“Tear You Apart,” the second single off of the self-titled debut record by California darkwave-branded band She Wants Revenge was released in 2006, bringing a little smart smut to the airwaves and a delicious post-punk revival to the masses. The band’s genre is often disputed. Technically, it could be considered darkwave, but that name just doesn’t entirely fit. They contributed a cover of “Kidnap The Sandy Claws” to the 2006 remastered Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, for goodness sake!
However, reminiscent of the dark and gloomy sound of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, with hints of and nods to bands such as New Order and The Cure, that album quickly became a standout. It was heavy and deep, but still relatable, dance-y and fun—not a combination that’s easy to manage. And not something that wavered, with the release of their next two albums, This Is Forever (2007) and Valleyheart, which was released in May of this year. It carried over, constant but never boring, and always prolific and effectively emotive.
“We write what we feel on any given day,” says Justin Warfield, whose speaking voice is just as deep as his singing voice. “I will say though, the lyrics almost never come before the music. I travel with the music, listen to it in the car, really get a feel for it before I sit down and write the lyrics. Sometimes we’re explosive and fun and triumphant, other times we’re cold and heavy and emotional. We just started playing ‘These Things’ out of nowhere, just working on sounds, and I recorded a chorus to it. But we build up from the music. You have to study it, as pretentious as that sounds, to find what will work. The music will move you somewhere emotionally and you’ll get that line, that title, that chorus. Some things are written from personal experience, others are just general feelings, and still others are invented in the imagination. I never talk about which is which. They mean different things to different people.”
The music definitely connects to people. It’s edgy and provocative and raw, but that’s not exactly what brought Justin and partner Adam Bravin together in the beginning. Surprisingly enough, She Wants Revenge’s start was less than gloomy. “Adam and I have really similar tastes in music. We met at a party in the Valley when we were very young, I wanna say in ’87, and he was playing a lot of hip-hop. We bonded over that; we were both into groups like Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest.” It was definitely the start of something big… how big exactly? It’s doubtful they even knew at the time.
They opened a club in California before they started a band, where they DJed and played a lot of post-punk and dance punk, which heavily influenced the music they make now. “We’re really influenced by bands like The Smiths, ‘80s Cure, Psychedelic Furs, The Rapture, Joy Division and New Order… and a lot of the B-sides of popular pop bands, like Duran Duran’s darker stuff. And new wave, bands like Depeche Mode and Placebo, we love them. We’ve played with them. Electronic stuff, older movie soundtracks in their primitive forms, that’s the dance element in our music. I remember listening to David Bowie, and thinking, ‘Man, I wanna be him!’ He’s a vocal influence for me, definitely. I‘ve heard people say I sound like Ian Curtis… I don‘t try or anything. I have a deep voice naturally. But if they‘re enjoying it, it‘s fine by me.”
And the fans sure as hell do enjoy it. They packed Maxwell’s in June. It’s a small, intimate venue to begin with, but the collective energy of a bunch of eager She Wants Revenge fans was almost palpable, electrifying. No doubt they’re a loyal, devoted bunch. Between the vibe of the crowd, the vibe of the band, the singles and songs from all three records, and a really great, alternate stripped-down version of “Tear You Apart,” the crowd was pleased. “My favorite song to play live really changes with every tour, week to week… over that last tour it was ‘Take The World.’ We have some new material we’ve been working on, that we plan to play on this tour. I’m really looking forward to it.”
And their fall tour is gonna be one hell of a show; they kicked it off earlier this month, and brought Peter Murphy of Bauhaus fame along for the ride. “It’s a lot of fun. Around the time we first started working on Valleyheart, Bauhaus was rehearsing down the hall from us. We used to play them when we DJed, and we’re influenced by them as well. We thought it would be awesome to play shows with them but then they stopped touring together for good again. Our DJ friend Ultragrrrl [Sarah Lewitinn, also a record producer and music critic] pretty much connected us with Peter and then we made plans to hit the road. I got to write like a bio for him, for the tour press release, and he saw it. He influenced us quite a bit, and there’s a mutual appreciation and respect. It’s really cool.”
They’re not pulling any stops for this tour, and they’re even rolling out some new merch, the details of which are currently under wraps. “Sometimes things get crazy and busy and time escapes us, but we were able to get our new ideas out for this tour. We’re getting back to the start, doing a lot of things ourselves. We’re always very conscious about our name being on a product; we won’t sell it if we wouldn’t wear it ourselves, you know? We did a lot of work on our own and with our talented friends in our earlier days; it’s nice to get back to that. The new merch is some dark shit. I like it.”
And speaking of that hard working DIY standpoint, the Perfect Kiss name is on everything they do these days, noticeable with the release of Valleyheart. Contrary to popular belief though, this is not their own label. It’s more like a brand; a way to say this is theirs. “It’s like our little imprint on a label, we work it into the deal. It all says Perfect Kiss. Like the name of our own little studio. But maybe one day it’ll be a label, maybe we’ll reissue things under that name.”
Both Justin and Adam are very creative and busy. If he wasn’t making music, Justin says he’d probably be writing for TV or film. “I don’t like to talk about it that much in music interviews, because I always feel so pretentious. Like, yeah, I’m in a band, and I have a clothing company, and I do this, and I do that. That’s not how I like to come off. But I am busy with it, and it is something I enjoy a lot.” It makes enough sense, that someone so skilled at writing songs would also enjoy writing scripts, but right now his focus is strictly on music.
“Being able to connect with people the way we do is really amazing. It’s exciting for our records to be a part of someone’s life, to mean something to all these people. I bought a motorcycle recently, and the guy who handed me the paperwork for it told me he had our CD in his car. I was like, seriously? That’s nuts, you know? We don’t need to be famous, or well known, for people to connect and care about the music, and that’s great. We don’t care about the money or the attention. We’re here to make music. We help people cope, and sometimes they tell us their personal stories, and it’s just awesome.”
Aside from their obvious musical talents, they really pour their souls into everything they do. When they play, it’s raw and moving, and you can tell it comes from a place deep inside. When they’re speaking to you, whether after a show or during an interview, they’re humble and polite… despite the sometimes raunchy nature of the lyrics. Since the release of their first album in 2006, they have sold more than 300,000 records in the United States alone, and procured a solid fan base. While watching his kid play on a school playground, Justin speaks vaguely of the future.
“Honestly, we have no idea what we’re doing, beyond this tour. We don’t plan far ahead, we don’t get carried away with that. Right now it’s this tour. Maybe we’ll release some new weird and cool things for the holidays. We’re working on new things. We’re always working on something.”
She Wants Revenge and Peter Murphy will play The Paramount in Huntington, NY, on Nov. 18, The Trocadero in Philly on Nov. 19, and Irving Plaza on Nov. 21. For more information, go to shewantsrevenge.com.