“We’re actually playing in Mexico City right after London; it’s a show that’s connected to the Danish embassy out there.”
This weekend’s Ja Ja Ja Festival at London’s Roundhouse might be the first of its kind, but The Raveonettes are apparently no strangers to making their representation of Scandinavia’s official business. Having celebrated their tenth anniversary last year with a superb sixth studio effort, Observator, they’re taking a quick break from a period of downtime to fly the Danish flag overseas.
“One of our first ever shows was kind of an all Scandinavian thing,” guitarist Sharin Foo tells me from her home in Los Angeles. “It was this huge festival in Aarhus; I remember that was the first time we met David Fricke from Rolling Stone, because the coverage he gave us there was what led to us being signed. It seems weird that we haven’t done anything like it again until now. We’re pretty bummed that we’re not playing the same night as Mew.”
Foo formed The Raveonettes with Sune Rose Wagner in their native Copenhagen back in 2002. Despite both having long been settled in the States, and a plethora of blatant American influences characterising their sound, she insists that both the presence of Denmark in their music and their links to other Danish bands remain intact. “There’s little touches of camaraderie; if we’re at a club and see that another Danish band is coming through, we’ll leave them a message. It’s a pretty small country, to be honest; it’s not too difficult to see the connections between musicians. Mø is doing really well at the minute and our sound guy is playing in her live band – there’s little links like that everywhere.”
“Plus, I think the Danish connection is usually tangible musically, too. There’s obviously some very distinct references to American history and culture, and to rock and roll generally, and there’s nothing Danish about that, but there’s always a certain air, a certain sensitivity in there that reflects where we’ve come from. There’s like an atmosphere, a kind of rainy melancholy to the introspective side of our music that puts me in mind of Denmark. It’s not always as obvious as the surf side of things, the Californian side of things, but it is there.”
With Observator now a year old and touring duties to promote it long since wrapped up, I felt obliged to ask for a progress report as far as new Raveonettes material was concerned. “We’re easing into it very gently at this stage,” Foo says. “We’ve got a few ideas and there’s definitely a dialog going, but we’re not going to dive into it properly until January. We’re both pretty busy with other projects, and it’s been difficult to find the time to immerse ourselves in The Raveonettes again. It’s all very slow, very comfortable for now. We’ve been talking to a few potential collaborators, actually – not that I can mention any names yet!”
Geographical distance, at least, is no longer a factor, with Wagner having moved from New York to LA last year – “I can see his apartment from where I’m sitting actually, he’s right downtown.” It’s a move that’s brought the pair back together on social, as well as professional, terms – except, of course, for when fate has other ideas for the constantly in-the-wars Wagner, who struggled with a herniated disc during the making of Observator.
“We go through phases of seeing each other and then not seeing each other. We were actually supposed to have a Sune and Sharin date yesterday; we were going to see this band called The Sadies. It was a nostalgic thing, we’d seen them years ago on this really fun night on tour and we kind of wanted to relive it. It didn’t happen, though, because Sune had to have his appendix out a few days ago. We’re have very different rhythms in some ways; these days, I have to be up at 6:30 to take my daughter to school, so my own lifestyle is quite a bit different now.”
While Wagner has kept himself busy on the other side of the sound desk – he’s continued to produce records, working with Dum Dum Girls again on their forthcoming Too True LP – Foo has eschewed music in favour of an online project called Hurra! – a venture she very elegantly describes as “a Danish cultural satellite in LA, curating and exhibiting art and design objects here in Venice Beach. It’s nice to be creative in a way that doesn’t involve music when I’m away from doing band stuff. I can’t really imagine wanting to do anything on my own at this point in time.”
Given the events of the past week or so, it would have been remiss of me not to ask about Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground; even the most casual of observers could easily identify the New York band’s influence on The Raveonettes. “It was the minimalism that attracted us to them,” Foo recalls. “The way they were able to create this haunting quality with so little. I suppose we wanted to try to capture some of that atmosphere, some of that rawness. To me, they were the first band to really recognise how powerful the intertwining nature of music and art is, too. That’s something that’s really important to me now, I think. Looking back, I think we were sometimes too busy and didn’t focus on the aesthetic side of things and I’m not too fond of some of the older videos we did. We’ve come to learn how much you work you need to put into the visual side of the way you present yourselves.”
A decade in, The Raveonettes are now at the stage where new bands are starting to acknowledge their influence – the aforementioned Dum Dum Girls are one such example. “It’s flattering, you know. You just talked about The Velvet Underground; they didn’t really get the recognition when they were active. We don’t take it for granted when somebody gives us credit, although it’s scary to think about how old we’re getting.”
The band plan to start recording soon after they reunite in the new year, and Foo already has a handle on the sonic direction they’re headed in. “It’s going to be lighter, I think. The last two have been kind of dark and moody; we want to make something a little more rebellious, a little more carefree. That’s the way we want to approach it now, at least; the world might look very different in January, but for now we just want to have fun again.”
“I don’t think we’re necessarily taking any direct cues from what we’ve been listening to; I mean, in general we’ve never been embarrassed to totally admit that our influences are pretty obvious, but from album to album it tends to be more abstract. I think on Raven in the Grave we were trying to make something that sounded like a film soundtrack – that’s what was really inspiring us at the time. With Observator, we were playing around with kind of a Doors vibe; I don’t think that really came out in the end, but I can hear in it the way we were living at the time – hanging out a lot, embracing the Venice Beach lifestyle, and recording at Sunset Sound. It’s that kind of feeling, that kind of mood, that you really can’t force; I don’t know what the next record’s going to feel like, but I do know it’s going to sound natural.”
The Raveonettes play Ja Ja Ja Festival at Roundhouse on November 8. For more information, head here. Photograph by James Kelly.