The Raveonettes on love, death, desire and war
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
"We're only two days in and we're already fucking tired," says Sune Rose Wagner to David Shankbone as he walks into the dressing room at the Bowery Ballroom. Wagner and Sharin Foo comprise the Raveonettes, a group made for "nostalgists who long for Everly Brothers 45's and diner jukeboxes, the Raveonettes tweak "American Graffiti"-era rock with fuzzed-out surf-guitar riffs," said The New York Times. They recently left Columbia and signed with Fierce Panda because they felt constrained by their Columbia contract: "The major label system sometimes doesn't allow for outside "help" to get involved, meaning that we don't get to choose who we wanna work with. That can be a pretty terrible thing and bad things will surely come of it," said the band on their MySpace site. Originally from Denmark, both musicians live in the United States now.
Their first EP, Chain Gang of Love, was a critical and commercial success. "Few albums provoke such amazing imagery," said the BBC. "Pretty in Black is virtually fuzz-free," said Rolling Stone of their next album, "highlighting the exquisite detail in the Raveonettes' gift for pastiche: the prowling, garage-surf guitars in Love in a Trashcan; the ghost dance of Red Tan, wrapped in Phil Spector-style sleigh bells." Of their current album, Lust Lust Lust, set to be released on November 5th (although Amazon says March 4, 2008), Sune told NME that, "There are a lot of songs that deal with desire, restlessness and the tough choices you have to make sometimes." Fans can hear some of the new material at MySpace.com/TheRaveonettes.
Below is Wikinews reporter David Shankbone's interview with Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo.
- Sune Rose Wagner:Would you like something to drink?
- Sune: At least you're peeing healthy. Can you mix vodka with green tea?
DS: I used to. How is the tour going?
- Sune: It's good. We're only two days in and we're already fucking tired. But we're in great spirits here. We're leaving town tomorrow...we're happy.
DS: You guys played in Southpaw right; how was that?
- Sune: It was beautiful. I love that place. We played Maxwell's last night, which is my favorite place.
DS: This interview may be something different than you guys are used to, because although the questions will be about your music, they will be more about the both of you. They are surveys of the landscape. For instance, in the last week I have interviews the proprietors and mistresses of an S&M dungeon; Evangelical Christian Presidential candidate Sam Brownback, the President of the ACLU, Augusten Burroughs, and the High Priest of the Church of Satan, and now you.
- Sune: [Laughs] And that's where we fit in, now! Freaks!
- Sharin Foo: Sounds like an interesting job.
DS: A lot of the questions might be a little different than what you are typically used to; maybe that will make it more interesting for you, or less pleasant. One of the first questions I like to ask musicians is about the challenge to be innovative when so much has already been done. How do you not let that affect your output?
- Sune: Well, I don't think we really think about it in those terms. When we started out we had certain guidelines for the music that would ensure that it would sound like no one else, and those were pretty easy to make. Things like don't use a high hat, don't use cymbals, don't use certain things, play all the songs in the same key, do this and this, and that was really...
DS: Was that your Dogme influence?
- Sune: Yeah. I don't know what it was, I guess it was a really silly thing, but it worked and it was very inspiring and creative to work within those constraints, I guess. But they weren't really constrains for us, it was actually really easy and simple, but I think it has a sound that I have never heard before. But like I said, I don't really thin that we think...
- Sharin: I think it's more that we are not scared of being blunt about what the references are in our music. For instance, if you look at our name, The Raveonettes, it's a complete direct reference to The Ronettes and Buddy Holly Rave On. So, in that sense, we're pretty clear about it.
DS: You embrace it.
- Sune: Yeah, we like it.
- Sharin: Yeah, where the inspiration has come from. So it's not like we have that fear of repetition.
- Sune: I think a lot of bands put a lot of emphasis on trying to be different, and then they make music that is soulless; it doesn't get me anywhere.
DS: It's too self-aware?
- Sune: Yeah, what's wrong with the three chords? That's what music was founded upon, that's what everyone from Hank Williams to The Ramones used those three chords. What's wrong with them all of a sudden?
- Sharin: Yes. I think that what it comes down to is whether it strikes a chord in you and hits your gut, some kind of emotion in you, that's really what we care about when we make music.
DS: Since you are so upfront about your influences, you do still have unique sound. Do the constant comparison in the music media grow tiresome?
