Tracking the elusive Blonde Redhead in Winnipeg
As we all know, technology—more specifically, the rise of the Internet—has given birth to all sorts of new modes of communication that have made sharing ideas much faster and easier, in a strong sense, bringing all corners of the globe closer together. But technology can also be a real pain in the ass.
Winnipeg’s a lucky place. Not only has it just snatched an NHL franchise from Atlanta, but it’s also the first stop on Blonde Redhead’s current North American tour—the New York shoegaze-y three-piece comes to Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library, this Sunday. Because the band is up in Canada, their cell phones don’t work, and thus vocalist and frontwoman Kazu Makino has to call me via Skype. This goes fine for about two minutes, before we get disconnected.
After a couple failed attempts to reconnect, the band’s manager calls me from the Winnipeg venue’s land line, and we get it sorted out. However, there’s a great irony I can’t help noting, in the fact that Skype played a facilitating role in the recording of Blonde Redhead’s 2010 album, Penny Sparkle. While Makino headed to Stockholm, Sweden to work independently, she kept in touch with her twin bandmates Amedo and Simone Pace via the social networking application.
“I was eating lunch in Sweden one day, and I’m pretty sure the guy sitting next to me was actually the inventor of Skype. I said, ‘Oh my God,’” recalls Makino—for the record, the co-inventors of Skype are indeed Swedish. “But it’s really good. You can actually see each other, play something for someone on the camera if you need to.”
The album was recorded in sessions at three different locations: rural upstate New York, Brooklyn and Sweden. Though albums are rarely recorded in a single studio session nowadays, and Blonde Redhead had recorded in Europe before, this process represented the band’s desire to pare down some of their musical arrangements.
“It was really nice to hear everything in a different environment,” says Makino. “It felt really natural—it didn’t feel weird at all being in different places.”
This had two effects: one, being that Blonde Redhead’s formerly noteworthy swirling guitars and other ambient qualities were now absent or receding. In fact, the album swerves pretty hard toward trip-hop. The other, is that there are, apparently, existing “rich” versions of songs, at least one of which (Penny Sparkle’s title track) will see a release on an upcoming Japanese benefit compilation being put together by Makino.
“That is partly because we were working in so many different places,” says the singer—who is of Japanese decent and grew up on the island—of the lush versions of songs. “We’d work on one version of a song for a while, but then when you change places, the mood changes.”
Penny Sparkle wasn’t necessarily received as well as some of the band’s previous material—being derisively compared to ‘radio-friendly Portishead’—and it’s definitely a shift in directions for the international trio (the Pace twins originally hail from Italy). However, it’s an album that only suffers from the awkwardness of beginning anew—Blonde Redhead isn’t rehashing itself, it’s finding its feet in new territory.
Blonde Redhead performs at 7 p.m., Sunday, July 3, at Henry Miller Library, Hwy 1, Big Sur. Tickets are $30 in advance. For more information call 667-2574.