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Members include Kazu Makino (born in Japan), guitar, vocals; twin brothers Amedeo Pace, guitar, vocals; and Simone Pace, drums, keyboards (both born in Milan, Italy; emigrated to Canada at age 13; attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA); Maki Takahashi (born in Japan; left band, 1994), bass. Addresses: Record company--4AD Records, 17-19 Alma St., London SW18 1AA, England, website: http://www.4AD.com. Website--Blonde Redhead Official Website: http://www.blonde-redhead.com.
Although the New York-based trio Blonde Redhead made a connection with the art world in late 1998 when they performed at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to celebrate an exhibit by Japanese artist Mariko Mori, the members of the group refused to define their music as "art rock." "We always totally avoid seeming pretentious or arty," vocalist/guitarist Kazu Makino revealed to Magnet magazine's Matthew Fritch. "I think arty bands are never arty.... To me, the most artistic band is a punk-rock band. There's a big difference between an art band and a band that has a concept of its music. That's what's really artistic; it's not about dropping weird stuff in and making weird noises and having awkward pauses in the music. I never wanted to be categorized as that." Though Blonde Redhead's sound often includes odd harmonies, pulsating funk rhythms, and punk music, the band has become admired most for their ability to create direct-hitting, rather than avant-garde, rock.
Taking their name from a song by one of their favorite bands, DNA, a 1980s New York avant-garde post-punk band, Blonde Redhead formed around 1993 after a chance meeting at a New York City restaurant. Two of the group's members, Makino (who previously collaborated with Marc Ribot) and bassist Maki Takahashi (who left the group in 1994) were Japanese-born art students, while twin bothers Simone (drums, keyboards) and Amedeo Pace (guitar, vocals) were born in Milan, Italy. The Pace brothers emigrated to Canada at age 13, then came to the United States to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. From the onset, the band members, especially Makino, Amadeo, and Simone, realized an instant connection to each other that strengthened into a deep friendship. "I think we have a desire to be together as much as possible. In some ways we want to be separate, but in some ways, we have this burning desire to be the same thing, one person," Makino told Fritch. "We've made ourselves be so close," Amadeo further revealed. "And a relationship like this, to be in a band, even though you want to be an individual, it's almost impossible. You kind of have to give up certain things."
Blonde Redhead debuted in 1993 with the seven-inch single "Big Song," issued by the Oxo label. The song, along with constant performing, caught the attention of Steve Shelley, the drummer for Sonic Youth and owner of the independent label Smells Like Records, who offered to produce and release records for the band. In 1994, Blonde Redhead released a second single, "Vague," followed by their self-titled debut album that drew comparisons, though not without cause, to Shelley's own band. Produced by Shelley, the eight-song Blonde Redhead took obvious cues from Sonic Youth by implementing similar guitar sounds and song structures, such as in the warped pop tune "Sciuri Sciura" and the convulsive guitar foray "I Don't Want U." However, Blonde Redhead found a way to differentiate their sound from the Sonic Youth ethic. "Blonde Redhead have earnestly studied that band's method of fusing disparate peals of guitar into frail, blinking melodies," concluded the Ink Blot magazine website, "but they adeptly avoid mere mimicry by providing their arrangements with a welcome degree of flexibility." For example, Makino and Amedeo Pace alternated providing the lead vocals throughout the guitar-dominated album, and whereas Sonic Youth often buries the vocal delivery of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore within instrumentation, Blonde Redhead opted to give Makino's singing greater attention.
Shortly after Blonde Redhead's release, bassist Takahashi left the band, and the group started working on their follow-up, 1995's La Mia Vita Violenta, as a trio. Since Takahashi's departure, the bass position for Blonde Redhead remained unfilled, although some later recordings would feature guest bassists. For their second album, Blonde Redhead distinguished their sound even further, allowing their own personalities to take the lead. Pace's singing appeared fuller, while Makino began to develop her passionate, high-pitched vocals that critics would often compare to the Icelandic singer Björk. With improved guitar playing, tracks such as the catchy punk song "(I Am Taking Out My Eurotrash) I Still Get Rocks Off" and the sitar-laced, melodic "Harmony," became noted critical favorites. Also in 1995, Blonde Redhead released three singles: "Flying Douglas," "10 Feet High," and a split with the group Sammy.
In 1997, Blonde Redhead released their first album for the larger independent label Touch and Go Records entitled Fake Can Be Just As Good, co-produced by technical engineer John Goodmanson. Still lacking a permanent bassist, Blonde Redhead invited Vern Ramsey of the band Unwound to participate in recording sessions. The album yielded notable tracks such as "Ego Manic Kid," "Pier Paolo," and "Oh James." Touch and Go also issued its first single for Blonde Redhead in 1997, "Symphony of Treble." In addition to playing the East Coast and other United States dates that year, the group also traveled to Europe, where they maintained devoted fans. After one show at London's Upstairs at the Garage, Mark Luffman of Melody Maker observed, "Blonde Redhead are a fantastically insular band. Their brittle, tightly strung music carried no flab, and takes neither prisoners nor joyriders."
