Raveonettes (An Interview With Sharin Foo)
"Sultry, sexy, decadent and noisy. With a bunch of sweetness too." So says Sharin Foo, bassist/vocalist with The Raveonettes, describing the group's decade-bending sounds. Together with singer/songwriter/guitarist and fellow Dane, Sune Rose Wagner, the pair subject the folklore of teen romance to the rigors of latter-day lo-fi.
"In the lyrics there's the really romantic love that's totally naÃ¯ve and very old-school and 50s. And then there's the tough side of it."
It's this combination of the edgy, the brittle and the sweet (the psychocandy, you might say) that's getting audiences hot under their upturned collars. With Black Rebel Motorcycle Club taking care of The Jesus and Mary Chain's unfinished business, The Raveonettes employ their similarly distorted walls of sound to hark back to an era of hair hoppers, drive-ins and Marijuana Girl. Where the Mary Chain used noise-terror and tambourines to write thinly-veiled love letters to Lou Reed, The Raveonettes are as likely to idolise Del Shannon and Eddie Cochrane. And make it sound cool. What of this fetish for 50s and 60s Americana? Sharin explains.
"I would say it's both a homage and a little bit of satire. We're not totally romantically infatuated with American culture," she says knowingly. "On Chain Gang of Love in particular though, there's a real sentimental, nostalgic feeling in the lyrics and the music. There's a bunch of references to Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, and the kind of melodies from back then; good old-fashioned song-writing."
So are The Raveonettes a rock 'n' roll band then, rather than a rock band? "It's a lot of things at the same time. It's also very poppy. Pop tunes but rock 'n' roll too. It's difficult to say. I think we're definitely more like a rock 'n' roll band than a rock band. There's lots of layers in there."
I really like the vibe of black leather jackets and boys called Johnny, but with this great racket too...
"We kinda like the contradictions in the music. It's interesting for us to have the opposites - the really sweet, subtle, mellow vocals; poppy and a bit naÃ¯ve - and then a fuzzy background that's very guitar and bass-driven and pretty intense. And to have a melody that sounds innocent, but with lyrics that are really decadent. It creates an interesting tension we think."
Fresh from a cybercafe where she's been catching up with loved-ones, Sharin is pale and striking in person, and understandably a little subdued. Are The Raveonettes homesick? Have they burnt out after their thirty date US slog?
"We do have energy, but we've been touring since September last year. I guess this is our lifestyle now. It's always nice when you've done the States for a long time and you come to Europe and you think, 'Yeah, we're home!' Then after a while in Europe you think, 'Let's go back to the States.' We are a little bit tired, but it's nice to have the new album out and to tour with that."
Speaking of trans-Atlantic lifestyles, and the new record, I was listening to New York was Great (from Chain Gang of Love) and it sounds to me like a goodbye song to the city. What's your relationship with New York? You and Sune have both spent time there...
"Well, we live in London now, we've lived in London for one year. Denmark to me will always be home but I can totally imagine myself living in lots of different cities around the world. But I do miss my family and my friends and the intimacy with them. The song New York was Great, you totally got it, it's really about how bad it always feels when you have to leave New York. When you're there it's always such a vibrant, energetic experience, that's also why we chose to record all the vocals in New York, just to be there and give it that energy. New York really is so great. It's sad every time you leave and you see the skyline behind you and you think, 'No! I don't wanna go!' I love London too, you have to know it a little better to know where all the gems are but New York is so easy to access, it's immediately charming and immediately easy to just jump on to."
You've had some good press in the UK. I just read the double-page live review in Q for example. Is it all a nice surprise or do you think, 'No damn it, we've earned it!'?
"[Laughs] We totally earned it! I think as a band we're pretty ambitious and what we kind of experience is we get a lot of media interest but then we have a really difficult time getting people to know our music. I think a lot more people know what The Raveonettes look like than what we sound like. We're having a little bit of a difficult time getting our music played on the radio. We're at the point now where we wanna have the same experience as Kings of Leon and The Strokes. We totally think they're getting amazing coverage."
You're right. Everything's style-led here, it's all backwards. Magazines fret about seeing you before they'll decide if they like you. (I briefly explain the unpaid, music-devoted remit of my assignment. I ain't no fink for The Man...)
"Well the UK is the only country where the music media are so powerful. I don't think anybody really wants to admit it, but those magazines - it's amazing what they can do."
How will you adjust to civilian life after touring? (After this tour, the band go on to support The Cooper Temple Clause).
"It's back to the States in December, then come back to Europe, work on new stuff, and see what the next year brings. Nothing's set in stone. We have another single coming out in the UK only, maybe late November, early December - it'll be a double A-side where the other side will be a Christmas song. It's a really nice song too."
Let's say the glass is half-full for a moment. If the band should run it's course and you've given it your best shot, what might the future hold for you?
"[Laughter and a look of surprise]. God, I don't know! I have absolutely no idea. I'd go home and... just keep making music in some kind of way I guess. I really don't know..."
Ambitious, clued-up and far too romantic to consider another way of life; how much more committed can your rock 'n' rollers be? At the gig that evening, Sharin is transformed from hip, prettier-than-average city-girl into a chiffon-scarfed, bass-wielding beatnik chick. A skinny and serious-looking Sune hangs by her side like the town's only hep-cat who just turned on to Ginsberg and reefer. For the tour they have an extra guitarist and drummer for back up. Resplendent in matching maroon shirts, the band cut enough of a winningly moody frame to convince you they could soundtrack high-school death races for kicks. The best live cuts from the Chain Gang of Love LP keep the squalling fret-abuse in check with tight harmonies that are pure 50s bedroom radio.
Distortion and buzzing guitars are littered with the lexicon of Brando, Dean and Ronnie Spector. The Love Gang is their watertight signature tune, the "two delinquents in love" are the runaways we all secretly wanted to be. On Let's Rave On and Chain Gang of Love the pair sound like Mickey and Sylvia (borrow your sister's Dirty Dancing soundtrack) if Sonic Youth were playing downstairs. My Tornado from the Whip It On album makes more sense of the Youth comparisons and is a standout track tonight.
A dedication to Johnny Cash turns Love Can Destroy Everything into even more of a tear-jerker than it might normally be; the ghosts of all the boys called Johnny are here tonight. A slowed-up, crunching version of Eddie Cochrane's C'mon Everybody is a cognitive headfuck, you don't know whether to mosh or jitterbug, the room fills with mad smiles of recognition. (This isn't even Dadrock, it's Grandadrock. Far out! Isn't that what the kids say?)
New single Heartbreak Stroll closes the show as we all head home to dream of rhinestones, Corvettes and Lucky Strikes. The Raveonettes make good on their promise of something melodic and intense, a little more complicated than chucking scratchy guitars at a load of Crystals songs, but still, it's just dumb enough to be good rock 'n' roll. Will it endure beyond right now? Hell, who knows? I could drive off a cliff tomorrow...
(Thanks to Dave, Maureen, Seth and Sharin)13 November, 2003 - 00:00 — Greg Thorpe