Stones, the Velvet Underground, and Bob Dylan. I was finding the place that I felt very comfortable.”

From the beginning, the two found working together completely natural. Their shared enthusiasm for old-school rock ’n’ roll gave them plenty of common ground, and they soon found they also had a knack for lush vocal harmonies. “When we started out, we talked a lot about being inspired by the vocals of the Everly Brothers and how seamlessly they sing together and how extremely fluid and eloquent it is,” Foo explains. “Right when we started singing together, it was just a very organic thing. We would record stuff and say, ‘Who sang that? Was that you or me?’ Sometimes we couldn’t hear if it was a guy or a girl, and we were getting into that ... I wouldn’t say androgynous, but that weird place where you can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl.”

A Constant Metamorphosis
Wagner and Foo’s partnership bore fruit in the form of their first EP, Whip It On, which was named Best Rock Album of the Year at the 2003 Danish Music Awards. One notable aspect of the album was that Wagner set an interesting and deceptively simple challenge— each song could have no more than three chords, and all had to be in the key of Bb minor. Their follow-up and first full-length album, Chain Gang of Love, was all in Bb major. These seemingly draconian limitations were inspired by the Dogme 95 school of filmmaking started by Danish director Lars Von Trier, and Wagner insists that the effect was anything but stifling. “It was actually really great,” he says, “because it made me incredibly inspired, and I really had to be on top of my game to make songs that still sounded interesting while not using a lot of things that people normally do.”


Rubbing the soapbars, Foo brings the noise at the Siren Music Festival on July 18, 2009.
The Raveonettes’ 2005 album, Pretty in Black continued the pattern of mixing retro elements with the band’s noise-pop aesthetic, including with help from guest artists Ronnie Spector, Velvet Underground drummer Maureen Tucker, and Martin Rev of Suicide. The dirtier, noisier sounding Lust, Lust, Lust followed in 2007, with Wagner and Foo opting to tour as an acoustic duo to support the album. In fact, they’ve frequently changed their touring lineup over the years. For Wagner, that tactic is another way to stay inspired. “Sometimes it’s just Sharin and me, just the two of us,” he says. “So we like to mix it up. That’s the fun part—we can pick and choose every time we do a new tour how we feel like doing it.”

On 2009’s In and Out of Control, Wagner and Foo mixed it up in a new way by collaborating with Danish pop star Thomas Troelsen, who co-wrote seven of the album’s 11 tracks and took on production chores. The result was a more polished effort than Lust, Lust, Lust, with two of the album's songs being featured on the popular cable show Gossip Girl.

For their latest creation, Raven in the Grave, the Raveonettes have changed the formula yet again. The ’50s-style sounds that have been so prominent on their past records have in large part been replaced with dark, ambient washes of guitar and keyboards that seem to swirl around you. “We always try to make very cinematic music, because we’re big fans of film scores and movies,” says Wagner. “A lot of the lyrical content on this album wouldn’t have fit very well had it been more of a surfy kind of vibe—it just wouldn’t have been powerful enough. So it was nice to move away from that a little bit and make something that’s more un-surfy and un-twangy.”

But Wagner remains the ever-restless artist, already anticipating— albeit humorously—another stylistic about-face. “Right after you finish the album you immediately think ‘This is a great album.’ I’m very proud of it, but now I really want to make a 100-percent surf album with eight Jazzmasters and more twang than anyone has heard before,” Wagner laughs.
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