She Wants Revenge's Justin Warfield: "When People Say They've Had Sex to Our Music, It Makes Me Uncomfortable"

It's funny how life often serves up some unexpected twists and turns, some of which wind up being positive.

Just ask the Justin Warfield or Adam Bravin of She Wants Revenge, who probably couldn't have predicted they'd be spending most of 2016 on a lengthy tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of the band's self-titled debut album.

Then last year's edition of popular anthology television series American Horror Story, which starred noted SWR fan Lady Gaga, used the band's breakthrough hit, "Tear You Apart," in an alluringly disturbing scene involving a vampire orgy.

Fans of both the show and She Wants Revenge went gaga (pardon the pun) over the scene, and it sparked renewed interest in the post-punk/darkwave band, which had been on a lengthy hiatus for several years following its third full-length album, Valleyheart.

After a one-off reunion show in LA several months ago, Warfield and Braven decided to hit the road in honor of the 10th anniversary of their first album, and have been filling venues across the country with their gothy and synth-y stylings that still seem fresh after a decade.

Their tour, which features the band performing the album in its entirety along with other tracks from the SWR discography, will visit Livewire in Scottsdale on Friday. New Times got a chance to speak with Warfield about the unexpected revival of She Wants Revenge, as well as how its songs still seem relevant (especially during the Halloween season) and how some fans have the habit of over-sharing their memories of its music.

So before American Horror Story using "Tear You Apart" caused all the renewed interest in She Wants Revenge, did you think this was how you were going to spend your 2016?

No, I didn't, actually. I think that had it just been just American Horror Story, I don't know that we would've [done anything]. But the fact that it was American Horror Story and the 10-year anniversary of the first record, it was definitely something we couldn't ignore, and an opportunity to do it and a reason. We've had demands to play shows since we stopped playing shows, we've had some really great offers to do so, but we had other things we wanted to do and busy lives that needed attention after years of only doing She Wants Revenge full time. So I think it was just the one-two punch of American Horror Story and the 10-year anniversary was something that we'd be stupid not to do, and we just intended to just play a couple shows and see how it felt. And it was fun and went well, so we kept going. So I did not see 2016 looking like this, no.

American Horror Story iconic Lady Gaga scene from belledejour on Vimeo.

Did you have any inkling to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the first album or to do a new single or tour or any of that? Or was She Wants Revenge firmly in the rear-view for y'all?

Well, I’d produced three albums for other artists. I started developing a film project, I have a family. I was developing another artist and helping her with her music, and moved into a new recording studio, and I started a new band and made an album with them and started playing shows. So it was really not something that I was thinking that was going to happen.

How likely is either a full-time return or a new album once this tour is over with and done?

Well, it's that thing of we had a good time playing, so we kept playing. And we're still having a good time playing, so we're going to keep playing. So I would say that we are on a full return and once the calendar turns over in 2017, we're not going to perform the album in its entirety for a reunion any longer, but we will continue to play shows. As far as making a new album, it's very unlikely, simply because of the amount of time necessary to do so at the level that we would want, the other projects that we have going, and the amount of time in the day.

The other thing is, that if we wanted to keep touring and playing She Wants Revenge, we have so much material that we've never mined for live shows that we could play a set that no one's ever seen before without writing a new song.

The first half of shows on the current tour are basically the entire first album in track order, while the second half is different combinations of other songs from other albums like Valleyheart and This is Forever, right?

Yeah, and even Save Your Soul. The only thing not represented is the Ups and Downs EP just because it's like it was always more of a studio project than live. It was fun for a minute, but it never really felt like material we wanted to play consistently. It was really fun to make and it's fun to listen to, but it's not stuff that we really want to play live.

But your shows aren't the same set every time, save for the first half, right?

Well, whether we take an encore or whether we try to stay on stage, we have a set list written out of what we want to play, but we started to just read the room and feel out the crowd and see what we want to do for the second half. And as you said, it's a mixture of our favorites and, depending on the night, we might throw in a rarity or something. But yeah, it's been a lot of fun and it's definitely as planned on the back end as the front is [strictly] playing our first album from front to back.

Our tours such as this where a cherished album is played in its entirety powered by nostalgia?

Yeah, sure, I think it is … there were other bands in the early 2000s that were doing dance-y stuff or dance-punk or different stuff that was post-punk, and I don't think anybody did exactly what we did in the way we did it. And I think that's why bands became very serious about it and really sort of guarded and protected it and made it their own, like this is our music, it really claimed us and that's one of the reasons why I think we were able to tour with bands like Peter Murphy and Depeche Mode and Echo and the Bunnymen, because people felt there was a common thread between our music and because we were drawing such heavy inspiration from that era.

So, I think because we're going out and playing that album in its entirety, its taking people back to that point in their lives so it is heavy nostalgia and also, there's people who are not able to go to the shows the first time around who grew up on the music and are seeing us for the first time, there's people who are only finding out about us because of American Horror Story. There's so many different ways that it's playing out. For us, it's all positive because sometimes there are bigger crowds than when we were last playing in demand. So, it's great.

