If there’s a recurring theme that runs through Blonde Redhead
’s career thus far, it’s one of constant growth and change. Over the course of seven albums, the New York City-based trio has morphed stylistically from shrieking, avant-garde dissonance to beautifully pastoral art-rock.
“We never want to make the same record twice,” says guitarist Amedeo Pace, who, along with his wife Kazu Makino on vocals and second guitar, and his twin brother Simone on drums, co-founded the band in 1993. “It’s important to us to keep moving. When I listen to our old albums, I can see the places where we’ve changed. It’s like looking at an old photograph of yourself.”
Blonde Redhead came together in classic New York fashion. Following a chance meeting at a downtown restaurant, Kazu expressed an interest in learning guitar from Amedeo, who till then had never performed publicly. The two began dating, and larger aspirations took hold when Kazu told Amedeo that they “were going to make lots of music together.” Things began to gel in earnest when Simone was brought into the mix, but the process took some time.
“It took a year or two to sort of figure things out,” says Amedeo. “When we started writing music, we began to clash. We were each coming from different worlds and we had to figure out what each of us was willing to sacrifice, in order to agree on something, musically. We were very devoted, though, and we found a place in the middle where we could meet.”
23, the band’s latest release, marks a significant leap in Blonde Redhead’s evolution. Crafted around layered guitars, dreamy atmospherics, and Kazu’s melancholy soprano, the album is rife with poignancy and yearning. Songs such as “Dr. Strangeluv” and the title track sport a midtempo drive while emitting a soft, incandescent, heartrending glow. On the other hand, soundscape-ish tracks such as “The Dress” and “Silently” unfold with glacial splendor.
“Our songs always sound a bit sad,” says Kazu. “There’s a touch of something tragic in them, probably because everything we write is in a minor key. But we don’t want to just bring people down. We want the music to have a lot of groove, and I think we pulled that off with this album. There’s a real energy in the songs.”
To generate that energy, both Amedeo and Kazu play Gibson electrics. Amedeo recorded several of his guitar parts with a mid ’70s Les Paul Goldtop, which he bought just prior to recording the album. But his main guitars—which he’s owned for years—are a ’59 SG Junior and an SG Standard from the ’70s.
“I write mostly on the SG Junior,” he says, “and I play that guitar live as well. Everything about it comes together perfectly. The weight is good, the wood is nice, the neck is slim, and the sound is big but ‘midrange-y’—the way I like it. The other guitar I play live is the ’70s SG. Both guitars sound very earthy. They’re dark- and thick-sounding, and they have great character and they feel great.”
Kazu echoes Amedeo’s sentiments when she talks about her own SG Standard, which she plays exclusively. She came across the guitar shortly after meeting Amedeo, and has been devoted to it ever since.
“I found it in a guitar repair shop,” she explains. “It was light, the neck was small, and I just fell in love with it. I think of it as a little tiger when I play it, because it growls a little. It has amazing distortion.”
Kazu’s SG may put her in mind of a tiger, it’s a different animal that impacts her songwriting. Specifically, as an avid equestrian, she draws lots of inspiration from her work with horses.
“They have a great influence on me,” she says, speaking softly and with obvious affection. “They are so musical in their movements and in the sounds they make. Everything they do is rhythmic. I get ideas for grooves—rhythmic ideas—just from riding.”
Amedeo says Blonde Redhead never look far into the future, preferring instead to approach career decisions systematically and slowly. Asked if he’s content with the band’s stature —critically and commercially—he says, “Our fans come to the music with an open mind. I feel that we’re still growing, and still learning who we are as musicians and as people. But what we’ve created so far feels solid and organic. It feels good.”
Photo Credit: Phillip Angbert