- Sune: I don't care about it at all because if people compared us to bands that are really shitty then I would probably mind. But if they compare us to Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers, then I think it's fine. You always need names for bands so you can tell people what they sound like. That's fine. Those are good names...I really don't care about it one bit.
DS: Did you guys follow the Phil Spector trial?
- Sune: A little bit. I didn't have any thoughts on it. It's 50/50
DS: Knowing Ronnie Spector it must have been an interesting perspective to see it from.
- Sharin: Well, Sune knows her.
- Sune: I'm good friends with his daughter, and that was another weird perspective, really. Because that was more a sad perspective because obviously she was very saddened by her dad being on trial for murder. That was a whole different way of looking at it all of a sudden. She's coming tonight, actually. I don't know....I know he has been throwing around guns for ages, so if a gun went off I wouldn't be surprised. On the other hand, why would he kill someone? I don't know. I have no idea.
DS: Dogme influenced you guys early on, does it still?
- Sune: It's still there, a lot actually.
- Sharin: But I think it's more of a subconscious, integrated thing. It has become an integrated part of how The Raveonettes sound. Initially it's what created the sound and being more aware of the tools and the creative process as a Dogmeist, and the rules. But now it's just what happens automatically. We tend to gravitate more towards the minimal sound and very simple things.
- Sune: We don't' think about it. It's like if I write a song at home I don't think it has to be in B flat, I just play in B flat. That's just a starting point, and I don't think about it.
DS: Are you more inspired by things in nature or man made things?
- Sharin: Probably more man made things than nature...
- Sune: Yeah
- Sharin: People are sort of man made things too, I guess.
DS: Sure; made by man.
- Sharin: Don't you think Sune?
- Sune: Yeah, I probably prefer man made.
- Sharin: Are you talking musically or aesthetically?
DS: It's an open question.
- Sharin: I don't know. I think with the Raveonettes there's a lot of inspiration from man made things...
DS: Like cities vs. mountains.
- Sune: They are all good in certain ways. I use them all in different ways. Nature doesn't really inspire me to be creative, it just inspires me to relax and feel good about myself, which is a good thing, too. I need the city and that kind of life.
DS: Sune, you went through a period where you got really tired of LA and New York and traveled around the United States. What did you find when you traveled across the country?
- Sune: It struck me how different the country was as I went south and north, and towards the middle. It just struck me how really, really different it was. Even when I was driving up to Canada once to get my visa, I rented a car from here and I was barely an hour outside of New York City everything changes so dramatically. The way people were, the way people looked at you in a "Who are you, stranger? Get out of my town..." kind of thing. It was so strange.
DS: How did you react to that?
- Sune: It always frightens me a little bit. I never got comfortable. I never like it when people are annoyed with you because of the way you look. It just seems so dramatic. I don't walk down the street and see a person and get so upset. I don't know where that hatred comes from, or that mistrust of strangers or whatever it is. I could never understand it and that's why it makes me uneasy.
- Sharin: Although you find that everywhere, including in Denmark, very much so.
- Sune: Yeah, but we're talking about the States here, Sharin! I'm sure you can find it in Africa, too! [Laughs] No, but seriously, people used to always tell me, "Oh, don't go down south, they are all racist," blah blah blah. I had the best time in the south; people were so hospitable to me. Everywhere I went they were like, ‘Oh, you come from Denmark? That's great...I'll give you this for free!' And when I go north, people treat me like I'm crazy. It's so weird, so strange. So I guess the answer to your question is that I was very surprised at how different it was from place to place, and then I started understanding when the election came up and people were voting Democratic here, Republican there, it all made sense to me all of a sudden. I was like, "Oh, I see, those are people who never leave their state, never leave their town..."
DS: Did you find the blue states more hospitable than the reds states?
- Sune: It's a little bit of both, I would say, but people's attitude...same thing with 9/11. People were like, "That happened in New York, there's no terrorist coming to my town and we hate Muslims anyway, and they are not even welcome here." They have that really brutal attitude some times; it's really racist and crazy. Also because it is such a religious country in such a crazy way, so it's a very interesting country to travel in.
DS: Do you think the religion adds an element of beauty or a fearful element to the culture?
- Sune: Fearful element! They have all their God fearing...
