Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead on Penny Sparkle, dealing stage fright and music criticism
Early in its career, Blonde Redhead clearly drew inspiration from DNA, whose song was the inspiration for the band's name. But instead of solely offering up atonal squalls and musical deconstruction, Blonde Redhead's songwriting also flirted with haunted melodies.
Blonde Redhead by Pier Nicola D'Amico
By the time of 2004's Misery Is a Butterfly, what would become the group's mature sound fully emerged, with Kazu Makino's unmistakable high-register voice floating over increasingly elaborately textured atmospheres and rhythms. The Alan Moulder-produced Penny Sparkle, released in September, received mixed reviews, but anyone following the band's trajectory should have known the trio wouldn't try to repeat itself.
The new album is deeply layered with synths and gossamer guitar work wedded to electronic and organic percussion. As a live unit, Blonde Redhead projects a chilling intensity that is surprisingly emotionally charged and moving. In advance of the band's show tomorrow night at the Ogden Theatre, we spoke with Makino about the new record, dealing with stage fright and her misgivings with music criticism.
Westword: Were you born in Japan? What part?
Kazu Makino: Yes. I was born in Kyoto.
I was curious about that because my mom is from Okinawa.
Your mom is from Okinawa? Wow, that's amazing. I've been there. I used to scuba dive quite seriously to make an underwater map. So we used to go there to dive a lot. It's beautiful. We visited some small islands, I suppose. You're half Japanese. I'm interviewing you now. Your father is an American?
Yes, my father was an American and he fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. That's how my mom met him. He was in the army.
Wow, that's amazing. They're not together anymore, yeah?
Well, he died nine years ago.
Oh no. Until then he was with her? That's amazing? She moved to America?
Yes, in 1968.
Wow, that's very romantic. You should write about this instead of about us. That would be great.
What was it like growing up there?
I don't have a romantic story like that. Kyoto is a very conservative city. Normally I don't like talking about things like this, but I can talk about it a little bit. I went to private school, and it was even worse than public school in terms of the people that went to the school and the people who sent their children to the school.
So I have a pretty old fashioned upbringing. I started playing classical piano when I was small, and I started playing in a band barely out of elementary school, singing. It was an all girl band and we actually wrote -- or ripped off -- basic blues. But then all blues chords are the same, so you could hardly say it was original. It's pretty funny, yeah?
The name of the band was a typical slave's name. We had no idea what was up with all of that, but when I look back, we had pretty good instincts for things. I knew that it was the name of somebody, but I don't think I knew it was a typical name for slaves that came from Africa. Even today, whatever genre it is, I really think music that has a foundation in blues. Fever Ray is very bluesy. Even though she's kind of a techno/pop artist. But there's something very African about what she does, and I'm really attracted to that.
How did you initially get involved in playing music, and what got you interested in playing experimental rock?
I never meant to play it. I didn't even realize it. It came out experimental because I couldn't play music, so I ended up experimenting, I suppose, but not in an intellectual way. Although the twins are very well trained, musically, and they have an unbelievable sense of harmony that I think is innate.
They challenged me, and they learned it in school, but I have a feeling they always had it in them. Still, there's something so musically naive about the twins, which is great. They don't check out all the new music that comes out. How they approach music is childish in some ways. And that has so much to do with what we do.
It surprised me a little that you still suffer from terrible stage fright, which is something I struggle with as well. What sorts of things have you done to overcome your fears over the years, and is there anything that consistently works for you now?
You have stage fright? Me too. You don't overcome it. And it gets worse and worse. It's terrible. I used to open my eyes. Now, I don't think I open my eyes more than two or three times during an entire show. I wouldn't know how many people are out there most of the time. It really frightens me. In some ways it helps to play bigger spaces where there's a little more distance. Unless it's a tiny place, but everyone is very much on the same page, I think you might be okay. I feel like I'm dying every time I have to go on stage.
I try not to drink, I try not to drink at all, but I can't do it without a little help from alcohol. Right now, the only time I drink is on stage. I feel like I'm going to a bar when I play a show. It's a little bit embarrassing, but I'm just so afraid of going to this complete, white blank. It's a hard thing. Sometimes it goes away, sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't get much better.
Once or twice, or maybe three times, I have gone into this complete, bleached out, blank state, and nothing came out, and I was so panicked,, we had to stop playing. I came apart. Some people get so used to stopping in the middle of a song and talk, but for me it's not like that. For me, it's like I'm at a piano recital or something: I just stop playing. It was horrifying. Then, the fact that I know it could happen, that makes it that much worse, because it has already happened to me in the past. Scary.