A bit of foot-posing with Blondies...
Over the last couples of decades, the trio have tried, tested and grown up through genre-filled paths arriving at somewhat gentle eight studio record Penny Sparkle. Yet decidedly, on the cusp of renewing their record deal and hiding their stage fright behind a warped horse mask, Blonde Redhead appear fairly calm and mischievous in the interview. Despite such an influential career, what wins SUPERSWEET over is their gracious humility that reigns throughout - they declare a champagne lunch “more interesting than the record” and deliver a dancing feet photo shoot. We just hope (as we silently rock in the corner) Kazu’s offhand notions of retirement stay deeply, deeply buried…
SS: Penny Sparkle is fairly distant from your past material, from the removal of Kazu’s piano involvement and Amadeo’s guitar focus, was this direction a struggle for the band?
Kazu Makino (vocals, guitar): The full-on songs are all originally written on guitar, but we decided to strip it down to absolute minimal form. It was really hard. Many times we were like “why don’t we do the rich version?” We actually have really rich versions floating around at home, but I suppose we felt like we’ve done it already.
SS: You are set to release other versions of the Penny Sparkle tracks. Do you have any in mind maybe ‘Black Guitar’?
Kazu: Yeah, ‘Black Guitar’ we had huge demo ideas, but it was hardly finished…
Amadeo Pace (guitar): We should have released that one (smiling).
Kazu: You could hear a door closing and me walking, and it’s really creepy and very decadent sounding. But it’s not finished…just sloppy versions of it. The mood is still there, so we gave Alan [Moulder] a really hard time saying “please, recreate that mood” so he really tried hard to recreate that decadence. We really had to ask ourselves what you think is good, might not be good anymore, so the versions that we did and the versions that we were drawn to, that’s what we knew how to do. We had a lot of attachment to it and to walk away from it and do this was you a big challenge for us. But it’s really good; because now we are learning to play them live and we should know by now, but we still don’t…we are kinda learning as we go along. I like it, I like that it’s leaving so much to imagination.
SS: Kazu, you recently performed on stage wearing a mask with a mane of blonde hair, is this to emulate the association with your horse Penny Sparkle?
Kazu: I suppose I’ve been quite obsessed about horses and also I’m so petrified on being on stage. It was terrible yesterday, even with the mask on. There’s no hole, or anything like that. I’ve developed the skills to do sing with the mask, but I can’t see. It’s pretty wild. Somebody brought it for me for the video; we made a video with the mask.
Amadeo: ‘Not Getting There’.
Kazu: So it was used for that. Then I started looking at it, asking “can I borrow this for the tour?” When I watched Fever Ray, I got so jealous that she could disguise herself. I told her, when I was recording this weekend (we hung out a few times) how I was jealous and how I thought about doing that. She explained why she does that, because she is so scared of being on stage. So of course the first thing that comes to mind is how I want to be a horse.
SS: The song ‘Here Sometimes’ pins down your dream within the lyrics, but have you ever mastered controlling your dreams while asleep?
Kazu: I wish. I have lots of nightmares.
Amadeo: I dream a lot about music. I had the best song, and I [thought I] recorded it, but my phone didn’t. But it just sounded so good in the dream.
Kazu: Oh, it’s easy to say, “That was the BEST song”.
Amadeo: No, no, no, this song was so good. But I think we’ve recorded one or two [from dreams] and they sound ok. But this, in particular, I was so upset when I got up and I realized it hadn’t recorded. I’ve had moments where I can control, when my eyes close, I can really like, on command see what I want to see, but this was after getting really high on marijuana (laughs). With dreams it’s really hard to see something but I anything I wanted to see, full color, I would see it.
SS: You were involved in the cult documentary for Dungeons & Dragons, The Dungeon Masters, what fascinated you to get involved in such a project, did you enjoy it?
Amadeo: We went to the premier and we’ve watched it like six thousand times. We enjoyed it. This director approached us because he loves the band and thought we would be good for the documentary. But we weren’t good for the documentary.
SS: Did you have to comprise the Blonde Redhead sound for this documentary?
Amadeo: We were ready to bring an orchestra, a collective. We clashed a little bit, but something came out of it, that wasn’t us, not him, but yes, it was definitely a hybrid. But it’s ok, it definitely works. It nice to work with a director, because we are both control freaks. It’s amazing to see the other side. There’s a scene of one of the characters walking in the city, LA, he was in this parking lot. He’s overweight with long hair and dirty. We were putting different kinds of music to it and it’s amazing how you could mould the situation. You can really do a lot [with film] it’s almost stronger than what you can do with a guitar.
SS: What soundtracks are staples in your collection?
Kazu: I think my favourite soundtrack is for Contempt, it’s amazing.
Amadeo: Most of Sergio Leone’s films. There’s a cover that I like, I forget if it’s for The Good The Bad and The Ugly...
Simone Pace (drums): The Samurai is good.
Kazu: Ohhhhh yeah! It’s to die for. It’s the best soundtrack ever. I want to have that at my funeral.
Amadeo: We should play that before the show.
SS: Kazu, you mention that the lyrics to ‘Not Getting There’ were inspired by a book review, because you are fascinated by book reviews. What fascinates you about them?
Kazu: I love books, but New Yorker book reviews are really amazing. You read it and you can’t not feel what’s going on in the world. I also love the fact, unlike music reviews which are done by people, who just listen, the New Yorker book reviews are done by famous writers, so they are never gossipy or nasty and they really know the pain of having to write so they really have inside look. Sometimes it’s more enjoyable than reading the book itself.
SS: We’ve heard Simone takes his motorcycle on tour, but can you take it when you travel worldwide? If not, what keeps you relaxed while touring so extensively?
Simone: I have one in Italy, but now, we have so much stuff in the trailer, because we have a new lighting person. We could not even bring my bicycle. Maybe in the US we will.
Amadeo: But then in the morning, when you open the trailer and it is lying down...(smiles) and he’s like screaming from the other room.
Simone: But it’s so good because I get to see so much of the cities.
Amadeo: We horse ride, so we sometimes do that. We did it here, in Richmond.
Kazu: It was insane…
Amadeo: They had just killed the deer and a lot of blood smell in the air.
Kazu: They [the horses] could smell the blood, so they were all so scared. All they wanted to do was run, run, and run. It was their instinct. They kept bolting off, it was pretty insane.
Amadeo: My horse cried, literally.
SS: You’ve made the association with your horse ‘Penny Sparkle’ as a kind of swan song, final act for her; we’re assuming this isn’t the end for Blonde Redhead? Have you already been looking towards new material?
Amadeo: We don’t know (smiles), one thing at a time for us.
Kazu: I was thinking, maybe I should set a time frame to decide for retirement.
Amadeo: For the next record we could be able to put our records out on our own, because we don’t have a record label.
Kazu: Well, we have to renew it, although, I like working with people.
Simone: Let’s just say, for our next record, we’ll be playing castanets and vocals, and flute.
Kazu: Or the [mimics whistling, holding wind instrument] the one you learn in school…the plastic one.
SS: The recorder?
Amadeo: It’s not like we are trying to have a different feel for the record it just happens, it’s not intentional at all.
Kazu: By touring, you live it, fully, each record. You play it over and over and you understand it and eventually after a year and a half of touring your grow out of it, you really need something different. I wonder if you didn’t tour at all, maybe the records would be all similar…