Music Interviews
1:03 am
Sun September 9, 2012

The Raveonettes: The Sound Of Surfing In The Rain

Originally published on Sun September 9, 2012 12:43 pm

For more than a decade, The Raveonettes' members have been making albums filled with fuzz-guitar feedback and tight girl-group harmonies. The duo's latest album, Observator, takes on a different sound, thanks in part to its embrace of a new instrument.

The Danish musicians behind The Raveonettes are Sharin Foo, who sings and plays bass, and Sune Rose Wagner, who sings, plays guitar and writes the songs. The two recently spoke with NPR's Linda Wertheimer about the ups and downs of collaborating long distance (Foo lives in L.A., Wagner in New York), chatting up interesting strangers and the reasons for all the piano sounds in Observator.


Interview Highlights

On recording Observator together in Los Angeles

Wagner: "I came out there sort of looking for inspiration, I guess. At the time, I definitely regretted it and thought it was a terrible move. ... To me, Los Angeles was always the end of the road. When I used to take road trips from New York to L.A., those were always the most nostalgic and saddest ones because I saw the sun drown in the horizon. I knew that was where I was going: where the sun went down."

Foo: "I was trying to tell Sune that Venice Beach is not really where you go find inspiration these days. [Laughs.] Someone once told me that The Raveonettes sounds like someone surfing, but it's raining, which I always thought was a very accurate description. When you come to L.A., you can look at this environment, but you always view it from the point of view that we have, which is we come from Scandinavia. The combination of our DNA, and then being somewhere that's so exotic and different — that's what I think makes up that interesting sound that The Raveonettes has: the combination of Scandinavia, and then this kind of voyeuristic approach to Americana."

On what inspired the song and video "She Owns the Streets"

Wagner: "I was at Madison Square Garden, and [during] the intermission, people go to the bar and they go talk to their friends. All of a sudden, in the middle of that space was this girl just dancing by herself. It was just such a crazy sight. ... I met up with her a few days after that. We had lunch, and she told me her story: how she loves dancing and got kicked out of all clubs in New York because of jealous girlfriends — the guys kind of like her. There's no place for her to go and just dance, so she took to the streets. She's been dancing in the streets for years."

On their image as revivalists

Foo: "I think people are under the impression that we are a very retro, vintage band — that we sort of stick to those decades of the '50s or '60s. But we've always been a band that really embraced technology. We've always had a lot of samples, and we don't stay true to [dated methods] of production as such, you know, to only play with vintage instruments. I think our music has always been combining all the decades, really."

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Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Sometimes, it takes a trip down the wrong road to get a band back on track. For more than a decade, The Raveonettes have made albums filled with fuzz guitar feedback and boy-girl tight harmonies that win critical acclaim and devoted fans.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAVEONETTES SONG)

WERTHEIMER: The group's latest album, "Observator," takes on a different sound and a different instrument. The Danish duo behind The Raveonettes are Sharin Foo, who sings and plays bass, and Sune Rose Wagner, who sings, plays guitar and writes the music. Sharin Foo joins us from NPR West. Sune Rose Wagner is at our New York studios. Welcome to you both.

SHARIN FOO: Thank you.

SUNE ROSE WAGNER: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: So, let's start with the song that I'm guessing inspired the title of your album, "Observations."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OBSERVATIONS")

THE RAVEONETTES: (Singing) To live like common people, I never think I'd do, and so, my love, I give in to this dark...

WERTHEIMER: Now, that is a considerable departure from what you played on your earlier albums, isn't it, which is more like 1950s rock and roll, wall of sound, noisy guitars. This time, you have that piano.

WAGNER: I wrote pretty much all the songs on piano for this album. It felt kind of obvious almost to use the piano. It added a gloomy element to the songs. I thought it would be harder to incorporate piano into our music, but it actually turned out to be fairly simple. So it felt very natural.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OBSERVATIONS")

WERTHEIMER: Now, on past albums, even the darkest lyrics come on in a sort of upbeat, sunny way because you're playing them with surfy sort of guitar and Everly Brothers harmonies. Why did you draw inspiration from mid-century America in that way?

