The Raveonettes: Undervalued Revolutionaries, Revitalized
Their last album almost marked The Raveonettes’ final hoorah. After about a decade making music together, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo wondered if the band’s relevance had expired.
“It’s just that at some point in any kind of relationship, you sort of ask yourself, and each other, if you still have any justification, if you can still do something together. I think that’s where we were at a little bit,” Sharin says.
The fuzz-pop pushers weren’t sure if another release would be right. Sharin, who lives in Los Angeles, says being an entire coast away from Sune, who resides in New York, caused the pair to lose touch from time to time. But when talk of a new full-length began, the Danish duo found something to be excited about again.
“We started throwing ideas back and forth, and immediately, we didn’t really doubt anything anymore,” she says. “We just became very immersed in the process of making the record, and got very inspired by the creative conversation we were having. Luckily, it worked out.
“It’s not necessarily that there had to be a change for the sake of change – it [was whether] we still felt inspired by the collaboration. And we did,” she continues. “It was good.”
Raven in the Grave, The Raveonettes’ fifth full-length, marks a stark transition. The album is reminiscent of the pair’s debut EP, Whip it On¸ in its heavy-handed synth. But ’80s elements aside – and not accounting for the familiar airy vocals – Raven has little in common with anything The Raveonettes have released before.
From the get-go, the album’s downright different. With a wailing, screeching riff as its backbone and sluggishly new wave keys underneath, “Recharge and Revolt” is a triumphant opener, like its namesake implies.
“It came [from] a little bit of a crisis, I guess you can call it,” Sharin says of the song. “And then from that kind of sense of being recharged; revitalizing and feeling reinvigorated and inspired again. It’s that energy that comes from moving on and conquering obstacles.” The video for the song features Sune trudging through familiar and not-so-familiar parts of the U.S. bearing a white flag emblazoned with a raven. He’s walking solo until the end, when Sharin joins him. So what’s the deal with the raven, anyway?
“It’s actually a line from a poem,” Sharin says of the LP title. “Which I have to admit, I don’t remember which poem it was.”
It’s probably from some obscure prose, but it could easily be a throwback to Edgar Allan Poe’s black bird. It might be too simple of a comparison – it’s more likely that they’re recalling a poem unheard of outside academia that contains the literal line “raven in the grave.” But still, what The Raveonettes intend with this album meshes well with Poe’s message. In the well-known work, the raven has been said to represent at least a couple of applicable ideas: personal torture and the nature of self-interpretation. Putting that symbol in the grave, then, makes sense for where The Raveonettes are now. They’re shedding all stereotypes – they’re burying the past.
“It has some kind of reference, in a strange way, to this album being a little bit of a reinvention or a rebirth of ourselves and the band,” Sharin explains.
On the album, there’s only one track that easily fits the band’s typecast: “Ignite,” a fast-paced tune with a recognizable chorus. It almost sounds like a b-side from the Dum Dum Girls, whose latest EP was given Sune’s co-production touch. The song stands like an awkward stepchild on Raven, which mostly presents a moonlit brand of atmospheric, haunting and romantic soundscapes. There’s no “The Great Love Sound” (Chain Gang of Love) or “You Want the Candy” (Lust Lust Lust) to rock out to. And there’s absolutely no second edition of “Breaking Into Cars” (In and Out of Control). This time around, the memorable chants and one-liners take a backseat to mood – an effectively chilling one. Like any band with a fervent following, there’s bound to be dissenters when change comes. Some people will be supremely pissed about Raven in the Grave. But die-hard Ravers, if they’ve really been listening, will welcome the shift in sound. Though they’ve generally been sure-footed in a mainstream friendly variety of garage, in truth, the band’s been swaying from synth to shoegaze to ultra-pop and back throughout their repertoire.
“We don’t really cater to anybody,” she says. “If you listen to Pretty in Black, it’s a very different record from Lust Lust Lust or Whip it On. And In and Out of Control is like this super pop sounding record with a lot of choruses. I think The Raveonettes can sometimes confuse people a little bit. I think. Maybe.”