- Sharin: It really depends on which kind of religion and which kind of place...
DS: The kind practiced here, the kind of Christianity found here.
- Sune: Yeah!
- Sharin: The extreme within the religion here in the U.S., that can be a little terrifying, I think. But religion can also add a lot of purpose to people, and when they have purpose they can be more balanced and open-minded. I don't know....
- Sune: I like the televangelists a lot. It's really entertaining for me to watch a show like that; it's really just like Benny Hill and you watch it and can't believe it. It's so far away from anything I've ever known. And they talk about Islam being a dangerous religion but you look over here and it's just the same! It's the same thing.
DS: They just aren't in madrassahs...
- Sune: No, it's so crazy; it's fascinating.
DS: If you could choose your own death, how would you die?
- Sune: Oh, man.
- Sharin: I would just like to go to sleep one night and not wake up. I'm definitely scared of pain and diseases; I wouldn't want to wither.
- Sune: I'll go with Sharin.
DS: You wouldn't want to experience it?
- Sharin: No way.
- Sune: No.
DS: What is fearful about it?
- Sune: It's because if you are a creative person it's the fear you can never be creative again. It's a terrifying feeling. I don't like it all. I think about it sometimes, where I think about, "One day you are going to die, you are never going to be here again, you're never going to do this..." and a whole weird feeling comes down through the body. It's the only experience you can get when you think about death. It's a crazy feeling, but obviously something draws me to it sometimes to experience to really get into my mind frame and think, "I'm really going to die, I'm never going to be here, I'm never going to get up again, I'm really going to die!" It's scary.
DS: Especially at a young age, but if you are creative and have an imagination, it makes it that much scarier.
- Sune: But I had a near-death experience when I was in Hawaii. I almost drowned, and I came to a point where I accepted my own death. So, in a way now, when I think about death, that comforts me a little bit, even though it was such a scary experience at the time, it comforts me a little bit that you can actually accept your own death and actually feel comfortable about it. Because I wasn't frightened at the time. I was basically just comfortable that this it, you know, that this is the end. And I was very relaxed, actually. So I guess that's pretty cool.
- Sharin: Were you? I would probably be...
- Sune: No, at that point my body just gave out, I was completely relaxed and I was just like...that's it.
DS: Sharin, did you ever have a moment where you confronted your own death?
- Sharin: When I was nine years old I was definitely close, but I wasn't aware of how dangerous it was. When I think of it now I'm like, "Wow! That could have been it."
DS: What was it?
- Sharin: I was living in the countryside and there was a well with urine from the cows, and it was open, and I fell into it. My neighbor caught my hand, so I was hanging in the well with my feet in the urine. And then afterwards, my parents were freaked out. It was really lucky that my neighbor was right there and he caught me, because I would have died immediately. You fall into that urine in a well, that's it! [Laughs]
- Sune: [Laughs] That's it!
DS: [Laughs] That would have made a great end to the interview!
- Sune: I like that! [Laughs]
DS: What's your favorite curse word?
DS: What do you think is the greatest depth of human misery?
- Sharin: I...
- Sune: [Sighs] Famine?
- Sune: Maybe.
DS: Starving to death?
- Sune: Yeah. It just seems so...
- Sune: Yeah, and it just seems so unnecessary. Know what I mean? Just seems so...
- Sharin: Obviously, war. Being in a war. Being in Darfur right now, for instance. That's one of the extremes of human misery, when you are so completely innocent.
DS: And seemingly so few people are paying attention.
- Sharin: Yeah.
DS: Has the Iraq War affected either of you as artists at all?
- Sune: No.
DS: How about as people?
- Sharin: Yeah.
DS: How so?
- Sharin: Well, it affected me in the sense that I feel like it has changed where I have come from very much; Denmark participated in it and sent soldiers to support the U.S. And I think that definitely made me aware of what a decision like that does to a country. Now I think the Danish people are really confronted with having to redefine this strong sense of a Socialist heart that doesn't seem as strong as it was.
- Sune: Mmmm, well, not really. I mean, I knew what America was in it for, and I disagreed with it. It's about money and oil and stuff like that. And, they are just using the terrorist thing when it started as just a front, you know? I get much more affected not so much by war itself but when I hear about civilians involved in war. But I was much more affected by stuff that happens in Chechnya, for instance. I used to read a lot about that, and that is a forgotten war that really people don't give a shit about.
