As the photo shoot with the Raveonettes gets going in the outside patio of the Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale before their gig last Saturday night, both Sharin Foo, the band’s effulgent blonde bassist – a womanly Thor figure – and Sune Rose Wagner, the effeminately graceful male vocalist/guitarist, seem a bit disconcerted, the flash blazing their eyes. We’re moving slowly here. Perhaps the endearing duo should kiss or get on some bawdy S&M action to adopt the image projected by their new album, Chain Gang of Love, and by a retro cover featuring them in taut leather suits and on motorcycles, but Wagner dryly responds, “We don’t really do that. That’s more of a couples thing.”
Fine. Too bad, because it would have coincided well with their darkly erotic songs about sex, love gangs and debauchery. Originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, the Raveonettes landed a record deal with major label Columbia (chairman Don Ienner exclaiming, “I want this fucking band!”) and generated some buzz with 2002’s Whip It On, although they didn’t get much airplay. Recording Chain Gang in B-flat major and setting rules for the songs (e.g., less than 3 minutes long and a minimum of chords), the group crafted a sublime garage rock/ post-punk sound intermingled with the pop sensibility of the Beatles and a fuzz-drenched version of the Beach Boys’ surf rock.
Interestingly, the Raveonettes are enthralled by post-WWII American culture, but deride the sexual censorship this country has developed throughout its history: “Here, they think [sex] is done by greasy old men in dark chambers, but it’s a very natural thing…yes, we all know what tits look like and what ‘fuck’ means.” And so it goes, the band members expose their liberation of sex and love:
Q: Has the male/female duality influenced your music?
Wagner: Well, we like the boy/girl harmony; it’s a cool sound.
Do you think it creates any sexual undertones?
W: Not for us, but maybe for some people [laughs].
In the U.S., it could make for some gimmicky marketability.
Wagner: That might be a good thing, you know, it might help sell some records [laughs]. We never thought of that.
So you guys aren’t a couple?
Well, how do you perceive relationships? Do you believe in single or multiple partners; lust or love?
W: I believe in a single partner, but you need lust if you want true love. I don’t know, but that’s how it works.
What is lust then, in accordance with love?
W: [melodramatically] Oh my god, I just broke up, man…Sharin, say something.
Foo: [laughs] I mean, if you listen to the music, it has that duality in there – like a very romantic, sentimental kind of love and then there’s a very sleazy underground and decadent world. That’s a thing that fascinates everybody and I think that’s a dilemma in life, to get those two worlds to find a balance.
Maybe you’ve found that balance in your music.
F: Well, don’t take it too literally. Music has a lot to do with escapism and fantasy at the same time as it is about [real] things going on.
W: I mean it’s personal on some levels, but fifty percent of it is merely stories I heard or even fiction.
How about you, Sharin, do you believe in mutiple partners?
F: No, I believe in a single partner, oh yeah…
W: We’re not Mormons [laughs].
A lot rock bands of these days, including the Raveonettes, seem to be looking in the past for inspiration? Why is that?
W: I think you need to look back. For me, the best music was made in the fifties, but what bands sometimes tend to do wrong these days is go back and only look for one certain thing and then it all becomes too retroish, which isn’t good. What we did was to try to mix different eras together, like we’ll have a Suicide beat and then have these sweet Everly Brothers vocals on top, and that’s gives more perspective to the whole thing and makes it really ours.
F: I think that people look into all kinds of art from back in the days because that’s what’s timeless, and people wanna become familiar with the legacy of whatever you’re dealing with.
Could you explain the concept behind Chain Gang of Love’s cover art?
W: Well, with the first record, we took up the concept of the old film poster. To me, it’s very timeless, very classic, the fifties, forties, a bit of film noir. [For the new album], we wanted some sort of icon and with all the chains and gangs, we thought the biker image fit pretty well since we didn’t want to use an image of Marlon Brando from The Wild One or something.
You refer to chains, lust, love prisoners, so what exactly is the chain gang of love?
W: It could be a lot of things, you know. I always liked the prisoner songs that Johnny Cash and Sam Cooke did and you can use prisons as a metaphor for a lot of things, especially in the way we twisted it, like someone’s who’s not in love with someone is in the chain gang of love. It’s like you’re being punished for not loving someone.
What are you trying to say in “Dirty Eyes (Sex Don’t Sell)”?
W: It’s a rambling kind of song, pretty much in the way William Burroughs would use the “cut-up” technique or whatever [in his books]. It’s just saying things that people think are strange because everyone knows that sex sells, so why the hell is Jimmy [the character in the song] saying that it doesn’t? And later on, the transvestite Troy comes in and so there are these weird characters in a screwed-up sexual universe and maybe that type of sex does not sell.
What type of sex is that precisely?
W: Well, I think it’s sado-masochistic transvestite sex.
So, like androgynous sex, no male or female?
W: Yeah, exactly.
F: Yeah and I like the way the vocals are kind of detached because there are some weird statements, but it’s also like, oh well…
Did you come to the States (the ultimate producer of rock stars) to find stardom here instead of staying in Europe?
W: Well, it depends. There are different types of rock stars. In the ’80s, I think rock stars were biggest with all the hard rock bands and that really was the whole sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll attitude. It’s still a lot like that, but it’s different. I mean, who’s a big rock star these days?
F: I have a very incidental relationship with this whole rock ‘n’ roll thing because it’s very fascinating and we totally like to indulge ourselves, but it’s also like being a voyeur sometimes, stepping aside and looking at how it’s all clich