Interview: The Unkindness of Ravens

The Unkindness of Ravens - Photo courtesy of The Unkindness of Ravens

The Unkindness of Ravens - Photo courtesy of The Unkindness of Ravens

When Ben Raine and Nina Wagner first met three years ago, both had been through their fair share of bands, but none that resulted in anything permanent. So when the two decided to collaborate, forming electro rock duo The Unkindness of Ravens, they didn’t have any indication that things would be different this time around. Instead, all they had to go on was the fact that, personality and music-wise, something clicked.

Yet it wasn’t just an initial spark of chemistry that eventually would fade. Proof: in the past two years, the duo (in which Wagner sings and Raine plays bass and sings) has released one EP and a handful of singles, the most recent of which is this week’s double a-side single, Virus/Viper.

The songs, released on Monday, hope to placate listeners until the March 2012 release of the band’s debut album.

And although the original plan was to complete and release the full-length this year, a change in location at the outset of 2011 contributed to a change in musical direction as well.

While planning a vacation, Raine and Wagner realized that it was much more cost-effective to rent a flat in Berlin for a month than to spend a week in a resort-like environment. As a result, the month of January was spent in Germany’s capital city, writing music and playing shows.

“It was a really fulfilling month,” Wagner said, referencing the fact that the two brought their studio equipment along with plans to record, but ended up being inspired, which instigated more songwriting.

Those songs were, naturally, different than the batch that had been written in London, incorporating a dark edge and more electronic elements. This evolution in sound was something that appealed to both Wagner and Raine, and they made the decision to delay recording in lieu of new songs in the pipeline.

“I really wanted the album to reflect our Berlin experience,” Raine said.

Along with the shift in sound, Berlin also provided the two with a place where they felt they could allow the music to grow and be itself. Comparatively, London is a place where Wagner said she and Raine felt pigeonholed, confined to conventions of genre.

Not only that, but the lifestyle is rougher, and in musical circles, people tend to be more judgmental overall.

“[England is] like a floating zoo,” Raine said, speaking to a certain kind of aggression there.

Wagner agreed, likening Berlin to a near antithesis of London.

“It’s not been very easy in London…whereas here, it feels more accessible somehow,” she said.

Part of this difference in mentality is a reason why the two returned to Berlin for two months this summer, and why they have plans to return again next year. Eventually, they hope to relocate to Berlin permanently, seeing it as the best place for the music they write.

“Here, being a musician is respected. Here, being an artist is respected,” Raine said. “[And] people dance in this country…’cause you know, we’ve got these electronic beats, and that’s for a reason.”

The beats Raine referred to are obviously programmed drums, as the two write, record and perform without a live drummer.

He primarily writes the songs, citing the ideas as something which typically originate long before he sits down with an instrument.

“I write a lot of music in my head,” he said. “Just getting an idea in your head and taking a shower. I find that’s a great place to write music.”

Afterward, he and Wagner will work out the songs together, although they are careful not to refine them too much, instead aiming to record the songs while they’re still fresh.

“The more raw it is, the more you just get something out,” Wagner explained.

This is because capturing the music right away also captures the moment of inspiration, and keeps the two from second-guessing themselves too much, which they fear could lead to watering down the songs.

“What we want to do is try and capture that live essence. Just get in a room and tape stuff. And if it’s not perfect, fuck it, ‘cause it has other power instead,” Raine explained. “The idea is, we have these boundaries, and we have this kind of framework in exploring, you know, the possibilities within this framework. Having limitations is really cool.”

Wagner agreed, additionally citing the overall importance of understanding and refining their sound, which she said is the way in which the two have grown the most in their time together.

“[We’re] learning how this whole industry kind of works, especially in a kind of post-apocalyptic world,” Raine said. “[And] we’re going to try and create a new sound that you haven’t heard before.”

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