Since the start of their career together, the trio of Amedeo and Simone Pace and singer Kazu Makino, better known collectively as Blonde Redhead, have been darlings of the New York hipster scene. Their avant garde style that rekindled the sound of Sonic Youth has been championed for its artistic merits, if not always its accessibility. Even with the release of the poppier — relatively speaking — Misery is a Butterfly and 23, the band has managed to maintain its critical acclaim.
Given that such a transition usually comes at the expense of such praise, the feat is all the more remarkable, a testament to the trio's talent. That's why it's slightly surprising, not to mention exciting, to hear that these three consider themselves very far from their peak as musicians.
“We still feel like we're learning to write music,” says Amedeo, who, along with his twin brother Simone, owns a bachelor of arts degree in music. “Writing is like a puzzle. You always have to see what fits, and it's always evolving.”
As evidence of their continuing education, Amedeo points to 2004's Misery Is a Butterfly. Rather than simply satisfying himself with critical acceptance — Pitchfork called its tracks “lush” and “breathtaking” — Amedeo retraces his steps and points out a few chinks in the armor.
“Last album we tried everything that came into our minds,” he says. “It was really tricky because we had so many ideas, but even if we could do it in the studio, we couldn't necessarily do it in a live situation. And we did so much that sometimes we didn't really mean it or feel [the music], so we didn't really carry it off.”
When Blonde Redhead entered the studio to begin work on 23, released just this past year, Amedeo and his mates aimed to improve. They wanted to workout those chinks in the armor. So they tried a new approach: Keep it simple. Strip things down. Don't overanalyze.
“With this album, we're really finding what our strengths are,” he says. “It's just a better way of doing things.”
Their most recent release also marks the first time the trio has self-produced an album, an experience at the same time nerve-wracking and liberating.
“I was really overwhelmed by it,” Amedeo says. “I couldn't sleep at all. It was really difficult to finish, really intense. For you to listen, it's just music. For us, it's more, it's our job. It's intense.”
At the same time, Amedeo enjoyed the freedom of only having to consider the opinions of Kazu and his brother, a factor that made another attempt and self-producing a lot more appetizing.
Redhead did receive some relief on the production front from Mitchell Froom, who, in the past, has worked with Paul McCartney. Froom had been wanting to work with the trio for a while and flew himself to the New York Studio to see if there may be a possibility of working together in the future. Instead he found himself immersed in a few tracks on 23, nursing along “Silently” and “Top Ranking.”
“Mitchell has a musical mind that is really impressive,” Amedeo says. “He remembers everything. He really helped with where the bridges would go and what would sound good.”
While Amedeo left open the possibility of working with Froom again, if Blonde Redhead did again work with a producer, Amedeo would like it to be someone who could help the band learn even more about themselves.
“It would be nice to have a producer who is beyond us and who can take our music to the next level,” he says.
That sounds like a learning process we would all benefit from.
• Blonde Redhead performs at 9:30 Club Wednesday, Jan. 16. School of Seven Bells opens. Tickets are $20. For more on Blonde Redhead, visit www.blonderedhead.com .
Blonde Redhead is giving fans an interactive option on auxiliary website blonderedhead23.com, allowing visitors to download and remix “Signs Along The Path,” the B-side to upcoming single “Silently.” Mixers can snag the Garageband and MP3 files on the site and put their own spin on the song. The site currently features eight pages of remixed tracks.
“To tell you the truth, I haven't really been good at checking [the site] because I've been on tour all year,” Amedeo says. “I did listen to a few though. It's really interesting how people can take music and make it their own … either to make a disaster with it or take it somewhere you never imagined.”