DS: Why do you have such a particular interest in Chechnya?
- Sune: Not particularly, I guess it was just after the school shooting and people were getting down on the Chechen rebels, and I'm like, "Yeah, that was such a horrible thing to happen, all those innocent children, that was probably the worst..."
DS: Beslan was it?
- Sune: Yeah. The thing is there was a reason for it, know what I mean? I'm not justifying it any way because I know it is absolutely atrocious...
DS: But it was ideology and not oil...
- Sune: Yeah! The reason for it was to show the world that there is a huge problem going on where we live and people don't pay attention to it. We are going to have to do something for you to take notice. And what they did was just a very wrong way of doing it, but at least they grabbed a little attention for themselves. But the only attention they got out of it was basically that Chechen rebels were murderers and child killers. But the Russian soldiers rape and kill innocent Chechens every single day, and no one gives a damn about it. Every single day!
DS: Why do you think it's not talked about?
- Sune: I actually don't know, to be honest with you. And I actually don't know the world that well, and I'm sure there are a lot of forgotten wars still raging in the world, so I don't know, to be honest with you.
DS: You're forced to choose between having either India or China blown off the face of the Earth, and if you don't choose, they both go. They are equal in population according to the 2000 census in each country, with each having roughly 1.2 billion people. Which do you choose, and why?
- Sharin: [Laughs]
- Sune: You would choose India because your grandparents are from China!
- Sharin: No! I would choose China!
- Sune: Really?! You would blow up your grandparents?
- Sharin: Yup! [Laughs]
- Sune: ['Laughs] God! That's so rude!
- Sharin: No, to me, India is a democracy, it's the world's largest democracy and I've been there. I found it be a really spiritual place. Some of the most intelligent people I have ever met are from India. And China, I have to say, not so much. I have only been to the countryside. My grandfather is Chinese as well; I'm a quarter Chinese. I just think they are more barbaric by their culture....
- Sune: [Shaking his head] We're never going to tour China now....
- Sharin: [Giggles]
DS: You would go with China too, then?
- Sune: I'm not going to choose...you can blow them both up!
DS: Really? They'll all go?
- Sune: Well, I mean, I don't know, come on...I'll go with Sharin, then. We'll keep India.
DS: Sharin, you have a choice between either dating a man who is losing it hair and he tries to style the remaining hair artistically to cover it up, or you have a choice of dating a man with man boobs--
- Sharin: What boobs?
- Sune: Oohhh
DS: Who would you go for more?
- Sharin: [Laughs] What kind of question is that?
- Sune: It's a psychological test?
DS: Isn't every question?
- Sharin: I would probably...hmmm...hair!
DS: You'd go for the hair?
- Sharin: Yeah!
- Sune: I'd go for the boobs.
- Sharin: I'd go for the hair.
DS: You'd go for the man boobs?
- Sune: Absolutely! I actually knew a guy, he lost a bet and he had to have breasts for a year. He was a magician.
- Sharin: [Laughs]
DS: Like a masectomy bra?
- Sune: No, he got silicon...
DS: Oh! He went through an operation?
- Sune: Yeah! And actually his breasts were pretty nice. We used to...
- Sharin: [Laughs]
DS: When I was in college I had a couple of friends who were rave kids--they also went to my college--and the guy walked around with very large breasts, and our friend Koo would follow him on the street and after he passed people who noticed his large breasts she would go up and say, "Would you let that man babysit your children?" to see the reactions from people. "Do you trust him?" It was surprising, because the people who looked the most uptight generally responded with things like, "Yeah, sure, he doesn't seem so bad." But the people who looked the most hippie and free--this was in Boulder--would say things, "I don't know! What's wrong with him, why does he have breasts?"
- Sune: [Laughs]
DS: What would bother you more in bed, somebody who is overly flatulent, or somebody who speaks in a little baby voice?
- Sune: Uh...probably the flatulent thing. I never really liked that so much.
DS: The baby voice?
- Sune: Nah, the baby voice is fine.
- Sharin: Ugh. God, let's see...would least want to share the bed with? I think probably the baby voice would probably bother me the most.
DS: Creep you out a bit?
- Sharin: Yeah.
DS: Sharin do you find it difficult dating?
