Like the butterfly that is a recurring image in their music, Blonde Redhead has undergone a transformation. Having previously made the leap from no wave-influenced art rockers to indie darlings, the trio of Kazu Makino (vocals/guitar/piano) and twin brothers Amedeo (vocals/guitar) and Simone Pace (drums) has taken its biggest conceptual leap yet: pop stardom. Kazu, the inimitable lead singer of the band whose vocals range from the most intimate whisper to a plaintive siren’s wail, is, like a butterfly, at once delicate, beautiful, and difficult to pin down. The metaphor can also extend to Kazu’s dog, a Papillion, a breed that she says is called “the butterfly of dogs because they have ears so big it looks like a butterfly. She’s on tour with us.”
Kazu, with whom I spoke over the phone while the band was stopped over in a cold and rainy Missoula, Montana, is a big lover of animals and an accomplished equestrian: “For me it’s like another career,” she says. “I ride all the time I have free [from] music. I do it no matter where I am. I have two stables, but mainly in America — my barn is in upstate New York.” When asked how she feels about being separated from her horses while on tour, Kazu is unequivocal: “It’s really traumatic for me.”
Horses are not the only things the band has had to endure separation from of late. Their newest album, 23, is the first album Blonde Redhead has created without longtime producer and friend Guy Picciotto since 1997’s Fake Can Be Just as Good, a change about which Kazu says, “We miss him a lot. If things could remain the same that would be great, but it’s highly suspicious that you could just keep everything the same forever. You have to put yourself in a place that’s a little bit uncomfortable — I think this was one of those things.”
Much has been made of the band’s transition from the atonal and “experimental” sound of their early releases to tighter songs structures and more polished production values in recent years, songs with textures so brilliant one can almost envision a glowing aura surrounding the band. Kazu, though, believes the band is more experimental than ever: “We never used to edit our ideas. For me, it’s kind of a gamble in what we will do, to throw away and edit things and faults, and we’re quite fascinated by that process now. We used to do it in a way that everything had so much value to us that we could never edit anything out, so the song ended up sounding kind of long and unfocused …but that does not mean we were very creative or experimental, so I think what we do today has more edge to it.”
Despite having been together for more than 13 years and having created seven albums, there are still some things the band believes are left undone, like a film soundtrack, of which Kazu says, “We’re just waiting for someone to come along and give us that chance.”
Blonde Redhead’s music has improved exponentially with each successive album, and they have accomplished this rare feat by eschewing a set formula for success and being unafraid of taking chances. One thing listeners can be certain of is that they are not content to rest on their laurels.
“We really don’t feel like we’ve achieved anything,” states Kazu, “[and that] is the secret to our longevity.” As hard as that statement is to believe, Kazu wants to assure the band’s fans that they have more surprises in store: “Definitely, the best is yet to come.”