Rock Trio Hits Groove Greatness

Blonde Redhead releases its sixth album, the one that might break some charts

Blonde Redhead is New York City’s most riveting resident underground rock trio. The international transplants who comprise the group—Kazu Makino from Japan and Simone and Amedeo Pace from Italy—have been crafting their unique sound for over ten years and have just returned from a much-needed hiatus with “Misery is a Butterfly,” the band’s sixth full album to date. “Misery” is a veritable masterpiece, the pinnacle work of a band that continues to mature and gain momentum with each album. Watching Blonde Redhead when they take the stage is always a visceral experience. So it should be no surprise that the band’s upcoming two-night gig at the Bowery Ballroom sold out weeks ago. I recently spoke with Amedeo Pace and Kazu Makino about their creative process and here’s what they had to say.

Xavier Firpi: Which kinds of art influence your music?

Pace: There’s so much. We all love art and movies and music. But it’s hard to say exactly what influences us. It’s more like an energy you get when you see something beautiful that really inspires you to want to make something beautiful as well. It’s not like you say, “Oh, I should think about my music like this painting because it’s the way I want people to see it.” It’s never that direct for us. It’s more like you go to the museum, you come home and you’re completely wired up and you say, “Oh, we should do this or we should do that.” You just feel all this energy coming at you when you’re in contact with beautiful art. With music it’s different. Like when you’re in New York and you go to a show and there’s this great band, it’s different. You can’t really come home and say, “Oh, we should sound more like them,” or “We should try what they’re doing as well.” You try to think of it differently and you get a rush of energy that pushes you to do what you’re doing, better. I think if we start thinking, “Oh, we should try and be more like them,” we’d be in big trouble. We wouldn’t get anywhere, I don’t think.

XF: How do you usually approach the songwriting process?

Pace: It’s kind of chaotic, really. We go in the studio and everybody starts playing different ideas. We play old songs and maybe a new idea will come from an old song. So it’s not like we spend time at home writing music. We don’t sit down and say, “Okay, let’s write a new song.” It wouldn’t work for us like that. We surround ourselves with ideas that come up spontaneously and then take it from there. Once the idea’s there, we work really hard on it. We spend a lot of time figuring out the melody and the other different parts. But at first it’s pretty much an unconscious procedure.

XF: Having two lead vocalists, how do you guys decide who will sing which songs?

Pace: It’s rare that we’re like, “I wanna sing this song—No, I wanna sing this song.” It’s the song that dictates who’s gonna sing it, pretty much. There’s some things I can’t sing and Kazu will sing those songs, and vice versa. It’s never a competition, who’s gonna sing what. There’s one song on “Misery is a Butterfly” that both of us wanted to sing, “Pink Love,” and we both sing it. But besides that it’s the song that decides whose vocals it needs. We’re both very limited in what we can sing and in a way it’s good ‘cause it dictates what’s gonna happen.

XF: What’s your least favorite thing about what you do? The studio? Soundcheck?

Makino: No, no—I love all that. I mean, even touring, I complain, of course, I whine, but I feel uneasy when we don’t go on tour, I feel quite frustrated. All the aspects that toughen you up are good because they make you feel like you can survive certain difficult moments. But the dreadful part is that you kind of make a fool of yourself day after day after day. There’s moments when you feel so ashamed of yourself and you just think, “Wow, this is so bad,” but then you’re doing it in front of so many people. Sometimes I think to myself, “I have a lot of nerve to do this!” Even last night, I was thinking: “I can’t believe I’m singing in front of these people”—I mean, I’m not a singer, you know? I thought to myself, “I bet there’s so many people in this room who can sing a lot better than me. I can’t believe I put these people through this!”

XF: Why did you title the new album “Misery is a Butterfly”?

Pace: I guess maybe I was projecting myself onto whatever’s around me. I started thinking how a butterfly seems to be completely out of proportion. The body’s really way too small for the size of the wings—the wings seem so heavy. I started imagining how they’re carrying those heavy, heavy wings, but then I thought that without the wings they’d be one of the ugliest things you’ve ever seen. Butterflies are a mystery, and so that’s how it ended up being “Misery is a Butterfly,” like misery is a mystery.

XF: Is playing New York different from playing other places?

Makino: Yeah. I feel so humble around where we live that to work myself up to playing a show is a bit difficult. You’re so used to going out to do laundry and then to see friends and then out to practice. Suddenly having all these people come out and see you—and I see so many familiar faces—it’s a bit scary. I feel like setting up on the floor and playing on the same level as the people in New York. I feel that that’s the more proper thing to do.

XF: What are three of the band’s favorite albums?

Pace and Makino: “Faith” by the Cure, George Harrison’s “Wonderwall” and the soundtrack to Godard’s “Contempt.”

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