"We are the Raveonettes," the band's bassist/vocalist/co-conspirator Sharin Foo drolly announces between songs to a sold-out roomful of New York cognoscenti at the Mercury Lounge in November 2002. "And you are not."
So, who then, are the Raveonettes? The Raveonettes are Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner, a Danish duo who, bound by a mutual disenchantment with the state of the musical art of their homeland, have begun to build a brand-new rock 'n' roll sound for the rest of the world.
Sune, the guitar-slinging singing and songwriting brainchild behind the Raveonettes, has been known to wear a "Back To Mono" button on his pullover sweater, giving props to Phil Spector, architect of rock's original "wall of sound." Whip It On, the inaugural release from "Denmark's hot gift to the New Garage," was recorded in "Explosive Stereo (Mono Compatible)" and unleashes its own glorious "wall of sound" for a new generation.
The Raveonettes sound is, according to Sune, "a tribute to a lot of the great music," that has come before them: "…the primal single beat of the Cramps, the noisiness and dark feeling of the 80s, the Jesus & Mary Chain, the girl groups of the 60s, the drone thing of Suicide…."
"The vocals," adds Sharin, "are very Everly Brothers. What's interesting are the dynamics of being a two-piece and the way we sing together in these subtle boy-girl vocals. We work very closely. Sune writes the songs but that's it. We do everything else together. We produce together, we choose the songs together and we work on the vocals together."
Drawing on cultural as well as musical influences, the Raveonettes have taken their inspiration from trashy B movies for Whip It On's packaging and Denmark's Dogme95 theoretical film collective for the current incarnation of their sound. When it came time to record their band's debut, Sune and Sharin decided to work within a set of prescribed rules: e.g., a) all the songs would be recorded in the same key: Bb minor; b) no more than three chords were allowed; c) each song had to be under three minutes; d) no high hat or ride cymbals were allowed in recording the album.
Most of Whip It On was, according to Sune, "written on a four-track with a drum machine. The important thing about the whole process is that the songs are written very spontaneously. That comes from the style of Beat generation literature. Jack Kerouac. You don't go back and revise. I just take a beat and I run that beat for three minutes and then I grab a guitar and, in that three minutes, I have to play and the song has to be there. There's that moment and that's it."
Like Jack Kerouac, Sune wrote much of his watershed manifesto on the road in America. "I went to the US in 1998," he remembers. "I lived in Hell's Kitchen in New York City, outside of Seattle on a small island, downtown Las Vegas, and in a small flat in West Hollywood. I was looking for a band, but I couldn't find anyone. I decided I was going to spend this time writing songs." Some of these songs -- like "Bowels Of The Beast" (which was inspired by Las Vegas) and "Cops On Our Tail" (evoking the drive through the desert outside Los Angeles) -- finally found their way onto Whip It On. "Mostly it comes from being very restless and experiences I've had in America and things I've seen and places I've been and that vibe you get when you're in certain places."
Returning to Denmark, Sune decided to look up an old acquaintance, Sharin Foo. "I knew that she was singing and she could play a little bass and was looking for something more interesting that what you usually get in Denmark," he observes. "Alternative music is pretty much looked down upon. You don't have alternative radio. You can get the NME, but it's always a month old. In Denmark, you look back at history for things."
"We were both living in Copenhagen and since we're both into the same kind of music, we really couldn't avoid each other," says Sharin. "We knew each other through mutual friends and from wanting to do similar kinds of music."
Growing up in a small Danish town near the German border, Sune's first exposure to pop music was a copy of Bob Dylan's Before The Flood purchased by his mom, who "thought it was an acoustic album. Then I bought all the Bob Dylan records." Exposure to Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits "… made me want to play guitar." Early on, Sune's restless musical ambition led him to "extremely good library" where he began checking out the roots and tributaries of rock from classic girl groups and Buddy Holly (whose "Every Day" has been worked into a psychotic wall of noise staple of the Raveonettes live shows) to Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, which led Sune into "more dissonant music."
Sharin had her own peripatetic upbringing. Her father, a rock guitarist, had exposed her to a wide range of pop music influences, ranging from the Beatles to the Velvet Underground. Her wandering musical spirit led her on a series of adventures including six months in India making a serious study of dhrupad, the most ancient style of Hindustani classical music still surviving, and qawwali music. While growing up, Sharin (who's six feet tall, natural blonde, and a quarter Chinese) often visited her grandfather's native China. When Sharin and Sune finally began their musical explorations together, everything fell into place.
"It felt right. And that was it," says Sharin of about finally connecting musically with Sune. "It came so easy for us to sing together, it was pretty magical. If you remove one or the other it's definitely not the same. We add up to more as a whole."
Sune's developing musical ambitions had dovetailed nicely with Sharin's early passion for the Velvet Underground and ancient timeless sound and, after a "quick studio crash course," the duo began recording Whip It On at Once Was & Sauna Recording Studio (a former Sony Studios facility in Copenhagen), booking the studio during non-session down time over a three-week period circa Christmas 2001 and handling all production chores by themselves. Working on ProTools with sampled drums, guitars, and bass, the Raveonettes deployed "no overdubs…. everything was done in one take." Not necessarily the first take, but the best take of each individual song was laid down in one continuous groove.
Adding guitarist Manoj Ramdas and jazz drummer Jakob Hoyer -- "We wanted a jazz drummer. We wanted that subtlety" -- to the group for their live shows, the Raveonettes booked one of their first gigs at The Spot in Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark. Rolling Stone's David Fricke was attending a two-day music conference near by and happened into the Raveonettes show, essentially "…falling head over heels for a new band at first sight." The senior rock crit wrote that "Wagner and Foo sing together in a compressed, modal boy-girl bland that, against hurricane feedback and booming trebled bass guitar, sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain with Blondie's Debbie Harry at the mike. Or the Ramones fronted by a Gregorian Shangri-Las."
Coming to New York in July 2002, the Raveonettes booked themselves into the punk Mecca CBGB's, where they debuted three new songs they'd just finished recording with the legendary producer Richard Gottehrer, who's helmed classic recordings like "My Boyfriend's Back," "I Want Candy," albums by Blondie, the Go-Go's, Marshall Crenshaw, and many more. "When I first heard the Raveonettes, it took me back to the great days of the punk revolution of New York City," exclaimed Gottehrer, who's currently working on the first full-length Raveonettes album. "The energy and excitement of that time is captured in their music with all the added power of today's sound. This is a great record and this band is going to be huge."
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Treasure | Reviewer: Bruce | 12/30/09
I agree. I heard them once and I knew. Maybe they won't be the next megabucks overpromo'd pop sensation, but I have been waiting a long time for someone like them. Obviously, other people have their own tastes. Regardless, when a band clicks for you like they've clicked for me ("Bang!", really), and I'm an older, cyncial guy, you know this band is special and a gift to many. Let's enjoy the Raveonettes as long as we have them, and may their run be long and fruitful.
About time too! | Reviewer: BayTheMoon | 10/23/09
Having no musical abilities of my own I cannot write clever phrases as you expect from someone like the guy in Rollings Stone magazine, but I agree with everything he says. I'm no spring chicken any more. I can say that I've been waiting a long time for a band like the Raveonettes. Original and fresh yet with their hats firmly tipped to a byegone musical period that should never have been allowed to fade as it did.
After my first hearing (on Radio 2 in the UK last week) I immediately went out and bought all their CD's. It's the most excited I've been about music for far too long. My hat is the one now being tipped.
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