By Alexander Laurence
Redhead with their unique sound and deadpan vocals have
always been, for me, the quintessential New York band. Even
though none of them are American. Early on they were compared
to Sonic Youth. They have a cult following that is very
intense. It all started innocently enough. The band met
by chance at an Italian restaurant in New York: Japanese
art student Kazu Makino (guitar/vocals) and Italian twin
brothers Simone Pace (drums) and Amedeo Pace (guitar/vocals)
found each other and formed the band in 1993.
The name Blonde Redhead was taken from a song by the 1980s
no-wave band DNA. With Kazu Makino and Amedeo on guitars
and vocals, Simone on drums. The band had a chaotic angular
sound in the early days. The early albums reflect their
interest in no-wave bands and the Dischord label. They grew
out of that and turned to more melodic and European influences.
Blonde Redhead was a fine band on a small label.
In 1997, their first great record, Fake Can Be Just
as Good, was released. The next record, In an Expression
of the Inexpressible, was not as distinct, but their
fanbase grew nonetheless. A notable less noisy and accessible,
Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons came out in 2000.
They seemed more interested in song structure and melody.
This record was their most successful.
Kazu Makino was thrown from a horse in 2002. She sustained
serious injuries when it stepped on her, breaking her jaw.
Understandably, the band took some time off and missed out
on the New York music explosion of the past years. But they
were a band that all these New York bands admired like Interpol
and Secret Machines. Blonde Redhead signed to a bigger label
(4AD) this year. Their new album Misery Is a Butterfly,
was released in late March 2004. I spoke to the members
of the band at the beginning of their first big American
tour in a few years.
When did you record the new album?
Simone: We recorded
it at the beginning of 2003. It took a few months. We worked
with Guy Picciotto. This was the third record we did with
AL: Most of this album
is live takes. You went back and did some overdubs?
Simone: Yeah. Every song is different. Some songs we will
go in and do it all together. Some songs will be drums first.
Maybe I will play with one of them or both. We will put
down some sort of track. We want to make sure that the drums
are good. We want it to flow nicely. We will then work on
it and add things.
AL: How do you write songs? Is there a lot of jamming?
Simone: There is some jamming. Not a lot. We work together
on all the songs. First we will bring in the harmonic ideas.
Then we will take things from there. We will bring in records.
We will bring in old tapes that we have recorded before.
We will bring in some old ideas. It is a constant changing
of one idea. We develop the sound. We record everything
we do and play it back.
AL: There is a lot of listening involved?
Simone: Yeah, a lot of listening. There is a lot of deleting.
We will keep little things. We will develop those little
ideas over time.
AL: Does Kazu and Amedeo write the lyrics that they sing?
Simone: Yes, exactly.
AL: There was a lot of time between this album and the
previous one. Did you have more time to work on the songs?
Simone: We did take a little bit longer this time. We did
have some problems. That delayed us a little bit. When it
was time to record, Guy couldn't come because his mother
passed away. Kazu got really hurt. That gave us more time
even though the things that were happening were sad. That
extended our time to develop the songs. It was a blessing
in disguise because we were coming up with ideas for songs
that were more finished and complete by the time we got
into the studio. We wanted to record before. We weren't
AL: Last year you played some shows in California. Did
you play new songs?
Simone: We played two new songs then.
AL: You played at MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art.
It was a street festival and you played at three in the
Simone: It was nice to be invited to play that. The Director
of the museum took us around and showed us what was going
on there. It was great. I like playing museums. We also
played at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Both times
it was inspiring because you look at art and then you go
play a show.
AL: The song "Magic Mountain" on the new album:
is that based on the Thomas Mann novel?
AL: That is a long novel. Shouldn't you have done a twelve-minute
Simone: I don't know. You should ask Kazu.
AL: The last album came out and you toured for a long time.
Are you going to write new songs any time soon?
Simone: We just started this tour. We are going to play
for most of this year. Maybe later this fall we will write
some songs and go back into the studio. You never know.
AL: Since the release of your last album and this new one,
there are several New York bands like Interpol, The Strokes,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Rapture. What do you think of all
these bands coming from New York, many of them influenced
by Blonde Redhead?
