Best known for pushing the boundaries of ‘90s noise rock, lately, the dream pop-meets-shoegaze guitar stylings of Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace have been absent since 2017’s EP, 3 O’Clock.
But that’s not to say that Makino has rested on her laurels; 2019’s solo album Adult Baby is a prime example of her angular and dissonant leanings. And it’s clear that the time off wasn’t only needed, but productive, as it inspired Makino to “try new things, leading to a different approach”.
Adult Baby’s success showed that Makino was comfortable outside of Blonde Redhead, but that doesn’t mean that her longtime guitar sparring partner, Amedeo Pace, wasn’t beckoning her home.
"I've learned that you don't need to get along as people to have strong musical chemistry," Makino says. "I'm obviously not really a 'guitar player,' but I have a vibe that goes well with Amedeo's. He appreciates and enjoys my playing; that's all that matters."
Does that mean the duo who have long shared the stage and studio aren’t friends? Perhaps. But then again, who cares? What does matter is that Pace gets Makino: "I think everyone is different, and that needs to be respected.”
Respect is key in any relationship, as is chemistry, and by the looks of Blonde Redhead’s latest, Sit Down for Dinner, there’s boatloads of both.
“Kazu and I influence each other,” Pace says. “But we ensure enough freedom to feel whole. Our biggest inspiration is still being together and completing each other's ideas."
After 30 years, and 10 albums, it seems that Makino and Pace have their guitar approach locked in. And that’s pretty damned critical, as the duo have a soundscape to maintain – something that caught the ear of Maynard James Keenan, when he tapped the trio to support Tool last year.
As to how she sculpted her distinctive style, Makino says, "I knew very little about guitar when I started. I started playing when nobody else wanted me to, and I've kept trying because I wanted to; I just didn't always know how to get there."
While unschooled, and wholly instinctual, Makino elicits the types of hazy textures many players could only dream of. But don’t tell her that – she’ll only smirk, before doubling down.
"I am totally unaware,” she says. “But maybe just aware enough to know when something is worth documenting. And Amedeo’s sense of harmony allows me to capitalize without making things too melancholic. That's where our powers lie."
If you haven’t caught the vibe by now, there’s a tension within the ranks of Blonde Redhead. Songs like Kiss Her Kiss Her stayed with Makino long after she wrote them, mostly because of the feeling of “falling behind” Pace while writing it in a different country.
The yin and yang of loss, self-examination, and melancholy has always hovered around the outskirts of Makino and Pace’s blurred-line guitar orchestra, leading to the duo feeling other new cuts like Melody Experiment, and Rest of Her Life, and I Thought You Should Know “best represent” them.
One listen to Sit Down for Dinner shows a retention of the hallmarks that made ‘90s classics like Blonde Redhead and La Mia Vita Violenta special – especially from the viewpoint of those who seek bliss via spaced-out, reverb-drenched indie guitar delights.
Beyond the simplicity, and a smattering of small vintage amps, there’s a “free” and “unaware” nature oozing from Kazu Makino’s mind’s eye. And Pace is a willing participant, sprinkling in vintage-inspired rhythms and leads via his ’59 Les Paul Junior and a Montreal-born Larrivée acoustic gifted to him by his father years ago.
When asked to define the sounds swirling between her ears, Makino does her best to describe what’s baffled many: "If you listen to the guitars, there's a vagueness and messiness about it,” she says. "And there’s a certain cloudiness that creates our perfect environment. That's our sound."
She then reiterates her statement of “not really being a guitar player,” before revealing that she’s not so clueless after all, saying, “Well… I've got a looper and delay pedal by Electro-Harmonix; they're what dreams are made of,” before Pace chimes in, reminding her that they made extensive use if a “beautiful-sounding 16-second digital delay by EHX,” along with “Eventide's analog Rose Delay.”
Will we have to wait another decade for Blonde Redhead's next studio chapter? No-one, not even Makino or Pace know, given their measured nature while speaking on their creation: "This record is a bit like a journal documenting highs and lows," Makino says. "I just want to serve the music because, for me, it's a forever thing."
"We just try to write nice songs to feel good about, and we feel good about this album," Pace concludes. "We were all over the place, and dragged through a pandemic, so for this to be as good as it is, it was like we found our voice; that's miraculous."
- Sit Down for Dinner is out now via section1.