interview by Michael McCarthy
“They’re like if The Cure, New Order and Nine Inch Nails went through a blender and came out tasting like the greatest Frappuccino ever,” I recall saying to a friend while trying to explain She Wants Revenge’s invigorating sound was like over a decade ago when their self-titled debut was all anyone was talking about. And I still think that’s a fairly good description of their generally raw, gloomy sound that pairs razor-sharp guitar work with dramatic, stylized vocals. That said, on their following two albums, This is Forever and Valleyheart, the band incorporated their dark-wave, post-rock style with ’80s new wave, their music sometimes reminding me of early Duran Duran as it featured beats and bass guitar work that veered on pop. Vocalist Justin Warfield also changed his vocal style on some of the later songs. On “Must Be The One,” in particular, his singing reminded me of Bono circa U2’s Achtung Baby, which was refreshing. Together with musical partner Adam Bravin, She Wants Revenge was as big as The Killers at one point, but eventually, they took a hiatus, stepping out of the spotlight, essentially losing their momentum. They were quite surprised, then, by the massive reaction when their song “Tear You Apart” was featured in the first episode of season 5 of American Horror Story. That’s the season Lady Gaga starred in and it was her suggestion that the song was used. Within 24 hours, it went viral. Everyone wanted to know who that band was, including an entire generation that hadn’t grown up with the band, which has just released an edgy, pop-minded song for people who hate pop called “Big Love.” The song’s beats are plenty danceable, but then people have often called them dance rock, so it’s not a huge surprise. Whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that it’s damn catchy with its irrefutable hooks that dig into you like vampire fangs – in a good way. It’s no wonder that fans are already calling the black diamond one of the band’s best songs to date and begging for more. In the following interview, Adam and I discuss the new single along with the band’s future and his top-notch solo venture, Love Ecstasy and Terror.
MM: First of all, I lived in Glendale for a few years a while back and I had the 818 area code like you. So, I’m curious. Whereabouts do you live out there?
AB: I’ve had this 818 number since I can remember. I’m from the San Fernando Valley and I probably got it in the early ’90s. And I’ve had it ever since. Now, 818 is Glendale and The Valley.
MM: I have to say, I’m loving the new She Wants Revenge single, “Big Love.” Was that one just written this year?
AB: Yes, that was written earlier this year. We’re approaching our songwriting in a new way. Historically, we’d both go into the studio together and we’d walk out with a song. Now we’re working on ideas on our own, and we’ll take it to a certain point, and we’ll come together once it’s gotten further down the line. He’ll write the lyrics at a certain point. It’s definitely a new way to approach it for us where someone starts a song and then the other person jumps in. We’ve done that a couple of times now recently. So, it’s interesting. It’s fun.
MM: Do you send stuff over the internet or do you guys live nearby each other?
AB: Our studios are literally right next door to each other. I’ll walk it over to him or he’ll walk it over to me. And then sometimes it is over the internet. I’ve been out of town and he’s been out of town. He’s written lyrics on the road or I’ve written some of my parts on the road. It just depends on where we are in our lives.
MM: Are you working on a new She Wants Revenge album?
AB: We’re not sure what it is we’re working on. It took us a long time to start to make music together again. Now that we’ve come to a place where we are enjoying being in the studio together. Enjoying creating new She Wants Revenge music together. Still figuring out what that looks like in 2018 and 2019. Is it one song? Is it five songs? Is it ten songs? Is it an EP? Is it an album? We definitely have our own views on how to release music and we also understand that we live in a different world now than we did ten years ago. I think we’re just enjoying creating music at the moment and we’ll figure out what it is in the future. In the near future.
MM: Are there any plans to tour again with She Wants Revenge?
AB: Well, we already have some shows set up for next year. We’re going overseas and doing some festivals and stuff in the fall. Late summer, fall. I think because those shows are starting to get set up that more than likely our agent will try to set up as much as he can overseas. But there’s definitely some touring. If we do decide to release a number of songs, whether it be an EP, a number of singles, or an album, I’m going to assume that we’re going to go back out next year and do some more touring. I think that will really be based on new music. So, we’ll have to decide what we’re doing, and once we decide if we [want] to release a bunch of new music, I think people will probably want to hear us play it live and we’ll head out.