FOO: I remember when Sune contacted me 12 years ago, whenever that was, we specifically talked about the Everly Brothers as an inspiration for the vocals. And right away, our voices sort of blended really well. It was a very natural sound that we created.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

THE RAVEONETTES: (Singing) Let's go out and make it happen. Let's go out and meet some strangers. Let's go down with the broken-hearted trying to make it right, trying to make it right...

WERTHEIMER: Now, coming back to "Observator," this was supposed to be your Los Angeles album. Sharin, you live there.

FOO: I do.

WERTHEIMER: But Sune got sidetracked. What happened?

WAGNER: Yeah. Well, I came out there sort of looking for inspiration, I guess. To me, Los Angeles was always the end of the road. When I used to take road trips from New York to L.A., those were always the most nostalgic and saddest ones because I saw the sun drown in the horizon and I knew that that was where I was going. It was where the sun went down. And I have this weird love relationship with the city because I do think that there is a lot of beauty in it, and at the same time, I'm not really that comfortable with the city.

FOO: I was trying to tell Sune that Venice Beach is not really where you go find inspiration these days, in L.A.

WAGNER: No, it depends, like...

FOO: From someone living in L.A. But someone once told me that The Raveonettes sounds like someone surfing but it's raining, which I always thought was such a very accurate description. And I think that's the combination of Scandinavia and this kind of, like, voyeuristic approach to Americana, I think, so.

WERTHEIMER: To the New World.

FOO: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Is your music autobiographical, Sune?

WAGNER: Some of it is, yes. Well, I guess, most of it is. But I draw from other people's lives and experiences as well.

WERTHEIMER: You met a woman in New York who inspired the first single, which is...

FOO: "She Owns the Streets."

WERTHEIMER: Yeah, "She Owns the Streets." Now, how did that happen?

WAGNER: Well, I was at Madison Square Garden, and the intermission, people sort of, you know, they got to the bar and they go talk to their friends, whatever. So, there was this huge space in Madison Square Garden. And all of a sudden, in the middle of that space was this girl dancing just by herself. And it was just such a crazy sight. And then the guy I was with actually knew her. So, he introduced me to her. And her name is Lone. I met up with her a few days after that. We had lunch and she told me her story, how she got kicked out of all clubs in New York because of jealous girlfriends and the guys kind of like her. And there's no place for her to go and just dance. So, she took to the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE OWNS THE STREETS")

THE RAVEONETTES: (Singing) Dancing in the streets you go now, it's a gas now, watch her dance among the Bowery cabs. People feel how they're so boring. They call the cops on anyone who is fun. She's dancing in the street, yeah, she's dancing in the street...

WAGNER: People would, when they see her out there, they think that she's on drugs. So, they call the police. She's been arrested many times. She's been in Bellevue, you know, psychiatric ward. Yeah, it's just kind of strange, you know. So, I thought she would make a great subject for a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE OWNS THE STREETS")

THE RAVEONETTES: (Singing) I can't wait to get to know you, I want to be the one that keeps it alive. If they catch you and commit you, they'll never know what this life is about...

WERTHEIMER: With the Los Angeles adventure that didn't work out quite the way you meant it to, my understanding is that there is one song, "Till the End," which survived the L.A. sessions, which were not particularly successful sessions. Is that right?

WAGNER: That's true. I was staying at a bed and breakfast place pretty much on the beach out there. And Sharin came over to listen to what ideas I had at that time, like a snippet of a song. The only song that I had actually written while I was there was "Till the End."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TILL THE END")

THE RAVEONETTES: (Singing) Come down. Be still. Walk upon the ocean till the end. Slow down. Don't move. For a moment I belong to you.

WERTHEIMER: So, something good came out of L.A. after all.

WAGNER: I'll say, yeah, sure.

(LAUGHTER)

WAGNER: Well, a lot of good stuff came out of it. You know, I mean, it was very important for the record that I went there. It was - in the moment, it wasn't very good but looking back on it, a lot of experiences and a lot of feelings and stuff came into the album. So, yeah, it was very important.

WERTHEIMER: "Observator" is the new album by The Raveonettes. It's out on Tuesday. The lead singers of the band are Sharin Foo, who joined us from NPR West, and Sune Rose Wagner, who joined us from New York City. Thanks to you both.

WAGNER: Thank you.

FOO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TILL THE END")

WERTHEIMER: You can hear tracks from "Observator" at nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.