Public opinion has been fickle for The Raveonettes. The Danish duo’s 2002 EP, “Whip It On,” and 2003 CD, “Chain Gang of Love,” had hipsters swooning over the discs’ blend of spooky vocalizing, fuzz-guitar feedback and primitive rhythmic rumble that decades before had spawned cults for The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cramps and The Velvet Underground.
Then came 2005’s “Pretty in Black,” where The Raveonettes cast sinister shadows over the pure intentions of early `60s pop, echoing everyone from Skeeter Davis to the Everly Brothers to The Ronettes. Many in the band’s burgeoning group of admirers spurned the twangy stylings rooted in the period just after Elvis got out of the army and just before JFK’s assassination.
In February, however, The Raveonettes returned with “Lust Lust Lust,” which hews more closely to the noisy aesthetics of “Chain Gang of Love” than “Pretty in Black’s” countrified pop polish, and suddenly fans fell in love with Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo all over again.
Asked during a phone interview from Toronto about The Raveonettes’ zig-zag career trajectory, Wagner, 29, sounds genuinely puzzled. “I never thought there were those ups and downs,” says the singer-songwriter-guitarist. “I thought we were always good. We’ve always had a hard-core fan base that has been very supportive.”
Maybe so. But that base is mushrooming since “Lust Lust Lust’s” release, garnering unqualified praise from such diverse quarters as USA Today, Rolling Stone magazine, Pitchfork, NME and NPR.
Awash in songs such as the poisonous “Dead Sound,” about, in Wagner’s words, “cowards who cheat on their girlfriends and are afraid to admit it,” and “You Want the Candy,” a Spectoresque tune about “scoring drugs on Lower East Side of Manhattan,” “Lust Lust Lust” is the most “personal” disc he has penned.
The song “Lust,” a confession of human frailty, was the first written for the album, says Wagner. “It let me know what kind of direction I wanted the album to take. ... It’s dark, simple, minimal, very charming in its way. I wrote all the other songs around that one song. Like death, lust is an easy topic to write about and make personal.”
So, was Wagner apprehensive about opening up?
“I didn’t mind it all,” he says. “That’s really what I’ve been doing all along. All of my other (previous) songs were very autobiographical but cloaked in various disguises and characters ... People who read between the lines know all about me.”
In the exuberant “Blitzed,” there’s a revealing line that goes, “I’d rather die than miss my fun,” which Wagner says intended it as an admonition to “enjoy life (and) live life to the fullest. I’m just living my life that way. I wanna die a happy man.”
And what brings him contentment?
“Sitting at home and writing songs, which I have been doing it since I was 15,” he answers. “I love walking - that’s freedom to me - going to restaurants, taking pictures, going to the symphony and researching in the library.”
The bleaker “With My Eyes Closed” is the other side of the coin. “That’s the tough part, the difficulty of staying in a relationship, or the idea of monogamy, being with one person at a time, especially for people like me who are restless and adventurous,” Wagner says. “I always believe that something better lurks around the corner. How terrible to have that feeling instead of feeling that you can just be with someone.”
In “The Beat Dies,” which includes the CD’s most shocking line, “The first love you can’t escape/The second love feels like rape,” lust and longing take a tragic turn.
“It’s written about a real-life person I was intrigued with,” says Wagner. “It was an unapproachable situation. The relationship was never gonna happen, and there was some despair about that. ... When you fall in love the first time, it is such a blissful thing, pure, serene. But when you fall in love for the wrong reason, it feels terrible.”
On a more felicitous note, “Aly, Walk With Me,” the throbbing, spectral single made fearsome by white-noise guitar discharges, was inspired by a friend of Wagner’s who lives on the West Coast. “I wrote the song in 20 minutes, and she was the first one who heard it,” says Wagner. “It wasn’t originally meant as a Raveonettes song. I just did it for her.”
On their current tour, Wagner and Foo are being backed by drummer Leah Shapiro, playing for about 70 minutes and focusing on “Lust Lust Lust.”
Any cover tunes? “We had been doing Stereolab’s `French Disco’ for a while, but now it depends on what town we’re in and if we’ve played there before,” says Wagner. “We don’t want to repeat ourselves.”
For the last seven years, Wagner has lived in New York City, while Foo calls L.A. home. Wagner misses his native Denmark “for nostalgic reasons. Maybe I’ll move back some day. It’s a nice, safe place to be,” he says. “I don’t like America’s way of censoring things, or its health care system. It’s not a country I would want to raise kids in.
“But America is very inspiring. It’s a great country to travel in. It has a tremendous cultural heritage. And I like New York City. It’s the best city in the world. I absolutely love living there.”
// Notes from the Road
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