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He moved to New York seven years ago, and he normally enjoys his visits back home, where he and his bandmate Sharin Foo originally formed their band. But only hours earlier, he learned that his visa wouldn't be ready in time for the band's trip to Austin for the 2011 South by Southwest music conference.
"I was totally looking forward to it," Wagner says. "And it's a good place to be for promoting the new album, so it's a bummer."
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The album he's talking about is the band's sixth and darkest offering yet, Raven In The Grave, which will be released on Vice Records on April 4. And, for better or worse, the band and the label will have to make due without the free SXSW promotion.
All this is especially trying for Wagner, since it's one of the few times that he doesn't have complete control over what's happening to him. From the early days of The Raveonettes, he and Foo have firmly had their hands on the reins of the band's career. After playing only four shows, they were swept up in a stateside major label bidding war that most bands would dream about. Surprisingly, though, to hear him tell it, the Danish duo saw this as a pain more than anything else.
"It was incredibly frustrating because it was dragging on," he says. "There was a lot of money involved, and it was completely unreal to us because we were not going to be the new U2 or the new REM or whatever."
So the band cut the process short by signing with Columbia Records and swiftly hit the road, where Wagner and Foo felt they belonged. And their focus on touring quickly made the band a buzzworthy act in the United States and Western Europe.
But they failed to make much of a splash in their homeland.
"We actually didn't want to play in Denmark when we started the band," Wagner says. "We wanted to play in Paris and London, Los Angeles, New York, and all these interesting places. If you make it big [in Denmark], you're in a pretty good position because you can make a lot of money. But I always thought the challenge of winning people over was a little more interesting."
In the U.S., that's exactly what they've been able to do—so much so that the duo decided to move here several years ago. Foo lives in Los Angeles.
Just before the making of the band's new album, though, the distance between the two had finally taken a toll on The Raveonettes.
"Sharin and I were going through tough times," Wagner says. "It felt like we lost track with each other a bit. When you don't live in the same town, and you only hang out when it has something to do with business or a gig, it's like you're losing a friend."
Wagner says that this sentiment, along with female troubles, was the driving force behind Raven In The Grave. And you can hear it. "Apparitions" is a bleak, goth-inspired track that paints Wagner as a ghost of a past love. On "Summer Moon," Foo proves her unmatched ability to make love's bitter end sound sweet. But on "Recharge and Revolt," the new-wavy album opener, the band sounds triumphant, suggesting that the end isn't near, despite the allusion from the album's title.
That song, Wagner says, is the result of the fact that, through the making of Raven In The Grave, the two were able to improve their working relationship and their friendship—something Wagner wishes there was more time for in the band's busy schedule.
"Sometimes," he says, "I wish that, instead of emailing back and forth a hundred emails a day about making deadlines, we lived in the same city where we could just say, 'Fuck it, let's just go to the movies.'"