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Dancing in a lush darkness

Justin Warfield and Adam Bravin revisit dusky sounds of the '80s as She Wants Revenge.

January 19, 2006|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

THE scene: a junior high school locker room in Hollywood. It's midafternoon, but not in here, where only a little light leaks in from the distance beyond the worn wooden benches. A figure appears, all silhouette with no discernible features beyond the outline of a porkpie hat and a trench coat.

"I'm Adam," the figure says, adding dryly, "or maybe I'm not."

A second figure appears behind him, head ringed by dreadlocks, in a trench coat as well.

You half expect Rod Serling to follow them. But no, this is not "The Twilight Zone." These are Adam Bravin and Justin Warfield, the principal members of She Wants Revenge, making their way through the building being used as a location for a "Carrie"-inspired climax of the video for their song "Tear You Apart."

As they move into light, they prove to be two smiling men in their early 30s. And they have plenty to smile about. With the debut SWR album due out Jan. 31 and sold-out headlining shows at El Rey Theatre and the Galaxy Concert Theatre this weekend, the Los Angeles band is on the rise.

They've earned a growing legion of young fans who discovered their music via the Internet community MySpace and airplay on KROQ-FM (106.7) and Indie 103.1 (KDLD-FM). And they've made believers of Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst (who signed the band to his Geffen Records label imprint) and actor Joaquin Phoenix (who is directing the video).

But for Warfield and Bravin, She Wants Revenge really is an emergence from the shadows.

"I guess it would definitely appear that way," says Warfield.

The album was not only three years in the making, but it also breaks a decade-long gap between releases for Warfield -- at least in the U.S. He was a 20-year-old rapper at the time of his debut, the Prince Paul-produced "My Field Trip to Planet 9." For his follow-up, "The Justin Warfield Supernaut," two years later, he moved toward rock.

But in the intervening time, he popped up only here and there.

He moved to London, where he joined in on tracks by the Chemical Brothers, Cornershop, Placebo and others, and released a Britain-only album with a short-lived band, One Inch Punch.

"I made music in the early '90s; there was an audience that was hearing it," says the loquacious Warfield, who grew up inside the music industry -- his father, Maurice Warfield, was a longtime major-label urban music promotions executive.

Justin Warfield's artistic rise, at such an early age, was more daunting than plucky. "You find your feet musically and find your voice, and usually do that in the privacy of your bedroom or basement," he says. "I was doing it in the public eye."

His retreat, he says, simply evolved as he allowed himself to do some real growing in private. Then, more than three years ago, he encountered Bravin, an acquaintance from their teen years in the Valley. He'd become a DJ (under the name Adam 12) and producer. Both were ready for something new -- which proved to be something old.

Musically, the two found themselves in their own Twilight Zone. As have many contemporaries, they turned to the music of their early-'80s youth for inspiration. But while the Killers, Bloc Party and others draw more on New Order and Duran Duran and such, She Wants Revenge is in an alternative universe informed by the dark dance styles of goth icons Bauhaus and pioneering New York electro-duo Suicide, with such songs as "These Things" and "Red Flags and Long Nights" built on spare synthesizer sirens, distorted guitars and Warfield's grave vocals. And those are just the starting points for their approach.

"By the time I hooked up with Adam, we tried to go back to what we were into when we first met 15 years before," he says. "And it was Prince's 'Purple Rain,' Depeche Mode's 'Black Celebration,' the Smiths' 'The Queen Is Dead,' stuff that was entire albums. Adam programmed this one beat, and it wasn't hip-hop and wasn't rock, this great dance beat. I wrote lyrics and sang over the top, and I handed it to him and we looked at each other and said, 'This is what we need to be doing.' "

DURST came into the picture after Warfield and Bravin -- who were barely thinking of releasing their music at all -- were talked into it by friend Balthazar Getty, whose band Ringside had been signed by the rocker-turned-exec.

"Our big plan was just to record these songs, upload them to our iPods and play the music in clubs when we deejayed," Warfield says.

Durst, though, offered a deal upon first hearing of several demos, promising to leave the duo alone to make the album on their own. He held to it, helping make arrangements for them to build their own studio, but otherwise staying out of the process save for encouraging the team to stick to their initial aesthetics.

"He only came in to the studio once," Bravin says. "And he thought we'd gone off track, making the music too slick. He said, 'These new songs, if I turned on the radio and hear this, it would sound like everything else on the radio.' "

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