MM: When you wrote the singles “Never” and “Kiss the Night Away,” did you just write those singles and nothing else or did you write a bunch of songs and just release the ones you thought were best?
AB: “Never” was the only song we wrote at that time. We took time off. We didn’t know if we would ever get back in the studio again together or not. I started working on a solo record after a suggestion from Justin that I do so. That’s kind of what really sparked everything with us going back into the studio together. He suggested I started working on music alone and making a solo record. I asked him to come in and help me, which he did. And, honestly, I would not have completed my solo record had he not suggested it and walked me through the process of becoming a vocalist, which I had never done before. So, when we went back in the studio and he was helping me with my record I think that we realized how much we enjoy creating together. And it was the first step in doing something new. And so, on my birthday that year – I think it was 2016 – I said, “Why don’t we see what happens if we write a song?” And we did. Over the course of a couple hours we just knocked that song out. We thought, let’s not think too much about it, let’s just see what happens. I’ll grab a bass. You grab a guitar. Let’s just program a simple drum beat like we would have in the beginning and see what happens and “Never” came out of that. And I don’t think we wanted to go any further than that. We just wanted to say, hey, we have something new and we knew that the core fans would appreciate it. So, we finished it and we put it out. “Kiss the Night Away,” I think, was a different situation. I think that track had been sitting around and I think that Justin just wrote something over that track and we released it. I don’t think we wrote anything else around that track either. It was a one-off.
MM: When you’re talking about your solo project, are you talking about Love Ecstasy and Terror or are you calling it something different now?
AB: Yeah, I’m referring to that.
MM: You wrote on Instagram that details were coming soon. Is there something exclusive you can give us that we can hype the interview about?
AB: [Laughs] About which thing?
MM: You didn’t say which project it was. It was just a post that said details were coming soon.
AB: On which Instagram account?
MM: The one where you’re @lovexterror.
AB: Ah, right. Yeah, details coming soon about when that’s going to be released. My solo project, that is. I can give you something exclusive. I can give you an exclusive detail that I haven’t announced yet. The plan for the first release of Love Ecstasy and Terror is to be on vinyl only on Record Store Day.
MM: Nice. I love Record Store Day.
AB: Yeah, me, too.
MM: Will you only sell it in the indie record stores that host Record Store Day or at some point after Record Store Day would you go wider and give it to other stores as well?
AB: I don’t know. I think I’ll just start at the indie record stores because I’m a DJ. I have a huge collection of vinyl. I spent most of my life digging through crates at indie record stores. And I have a love for them. I have a love for any store, actually, that sells records. It all comes down to, does anybody want it? I’ll put it out and if somebody says I wish I could buy that at the record store in my city or town then I guess we’ll have to address it at that point. But really, at this point the only plan is to press up some vinyl, give it to the indie record stores and see what the feedback is.
MM: Are you aiming for the Record Store Day next April?
MM: How would you describe the sound of Love Ecstasy and Terror to She Wants Revenge fans?
AB: I think when you hear it, it becomes a little bit more obvious what my part in She Wants Revenge is. What I contribute to it. I have my own particular writing style. I do my thing. Justin does his thing. And together it’s She Wants Revenge. When you hear Love Ecstasy and Terror it’s really just dialed into my contribution to She Wants Revenge in a more focused way.
MM: I heard the singles, “Carousel” and “My Little Sin,” which I thought were fantastic. And I love the “Carousel” video. Was that totally your concept and directed by you?
AB: I came up with that concept and co-directed it with a good friend of mine named Jason Fijal. We just sat down and we came up with a bunch of different ideas for a bunch of different songs for that album. I think we had two or three ideas for that one. He is friends with the husband and wife who own the property and the company that has that carousel. They actually have, I think it’s the biggest collection of circus artifacts in the world, which is about an hour away from where we live. So, once we knew we could potentially have access we went out there and looked around their property to see if there was anything super interesting that would maybe spark an idea for the video. We saw that they actually had a carousel that they were going to take out, and set it up, and paint it. We thought, wow, what a unique opportunity to shoot a video on a carousel – on a vintage, beautiful carousel – for a song called “Carousel.” Then we just sat down and kind of hashed out what the idea was for the video and we just went out there and shot it.
MM: How did you get the shots from above the carousel?
AB: A drone.
MM: That’s what I almost asked. A friend of mine does some music videos and he’s used a drone for some great aerial shots. So, that’s one thing they’re good for.
