The Valley Of The Shadows And Beyond – An Interview With She Wants Revenge

By on 7 June 2012

She Wants Revenge made a big impact with their eponymous debut album just a couple short years after their formation. This kicked off years of hard work, both on the road, and in the studio bringing them to audiences far beyond what a post punk/darkwave act can usually expect to reach. In interviews She Wants Revenge‘s core duo of Justin Warfield and Adam Bravin show very eloquently their love of and passion for music and the artists that inspired them. What grows out of this inspiration is an organic bloom that is very much their own.

Valleyheart is a love letter from She Wants Revenge to San Fernando Valley where they grew up. Not everyone could write so lovingly about the place they came from, so I wonder if this love for their roots is something they arrived at over time after travelling far and wide, or if they had this appreciation for where they came from all along. “Everything that contributed to the artists we are today”, says Adam Bravin, “we learned about while growing up in the San Fernando Valley, it help shaped who we are today. All the music, all the movies, the people, the experiences of youth, they all took place in the San Fernando Valley. We have always been in love with where we’re from and decided it would be amazing if we could make an album that would be an homage to that place and pay our respects to the place that influenced us in so many amazing ways.”

There was a long time between the second and third She Wants Revenge albums, but the band were quite active during this time. “We released 2 Eps, “Save Your Soul” and “Up and Down” as we tried to figure out who we were as musicians and experiment with different styles of music.” says Adam, “When the time came to start working on our third album, we went into the studio with only one thing in mind, ‘No repeating anything we’ve done before. If anything sounds like something we’ve done, stop and start something new.’ Once we got started, it took approximately 3 or 4 months to write and record the album, we tend to work pretty quickly in the studio.”

She Wants Revenge


On what they hope listeners take away from listening to ‘Valleyheart’, it is this – “We tried to capture two things, who we were as songwriters and musicians when we wrote and recorded the album and we attempted to translate musically, the place where we come from, hopefully listeners can appreciate both of these things. We just want people to walk away with some sort of experience, they may love it, they may hate it, just as long as it makes them feel something.”

One thing that really stands out to me on this album is that the vocals took on new dimensions, both in tone and range. I asked if the band went into the writing process with this in mind, or if the material pull this out of them. “The music almost always comes first and at the risk of sounding pretentious I let the music tell me what it wants; both in tone, lyrics, rhythm, etc.” It is interesting to get a look into the how artists approach the work and Adam takes us through the She Wants Revenge creative process. “After I write the lyrics and sing them, Adam will make notes and say, ‘more melodic’, ‘you can beat it’, or give me specifics on what he likes and doesn’t like, but we don’t go into it knowing what the vocals will be. We talk about music, beats, feel, tone, and speak about the song or album in terms of ‘dark’, ‘dancy’ or in some weird references that we share (usually old hip hop, disco or soundtrack). So if the vocals sound different it’s simply because the music is different as well, that and we’re not afraid to stretch out and try new things, so it does have a bit more ‘range’ as you say.”

Every one of the ten tracks on Valleyheart are to be given video treatment. This is an interesting idea that could be seen as a testiment to the care with which each song on the album was crafted. In this medium, the work is no less personal than the writing of the music. “We decided to split up the songs in order to show people the differences in who we are as filmmakers and for the first time in the life of the band, to have an opportunity to create art pertaining to the band, but as individuals.” Adam tells us “We call them ‘short films’ but some of them will be like stereotypical music videos, some will be more like short films, we have only made two so far and are in the process of figuring out which will be next.”

In light of this a natural question is if the films will expand on the narrative thread of Valleyheart. This question is put to Adam. “Some of the ‘short films’ will pertain to the album, some will have nothing to do with it.” he says “I (Adam) prefer to make videos or “short films” that have nothing to do with what the song lyrics are talking about, I just like making artistic films with our music as the soundtrack.”

