Even after crafting five studio albums of beguiling cotton candy melodies and teeth-rattling distortion, Raveonettes guitarist-songwriter Sune Rose Wagner, who along with singer-bassist Sharin Foo is currently celebrating ten years as a band, is still a man without a plan when it comes to bringing his seductive noise-pop jams to life. "I have these moments of insanity where I just pick up stuff from people and the world around me," says Wagner about his writing process for the new Observator, due September 11 on Vice, "then I'll sit and think about what happened." Hey, whatever works.
Disorganized as its genesis may have been, Observator is another dark, sterling collection of fuzzy guitars and boy-girl harmonies. Wagner spoke with SPIN about struggling to craft the record, a recent debilitating injury, and a decade of the Raveonettes.
In a piece you wrote about making the new album, you said you thought you'd travel to Venice Beach and work in isolation, but you ended up gleaning inspiration from the people there. What was it about them that inspired you?
I had this beautiful notion of going out there and finding a little peace and finding inspiration and the glorious setting sun. It just wasn't quite like that. I didn't write at all, which was the point of it. I've always enjoyed going to the bar alone or going to a restaurant alone. You meet people. Everyone has an interesting story to tell, so you just sort of soak it all up. And there's a lot of sad people too, sad relationships, people who are more prone to tragedy.
You also wrote that you ended up going on a three-day bender. Do you do your best writing after drinking?
I've always worked like that. I try to channel [drinking] into something creative. I write down simple words for lyrics, song titles, anything. Or it can be actual stories. The whole idea with the album title — and the song "Observations" — came because I feel like I was sort of like out there observing myself and other people and what goes on around me.
You threw your back out before you began writing and it spiraled into a depression when you couldn't do daily tasks on your own. What exactly happened?
I've always had lower back problems, but I've always been able to somewhat control it by going to the chiropractor and stuff. Sometimes it just escalates. There was one day where it was really bad and as I got home from the chiropractor the whole thing just froze up and I had to call the ambulance. I was in the hospital for like five days and I was on so many drugs. I couldn't move at all. I was afraid there was some sort of explosion in my stomach or something. There was just so much pain. It turned out to be a herniated disc in the lower back. It was probably the worst pain I've ever experienced. I'll always have it. It makes it super difficult for me to function sometimes.
It sounds like you found the recording process easy, at least. Sharin lives in L.A., but what else about the city made it an appealing place to work?
I always wanted to record at Sunset Sound [recording studio in Hollywood]. Some of my favorite albums are from there. As part of the band's 10-year anniversary I wanted to do something special. So I insisted on us going there. I did not regret that at all. I think if we had not gone there the album would be very different and not as good as it is now. It made a huge difference to be in that environment surrounded by all those ghosts of genius. It made singing a lot easier and a lot more heartfelt. We just heard the songs in a different way and were able to make changes to them really fast and were able to hear everything that was wrong with them or good about them. That working environment did everything for the album.
You decided to record with producer Richard Gottehrer, who also worked on your second album Pretty in Black. How did that come about?
I've known him for 10 years now. He and his wife are, in a sense, my American parents. I always hang out with them. We're neighbors in New York. They have a beautiful house in Nyack. I have my own room there. I go up on weekends, so we hang out all the time and we listen to music and we also work together. We produced the Dum Dum Girls. So when I started [writing], I played songs for him because I always appreciate his opinion. One day I said, "Well you should produce because you seem super-engaged in it." It was a very simple choice.
Speaking of Dum Dum Girls, they're one of the bands that cite you guys as an influence. What's it like looking back now after 10 years as a band and being credited with influencing new groups?
It's very flattering. I'm very proud of us for sticking to what we do best and not really falling under the spell of some new fad. We're just doing what we're good at and that's really what we should be doing. I see all these bands come up and I definitely hear influences of our music in a lot of these new bands, but I think that's great. You have to be inspired from somewhere. On top of that I get to work with some of them. We have this mutual respect towards each other and that's really, really cool.
What the most important thing that you've learned in the last decade?
I've learned it's very, very important to be in control of your own business and to own as much of it as you can and not be dependant on anyone to do the job for you. Even though there are people who want to do the job for you, you'd be better off to oversee it yourself. Little mistakes can happen, but they can turn bigger fast.