AB: Yeah, we had a DP named Mustache, who brought his drone and he just set it up and he was getting really, really beautiful shots of the top of the carousel.
MM: I think having those shots adds a whole extra dimension to the video.
AB: I couldn’t agree more.
MM: If you don’t mind my asking, what was the budget for the video? Because it looks like it cost a good two million dollars. It definitely doesn’t look like a DIY video.
AB: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. That was the goal. I’ve never really been one to pull in favors from friends. It’s not really my style. But I think for the first time in my life I had something that I was passionate enough where I felt comfortable to ask a lot of my friends to step up and do me a solid. I think when we sat down and did the numbers, we figured out that in a scenario where we’re actually paying everybody what they should’ve been paid, we came to a hundred and fifty thousand or a hundred and seventy-five thousand dollar video that I think I got away with spending between eight and nine thousand.
MM: Wow. That’s pretty good then.
AB: Which came out of my pocket. I know that’s not a lot of money in the real world, but that’s a lot of money for me to pay. But it’s a beautiful video and it’s a piece of art and I would do it again.
MM: You’ve said that the album is basically about your past relationships. So, I was wondering if the women in the video were supposed to represent your past girlfriends?
AB: I can tell you something I don’t really discuss with anybody or haven’t yet. I think the concept of the video is that they all are. Basically, the idea behind the video, which I don’t want to tell too many people, is that the carousel is a place where it’s the doorway into my heart. And so I’ve gone out with a number of girls in my life and the idea in the video is that they get on the carousel. They go inside my heart. And when they come back out they take either a small piece of it or a large piece of it. And in the video, it’s based on the number of balloons they’re holding.
AB: If a girl has one balloon, maybe she just took a smaller piece of my heart with her when she left. And some of the girls [have] three or four or five balloons and they leave with a bigger piece. So, it’s really like that girl is the focus of the video but the reason why all those girls are there is because I think it’s really about all the relationships. It’s a story about all the relationships I’ve ever had.
MM: In the case of the album, did you write songs that were about general feelings that you came away with from all the experiences or did you write specific, individual songs about each of the girls?
AB: I think that there’s a little bit of both. There are very specific ones and then there are ones that are a little more general things. I think that people across the board can relate to most of the things that I’m talking about, but definitely from my end in terms of writing, some are super specific and some are super general.
MM: With the super specific ones, do you think the women would know they’re about them if they heard them?
AB: I told her. She definitely knows. She definitely knows.
MM: What would you say the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your past relationships is?
AB: I think that the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is I think, as I got older, I realized that there really is no such thing as perfection. I think I went into a lot of relationships as a younger man imagining that I could find the perfect girl. Whatever my idea of a perfect girl is or was for that matter. I think that the lesson that I take away is that I made the mistake of not focusing on the most beautiful and positive aspects of a lot of those girls. I think I was aware of them, and I appreciated those parts of them, but I think I focused too much on the things that didn’t fall into what I imagined the perfect girl would be. And so I think that this album is a realization that there is no such thing as a perfection. I think you just need to find that person that complements you most and you can accept them for everything they are and they can accept you for everything you are and then figure out how to create a partnership.
MM: Now, I know you’ve DJ’d for everybody from President Obama to Jay-Z. Is that something that you continue to do?
AB: It is. I think being a DJ is just part of who I am. I’ve been doing it since I was fifteen years old. Even though I don’t DJ as often as I used to, I still DJ twice a week for these weekly parties that I do and I still get the calls from high profile people to do private events for them all the time. So, I continue to DJ under private circumstances, but not as much [at] clubs. I used to DJ three, four or five times a week, doing club nights, but I don’t do those so much anymore because I don’t relate so much with new music as I used to. So, I just stick to the two weekly parties and I do some guest spots here and there. When people call me and they want me to do like a birthday party or private event they’re doing, I love to do that because they don’t give me any direction and they trust me to do my thing and I do my best work when people trust me to take them on a journey.
MM: When you’re DJing, do you just play songs back to back or do you DJ like these superstar DJs where they play dance mixes and they merge all the songs together like it’s a non-stop thing?
