Stylish and sophisticated, Danish duo The Raveonettes have quietly gained a cult following since their debut release, the eight track Whip It On EP, ten years ago. Blending hard rifts and sonic atmospherics, biker chains with electronics, in many ways the band pioneered the dream pop sound years before the likes of Animal Collective or Beach House, while the likes of Kasabian, The Kills and Gossip all got a leg up supporting the Danes early on. With a new album, Observator (out Monday, 10 September) on the way, we spoke to Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner about a decade of dreaming.
How the devil are you? Sune Rose Wagner: "Well, thanks." Sharin Foo: "I'm good."
It's been ten years next month since the release of your debut EP, did you expect to still be doing The Raveonettes a decade later back then? SRW: "When we started the band we didn't think about how long we were going to do this for, but after ten years looking back I'm actually very proud we're still able to maintain a high level of good music, and we're still excited about it! I think that's quite impressive." SF: "I didn't think about it at the time. It's more now we're ten years in it's more, What happened!? To be a band for ten years, well how wonderful and how terrifying is that? I suppose when we started out I felt like we were in it for the long run. We can make albums for the next 30 years."
Can you remember your first meeting? SRW: "We met in Copenhagen probably in the late 90s through mutual friends but it wasn't a musical thing. We'd known each other for a few years before we started talking about making music together. I'd been in the States for a while and I'd written the songs for what became the first album Whip It On, so I came back to Denmark specifically to find a girl who could play bass and sing. One of our good friends suggested Sharin who'd just got out of school. I called her up and we went from there."
There seemed to be a very definite sound and image to The Raveonettes right from the word go, did you have a big discussion on what the band was going to be? SRW: "One of the things we agreed on was that we were willing to do anything! [laughs] Well, I mean in terms of: We can't have a job, we can't go back to school. We had to do the band a hundred per-cent, even if we had to leave the country. That was the main thing we were excited about."
Where did the name came from? SF: "Finding the name was actually a really long, drawn out process. There were a lot of trips to the library and a lot of going through old notes, old albums and art books. We eventually had a bunch of different names. We had a period as The Girl On Death Row, a couple of months as The Shades..." SRW: "We even had my name!" SF:" We went on tour as Sune Rose Wagner Introducing Sharin Foo [both laugh]. I guess The Ravonettes came from a name we came across, Ravenel, and we merged it with references to our inspiration, Buddy Holly's Rave On. It was a stupid idea to reference all our influences. It doesn't go over very well in Asia!"
What were those influences? SRW: "I'd say Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers and Suicide, The Ramones, The Cramps and just a lot of different music I grew up with in the 80s. A lot of old school hip-hop because that really influenced what we do with samples. Bob Dylan has always been a huge influence, he's the reason I wanted to write songs in the first place and obviously his lyrics are pretty fantastic. SF: "There's been a real development too, where we've gravitated to things like The Smiths or even The Cure, and The Velvet Underground of course and a lot of surf music. There's a lot of stuff."
They're quite desperate sounds, how did you bring them together in the beginning? SRW: "The sound started the first time I was ever in LA. A friend and I would go out every night and but we'd never find a band that we liked. After a month of doing I got so frustrated that I wrote down a list that basically said: If I was to go out and listen to a band tonight what would it be? I wrote down 15 names, like, if they could all be in one band it would be so great I'd want to see. It was the Everly Brothers, B52s, Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, The Ronnettes, Suicide... that was the beginning of it. All the songs I wrote for Whip It On were just very different to what I was hearing over there. That's what good music is, a reaction to all the shit that's out there. It was good timing for the band, but in hindsight I probably just went to the wrong clubs!"
Also you insisted that your first two releases were all in the same key, B Flat minor and major respectively, did you set the rules to help bring it together? There was a suggestion you'd taped into the Dogme 95 vibe: They were Dainish filmmakers limiting how they made movies, you were a Danish band limiting how you made music. SRW: "Well there was a lot of restrictions but it didn't really feel like it to us. It was just an interesting way to make music. We wanted to make a real good rock, really interesting music." SF: "I guess there were rules or dogma applied to the making of the music but it was merely meant to be an inspiration. When you have all the possibilities in the world it can feel intimidating, so if you set some parameters you can feel more creative within a space. I think that's how it worked."
It's quite a risk to be so experimental that early into the band's life though. SF: "We've always been the band who like to put are arses on display. We're not the kind of band that waits to see if things feel complete, we want to be instantaneous. That's the way we work." SRW: "We like to experiment. Sometimes it works, well hopefully most of the time it works, but sometimes we feel we can do better next time."
In contrast to your beginnings your forthcoming new album Observator feels very free. SRW: "It was a spontaneous and experimental process, allowing ourselves to be free of preconceived song structures, formulas while at the same time expanding on traditional musical ideas and notions, diving into the unknown and letting the music flow effortlessly from a disturbed sea of human observations and longings. There were no rules or confinements, no dogma or entrapments, only a visual engagement with the individual songs for the visual aspect of songwriting is the truest form, pictures and memories tell everything."
Is there a sense then that you've come full circle? You first album was very strict, whereas this is varied? SF: "I don't think we've come full circle, I just think we're floating in space [laughs]. For me I honestly feel I'm still digesting the album. I'm so immersed in it still and we haven't really played it live yet, so it's still exciting. It feels like I need to spend more time with it myself." SRW: "I think the big difference is most bands work on their songs for a long time and they do it as a band, get all the parts right and when they're ready they might even play the songs live a few times and then they go in and record an album. We've always done the exact opposite. We record the songs and then we have to learn them, that's why Sharin is saying that. It's the same for me too. That album is so new, I couldn't even sing you all the words to the new album because they were just done so quickly. We'll get into when we start rehearsing for the tour. That's always an interesting time." SF: "I feel very into it, I just don't feel like it's very internalised yet."
But you know if you're happy with it now? SRW: "We're really happy with this album, I feel we did a good job on it. We did most of it at home, but then we treated ourselves to let us go to the legendary Sunset Sound studios in LA. I've wanted to go there for a long time and it was a really great experience. It was amazing to stand in a room like that where so much great music has been recorded. To be in that environment was amazing, I got so many good ideas while I was there. It's a pleasure to work like that. In the end we ended up with a magnificent piece of hopeless beauty."
Some people who've only listened to your B Flat days, might be surprised by the freedom. What else, all this time as a band do you think would surprise people about The Raveonettes? SF: "People might be surprised if they knew how much electronic stuff we use. Also there's a lot of tragedy and darkness in our music but we like to have a lot of fun. I think that would come as a surprise to a lot of people."
And finally, what have you learnt from ten years in a band? SF: "Oh man, the most important lesson I've got from being in this band is to really be in control, both in terms of your career but your sense of purpose too. To really keep focused on what's the main motivation, which is the love of the music." Paul Stokes @Stokesie