The only constant in Blonde Redhead’s 17-year career has, of all things, been change. The New York band started out as ardent admirers of Sonic Youth and the NYC no-wave scene, before taking a detour into rococo ornamentation on their fifth album, Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons . Each album since has marked a stylistic shift – but none more dramatic than their latest, Penny Sparkle.
“We never think about what people are expecting,” figures Blonde Redhead’s drummer, Simone Pace. “We didn’t think about what’s trendy right now, or what’s the next sound.
“We just thought about who could be the right person to work with us – not in the sense of helping us, but collaborating with us. There’s a lot of territory we don’t know because we’ve always made records in a certain way, and we’ve always worked on our own. So this time we thought, ‘Maybe it’s the right time to let someone else guide things, and see what they will bring out in us’.”
Simone explains that in doing so for Penny Sparkle, it was definitely hard giving up the level of control over their output that they’d had for so long. “Not that we’re giving up on what we wanted to do,” he clarifies. “We wanted to reinvent ourselves, to connect to the world in a different way.”
In order to reinvent themselves, Blonde Redhead called in the services of rising production talents of Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid, best known for their work on Fever Ray’s self-titled début album. “We liked Fever Ray a lot,” Pace nods, “but also Ed from 4AD (the band’s label) came upstate while we were rehearsing the album, and they were in town, so he said we should meet these guys.
“It’s not the kind of situation where we thought about this for months, we just started working with them a little bit. Then Kazu [Makino] went to Stockholm to do the vocals, and it just felt right, so we kept going.”
Pace’s own contribution to the album is interesting, since many of the drum sounds on Penny Sparkle sound synthesised. Which brings up the question as to whether he actually recorded the sounds, or if he created patterns for a drum machine. “Well, it’s a really complicated process,” he says.
“We recorded with Drew Brown in New York – drums, keyboards, guitars, vocals – and then we sent everything out to Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid and they chopped it up, kept some of it, changed some of it. A lot of it’s there as we recorded it, but a lot of it is not synthesised, but processed – chopped up, edited - and that goes for everything on the record.
“It’s hard for me to say which part is what right now.”
This unorthodox creative process has resulted in a record that’s equally the creation of Van Rivers & The Subliminal Kid as it is of Blonde Redhead. It’s begs that question of Pace as to exactly how Blonde Redhead believe they’ll be able to take this record on the road. “Playing it is really interesting, since we’re learning the songs as we go,” he grins.
“It’s been a process, getting everything together for the live show. I mean, every album is difficult once you start playing it live. This one, in a way it’s a different experience, but it’s also enriching because we have so many different new sounds. It just takes a little while to hone the record back,” he adds.
“By the time we get to Australia, it should be okay.”
BLONDE REDHEAD play The LANEWAY FESTIVAL alongside !!!, Antlers, Holy Fuck, Beach House, Menomena, Deerhunter, Yeasayer, The Antlers, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Beach House, Warpaint and so many more at The Footscray Community Arts Centre on Saturday February 5. It’s sold out. They also play Billboard The Venue on Monday February 7 with Amaya Laucirica – tickets from ticketek.com.au, 132 849, billboardthevenue.com.au, moshtix.com.au and Polyester Records (city and Fitzroy). Penny Sparkle is out now through 4AD/Remote Control