|Scrapbook: The Raveonettes Soundtracking Decadent Urban Nights|
|May 30, 2005, 11:00 pm|
Paste Magazine. Tom Lanham. June/July 2005 Issue 16.
While slabs of pork smoke on a huge barbecue, ex-Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha wanders around bombed out of his platinum-haired skull, ranting about vintage automobiles to anyone who’ll listen. A shirtless, wolf-hairy Har Mar Superstar spins vinyl poolside while two of his acolytes dance in front of him. And the gay/straight Mutt and Jeff duo Junior Senior roams the grounds, chatting up anyone with an exotic accent.
From their umbrella-tabled perch on the hillside of this Austin, Texas, Elks Lodge, Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner survey the surreal scene—another chichi private party at this year’s bustling SXSW music festival—and grin in debauched delight. Their Copenhagen combo The Raveonettes lives for such twisted affairs, sighs the raven-haired, ebony-clad Wagner, who’d spun a few Cramps-sinister platters himself before surrendering the turntables to Har Mar. In fact, Wagner adds, he recently relocated to bustling New York City, mainly for its captivating aura of decadence. It’s exciting, he says, because noir-ish urban scenes—like the late-night action in Taxi Driver—just look good.
Hence the funereal title of The Raveonettes’ latest, Pretty In Black, a flashlight tour through the dankest catacombs of vintage American R&B, surf and rockabilly, complete with seedy sonnets about groupies (“Love In A Trashcan”), somnambulism (“Sleepwalking”), homelessness (“Seductress Of Bums”), suicidal romance (“Here Comes Mary”) and trailer-trash spousal abuse (“Red Tan”).
When he penned the set, Wagner confesses, “I was reading a lot of these tacky juvenile-delinquent novels from the ’50s, like Jailbait and Gang Girl—they were really entertaining, and all about the nice girl who falls in love with a gang leader while everyone disapproves.” He pauses to rub his eyes and slide even deeper into the umbrella’s protective shadow. “I’m sorry—I just don’t function that well during the daylight. It’s very hard for me to stay focused.”
The statuesque blonde Foo—outfitted in an Austin-appropriate Western shirt, skin-tight miniskirt and cowboy boots—takes over the tale. Sure, she says, The Raveonettes stunned fans with their first two albums Whip It On and Chain Gang Of Love, which blended sunny Shangri-Las melodies with grim Jesus And Mary Chain feedback. “But we thought of those records as appetizers, as just the beginning,” she explains.
And instead of layering her voice in tandem with Wagner’s, this time around she trills lead on several Richard Gottehrer-produced tracks, including a techno-pop cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Ode To L.A.,” a duet with the legendary Ronnie Spector. Other top-flight guests include Velvet Underground drummer Mo Tucker and original Suicide keyboardist Martin Rev.
“At ?rst, we were afraid that we’d get all disillusioned, meeting such idols,” Foo sighs. “But we were really lucky—we met three amazing people, and we love them even more now. And it just feels so right to have them on the album. Now, stylistically, we can go anywhere—we’ve opened all the doors for ourselves, and that’s a very liberating feeling.”
Wagner doesn’t understand why more bands—once they establish some street cred—don’t recruit their idols or work to expand stylistic horizons. “With this album, I couldn’t wait to do something different, to use my influences in a different way,” concludes the vintage-rock enthusiast. “That was the whole idea about it. Remember how the second Strokes album was sorta the same as the first album? There were some good songs on it, but nothing was really happening. I just don’t wanna fall into that trap. The Raveonettes are capable of doing so much stuff, so I think we should just do it, y’know?”
Credit: Tom Lanham