But what’s been a driving inspiration for the band since their start in the early 2000s – the romanticizing of desolate darkness – is still intact. As chorus-free as Raven is, it’s still clearly identifiable as The Raveonettes.
“Come to think of it, you can definitely hear the Scandinavian influence in our music,” Sharin says. “There’s always that kind of rainy element, sort of overcast. A Scandinavian sort of darkness, I guess.”
Sharin says American and British pop culture permeates Danish culture, and she and Sune’s upbringing was no exception. But the doo-wop influence that’s propelled the bulk of their distortion-laden collection into easy-on-the-ears pop is altogether absent on Raven. Instead, it seems the true Denmark – the dreariness of the country – loomed over production like a beast, bigger and more powerful than ever before.
“I guess it’s just the dark north,” she adds. “It is a lot of winter and a lot of overcast days. We only have a couple of months or three a year where it’s really stunning, and we have the white nights late at night in the summer, and it’s really beautiful. But it is just a lot of darkness – literally.”
A newfound inspiration for Raven was long-gone composer Bernard Herrmann, who scored works for various Alfred Hitchcock films like Psycho, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo, among other notable movies.
“I think you hear [Herrmann’s influence] specifically on the intro to ‘Evil Seed,'” Sharin says. “It’s the kind of suspense feel that you get on a couple of the songs.”
Raven, as a whole, is certainly suspenseful. Without lyrics, it would make a stellar soundtrack to a creepy indie film. Subtle but speedy drum machine beats accent eerie keys – it’s twinkling terror behind morose melodies. Even on the lullaby-like “Summer Moon,” prettiness is parked in a dark dimension: “Most of all / I can’t let go / This perfect thing is dying,” the pair’s layered vocals echo. Downtrodden songs are the most prevalent, like “Let Me on Out,” a plea for freedom from love’s stronghold, and “My Time’s Up,” the album’s depressing but gorgeous finale.
Though they spend most of their time at their respective “home bases” in the U.S., Sharin says both she and Sune retreat to Denmark often.
“I sort of love and hate LA at the same time,” Sharin says, adding that she lives with her American husband and daughter, who’s two-and-a-half years old.
“The weather is really easy; it’s an easy life in that kind of sense. But I miss the seasons. I miss something about the moodiness [of Denmark]. The contemplativeness that it adds to your mental state,” she says. “I guess it always be like that. Wherever you grew up, especially when you move away, you sort of romanticize it. It’s in your DNA.”
Sharin and Sune still have work visas, not U.S. citizenship. Sune was recently held up in Europe as a result, and they had to cancel their SXSW performances.
“That was really a bummer,” she says. “We were pretty upset about it because that was kind of the first time we were going to come out and play the new songs.”
Sharin doesn’t speak for Sune, but full-fledged American citizenship, though she’s considered it, doesn’t really seem plausible.
“I’m undecided,” she laughs. “It feels like quite a step.”
Converting to American citizenship, she says, is symbolic.
“It’s great to have the combination of two different cultures, actually. Go to LA and then back to Denmark – that’s a great combination, I think,” she says.
Maybe it’s a result of the mash-up of cultures, maybe it’s not. But the way The Raveonettes incorporated ’50s and ’60s pop nuances, particularly early on in their career, helped build the bedrock for practically every current and popular garage rock band. With that in mind, The Raveonettes appear vastly underrated. Sharin notes that bands that used to open for them have gone on to sell out venues that they still don’t fill. But she doesn’t resent them for it.
“We don’t feel bitter. We feel pretty grateful and pretty lucky to get to do what we’re doing,” she assures.
She isn’t fearful that the band’s reserve of ardent followers will dwindle, either, despite the changes in sound. Instead, they’re more akin to a security blanket.
“Oh well,” she sighs. “We have some good fans.”