AB: The music never stops. I figure out creative ways to move from one genre to the next or one tempo to the next. DJing to me is an art form and always has been. But I also understand what my job is. My job is to entertain any particular group of people and keep them entertained or dancing, depending on what the event is. So, I take it very seriously and do my best to create unique mixes of songs from one to the next. But while doing that you also have to keep people entertained and not lose their attention. Not trying to outsmart them or anything. Or play music that they might not react to. You have to factor in reading a room. That’s a big part of it. So, I’m really good at reading a room and knowing what’s working and what’s not. Focusing on what is working and not trying to squeeze in things that I think people need to hear.
MM: When you DJ, are you using vinyl or do you use a laptop or…?
AB: I use a combination. Sometimes I’m using my laptop. But I use vinyl to control it. There are multiple ways that you can DJ now. You can use CDJs, which play CDs in them. Those as the controller. Some people use just what they call controllers, which are one little piece of equipment that everything is included in that you’d need maybe besides your laptop or USB memory sticks, which a lot of people now carry all their music on. There is a form of using your digital database and your digital collection while using vinyl to control. What they call control records. So, I’m still spinning vinyl even though what’s coming off of vinyl isn’t music. It’s actually a tone. It’s a digital tone that’s telling my computer what to do. And sometimes I do bring a crate of records and I incorporate that into what I’m doing. So, I’m playing a combination of vinyl and digital. The problem with that is that vinyl just sounds so much better that sometimes if there’s someone in the crowd that can comprehend the difference between digital music and music coming off of a piece of vinyl, it lessens the experience. But, you know what? 95 to 98% of people don’t even know what I’m doing. Let alone that I’m using vinyl and mp3s.
MM: Do you tend to listen to more albums or singles when you listen to music these days?
AB: Well, that’s a tough question to answer because in a perfect world I would be listening to only albums. I think we all come from a place where we listened to music in such a way that there was a beginning, a middle and an end. For those of us that were fortunate enough to grow up in a world that made albums for that reason. You’d have side A and side B and part of the process was getting up and going over and turning the record over and listening to the second half. I think that’s an important part of it all. I love a beginning, a middle and an end. So, if every album was delivered that way with that intention, I would listen to them all. But I think that because we live in the world we do now that – not everybody – but I think a lot of people create albums that are just full of singles, potentially, and then they front load the delivery system with the ones they think are going to be the most successful, which doesn’t really translate into the way that I prefer to listen to someone’s record. But I also understand why they do that because I think the younger generations’ attention spans are pretty small and quick. So, you’ve gotta get to the point sooner. But there are still artists out there that make albums that still accomplish what Justin and I try to accomplish with She Wants Revenge when we release music. We’re telling a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. We want the listener to be taken on that journey. And we hear that a lot. That people can put our records on and just leave them and listen to them all the way through. That’s like one of the biggest compliments for us. We’re paying it forward in a way. We were inspired by all those artists that we grew up listening to that did give us those journeys for us to listen to so we find that it’s our responsibility to do the same thing.
MM: Lady Gaga suggested your song “Tear You Apart” for the first episode of her season on American Horror Story, introducing your music to another generation of listeners. Do you think you’d be doing anything with She Wants Revenge at all right now if it hadn’t gotten such a huge reaction when it was on the show?
AB: It was definitely a big part in the process. I don’t know what would’ve happened. I do know that it sparked something for us. We did start talking about performing live at that point. We did also realize when that happened that it was the tenth year anniversary of that first album. So, there is a good chance that we could have potentially had a conversation where we said, you know what, it’s the ten year anniversary, so it might be a good idea for us to go out there, and do what a lot of bands do and play the album in its entirety, which we thought sounded exciting. But who knows what the result of that would’ve been? I think that it was a really big thing for us to be introduced to an entirely new generation and a lot of those people didn’t even realize that we had been out for a number of years. We got a lot of messages from first-time listeners saying, “When are you guys gonna go out on the road?” or “When are you guys gonna put out your first record?” That’s funny. I don’t like to predict the future. I don’t like to second guess what goes on in the past, but I do know that we would not have had a lot of the conversations that we had if that had not been in that episode.
MM: When you guys debuted, I imagine album sales were still a huge part of your income, but nowadays streaming is how most listeners get their music. For some artists, that’s been the kiss of death, but since you continue to get millions of streams, does what you get paid from the various streaming services add up to what you were making from album sales? Or is it only a small fraction of that?
