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Blonde Redhead
By Alexander Laurence

Blonde 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.


AL: 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 him.

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 ready.

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 afternoon.

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?

Simone: Yeah.

AL: That is a long novel. Shouldn't you have done a twelve-minute song?

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 very good.

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 pop music.

Simone: Yeah.

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 that.

AL: When people come to see you play this year what should they expect?

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 albums?

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 Rolling Stones.

(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.

Website: www.blonde-redhead.com


--Alexander Laurence


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