New York band Blonde Redhead have survived the many changes in the music industry
Blonde Redhead have survived two decades in the industry by striving to do better with each album, says drummer Simone Pace
Text: Doretta Lau
There hasn't been another band quite like Blonde Redhead to come out of New York in the past two decades.
The story has it that Kazu Makino (vocals, rhythm guitar), who was an art student at the time, met twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace (the band's drummer and lead guitarist/vocalist respectively) at an Italian restaurant. They formed a band and took their name from a song by DNA, a short-lived but influential no wave outfit from New York.
Since that chance meeting, Blonde Redhead have released eight full-length albums and amassed a diehard fan base. On each record, Makino's vocals float in an otherworldly fashion over the precise playing by the Pace brothers. Live, this translates to a hypnotic experience; it's impossible to take your eyes off the band, as their local followers will discover when they play here. The songs undergo a pleasing sort of metamorphosis that only the very best bands can deliver.
Blonde Redhead's most recent album, Penny Sparkle (2010), fused the band's punk rock spirit with electronic instrumentation, creating a dreamy sound that feels almost languorous — skirting dangerously close to easy listening — when compared with earlier albums.
Over the past two decades, many of their contemporaries have stopped making music, pursued solo careers, or embarked on (unsatisfactory) reunion tours. The industry has seen the rise and fall of grunge; several generations of boy bands and divas have come and gone; and hip hop has become a caricature of what it once was. Through it all, Blonde Redhead have delivered surprising albums that still hold up; the songs have not dated or faded despite the passage of time.
"This is a really important part of our lives," Simone Pace says over the telephone from New York when asked why the band continues to stay together and make music as Blonde Redhead. "A lot of bands don't make it through a record or two or three, but we decided that this was what we want to keep doing, and always try to do something different and perhaps better than the last.
"We also feel that we haven't had the record that has really made a big change in our career," he says. "So you always hope and always try to do a record that will do better for you and will gain a lot of fans and we can be really proud of. So it's a nice process to have in your life and if you can get along with your bandmates and if you can keep it together then it's a great thing to be able to do every two or three years."
The band will release a new album, Darragan, on September 9.
"It took us a long time to record it," Pace says. "We started a year and a half ago. We were very slow because we paid for it. We had to raise money to record and it took us a long time … it was kind of difficult that way. It wasn't the most relaxed. It's a really nice record … we only used real instruments and everything was performed. Most of the tracks are just performances.
"The process was that the producer wanted us to go into the studio and spend the first 10 days just recording lots of drums and a percussion player, without being prepared. Then we went back in more prepared, used some of the stuff we had recorded, and recorded more songs on top of it.
"We recorded most of it in New York and then we went to Michigan to a really secluded studio, no distractions, and we took a long time," he says. "It was a very pure process, only using real instruments, vintage stuff. It was hard to track down some of the gear: the keyboard and the microphones. But the producer was really adamant about that.
"It sounds really warm. We really wanted to make a record that doesn't have a time influence — it could be a really old record, or it could be a really new record. So that was the goal: to make a record that's not going to get dated because of the way it sounds or the way it's approached."
The band are also entering a new phase on the business side. They have parted ways with indie label 4AD and will release their next album through Kobalt, a music services company.
"It's a new approach in the music business and it makes a lot more sense," Pace says of Blonde Redhead's decision to forgo a traditional label for the upcoming record. "The deal is really good, and they have a strong team behind them. Nowadays, you don't need to have a label, unless you find a perfect label."
For the Hong Kong show — where they will be supported by English musician-producer Sohn — the band intends on playing just two or three songs from the upcoming release, with the rest of the set comprising material from their older albums.
"Those are the songs that we have more fun playing," Pace says. "The new songs are fun, too."
Blonde Redhead and Sohn, June 18, 8pm, Music Zone, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$340. Inquiries: ticketflap.com