“People always ask things like, ‘How did you meet?’” says Simone Pace, speaking on the phone with Xpress from his home in Brooklyn. “But that was so long ago, you know, who cares?”
Pace, founding member of the art-rock trio Blonde Redhead, speaks quietly, and with a medium-strength Italian accent. His English is near perfect, but still he chooses words carefully, almost painstakingly, with long … pauses … between questions and … answers. This can be a little unnerving for an interviewer, especially when he follows the gaps (as he tends to) with quick, pointed statements that reveal much about Pace and his band.
The story of the band’s meeting gets kicked around a lot—maybe too much—but it’s unusual enough to warrant that: Simone and his brother Amedeo met Japanese art student and singer Kazu Makino by chance in a New York restaurant. (The story deserves repeating just because, well, how on earth do you strike up a conversation with a stranger anywhere in New York without doing something like, say, lighting yourself on fire?) They formed a band and have been together ever since.
As Pace points out, though, that was 12 years back. Why harp on it? A lot has happened since then.
For starters, the band has put out seven albums and performed around the world on regular extensive—and exhaustive—tours. They’ve played as far away as Turkey (at a show where they had to take a break for midday prayers) and Africa. They’ve also shared the stage with acts like Interpol and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
More important, their dozen years of playing together and immersing themselves in shared experiences have helped Blonde Redhead to sculpt a tight, unique sound and style out of metronomic, almost funky drum parts, reeling guitar work and Makino’s airy, spooky vocals.
Early recordings by the band were like a hornet’s nest of guitar and feedback, a style that got them lumped in with hordes of bands with Sonic Youth aspirations. They’ve since shed the barbed, art-punk sound, as well as the Sonic Youth comparisons, to deliver albums like 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly (4AD) and their latest, 23 (4AD), which tends toward a more keyboard-driven, melancholy feeling. (One could argue that 23‘s songs are as thoughtful and calculated as Pace’s interview responses.)
“We’ve grown up,” he says of the change in style. “People always say, ‘Oh, The last album was so good, why do you want to make such a different album?’ But why would we want to make the same album again?”
Pace goes on to note some of the outside influences that they’ve drawn from, like the fellow Brooklyn bands that tread similar sonic territory. “There’s the obvious ones like Arcade Fire, Interpol and TV on the Radio. They are all such amazing people.”
Surprisingly, Blonde Redhead’s experimental style wasn’t forged in the New York scene, and Pace cites another hotspot of underground music as being particularly formative.
“Back when we started, we were more a part of the D.C. scene then what was happening around us in New York,” he says. Pace notes particular influence from D.C.-based hardcore punk group Fugazi. “[D.C.] was more of our home than New York for a while.”
Blonde Redhead took a lot from these older D.C. bands, which inspired the trio both musically with their artsy, oblique approach to rock music (Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto even helped the band produce two albums) and on a more personal level, as role models for how to be a band.
“Now, though, we’ve been around, and we don’t so much need for a band to take us under their wing,” Pace says. “It was hard in the beginning.” After a little thought, he adds, “sometimes it still is.”
And who could expect it not to be hard, at least sometimes? There are whole blocks of tours when the trio has to fly and play shows every day. There’s crappy tour food (Pace fingers England in particular for some pretty lousy meals) and the cramped living conditions with your band mates.
That doesn’t even take into account how tightly knit the band actually is: Not only are Simone and Amedeo Pace brothers, but Amedeo is married to vocalist Makino.
When I ask if interpersonal tensions ever run high, Pace is quick to shoot me down. In fact, it’s the only question he answers point blank, without hesitation or forethought. “There’s never people problems. And thank God. I’m really fortunate to have such magical people to play music with.”
[Ethan Clark is a freelance writer and cartoonist based in Asheville.]
Blonde Redhead performs at The Orange Peel on Wednesday, Sept. 19. 9 p.m. $18. School of Seven Bells opens. www.TheOrangePeel.net or 225-5851.