My researches had told me that there are six tracks from the sessions for Valleyheart that didn’t make it onto the album. I ask if this is something that usually happens and if there are many unreleased She Wants Revenge songs in the vault. Six tracks? “Where did that number come from?!” Justin Warfield wants to know (I may have mis-heard one of the many She Wants Revenge video interviews found online…) “I don’t know how many there are. Every time we make an album there are songs that don’t get used, and they either become b-sides which we leak to fans or we store them for another look at a later date, or stick them in the vault as you say. We have a nice collection spanning from as early as probably 2003 or 2004.”

Besides his musical endeavours, Adam Bravin is an accomplished and prolifoc photographer. One might expect his skills as a photographer to come into play when planning and directing the with videos him at the helm. “The video for ‘Take the World’ was the first video I ever directed or shot. The fact that I’ve been developing my skills as a photographer helped immensely due to the fact I had no idea what I was doing.” he says. “I was just framing the girls as I would if I were shooting photos and it worked out for me. I still prefer capturing moments, but filmmaking is slowly catching up to my love of photography.”

She Wants Revenge


The lyrical aspect of the world of She Wants Revenge is populated by well defined characters who interact and with a beginning, middle and end. This is something that takes no small amount of skill and discipline, bespeaking a talent for writing that can be put to use outside music. “I do write outside of music, mostly essays and rants, and a few have been published.” says Adam. “I write screenplays and TV pilots as well, but so does everyone else with a laptop in the neighborhood Starbucks, so I usually don’t speak about it until something materializes. I will be doing a bi-weekly column for a hip-hop based lifestyle website soon, and when I’m motivated I blog. Apart from that it’s usually jokes or observations in 140 characters or less.”

The self-titled debut album and 2007’s This Is Forever are paired as a narrative consisting of ‘the night before, and the morning after’. In light of this I ask the band if they feel Valleyheart is a complete, self-contained narrative or if there is another chapter to come. “Valleyheart is a completely self-contained narrative that has nothing to do with the first two albums.” is the answer. “We decided to move forward and not look back at the previous albums, capturing who we were as musicians and who we were as people at the time we wrote it, while trying to capture a sound and a feeling of the our hometown, the San Fernando Valley.”

One opportunity playing live following the release of ‘Valleyheart’ offers is to see if there is any change who makes up the audience. I ask what the reaction to this release been from fans and critics has been thus far. “Some die hard fans were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a solemn and sad album, though in my opinion save for a few songs it was still very sad, though maybe not as dark.” offers Justin. “But on the whole, people responded quite well to the material. There are always new people who come to shows, which is amazing and we are extremely fortunate to have, but beyond that the hardcore people of all ages came out and supported us as we continued to grow as a band both as songwriters and performers. Critically we actually had a few decent reviews and even some really good ones, which was sort of shocking. Haha. Critics in the US don’t give us a fair shake. We came out following Interpol, The Rapture, The Faint and a few other bands, who despite being completely different, we were lumped in with albeit being deemed, “not real” or imitators. All we ever wanted was for critics to listen with their ears and not their eyes on their web browser. If someone doesn’t like the songs, lyrics, production or artwork that is fair, but at least judge it on it’s merits or lack of and not what someone else’s perception is. But I digress….”

The -90’s was a golden age for hip hop. It was a time before a single sample required a truckload of cash, a team of lawyers and a mountain of paperwork. DJ’s and producers revolutionized how a music track can be arranged in many unexpected ways. One album I remember from those days is Justin Warfield’s “My Field Trip to Planet 9”, which has an old school feel and an old school flow, even for its time. I sometimes miss the sound of layers of samples and the use of sometimes surprising sonic elements in hip hop production. “Planet 9” has a rich, funky and psychedelic vibe, and was produced by hip hop great Prince Paul. Haviung worked with Prince Paul and bringing the ears of a DJ to the process of writing and producing, it makes sense that this informs how She Wants Revenge comes at production. “Both myself and Adam look at music through the eyes of hip-hop kids who came up dj’ing and making beats.” says Justin. “We generally build tracks in a hip-hop way – beat first then add the baseline and continue front there. Additionally, for me as a vocalist being an MC is a huge influence on my ideas about rhythm, flow, cadence, background vocals, ad-libs, song structure, rhyming and especially writing choruses (hooks). I cannot take the rapper out of what I do, especially the early SWR stuff where it was more rapid fire and monotone. Working with Prince Paul was great, but I’ve worked with many different producers over the years, and I’ve learned from every one and it’s factored into how we make music as a band, even though we are not a hip-hop group.”

