She Wants Revenge: “We Don’t Care What Is Happening Now”
I recently spoke with She Wants Revenge shortly following their New York City appearances at Highline Ballroom and the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The new album, entitled Vallyheart, was released in late May to mixed reviews. The album was heavily promoted on the band’s website and Tumblr along with a blog and short films. Here I talk to the band about social media, the state of the music industry, their new album, and much more.
I know that you guys are major Bauhaus fans, as am I. Which Bauhaus songs or albums would you say you’re influenced by the most and why? As far as a lot of your 80’s influences, who do you think has held up over the years and what do you think of these bands’ newer work?
I first came across Bauhaus when I was about 18 and looking for albums to sample for hip-hop. I’d seen the name on t-shirts and liked the artwork. I picked up a CD and liked it, but never really listened. Years later I got into them– but I mean WAY later. So I wouldn’t say they were influences in the formative years like some other bands, but at the time, when Adam and I were DJ-ing, throwing clubs and starting to write songs together, which would become SWR. Yeah, we were listening to them, but mostly in the clubs. Songs like “Dark Entries,” “Bela” “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything,” “She’s In Parties,” “The Passion of Lovers,” etc. When we were rehearsing for our first ever tour (opening for Bloc Party) they were rehearsing next door for Coachella, so that was exciting. We ended up seeing them play at the festival and later at some shows of theirs. Their lighting designer also became ours after he approached us at our rehearsal space, which was awesome cause he’s a genius. We later met all the guys and they were super cool, which was really nice.
As far as other 80’s influences, the big ones are Depeche Mode, The Furs, The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Simple Minds, and Tears For Fears. I think all of that stuff holds up. And as far as comparing their old work to the new stuff, it’s not fair to do. Bands grow, they evolve, and as you mature and grow older you can’t be expected to create the same level of stuff or same sounding stuff you did 20 to 30 years before. Having only been doing this band for seven years, I can only imagine what it’s like for them. So I’m a fan of these bands no matter what they are writing now.
I saw you last year when you opened for Psychedelic Furs. You had such a big, energetic sound that I found really refreshing. It had a very live, tangible feel even though your music is heavy on electronic elements. How much material do you tend to record to backing tracks ahead of time and what do you like to save for the live shows? I especially liked the drum programming. It really kept things moving. What’s your typical approach as far as coming up with programmed sounds for the live performances? And as the technology has changed these past few years, how has this approach evolved?
We only use drum and keyboards on the backing tracks, and they are the same ones that are on the recorded songs. Any more than that and it becomes inauthentic and not really live feeling or sounding. I’ve been using electronics and drum samples live since about 1995 or ‘96, and the best thing about the technology is that it has simplified and is much easier to use than it was back then. You don’t have to be a programmer to utilize the tools, which back then you had to be.
You seem to be one of those bands who dodge any sort of label or definition of your sound. Do you think this has made you more intriguing to the public eye? It seems like most bands want to fit in to whatever is happening now. So what’s happening now within electronic/dance music and how do you feel you fit into that?
We don’t care what is happening at the time. When we first started writing songs in 2004 there was the Rapture and The Faint. Apart from that and electro music like Felix Da Housecat and all the stuff coming from DJ Hell andGermany, there wasn’t a lot of dance music in rock. Later, some other bands came out, but for us the idea of doing dance music was because that is part of our background and as DJ’s who were spinning in the clubs in Hollywood at the time, it was the natural and organic thing to do. As we evolved, music and the music scene changed, but we didn’t change with it. We changed as we grew as musicians, songwriters, and from being a live band on the road. Since then there have been 20 different waves of trendy music, some of them amazing, but nothing that we felt compelled to follow. That wouldn’t be real and that’s not what we’re about. Our core influence is the type of music we grew up on, and as we grow as a band we move further away from that and become more of who we are.
On a similar note, I was reading up on a few of your collaborators and am intrigued to see Joaquin Phoenix and Timbaland on the list. You also did a cover of “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” for The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D release. Tell me a bit about the more random collaborations you’ve had with people and how they came about. Everyone holds you up to Interpol and Joy Division, but then you go and bend in all these different directions. How did you come to choose Joaquin to direct the video for “Tear You Apart” and what was it like working with Timbaland? I remember that album and thought it was cool how he has his hands in all these different styles of music.
Joaquin is a friend, an immensely talented individual, and called me with the idea for the video for “Tear You Apart.” It was so far beyond anyone else’s idea and treatment for the video that there was no question if we would go with him.
Timbaland reached out to us as a fan of our first album and asked for us to come into the studio and collaborate with him. That was an amazing experience.
“Kidnap” was because someone asked us if we were fans and if we’d like to participate in the soundtrack. We picked that song, did it while on the road (primarily in a hotel room inNew Orleans), and finished it up in Kansas.
These are all the result of people knowing what we do and wishing to collaborate with us and create something together.
I’m really fascinated by this series of short films for Valleyheart. Whose idea was that? Do the films have more of a documentary feel or did you do a lot of storyboarding and preproduction?
I’ve done videos for the band in the past and on this record Adam wanted to direct some as well, so he suggested we split the songs down the middle, choose which ones we wanted, and make videos to represent the songs. I can’t say what they’ll be like as we’ve only done two so far, and have eight more to go, but I know that they will likely be more like short films than documentary style.
For the new album, what was your typical workflow like in the studio? It seems like everybody is tracking or at least mixing at home these days. Do you have a home studio setup?
We have a studio called Perfect Kiss where we’ve recorded everything since the beginning. It’s not a home studio, it’s a place we took over and built when we first signed our deal with Geffen years ago. The only difference between this record and past records was that we also mixed it there as well, which we don’t normally do.
The songwriting begins with Adam and I programming a beat, hitting record, then playing bass and guitar over it or piano and guitar over it and improvising until we find something that feels right.
Since Pro Tools is rolling, we’re capturing all of that, and then after we come up with one section, we’ll work on the next musical piece, be it a chorus, verse, bridge or other.
This usually happens quickly and if we don’t like something, we know right away. Sometimes it takes 10 or 15 minutes to come up with something that will stick around, and if it takes too long, it doesn’t generally make the cut. Except for very rare instances when I come in with a chord change and a lyric to accompany it, all of the lyrics come later, after all of the basic tracking is done. Then I sing it, do backups, Adam does last minute keyboard overdubs and sound effects, and lastly the band (Thomas Froggatt on guitar and Scott Ellis on drums) will come in and play on top, which we did on one or two songs in the past, but on this record we did on everything so it would feel more like our live shows.