There's something disconcerting about the fact that Sune Rose Wagner doesn't have a Valentine. It's Feb. 14, early evening in the U.K., and Wagner—the globetrotting, eyeliner-wearing boy half of the Danish boy-girl duo The Raveonettes—is doing overseas phone interviews in support of the band's upcoming U.S. tour.
Wagner says he's simply never really celebrated the Day of Love.
“But I don't celebrate Halloween, either,” he adds.
It's only fitting that Wagner mentions the creepiest holiday alongside the one that publicly lauds devotion and privately celebrates fornication. The band's latest album is dark, dangerous and unyieldingly sexy with a title (Lust Lust Lust) that contains no traces of subtlety. Lust is quite different from love. You'd never find love, for instance, on a list of deadly sins.
Wagner has a lilting voice, flirty and boyish, a sort of Nordic coo, and he laughs just a little at the mention of happily-ever-after.
“Hopeless romanticism,” he remarks. “I think it's a beautiful thing, and it's the stuff that legends are made of. I do believe in it just as much as I believe in UFOs.”
The obvious but unspoken response hangs for a second in the air.
“And mind you,” he continues. “I have seen a UFO.”
He tells the story of a sighting that apparently took place during an overnight flight to Copenhagen. He claims he looked out the window of the plane and there it was.
“It had bright lights and it moved at a very rapid pace and in very irregular patterns,” Wagner says. “Every time it came close, there was a tremendous amount of turbulence.... And it was very scary at first but then it got—well, I was very interested to find out what it was, but I never did.”
He's also just presented a perfect metaphor for Lust Lust Lust's vision of down-'n'-dirty amore. The album explores passion, desire and obsession, along with all the trouble and bliss such things bring. It's a late-night affair of fear and fascination, like black satin sheets strangling guilty, naked limbs.
The Raveonettes take their name from a Buddy Holly song, “Rave On” (a revered late-'50s rock 'n' roll classic), and The Ronettes, the It girl group of the '60s. The mid-century adoration is obvious in the lushly harmonic voices and bouncy guitar melodies, as well as in their album covers with film-noir overtones.
But the band's music is modern, especially in its meticulous, Thurston Moore-inspired feedback and distortion. Noise is a crisply produced element in the mix, placed with the precision of an instrumental solo. It's definitely not the sloppy, bullying force that often occurs when many bands dabble with dexterity.
“I always spend a lot of time making it sound just right,” Wagner says, explaining The Raveonettes' use of electronic texture. “I make sure you can hear all the lyrics and beautiful singing.”
The lyrics and beautiful singing on Lust Lust Lust just happen to be about the most alluring of the Deadly Seven. (Though, Wagner says, “Gluttony is pretty cool, too.”)
Following 2005's Pretty in Black, Wagner—the band's songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist—came up with a snippet of the song “Lust” during a morning work session at his New York home and realized he was on to something. He had found a lyrical focus for a new album. He sent it to vocalist/bassist Sharin Foo, the gorgeous girl-half of the band, who lives in Los Angeles. She loved it.
The words and music that grew from that cutting are as nebulous and smoky as the moral uncertainty that might present itself in a compromising situation. Do I or don't I? Should I or shouldn't I? Oh fuck it, of course I will.
“Dead Sound,” for example, is about cheaters. “It's about boys who are unfaithful to their girlfriends, who are afraid to say it,” Wagner explains. “They are afraid to lose what they already have but they want. This is obviously a bad situation for everyone.”
On the topic of obsession, a persistent motif, he has mixed feelings. “I think it's a beautiful thing,” Wagner says. “It's an obsession for something that in a way isn't very real. You have pictures in your mind or you conjure up images of something you want it to be, but very rarely it's what you want it to be. I think it's charming that the human mind works like that. Though it can also become quite scary so you've got to be careful.”
Love isn't entirely absent from this album; it's just presented in ways that would never grace a Hallmark card.
Wagner, who attributes the societal obsession with monogamy to religion, says he's not opposed to the idea of everlasting love.
“I like the thought of it and the beauty that can come with it, like when you meet people who have been together for 50 years,” Wagner says. “It's very tricky, though, because in a way I don't believe that man—or woman, for that matter—is really meant to be with one single person. I think we're much more animal-like. I think it's in our nature to wander, and to seek different things, and to explore uncharted territory.”
“I'd like to believe in it, yeah. But do I believe it? I don't know.” The Raveonettes play at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 29, with Be Your Own Pet at The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd. 619-232-HELL. www.theraveonettes.com.
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