She Wants Revenge on New Wave, Past and Present
by Alison Meeder
Pick up a copy of She Wants Revenge’s debut album and you will immediately notice the cover artwork. Though there’s no picture of the band, there is a shot of a young woman dressed only in her underwear. Exuding calm sexuality, she faces the camera and pulls, with her left hand, at her sheer white tank top. The message is clear: something is about to happen … but not so fast. When the cover booklet is removed from the CD case and flipped over, there is another picture. Here is the same woman photographed from the back, every bit as lovely and inviting but now revealing her right hand and the enormous butcher knife she is clutching. Something is about to happen alright, but it may not be what you think.
Herein lies the appeal of She Wants Revenge (SWR). The San Fernando Valley duo, comprised of Justin Warfield and Adam Bravin, are masters of depicting lust and danger as two sides of the same coin. Their self-titled album takes a long, hard look into the dark side of human attraction. There is no discussion about having a couple of kids and settling down in the country with a golden retriever. But there are limitless possibilities to make-out with a stranger on the dance floor, develop unnatural obsessions, get your heart smashed to pieces — usually all in one song.
On the upside of things, these songs are surprisingly easy to dance to. SWR’s gothic love anthems are catchy — very catchy. The sound is reminiscent of all things new wave: think Joy Division, but with lyrics like “Take my hand … and smack me in the mouth my love.” SWR’s haunting sound seems to manifest itself seamlessly, and Warfield and Bravin have admitted to writing tracks in under an hour. This kind of creative ease makes some sense, since both members of SWR have been in the music industry for more than 15 years. What doesn’t seem to add up is the fact that Warfield and Bravin spent those years as devoted hip-hop heads.
The two members of SWR initially met as teenagers in the 1980s. Bravin was deejaying at a San Fernando party and caught Warfield’s attention by playing Eazy-E’s “Boyz in da Hood.” The two bonded over their mutual affection for the gangsta rap anthem and became comrades in hip-hop appreciation. As the next 20 years passed, Warfield developed his skills as a West Coast MC. In 1991, he released the Yo! MTV Raps-approved single “Season of Vic,” followed by the 1993 Prince Paul-produced full-length album My Field Trip to Planet 9. Bravin continued his career as a club deejay and producer, collaborating with Mos Def and occasionally sipping Cristal with P. Diddy.
While both members of SWR enjoyed a measure of success in their own right, it wasn’t until they reunited in 2003 that things really took off. Almost 20 years after their first introduction, the pair met for a second time at another San Fernando party. After a few minutes of conversation, a mutual friend convinced them that they needed to make music together — immediately. The pair skipped out on the party and began impromptu recording sessions at Warfield’s house. While their initial plan was to produce hip-hop tracks, the two discovered a second shared obsession, this time with Prince and Tangerine Dream. Hip-hop was forgotten, and She Wants Revenge’s signature vampire beats were born. SWR has taken a bit of flack for their recreation of ’80s synth-pop, but the band remains unfazed by the media’s critique of their sound. “We aren’t going to pull any kind of 180 on our next album,” Warfield told me by phone. “This is our sound and we aren’t changing it.” A wise decision by most counts. SWR may borrow heavily from ’80s new wave, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are several references to Joy Division and The Cure on SWR’s album, but they all take a back seat to the overriding theme of doomed romance.
Following the release of their album in 2006, SWR has been a staple on modern rock radio and has toured almost ceaselessly. One stop included an opening spot at KJEE’s Summer RoundUp, and on Friday, October 20, the duo will return to headline at the UCSB Event Center. “I’m excited about playing Santa Barbara again,” said Warfield. “Playing the RoundUp was cool, but with our kind of music, it’s never ideal to play a festival setting in broad daylight. I’m glad we had the opportunity to play to some people who may not have heard us otherwise. Now they can see us play again, with a full set list and some lighting.”
4•1•1 She Wants Revenge plays UCSB’s Hub on Friday, October 20, at 8 p.m. For ticket information visit ticketmaster.com or call 583-8700.