Since 19-freakin’-93, Blonde Redhead has been conjuring killer music in New York freakin’ City. The trio – Italian twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace and Japanese chanteuse Kazu Makino – are absolute legends of noise-rock and sonic dreamscapes. First taken under the wing of Sonic Youth and later guided by Fugazi, the band constantly strives to create, as Simone says mystically, “something that feels right everywhere, that doesn’t feel it derives from anywhere but just comes because of something magical between us.” Their entire career has been defined by always feeling like outsiders in the city they call home.
While Kazu favors Manhattan, she frequently meets the boys in Brooklyn at their latest regular hangout St. Mazie in Williamsburg. Friends with owner John McCormick and wife Vannesa Shanks, the band feels right at home in the ghostly basement bar, the verdant backyard, or right up front at the bar backed by retro, vaulted ice-boxes. Fresh off playing a festival in Denver in support of their latest release (Barragán is currently streaming on NPR and comes out September 1), the band talked about weathering multiple waves of the New York scene, the differences between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the comforts of eating alone at a friend’s bar-restaurant.
I never go out to eat anywhere alone, but I come here just to eat by myself because [co-owner Vanessa] is here. And it’s close to our practice space…I would like to be the kind of person that can eat alone and be cool about it, but I can’t – unless it’s Japanese noodles.
I’m comfortable eating alone. Sometimes I go to Five Leaves and have a meal by myself at the bar, but I know the people there. I think it’s nicer to go to a place where you know people that work there – not just because you can get free drinks.
I know [co-owner] Johnny really well. He’s a really important designer for places in Brooklyn and the city, too. I really love his style and his aesthetics.
Apparently, it’s a bit haunted here. Vanessa was telling us about this, and then it happened right in front of us. The girl who was closing the bar was freaking out. This candle basically flew off the wall. It was so bizarre.
I like it here. I like coming down to the basement because it just feels like you’re walking into a different world.
I never lived in Brooklyn. I really don’t like it here [in Brooklyn] so much. I’m sorry. Because it’s not what I experienced. My experience with New York [in Manhattan] was so much more edgy and kinda dangerous and just anything goes. You had nothing, but you’d hang out at a club with millionaires. Brooklyn, I see it from a distance as just so boutique.
To me, it’s amazing how Manhattan and Brooklyn are so different now. I was looking for a place that was quiet. I moved to Greenpoint and things were like: a lot of Polish people and really relaxed. Manhattan really takes a toll on you. We got kicked out of so many rehearsal spaces. And we were practicing on Mott Street where Helmet and Sonic Youth used to practice. On the fourth floor down. That was insane. We had no oxygen. That was brutal. We had no air. It used to be a morgue. We used to get dizzy and say, “Okay. Let’s go up to get fresh air.”
I felt we were always outcasts. When we started, it was like the height of white trash rock: Nirvana and then Sonic Youth and Beck, the Beastie Boys. We had nothing to do with any of this music. We couldn’t even come remotely close to sounding like any of those bands and the way they dressed. It epitomized this American white culture, and we had nothing to do with it. We wanted to belong, but at one point we were like, we can’t do this.
And then Fugazi and Unwound refused to be part of it. They were more music oriented than cultural oriented, and they kind of absorbed us like, “Come with us. You don’t have to struggle to belong over there.”
It came as such a relief to be accepted because of who we were. We were Japanese and European and they were fascinated by us, like, “They drink espresso coffee at the gas station! She’s always looking for miso soup! They make rice in the van!” For a while, we didn’t want to have anything to do with the New York scene. Then Interpol and the second wave with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and then The Strokes came, and still they had such a connection among them, to my eyes, but we didn’t have anything to do with them. Because it was so much about the ‘80s. I think we just have a general approach to our music, and we don’t have an edge to our fashion or whatever.
Since we moved away from Europe, from Italy, and maybe since we’ve moved away from Japan, I’ve always felt [we were outsiders]. Before it was just as a person: I never fit in as a kid because I was Italian, and we moved to Canada and kids in Canada were different. I always tried to fit in somehow or observe from the outside. It’s the same when we came here [to New York]. Through music, it was like starting that all over again. How do we belong? What do we do? How do we write music? How do we make sense out of this?
I think we gave so much to what we do from our lives. It’s not like we have kids or we have things that people our age usually are able to achieve. So it’s a little disconcerting in some ways. But there’s also a sense of accomplishment and freedom that we’ve achieved through the years that feels super good.
[Kazu sings] “We defend our decadence.” It’s one of the lyrics from our songs. From the record 23.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.