- Sharin: Yeah. Intimacy. Obviously because you are away so much it really takes a lot of work to keep things intimate with people I am seeing when I'm away on the road.
DS: How do you try to circumvent those problems?
- Sharin: I try and keep on tour only three weeks at a time.
- Sune: Which doesn't work all the time...
- Sharin: I try to keep it to that and have some free time at home, which is typically, like, four days.
- Sune: [Laughs]
- Sharin: And then I try to communicate a lot with the phone. Skype.
DS: What traits do you deplore in other people?
DS: Any certain type of ignorance?
- Sune: Yeah, ignorance of people around them and of the world.
- Sharin: And xenophobia. Racist people.
DS: Which traits do you deplore in yourselves?
- Sharin: I'm lazy. I'm uptight and inhibited.
DS: Are you really all those things?
- Sharin: Yeah.
DS: And you deplore that about yourself?
- Sharin: Well, deplore is strong. I just dislike it.
DS: Do you do anything to get over those things?
- Sharin: Yeah, I try, but it's not so easy.
DS: But I've read interviews with you where you talk about the wild party scene in Los Angeles...
- Sharin: Really?
DS: Yeah, in preparation for this I read where you talked about that in an interview...
- Sharin: That must have been me back in the day! I'm old now, you know, settled and I don't go out now anymore. I like to have fun, we have a lot of fun.
- Sune: I really like myself a lot, actually. I'm in a very good state; I have my wife and I'm very happy and positive...
- Sharin: Selfish!
- Sune: What?!
- Sharin: You're selfish.
- Sune: I'm selfish? Really? You think?
- Sharin: Yeah.
- Sune: Is that bad?
- Sharin: [Laughs]
DS: Is that the trait that you deplore in him?
- Sharin: Yeah, I would say so.
DS: Is there a trait that you deplore in Sharin?
- Sharin: I'm sure there is.
- Sune: Well, she's late, and I hate that.
DS: Are you late a lot?
- Sharin: [Nods head]
- Sune: All the time.
DS: What do you most value in your friends?
- Sune: Don't say the obvious one!
- Sharin: Humor!
- Sune: Oh, okay.
- Sharin: What's the obvious one? Loyalty?
- Sune: Yeah...
- Sharin: Love, loyalty. I like people who are driven, passionate, ambitious, but very witty and knowledgeable, but good people. Good to the world and themselves. Healthy.
DS: Do you keep a large circle of friends or do you tend to keep it close?
- Sharin: I would say close.
DS: How many friends do you have that if you were to self-destruct, they would be there for you?
- Sharin: Five. How many friends do you have?
DS: Close friends like I asked you about?
- Sharin: Yeah.
DS: I keep it pretty close or I find it too overwhelming because I am always working on projects and I need to concentrate. But in terms of self destruct? If I was to self destruct I would say four people that would be there.
- Sharin: Yeah, I mean I didn't count in my mom and my dad...
DS: No, I didn't, either. How about you? If you self-destructed how many people could you count on to stay by you?
- Sune: Is that including all the girl? [Laughs] No...really close friends? I would say not that many. Well, hopefully Sharin would be there...
DS: Did you include Sune in your count?
- Sune: Noooo!
- Sharin: Yeah, I did!
- Sune: You did?!
- Sharin: Yeah.
- Sune: Within the band, our drummer in Denmark is my really good friend, because we have been living such a crazy life together for so long that we just became so close. And over here I might have maybe five, six people, maybe.
DS: As your fame has increased, have you found it more difficult to trust people?
- Sune: Not at all. I haven't experienced anything like that. I have found it easier to meet people. But I haven't found too many phonies, and I haven't had a problem with that. I don't go out much, and when I go out I just usually go out with my friends and I'll occasionally go out to see a show. So, I really don't meet that many people. And the people I meet on the road are fans and stuff, and I always try to be polite and accommodate them as best I can.
DS: Do you guys see an end to the band, a day when you can see yourselves feeling done with it?
- Sune: I don't know...I guess sometimes we think about if we want to start a family or something like that. Or maybe there will be other priorities at a certain point...we joke about it a lot, actually...
- Sharin: [Chuckles]
- Sune: But we don't think about it right now because now we are really excited about the new album coming out.