AB: It’s a very small fraction. Even though we have millions of streams, it’s a very small part of what we do. The money we make at this point in our careers is really from touring. We make money from ticket sales. We make money from synchs. Licensing has always been a big part of our income and it continues to be. I think that we make music that lends itself to being somewhat cinematic and I think people have used it in a cinematic way in the past and probably – hopefully – will in the future. So, I think the lowest on the totem pole for us would be streams. Hopefully, that changes with some of this new music that we’re putting out.
MM: You just mentioned songs being cinematic. Having seen the video for “Carousel,” I’m wondering if directing a feature film is something you’d like to do someday?
AB: Absolutely. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve directed a few things. I’ve written a few things. I think Justin has the same aspirations. We both grew up watching movies. A big part of what influences us as musicians are soundtracks and the movies themselves. As well as literature and art. I can’t speak for Justin, although, for myself, yes, I think the plan for me is to maybe get into doing some scoring for feature films and, hopefully, I’ve written a couple of things recently that I think, in a perfect world, I could direct as well.
MM: Did you do anything this year that was on your bucket list?
AB: I did! I completed an album. I had started so many things and projects in the past, and I think part of the reason Justin suggested that I do a solo album was not just to understand and appreciate what it is to be a vocalist. I think part of his suggestion was also [because] he also understood that it would be a big step forward for me as a human being to go in the studio, and go through the process of learning what it is to be a vocalist, and making an album, completing something. Not only was it a bucket list [thing] making an album, and singing on an album, but also completing an album.
MM: Is Justin working on any solo stuff that you know of?
AB: Justin is always working on something. He’s just such a creative person and he’s such an amazing musician and vocalist that he, like a lot of other artists, always finds himself wanting to create. So, he had his solo album which was that released, which was Dream Club, and I know that he’s in there because our studios, like I said, are next door to each others’ so I can literally hear through the wall that he’s working on things. I’m not sure what they are. But I know that when he’s ready to tell me. he’ll tell me. I don’t have a definite answer on that question but I do know that he is working on something in there.
MM: If you could have any instrument on earth, what would you pick? It could be a classic instrument, or collectible, or something brand new that you have your eyes on.
AB: I would choose the piano that Stevie Wonder wrote Songs In The Key Of Life on.
MM: Would you play it or just keep it as a collectible?
AB: Oh, I would play it. Instruments inspire people and instruments that have been in the hands of one or more people have a story, and they have energy in them, so I would hope that whatever energy Stevie Wonder left with that piano would somehow inspire me to create something that maybe I wouldn’t create without it. That’s the great part about creating music, all the different places where inspiration comes from. So, if we’re in a dreamworld and I have Stevie Wonder’s piano I would hope that it would inspire me in some way.
MM: If you had to go into the studio today and record a cover, what would you do?
AB: Even though I think it’s sacrilegious to cover Prince – I don’t think anyone should cover Prince [but] there’s been a couple times where it’s been successful – I would probably cover a Prince song and most likely I would cover a song called “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”
MM: What are three albums you cling to like oxygen when you’re depressed and is it because they suit your mood or because they’re cheerful and elevate your spirits?
AB: I would say that I listen to Some Great Reward by Depeche Mode. I would say that I listen to Purple Rain – no, I take that back – I listen to Sign O’ The Times by Prince. And I’ll go back to Stevie Wonder and say Songs In The Key Of Life. I think the Depeche Mode album just helps me through it. It doesn’t really lift me up in the way that the Stevie Wonder album does. That album definitely lifts my spirits. And then the Prince album sits somewhere in the middle. I think part of that record lifts my spirits up and part of that record just lets me wallow in whatever I’m wallowing in and supports me.
MM: If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, and they’d be happy to be back, who would you bring back?
AB: That would definitely be Prince.
MM: Finally, if someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to the same charity or cause, which would you give it to?
AB: That’s a tough one. I mean, there are a few charities I work with – smaller ones that I donate to – but a million dollars is a lot of money. I donate a lot of money to make sure that animals are taken care of and not abused. So, it would either be for the welfare of animals or one that we work with called Music Cares, which is support for musicians in need of medical and financial assistance that sometimes stems from things like substance abuse and addiction. But I think that my first choice would probably be some charity that is there for the welfare of animals.
Check out Justin Warfield’s band Dream Club on Bandcamp. (Their debut album is a “pay what you want” and is amazing.)