After releasing another single, "Slogan," Blonde Redhead returned with their fourth full-length album, 1998's In An Expression of the Inexpressible. Deciding to again record solely as a trio at a 5,000-square-foot studio in Hoboken, New Jersey, Blonde Redhead called upon Goodmanson to produce the album and Guy Picciotto to lend his vocals to the geometric punk track "Futurism vs. Passeism Part 2." "This is the band," Simone Pace told Fritch, explaining the decision not to bring in a guest bassist. "We don't have a bass player, so why should we put a bass on the record?" Filled with punk rock songs such as "Luv Machine," "L-Zero," and "Distilled," as well as high-end funk numbers like "Missile," In An Expression of the Inexpressible earned rave reviews. "It's rock torn from a cleanly digitised womb and thrown into the howling fizz of a high-frequency hurricane," wrote Neil Kulkarni in Melody Maker. "This record pierces the skull and affords itself no bassed-out relief. It's all here and it's astonishing."
Touring constantly, Blonde Redhead spent the remainder of the year playing rock clubs with bands such as Fugazi, Unwound, and Shellac. The band also insisted on making their shows available to younger audiences, booking 18 of their 19 dates for early 1999 at all-ages venues. In spite of the social problems that plague America, Makino described the young adults they meet on tour as "intelligent" and "really beautiful and completely focused and completely sensitive," as quoted by Fritch. "I just hope these kids can get to survive--in terms of their sensitivity and intelligence (The kids) really impress me."
Blonde Redhead released Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons on Touch & Go in 2000. A beautiful, complicated album, it was almost completely ignored by mainstream press but universally loved by their ever-growing fanbase. The album represented a step away from the Sonic Youth comparisons that had haunted them throughout the early years of their career. All Music Guide's Yancey Strickler deemed it "a record that is subtle, tuneful, and sublime." They quickly released a companion EP, Melodie Citronique, that featured reworked tracks from the full length album sung in French and Italian, as well as a few cover songs.
Four years passed before the follow-up to Melody was released. This lengthy delay was due in part to the serious accident Makino suffered in 2002 when she was thrown from a horse. Misery is a Butterfly was released on the venerable British label 4AD in 2004. They moved even farther from the post-punk guitar-based sound than they had on Melody, as PopMatters critic Jason Korenkiewicz noted. "The music that makes up the eleven songs on Misery is a Butterfly owes less to the ghosts of [New York punk rock club] CBGBs and more to the smoky blues-inspired trip-hop of acts like Portishead and Lamb.... It demonstrates a band blossoming beyond their previous trappings into a new and rare breed."
by Laura Hightower
Blonde Redhead's Career
Group formed in New York City, NY, and released first seven-inch single, "Big Song," c. 1993; signed with Smells Like Records, released debut album Blonde Redhead, 1994; released La Mia Vita Violenta as a trio, 1995; released first album for Touch and Go Records, Fake Can Be Just As Good, 1997; released In An Expression of the Inexpressible, performed at Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, 1998; released Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, 2000; signed to 4AD and released Misery is a Butterfly, 2004.
- Selected discography
- "Big Song," Oxo, 1993.
- "Vague," Smells Like Records, 1994.
- "Flying Douglas," Rough Trade, 1995.
- "10 Feet High," Smells Like Records, 1995.
- "Symphony of Treble," Touch and Go, 1997.
- "Slogan," Touch and Go, 1998.
- Blonde Redhead Smells Like Records, 1994.
- La Mia Vita Violenta Smells Like Records, 1995.
- Fake Can Be Just As Good Touch and Go, 1997.
- In An Expression of the Inexpressible Touch and Go, 1998.
- Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons Touch and Go, 2000.
- Melodie Citronique (EP), Touch and Go, 2000.
- Misery is a Butterfly 4AD, 2004.
- Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to `90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
- Daily Variety, March 23, 2004.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 19, 2004.
- Magnet, November/December, 1998, pp. 45-47.
- Melody Maker, November 29, 1997; September 26, 1998.
- Washington Post, January 29, 1999.
- "Blonde Redhead," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 25, 2004).
- "Blonde Redhead Biography," 4AD Records, http://www.4AD.com/artists/blonderedhead/biography.html (September 1, 2004).
- "Blonde Redhead: Misery is a Butterfly," PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/b/blonderedhead-misery.shtml (October 4, 2004).
- Ink Blot magazine, http://www.inkblotmagazine.com (January 25, 2004).
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