Last October, the Raveonettes' tour manager went to where the band's van was supposed to be parked in Brooklyn, New York, but it wasn't there — and neither was the Raveonettes' equipment.
Gone were frontman Sune Rose Wagner's vintage guitars, including the prized '61 Jazzmaster he had used to write all his songs for the past 12 years. Gone were Sharin Foo's basses. Gone were the drums, the amps, the pedals, all the gear that they needed for a show that very night, for an upcoming tour with Depeche Mode, and to record the next album.
"Suddenly, we just didn't have anything," Foo said. "Sune was having a nervous breakdown. We were devastated."
Even now, six months after the theft, the Raveonettes are still struggling with getting their insurance company's claims adjusters to give them approval to replace their gear. While this is being sorted out, they've done a little soul-searching to figure out how they were going to start anew.
"When something like this happens, you're forced to sit down and really talk about, what's the status of this band?" Foo said. "Where do we really want to go? It's kind of a therapeutic experience. You start to get to the bottom of what was the original motivation for this band, to reconstruct your lives and put it back together. So I guess that's the positive outcome of something really terrible."
The other positive outcome, Foo said, was rediscovering how supportive the music community could be. After struggling with a "crap bass that didn't want to tune," Foo said Wagner had reached the end of his rope.
"Sune was like, 'I can't do this anymore!' So I went on MySpace and I typed, 'I know this is a crazy request, but does anyone have a bass and a guitar we can borrow?' " Foo said. The next thing they knew, they were flooded with e-mails from random strangers, fans and fellow musicians who offered to come by and drop off vintage guitars — even one of those treasured Jazzmasters. "We were stunned," Foo said.
Inspired by the response, Foo started posting more messages and sketches of songs to get fan reaction to works in progress. The follow-up to Pretty in Black is still in the early stages, but because the duo were forced to try out new equipment, they were also forced to try out new sounds. "Different guitars have different feels to them," Foo explained.
They also added a heavier emphasis on electronics — with synthesizers, keyboards, drum machines and samples. "That's what it's done for us," Foo said. "We had no idea what we were going to do, and we've always embraced technology, found sounds and real sounds, but never so much with keyboards. It's fun, but you obviously can't just become a great synth player overnight, so we're just experimenting."
One of those experiments can be heard in the new Raveonettes song "Sometimes the Drop By," which Foo describes as "very 'Twin Peaks' sounding. It's got a cinematic feel to it," she said. "It sounds different than anything I've ever heard from us, with the texture from keyboards and synths. But the thing I recognize is the drone feel of the vocal harmonies."
Another new song, "Dead Sound," is more traditional for the band, Foo said, so much so that it might seem like a cover of a song from the '50s or '60s. "Some people would probably say, 'Is that Eddie Cochran or Ritchie Valens?' But, no, it's the Raveonettes."
Still, the new songs could go in a completely different direction, once the album gets more fully under way. "We've no idea where we're going to go," Foo said. "We could dump it all and do it the old-fashioned way, or it might sound the same. For now, we're just playing around."