Blonde Redhead’s bio informs “they have developed a sonic language of their own.” This may, of course, be due partially to the multiculti makeup of this 21-year-old lineup. Twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace — guitars and drums, respectively — hail from Milan, spent their teens in Montreal, attended college in Boston, and live in Brooklyn. At one point Simone was studying Spanish, German, French, and English while speaking Italian at home — and worshipping Brazilian drummer Porthino.
“But that’s something really out of Blonde Redhead,” asserts Simone, calling from an elevator in Los Angeles in the midst of the trio’s tour. “I don’t know how [Porthino] influences our music in any way. I wanted to play my own music, but when we met [Japanese-born singer-guitarist] Kazu Makino [in 1993], everything fell into place. It was a fine balance between forgetting what we learned in school” — the Berklee College of Music — “and trying to be open-minded about who we are in music.”
To that end, they’ve been a huge success, and the discovery process has yielded nine discrete albums, the most recent being this year’s Barragan, their first in four years. The collection follows but does not imitate 2010’s Penny Sparkle. Producer Drew Brown (who has engineered albums for Beck, Stephen Malkmus, and Radiohead) had a firm hand on the helm, as Simone explains: “He was adamant about us using only real instruments, no electronics. He felt like all our records have been so rich and he wanted to explore a different approach with us. He was very strict in the studio. Very, very,” he affirms, adding, “We naturally just want to fill it up. Drew left a lot of openness to the music where you can imagine what other parts could be there. It was hard to give up certain things, but it was also really good because you don’t want to make a record that’s the same as your other record.”
To that end, very different this go-round are Simone’s drums. “I bought this set, a [Slingerland] Radio King from the ’50s, from this guy in New Jersey. He was 85 and it was the set his father bought him in high school, and it had the calfskins on it. That’s the one we used on the record. It looks beautiful, and it’s the first time I take it on tour,” he explains in his impossible-to-pinpoint accent. “There’s nothing that sound really quite like it that’s modern, nowadays, so it’s really fun to play.”
Touring is slightly more comfortable these days after learning the ropes from bands like Fugazi and Sleater-Kinney — “doing all-ages shows, and playing punk-rock shows — two Italian guys and one Japanese person — we really put ourselves out there,” recalls Simone. “Sometimes it was just the three of us traveling the U.S. without anyone else, sometimes cooking in the van while we were driving. We had maps, and calculating, no cellphones.”
But comfort does not breed complacency for Blonde Redhead. “Fans of our early records say, ‘You did 23 (2007) or Misery Is a Butterfly (2004); why aren’t you making records like that again?’ ” says Simone. “We’re like, ‘Why would you? Those are done, we don’t want to limit ourselves.’
“Even if you’re taking a big chance, it’s better to make a mistake than to copy yourself or be lazy.”
Blonde Redhead play Bowery Ballroom November 25 and 26, 9 p.m. Advance tickets $25; $30 day of show. Ages 18+.