So is it an equal mix of people that saw you back in the day and those that have discovered you since then?

It's definitely a mix. I don't know if it's equal. Some shows it feels like 30 percent are new fans who have never seen us before, sometimes it feels like 50-50. But it's a healthy mix. It's perfect because people that are total die-hards, you get people that brand new, you get the spectrum. It's cool.

The songs from your first album, at least for myself, are ultimately linked to many memories of that time period. Do you have fans that share memories of what your music meant to them?

Yeah. We've always had an audience that some people come up and say 'Thanks! Great show,' and some people come up and say, 'Hey, this song in particular got me through a rough time. We get couples who say, oh, we met at your show. Or we got married and first dance at our wedding was "100 Kisses." There's so many different stories that we've always had. We'd almost never played a show where somebody doesn't come up and share something personal. And I don't think that's out of character. It's when you make emotional music that is decidedly heart-on-your-sleeve and emotive that people are going to connect with it, and then they're going to feel safe and comfortable sharing their experiences with you.

And the other thing I would say, I can't speak for everybody else, but in playing an album in its entirety that I haven't really listened to in its entirety in so long, it brings up memories and feelings for me too, probably as much as the audience, where not only, like, [I recall] this is what I thought of when I wrote that or this is what I thought when I recorded that, but last night, we were playing "Sister," and I was standing over the guitar player and just in hearing the guitar parts so close to his amplifier, I remember being in another country like England and him playing that same guitar part in 2006. And I was like, that's crazy. And I also remember being in the studio, so it brings up memories for us, too.

And I think, inevitably, some of those memories carry a lot of emotions for people, and they like to look back on that stuff. And so, yeah, I think it's cool. I mean, the whole idea of a reunion is totally rooted in nostalgia. That doesn't bother me, and I think it's cool that we've lasted long enough to be able to elicit those feelings and have a sense of nostalgia in people's minds.

Your songs feel totally perfect for this time of year, with Halloween and longer nights and such. Do you think the darker themes of your music sort of resonate more with this time of year? Dunno if that's too weird of a question.

No, I think it's cool. I don't think we've ever played on Halloween, so to be able to play around Halloween is cool. My favorite month in Los Angeles is October. It's not because of Halloween; it's just that I love the weather this time of year and I like a lot of things about it. So it's pretty cool being on tour during this time and definitely fitting for people who really get into that sort of stuff. And I think it does lend itself to the things you're talking about, I think that's pretty accurate.

That's why "Tear You Apart" in American Horror Story was so genius. I don't know if they cut the scene to fit the song or vice-versa, but it meshed so incredibly well.

Yeah, it's like a music video. Its crazy.

In re-listening to She Wants Revenge's first album, it feels like no time has passed, despite it being 10 years old. It feels like if it came out today, it would still feel completely fresh. Do you agree?

I do, and it's weird because the sound of music has changed so much since we first came out. And so much of even alternative rock or indie rock has been influenced by either dance music or straight mainstream pop now that I think it's refreshing that we do what we do and the music still sounds the way it does, because when we recorded that song "Never," it doesn't have any of the trappings or stylings of the way people record or write music now. It just feels like picking up where we left off.

It feels like darker sounds will never go out of style, and the type of stuff that She Wants Revenge created, or what Bauhaus or Joy Division or the other bands that came before you and were clearly an influence, it seems like those type of themes will always be timeless.

You're right. And I think the thing that I'm most proud of and feel the best of about the legacy of the band, at the risk of sounding pretentious, is that you never know when you make music if anybody's going to hear it, if you're just going to be inviting your friends to shows or if it's going to reach people. So not only did we succeed in writing music and making records that we were proud of, but it connected with more people than we ever imagined and earned a place in sort of pantheon of music. With the exception of, like, metal and maybe punk, there's just not really as loyal of a fan base as you'll get for people that are unwavering in their love of something as the people who like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Echo and the Bunnymen, Sisters of Mercy ... that type of music. The fact that we've been accepted by a lot of people in that world, into that fold, and are considered part of that, that's really big. That's something you can never anticipate when you're writing songs.

Again, this might be a weird question, but how does it feel to have written music that has meant so much to different people? Or have been breakup songs, makeup songs, or even songs they've gotten it on to?

Well, when people say they've had sex to our music, it makes me uncomfortable. [Laughs] Because I don't really want to know about other people's sex lives. That's always good for a total moment of uncomfortable reactions. But as far as people having deep emotions about the songs, it's just really flattering and pretty humbling. Last night, there was a girl that had a really strong reaction to a song and it really affected me. I was like, "That's crazy that she was having the emotional and physical to a song that I just sat down and wrote one day." I never thought that I would see somebody have a reaction to music that I made. You just got to sort of take it with a grain of salt and not take it too seriously, but also feel privileged.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.