Stylish, confident, and, frankly, slightly menacing, the Raveonettes--Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo--made their mark on the emerging new garage-rock scene in 2002 with a flair for the dramatic. Their image was pure '50s retro-cool: lanky, dark-haired Sune and six-foot blonde glamazon Sharin wore black leather and sat astride motorbikes. The Danish duo doused their stripped-down songs about sex, suicide, and prostitution with noisy, fuzzed-out guitar, sweet boy-girl harmonies, and sleazy surf-punk twang. It sounded like a clash between Mods and Rockers if the brawl had taken place on the set of California beach movie.
The Raveonettes released two CDs, each of which adhered to the Raveonettes' own version of the classic Ramones formula: three chords and nothing longer than three minutes. Their 2002 EP Whip It On was recorded entirely in the key of B-flat minor, and the 2003 full-length debut, Chain Gang Of Love, stuck to B-flat major. But where those two albums were dreamt up in monochromatic darks and lights, Sune shot their latest,Pretty In Black, in blazing Technicolor.
"I realized that it was kind of hard for people to listen to an hour of music played all in the same key with the same three chords," he admits. "I can see why they might think it's repetitive." Adds Sharin: "We really had to do something different on this album, for the sake of ourselves and our sanity. We had to try something new."
On Pretty In Black, Sune flung away the rulebook, along with the fuzz and distortion, and let the elegant simplicity of his songwriting shine through. The resulting songs are, as Rolling Stone's David Fricke puts it, "…a whirlwind of ravishing noir and vintage-pop echo(ing) with Sune's deep affection for early rock 'n' roll and girl-group bop coming through bright and clear."
"There were no guidelines for this record," Sune says. "I just started writing songs during some time off in London. I was hanging out and got kind of bored so I rented a rehearsal space and ended up writing seven songs on the first day. That was a really good start for me, so I just kept writing. I didn't have any distortion or noise gadgets with me, so I pretty much had to do it all very clean. When I played it back, I thought, 'Wow, this actually sounds pretty good. Maybe I should go for that kind of sound and not repeat myself.' Clean music is always more accessible than something washed in distortion." Not to mention more "direct and in your face," as Sharin puts it.
A few highlights from Pretty In Black:
"The Heavens"--"I thought, 'If Elvis were alive and asked me to write a song for him, what would I do?,'" Sune says. "I always liked it when he sang ballads; he had a great crooner voice. So I wrote that song in his style, with the kind of melody he would like, and sang it in my best Elvis voice. It was like he was sitting next to me. So that one is for the King."
"Seductress Of Bums"--"If Beyoncé were to hook up with ['60s balladeer] Bobby Vinton, this is what it would sound like," Sune says. "It was an attempt to do something modern but with a very nostalgic feel."
"Love In A Trashcan"--"This is about girls hanging out with boys from bands," Sune says. "Guys in bands are trashy and no good. So if you're looking for love with one of these guys, it's not going to happen because he'll be gone the next day."
"Twilight"--With its chugging techno beat and tremolo guitar line, "Twilight" was Sune's attempt to combine his love for '50s sci-fi with his admiration for French techno artist Miss Kittin and the Berlin club scene. "It's sort of the Cramps in the future," he says, "a lustful, seedy story of debauchery and decadence."
"My Boyfriend's Back"--A cover of the original, which was written by the band's longtime co-producer Richard Gottehrer. "Richard wrote that song in 1963 for the Angels and no one has had a hit with it since," Sune remarks. "But people know it when they hear it, it's very recognizable. I'm just crossing my fingers that we have a hit with it, too. That would be so amazing--42 years later."
Another very special track for Sune is "Ode To L.A.," which features vocals by Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes and ex-wife of "Wall Of Sound" producer Phil Spector. Gottehrer was acquainted with Ronnie's husband and sent her "Ode To L.A." Ronnie loved it and agreed to come to Sony Studios in New York City where the band were mixing. "She's like a goddess," Sune says. "It doesn't get any bigger than that for me personally. She's the reason why I do the kind of music I do. It was really after hearing 'Be My Baby' for the first time that I thought, 'This style of music is just so incredibly good that if I can somehow preserve it through my own music then that will be my quest for life. So meeting her was just insane. And she was really nice. She came in very excited about the whole thing and was jumping around, saying, 'Oh my god, I feel like I'm 16 years-old again!'"
Another featured player on the album is Martin Rev, keyboardist for one of Sune's favorite bands, the pioneering electro proto-punk duo Suicide, who plays on "Uncertain Times," "You Say You Lie," and "Here Comes Mary." "He brought over all his sound modules and we hooked them up to my Midi keyboard, which he almost totally destroyed in a creative frenzy," Sune says.
Rounding out Sune's dream team of special guests is legendary Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker who performs on four tracks, including "Red Tan." The band had heard through her manager that Tucker was a fan, so Gottehrer invited her to record with them when they made a tour stop in Atlanta where she lives. It was Tucker's 60th birthday. "The bus was parked outside the studio and I got up first to make sure everything was ready before she came," Sune says. "When I walked in, she was already there, just sitting on the couch by herself. I'm too nervous to handle these things, so I ran out to the bus and told everyone, 'You have to come in because I can't handle her alone, no way!' But after a few hours I relaxed. She was just awesome."
Pretty In Black was recorded over several weeks in mid-July at Allaire Studios "on a desolate mountain peak," as Sune puts it, in Shokan, New York, outside Woodstock. It was recorded entirely live, a new process for the Raveonettes. "Whip It On and Chain Gang were demos that I made into albums," Sune says. "This one was recorded live and then I just kept adding things, like samples, until it sounded right. I didn't teach everyone the songs before we went in because I wanted it to be more spontaneous. We did it right there on the spot so it would have that fresh quality."
In addition, Sharin is no longer playing bass. "I originally started playing bass out of necessity--because we needed someone," she says. "It's nice now to have some freedom to concentrate on the vocals, which is really my thing. I'm a singer." The rest of the band is fleshed out by longtime Raveonettes guitarist Manoj Ramdas and drummer Jakob Hoyer, and new bassist Anders Christensen, a veteran of jazz drummer Paul Motian's band. All three play on the album and will tour with the Raveonettes.
Pretty In Black still reflects Sune's love for the early rock innovators Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. "I can't get away from it," he says. "Maybe I tried to modernize it a bit more than with the last two records, but it really is the same inspiration," he says. "I've been known to buy a computer magazine, but I still cherish the '50s-style dinner table in my apartment. I think you can mix those two things up in a gentle way."
Written by Record Label