Simone: It's good to see a lot of good music coming from
New York. Because that was always not the case. Because
New York is New York, maybe it's the best place to write
music and it has the best bands, but it is not like that.
To me it is refreshing to like some of the music that is
going on there now. I was listening to Interpol today. It's
AL: You were on some indie labels for many years. Now you
are on 4AD. Why the change?
Simone: We wanted to do things differently this time. We
wanted to license our record. We couldn't do that with all
labels. Some labels don't want to do that. 4AD was one of
the labels that was interested in giving us that opportunity.
We wanted to do a whole new adventure. There were many people
interested. It wasn't so long ago. We just decided to do
this six months ago. We recorded the album on our own. We
didn't have any label. We paid for it ourselves. We said
let's do it the way we want and see if anyone is interested
in releasing it.
AL: Do you like any new bands?
Simone: We are doing this tour with Secret Machines. I
haven't heard them yet. My brother Amedeo really likes them.
AL: Do you listen to a lot of music?
Simone: I do listen to music. Probably not the kind of
music you think I listen to. I listen to Classical music,
French music, and Italian music. I listen to rock music.
AL: A few years ago you did the Serge Gainsbourg song.
Your records sound more like French music than most American
AL: Do you read a lot?
Simone: I just got a new Italian book from my brother.
AL: I like Pasolini.
Simone: I have read a few things by Pasolini.
AL: The music of Blonde Redhead reminds me of dreams and
watching films. Are there any films that you like?
Simone: I like the films of Antonioni. I love his films.
I love the pace of the films. They take their time. I love
repetition in music. Sometimes I like to stay with one idea.
It's like you become paralyzed by it. I like movies like
AL: When people come to see you play this year what should
Simone: We are going to play some new songs. It's hard
because now the album isn't out yet. Most people haven't
heard it unless they downloaded from the internet. So for
the first part of this tour we are playing songs that people
don't know yet.
AL: The record comes out on March 23rd, 2004.
Simone: We are going to play seven or eight songs from
the new album. The rest will be a mix from the other albums.
We are going to stick it out though.
AL: Is there a secret Beatles influence on the last few
Simone: A little bit. I think we pulled out those records
and listened to them. I think it had more to do with the
last album than this album. This album has more to do with
French stuff and English stuff, like The Cure. We were listening
to some Icelandic stuff. We were listening a lot to the
(Kazu and Amedeo join the conversation)
AL: How did you meet these guys?
Kazu: When we met I was taking guitar lessons from Amedeo.
One thing led to another and then we formed the band. It
took a while. We couldn't admit at first that we were playing
together. It was an intense experience for me. I have never
played with twins before. I have never known any twins in
my life. It took a lot of attention to get used to.
AL: Was it strange?
Amedeo: Actually she was really positive. She was in love
with the idea of hanging out with us.
Kazu: I was a complicated person. I am usually cynical
about everything. To playing with twins seems such an innocent
thing to do. I had some resentment about it too. They were
very different in their opinions. It had more to do with
me. Having a problem.
AL: Not being a twin?
Amedeo: Even when I see some twins, I feel really left
out. Even when I see them coming down the street, even though
I am a twin. It's a very private relationship they are having.
It's a strange thing.
AL: It's bad to dress alike.
Kazu: They still dress alike to this day.
AL: You two are from Milan. You moved to New York. Did
you play in bands before?
Amedeo: Simone and I have always played together.
AL: What did you want to achieve with the new record?
Amedeo: We didn't know what we wanted to do until we got
into the studio. We were already into the writing of the
songs. We let it happen very naturally. We never think that
we want to do an album that sounds like this or that, because
it never seems to work. What we did talk about was that
we wanted to make a record that had one mood and you could
go through the record and feel one thing. It's not several
emotions but one emotion. Those are the type of records
that I enjoy. You can just sink into them and not have distractions.
We talked about that. You can't always control things because
some many things happen during the making of an album. When
we did write the songs, the songs dictated what sort of
instruments we were going to use.
Kazu: We are trying to create a mood in the room. It's
like catching a butterfly.