All the World's a Stage

Blonde Redhead combines Japanese and Italian influences into a compelling concoction that's so New York

It's November 9, two days after the American presidential election, and the media are simply delirious, scrambling to provide the latest updates on the as-yet-undecided race, reveling in the chance to use words like "historic" and "unprecedented." Almost everyone in the United States has an eye on Florida, awaiting -- not so patiently -- the decisive conclusion: Who's to be the next president-elect? Kazu Makino, singer and guitarist for Blonde Redhead, however, has other things on her mind.

"Oh, I don't know about that stuff," she says. "What is going on with the president?"

Good question.

Three's company for Blonde Redhead: From left, Amedeo Pace,Kazu Makino and Simone Pace.
Three's company for Blonde Redhead: From left, Amedeo Pace,Kazu Makino and Simone Pace.

It could be that Makino's Japanese upbringing and somewhat limited English has muddled her knowledge of the Bush and Gore fiasco. More likely, though, it's because she and her bandmates -- Italian-born twin brothers Simone (drums) and Amedeo Pace (vocals and guitar) returned from a tour of France and Italy just days ago. Despite the excitement in the air, Makino is jet-lagged. Groggy. She just wants to sleep.

"I have to go to bed in 10 minutes," she says from her home in the Soho district of New York City -- where it's 8:10 p.m. "It's sooo nice to be back home. It's sooo nice to sleep in my own bed."

Unfortunately for Makino and the Pace brothers, such creature comforts -- sleeping in one's own bed, cooking meals, sacking out before the early news -- won't last long. By the time America has a new political figurehead, Blonde Redhead will be back on the road, covering 21 North American cities in 26 long nights. Relentless touring is something the band has done since the release of its "Big Song/Amescream" seven-inch on OXO records in 1993; making the sacrifices inherent to touring is one way the band has achieved relative success and grown its reputation as a volatile live band. According to Amedeo, the constant movement provides its own kind of comfort.

"Once we're on tour, life is set," he says. "You may get physically tired from the travel, but your mind is relaxed."

It's not surprising that Pace would take this view. Like the other members of Blonde Redhead, the idea of travel, of migration and assimilation, is almost second nature for him. He and his twin brother originally hail from Italy but migrated to NYC 11 years ago after a short stay in Montreal. Japanese-born Makino made her way to NYC "so long ago that I don't remember." How the three met, befriended each other and discovered their shared musical ideologies is slightly less easy to trace, however. As the lore goes, it was a chance encounter at a New York cafe that brought them together. ("It was sooo long ago, I don't remember how we met," says Makino. Must . . . go . . . to sleep.) However they found each other, in the eight years since Makino and the Pace brothers began playing as Blonde Redhead -- a name coined from a song by the '80s band DNA -- the band has emerged as a shining, and enduring, light in the indie-rock realm.

Between the summer of 1994 and the fall of 1995, Blonde Redhead released four full-length records for the Smells Like Records imprint, the label owned and operated by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. Impressed by both the band's sound and its prolificacy, Chicago's Touch & Go Records signed the band in 1997 and released The Expression of the Inexpressionable. The album was well-received by critics and listeners, and was a watermark of Blonde Redhead's evolution from a punk outfit whose high-frequency guitar wanderings and wound-up, apocalyptic drumming brought early comparisons to Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch, to a tightly knit trio of fully realized, postmodern visionists.

In some ways, the band's musical evolution mirrored what was happening to its personal infrastructure. According to Amedeo, the friendship between the threesome has developed in a unique, almost inverse way. "Unlike most relationships, where you're much closer friends right after you meet, and then drift apart as time goes by, our relationship was much more difficult in the beginning, but we are getting closer and finding our place with each other."

Amedeo says he and his brother have come to regard Makino as an extension of their own twin bond. "Simone and I are such a package," he adds. "We are so close that we might discourage people to hang out with us. We're trying to become more independent of each other and be our own people, but that's hard because no one teaches you how behave with people.

"The main reason us three are so closely tied together is because Japan and Italy have so much more in common than the American perspective and American upbringing," says Amedeo. "The Japanese and Italians are much more sensitive to certain things and have stronger values of family and how you behave toward family."

Of course, the band is also tied by its music, something that becomes more articulate with each recording. Earlier this year, Blonde Redhead released Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, a beautifully languid collection dominated by guitar melodies and compositions that are downright enchanting. It's a swirling and stripped-down combo, complete with creepy Devo-esque off-time rhythms and good ol' country guitar twanging accents ("In Particular"), and quirky space melodies that sound as if they were liberated from a bad '70s sci-fi flick ("Ballad of Lemons").

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