Blonde Redhead on new tour, Nosaj Thing and a Japan relief album
In the last decade or so, shoe-gazing sweetness has become the main weapon in Blonde Redhead's indie rock arsenal. Following the three-piece down their rabbit hole of sweeping melodies and demure and ambient vocals mixed with pinprick dissonance is a lesson in the many layers of distorted dream pop.
That they’ve been experimenting there for almost two decades speaks more to their ability to draw people into their music than hit them over the head with it. On their latest LP, “Penny Sparkle,” released in September, the band’s quiet tones transform sterile electro into the soundtrack for sensual exploration.
Last weekend, vocalist/guitarist Kazu Makino and Amedeo and Simone Pace rolled through the L.A. leg of their North American tour, stopping at the monthly Check Yo Ponytail 2 night at the Echoplex presented by I Heart Comix and Media Contender. We recently caught up with Makino via phone to talk about the band's tour thus far, a collaboration with L.A. artist Nosaj Thing and a forthcoming compilation album with proceeds benefiting Japan's earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.
Pop & Hiss: In addition to playing venues in cities you’ve never played before, you’ve also done a few dates with L.A. DJ Nosaj Thing. Had you known much about him or worked with him before the tour?
Yes, I worked on a song with him for his new album, so it was nice to see him again on tour. It was really amazing. I was quite shocked that he gave me such great music to work with as a vocalist. It took me a while to come up with the melody and sing on it. I didn’t want to do any wrong. So I kind of tiptoed around it and was trying not to add too much over the music. I spent a few months working on it.
And he came to New York to perform recently and we had a chance to work on it together for a whole day. I think it was the first time he worked with a vocalist, so it was a new thing to be working on a song so intensely and for a very long time. After I’d been working on the vocal ideas for months we ended up having to finalize the song in one day, which was very intense. Since we recorded the song he’s been playing it live without me at his shows and just sampling my voice, I’m not exactly sure what the title is yet.
You tap into a much softer, sensual side on the album in comparison with past albums. What has it been like on your tour to mix those in with your old material? Do you find you insert those new songs strategically?
I didn’t realize that when we were making the record, but when we do mix this album in with the old songs, they are slower and there’s a lot more ambient vibes than our older songs. I used to worry about the transition between old songs and new songs, but now we don’t think about the shift so much. It just happens. We just mix them up, there’s something in common about all of them.
Are Amedeo and Simone working on other projects as well when you aren’t performing as Blonde Redhead?
Simone has been playing drums with an artist in Mexico named Juan Son in a band called Mr. Owl. Amedeo is going to Iceland, playing with his best friend’s music project. We all do different things when we’re not with the band.
Are there other recording projects you have coming up that you’re excited about?
I’m putting together a compilation album to raise funds for Japan and I’ve asked a group of artists to participate who I really admire. So it’s become another project for me that’s very challenging and very rewarding. I feel so bad for the people in the tsunami disaster that I wanted to do something to help. When I started the project, it’s given me so much pleasure to try and complete it. I find it ironic that I’ve gotten so much good energy out of something so tragic.
The compilation is nearly done; I’m waiting for a couple more artists to send me their material. I think we’re going to title it “Work in Progress” because I didn’t want people to write material exclusively for the album, but if they had some exclusive material in the form of old demos or different versions of songs that have been released. As long as it was something they were very attached to. It also has sort of a double meeting for all of us who are in the process of reinventing ourselves. Terry Riley, Karin Andersson of Fever Ray are part of it along with many others.
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: Blonde Redhead (Left to right: Simone Pace, Kazu Makino, Amedeo Pace)
Credit: Sebastian Mlynarski