Justin Warfield: On She Wants Revenge’s warm welcome back

She Wants Revenge
She Wants Revenge

She Wants Revenge materialized in 2006, the collaboration between former rapper Justin Warfield and club DJ Adam Bravin (DJ Adam 12). Highlighted by the Top 10 single “Tear You Apart” — which evoked Joy Division in both title and sound — the duo earned a rabid following, especially on their Southern California home turf, where dark post-punk music has always thrived.

On the two albums and two EPs that followed, She Wants Revenge tried to spread their musical wings a bit but never quite matched the success of that self-titled debut, released 10 years ago on Sunday. SWR went on “indefinite hiatus” in 2012, with Bravin continuing his success as a DJ and working toward the launch of the band Love, Ecstasy and Terror, and Warfield working as a producer and composer, along with ventures in artist development and filmmaking. Most recently, he has been preparing to release music by his new pop-rock band, Dream Club, which includes his wife Stefanie King Warfield.

Their big single got a second life last year when it was used “American Horror Story.” But Warfield says he wasn’t quite prepared for the reception She Wants Revenge got when the band announced a 10-year anniversary show at the Fonda Theatre. It sold out in minutes, and a second show was added. Besides the Feb. 17-18 dates at the Fonda, SWR will also play the Observatory in Orange County on Feb. 19.

In addition, right before the new year, he and Bravin got together to pen a new She Wants Revenge song, “Never,” a tune reminiscent of first-album SWR.

||| Stream: “Never”

As he, Bravin, Thomas Froggatt and Scott Ellis began rehearsing in earnest for the shows, we caught up with Warfield to get his reaction to the sudden groundswell of interest:

How surprised or gobsmacked or puzzled are you by all the attention the 10-year anniversary shows got? Does it feel good?

Justin Warfield: Because our fans are so passionate and committed to the music that meant so much to them, I have to say that I’m surprised but not shocked. And that’s not a reflection of us; it’s a testament to spectacular fans. But it still feels tremendous. Did we know the shows would sell out in minutes? Of course not. I know we have fans that really wanted us to play again, but I’m far too neurotic to think that such a thing was possible.
SWR has for a very specific segment of people been incredibly important, I believe in part because we create a type of music no longer represented except for a few legacy acts that continue to tour.

When SWR went on an indefinite hiatus, I honestly didn’t know if we would ever play again.

When SWR went on an indefinite hiatus, I honestly didn’t know if we would ever play again, but I was OK if we didn’t, as I was extremely proud of what we accomplished, both creatively, in connecting with people individually and how it resonated, and of course the fact that we were much bigger than we ever dreamed possible. So to have a second life as it were is pretty special and somewhat validating, especially after years of inactivity. To be totally honest it feels amazing, but keeping it all in perspective is something I’ve been quite good at for the history of this band, which keeps me sane and right-sized about it.

Was the new song an idea that you guys had shelved for a while, or did it come spontaneously when you guys got together? Had you originally planned to release any new music before the show(s) created a stir?

It’s brand new. It occurred to me while going through B-sides and rarities just before Christmas. We had so many good unreleased and unfinished songs that I started wondering what it would be like to finish them, then just realized they were better left as documentation of the time.

The next logical thought was, “How cool would it be to record a new song and release it before we play the show?” The idea of something in the spirit of the 10th anniversary, a bit of a throwback and not some, “look how much we’ve grown,” because the truth is most fans don’t want their favorite bands to grow. It sounds fucked up but it’s real! You want them to be what made you first fell in love with them, it’s a selfish thing but it’s born out of love. But just like relationships, nothing is static and things do evolve beyond what initially drew you in.

The truth is most fans don’t want their favorite bands to grow. … You want them to be what made you first fell in love with them.

Being away for so long we have enough perspective and have grown so much individually that if we were to come back and make a song for the love of it, we would probably want the same things the fans do; that initial “holy shit!” that makes you crush on something. I thought not only would it be super fun to get together with Adam and try, but that it could potentially stoke people out to come see us for the anniversary show, though no new material was planned when we conceived of the show.

Speaking for myself, I’ve been in a vastly different headspace musically for the last 3-plus years, but something told me that if we tried we could probably do it at a pretty high level and not just some throwaway tune. Not to sound too witchy about things, but most things related to the band have always had a certain amount of serendipity, cosmic coincidence and “meant-to-be”-ness to them, starting with how we came together and how we got our record deal, (from a phone call on his birthday in 2004), so when I asked Adam if he’d like to record a new song, also on his birthday, I knew we’d leave the room with a banger.

It came fast and with ease, just as it did in the beginning. Knowing there was no album to record, no number of songs to finish and no pressure made it just about the moment and the possibility to create something fresh and have fun. Listening back we were pretty blown away. It was really hard to keep a secret and sit on it, but judging by the response I’m glad we did. Once it was done we knew we’d drop it before the shows, we just weren’t sure when.

Does this postpone your plans to launch Dream Club?

Not at all, if anything it motivates me to just get the music out there. We’re so ready to go! We finished the album before Christmas and it’s about to be mixed. We just finished the video for our first single, which we plan to drop late February or early March, then the full-length LP and lots and lots of shows. We also have our biggest gig to date coming up March 5 on the Empire Polo Field, where they do Coachella, at The Rhythm Wine and Brews festival. It’s a lot different than the SWR audience, but then again, so is the music!

It’s fun jumping from practicing SWR songs to working on Dream Club. They both represent a different part of my musical background and who I am. If anything, I had to get into a certain space to make the new SWR song and rehearse the album, but it’s not like it’s hard to access, it’s right there in me as a songwriter and lyricist and in Adam as a musician and songwriter.

Adam is in many ways the soul and conscience of SWR, so when he and I sit down to write it’s going to sound and feel like SWR.

Since SWR went away, I spent time with my family, made a hip-hop mixtape, produced four albums, developed three artists, started a new band with my wife and childhood best friend, played a bunch of shows and wrote and developed my first film which is in pre-production. So I’ve not been sitting idle. Hahahaha. But seriously, anyone who knows my past work knows I’m capable of doing lots of different things, but to me, Adam is in many ways the soul and conscience of SWR, so when he and I sit down to write it’s going to sound and feel like SWR, by virtue of our combined trips and also because of what we bring out in each other and the filter that he is. He’s the ultimate SWR fan at heart so if he digs it, it’s dope.

As for how SWR fans will receive my new band, I have no idea, I can only create with the knowledge that we dig what we do, same as when Adam and I started SWR. Die-hards can get what feeds them from some SWR live shows and the new single, and people who may also be curious about a different sound or vibe from the same people that did it for them once before can follow Dream Club or Adam’s band, Love, Ecstasy and Terror, which, though a closer kindred spirit of SWR, is still entirely its own thing, very Adam and fucking awesome.

The SWR reunion if anything will help our individual bands, so that they can be heard as what they are without people being mad at what they’re not.

So in a way, everybody wins.