Retro styles are often brought up in connection with She Wants Revenge. I ask if they feel this is fair. As someone who has been into darker styles of music for decades, I don’t have criticism in mind when I ask this. To me, I can hear a fully developed and distinct core to their sound. “The criticism and bias isn’t always fair”, Justin says, addressing the issue, “meaning the writer speaking about us in the context of 70’s and 80’s influenced music may not always be addressing it in a fair way, but to say we are influenced by that time period and that there is something retro about what we do is entirely fair. We make music that is emotional, dark, dancey, and inspired by what we grew up on, so I think if it’s not mean spirited writing or if they actually listened to the music rather than read a review then make an opinion based on that, then influence is certainly something that should be on the table and up for discussion.”

Together and individually, Justin and Adam have covered quite a lot of musical ground, from hip hop to new wave to electronic. When asked if there is any genre or style they haven’t tackled that they would like to Justin replies, “I don’t think about it like that, I just enjoy writing songs. She Wants Revenge has a style that we’ve arrived at both through our influences as well as being a band for eight years and creating a body of work that grew beyond our influences into a band that spans time and creates work in the studio and tours in front of our fans. But when I’m writing outside of the band and it’s not going to be an SWR song, I have a different freedom and playground to operate in. It’s neither better nor worse, just different, but I never think, ‘I should do folk next’. Having said that, I’ve played in a number of live bands for the last 18 or so years and we’ve played all sorts of rock and roll, and apart from a few types of records that I can imagine myself making in the field of rock and roll, I am much more interested in hip-hop, pop and modern urban dance music. If I were to do anything outside of SWR it would probably be in that world as those are my roots and I feel I’ve said a lot within the parameters of rock but there is still a lot unsaid in those genres.”

She Wants Revenge have thousands of miles of touring under their belts. Headline shows, festival slots and they’ve had the good fortune to open for artists who are their long time heros. As headliners, they never forget what it was like to be the supporting act, in both positive and negative aspects. “We’ve always treated our opening acts extremely well”, is how Justin addresses the subject, “both because we are gracious individuals and because we’ve been treated both like princes and garbage by various bands over the years. So when the men of Depeche Mode can be warm, welcoming, generous and the most amazing guys you’ve ever met at this stage in their career, then surely we can give a decent soundcheck, share our food and accommodations, watch the show and be friendly and courteous with a band that is just like us only maybe a little newer in the game.”

The upcoming European tour will take She Wants Revenge through ten countries in a short amount of time. How does the band prepare for this? “There is no preparation, it is war. Haha”, comes the answer. Being a diagnosed foodie I have to ask if it is easier or harder to eat well on the road in Europe as opposed to touring the US. “The food is for the most part superior in touring Europe, unless you are talking about petrol stations and the like, in which case, man cannot live alone on ham and cheese. Having said that, when we tour the US we eat mostly healthy places whenever possible, go running, hit the gym and stay fit, as it helps with the boredom and keeps you in physical condition for what is required on stage every night. It also keeps you from eating the junk one comes across in most towns across the US, not that there isn’t brilliant food available, but you have to work harder to find it whereas junk is available everywhere you look.”

She Wants Revenge kick off a European tour 11 June in Moscow and wraps up 3 July in Paris. What they look forward to most – “Being places we’ve never been and playing for people who have waited patiently for us to come back. Thanks for still caring, we love you!”

SHE WANTS REVENGE will be playing at O2 Academy Islington, Sunday, 17 June 2012 with HERETICS, COLD IN BERLIN and DJ ∆LEX WOLF. – 08444 771 000

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About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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