Blonde Redhead: “It’s almost too personal”
Blonde Redhead formed in 1993 – the name taken from a song by Arto Lindsay’s short-lived band DNA. Initially a quartet, from 1995 onwards the band has been composed of the indivisible trio of Italian-Canadian twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace and Japanese-born Kazu Makino.
A band in a perpetual state of flux, their early music was obscured by their associations with post-No Wave art noise, while their big break came with 2004′s vibrant Misery is a Butterfly. Their ninth album, Barragán, continues that evolutionary tradition. Produced and engineered by Drew Brown (Beck, Radiohead), it is the most stark, stripped back album Blonde Redhead has ever made, relying on shivers of analogue keyboard twists and the off-kilter, slinky drum rhythms of Simone to carry the distinct voices of Makino and Amadeo.
Blonde Redhead have never made records for fame, or for money. They’re making music simply because they have to. We spoke with Makino about the record, performance, and finding inspiration after 20 years together as a band.
Your new album is called Barragán. What’s the significance of the title?
- I like the way it looks and sounds. Luis Barragán was a mexican architect. We were on tour in Mexico City, and my girlfriend, a really close friend of mine, asked me, “Do you want to go see Louis Barragán’s house?” We were playing that night and I didn’t really want to go, but when we’re together she’s always in charge – so we went. We walked all around the city to get there, and the whole day she kept saying Barragán, Barragán Barragán. I loved hearing it.
- When we got there I had no expectations. I found it so beautiful – the lines, the shapes, the colors. It reminded me of this horse stable I had always really loved. I realized whoever designed that stable was influenced by Barragán. I also loved how his style is very japanese, with wooden stairs, simple furnishings. It moved me. For this record I wanted to find a symbolic name that didn’t mean anything.
In comparison to your previous records, Barragán comes off as more sparse, more personal, even sensual. Would you agree with that assessment?
- I would agree. It sounds quite personal, kind of erie, and a little uncomfortable. It’s almost too personal for me. But it’s always like this for me. It can be uncomfortable hearing your own work. But it sounds like we wanted it to.
You’ve been a band for over 20 years. What has changed in that time? What has stayed the same?
- It doesn’t feel like we’ve been around for that long. It doesn’t feel like we know more than we once did. It’s not like we’ve smoothed out all the creases. We still have fundamental problems, frictions as a band. Making a record is still difficult. [After 20 years] it’s not easy, but it’s gotten a little easier.
What motivates you to make music? What inspires you as an artist? What do you find challenging?
- Writing beautiful music is the challenge. But that’s also the whole point. The motivation comes from being surrounded by so much beauty every day. The desire to make something never dies, the need to make something beautiful in return feels like an obligation. You try to give back what you take in.
As a HiFi music service, we have a conviction that music deserves to be heard in optimal quality. As an artist, what does sound quality mean to you? What difference does it make how your music is being heard?
- As a musician, you risk everything, sacrifice everything to record as well as an orchestra would. There are no plug-ins (digitally produced instrumentation) here – we took extra steps to record everything on analog equipment because it means more. The experience is so much deeper than if we had been playing a shitty instrument. It’s more organic, it’s real, and it only happens once.
What is a record or artist – new or old – that you admire in terms of sound?
- Oh, there are many, many people, and in different genres. I love how Caribou sounds. Broadcast always sounds amazing. I think Connan Mockasin made his recent album in a basement and it still sounds good. And of course My Bloody Valentine – they’re so soothing.
You’re embarking on a lengthy tour in support of the new album. You are known for your intensity, as well as often letting the music speak for itself. How do you see your relationship with the stage and the audience?
- It’s totally different from recording. You go into another dimension. From my perspective, I’m not there to entertain – it’s about the act of playing the music live. It’s a performance, and it’s so important because it only happens once.
I can tell you have a background in art.
- It’s a unique experience to witness music being created, both as a performer and as a spectator. When you [as a band] walk onto the stage, it’s empty. There’s no sound, no background, no distractions. It’s a blank canvas, and you slowly start to weave together this whole world with nothing but sound. It can be powerful, but it’s also frightening. Sometimes think, I can’t do this, it doesn’t seem possible.
Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, you curated the benefit compilation, We Are The Works In Progress, to support recovery efforts. What’s your assessment of Japan’s recovery, and what does that disaster represent to you?
- I’m not aware of the day-by-day progress, and I think it’s impossible to know the extent of the problem. It’s very, very scary that something so huge could occur. In an instant, nothing means anything, and at that point, anything you do is completely insignificant. [As a result of that event] you try be aware, try to do something to connect, try to bound together, try to slow down the impact. I hope we’ll look back and see this as a turning point in our history.
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