- Sharin: I could see it go many ways. I have a difficult time seeing myself touring when I'm 55 years old; I probably wouldn't want to do that. Not the way I do it now, at least.
DS: You couldn't imagine being 867-5309 guy?
- Sharin: Yeah, it is difficult to see myself as a grandmother on stage.
- Sune: [Laughs]
DS: Are there venues that you guys haven't played that is your dream venue?
- Sune: Madison Square Garden! I always really, really want to play that as a headliner. That would be really great, I think. The Hollywood Bowl would be really amazing. There's some good places. And we were lucky enough to play the Wembley Arena once, but the only thing that happened was they put us on the program at the wrong time, so we actually had to go on before the doors even opened! We actually ended up playing for four people in this big arena: our producer, his wife and a few of our friends. It was really cool; we enjoyed it. At least we played there. And then halfway through the set they actually opened the doors and people started coming in so in the end we maybe played for a few thousand. But we liked it. It was like a dream come true. We always wanted to play Wembley Arena!
- Sharin: For no one! [Laughs]
- Sune: [Laughs]
DS: [Laughs] You made it!
- Sune: It was a really good show, actually. It was fun.
DS: Do you have a venue, Sharin?
- Sharin: Yeah, like Sune was saying, Madison Square Garden would definitely be something very...
- Sune: If Jay-Z can do it, we can too!
DS: Are there any bands you guys would love to play with?
- Sune: The Rolling Stones. Yeah, that would be really great. I always wanted to tour with Primal Scream. That would be one. I don't know...
- Sharin: I would like to open for Bob Dylan, but I would be a little scared of meeting him, I think.
- Sharin: I don't know. He would be intimidating. Dont Look Back - have you seen that?
DS: Are you more worried about him being intimidating or disappointing?
- Sharin: I would worry about him being disappointing. I would worry about him being--which I have heard that he is--pretty grumpy; mean.
- Sune: That can happen!
- Sharin: Too smart.
DS: Do you believe in a higher power?
- Sharin: Sometimes I do. Sometimes I feel more connected. I do sort of believe in a higher power in a very scientific way; I believe in the fourth dimension and time travel...
- Sune: You believe in time machines?
- Sharin: I do.
- Sune: That's cool.
DS: Do you really?
- Sharin: Yeah, I do.
DS: How do you think that is possible?
- Sharin: I believe in that fourth dimension with black holes and your molecules are all part of the...universe...
DS: Not including any time in the 20th Century, what time would you go back to?
- Sharin: That's a good question.
- Sune: I would not go back, I would like to go forward.
DS: Can you go ahead in your time machine?
- Sune: Yeah!
- Sharin: Yeah.
- Sune: Yeah, you go to the year 4000, man. That would be more interesting than going back.
DS: What if you walked out and it was Planet of the Apes?
- Sune: Well...then...that's what it is, you know? But I would more prefer to go ahead in time than back.
DS: What if you could only use it one time, and once you are there, you're stuck, would you go ahead in time?
- Sune: Then I'd go back to tomorrow and I would have that Shepherd's pie at Maxwell's again.
- Sharin: [Laughs]
DS: Really? That's a big ambition there with your time machine.
- Sune: [Laughs] Well, it was really good, I'm telling you, and I felt really happy.
- Sharin: Am I allowed to bring someone or is it just myself?
DS: Just yourself.
- Sharin: I'm going to stay here, then. I'm not going to use it. I want to stay here with this guy and my boyfriend and my family.
- Sune: Right...alright!
DS: So if you could choose one person, who would you choose?
- Sharin: I would choose my boyfriend. [Laughs]
- Sune: [Laughs]
DS: Do you believe in a higher power, Sune?
- Sune: Yeah, I guess. I saw a UFO once, so I know something is out there. I saw it on the plane ride from New York to Copenhagen once. It was just there for a long time. It came in crazy waves and every time it came toward the plane there was heavy turbulence and it had a weird-shaped light kind of thing. It was crazy; it was for 20 minutes, like that.
DS: Did you see your death then?
- Sune: No, I just thought it was really interesting to see one of those.
- "The Raveonettes reveal new album details" — , July 31, 2007
- "Sharin Foo" — , October 16, 2005
- David Fricke. "Pretty in Black review" — , May 19, 2005
- Dan Tallis. "Chain Gang of Love review" — , August 23, 2003