“We’re getting this feeling playing the new songs live, something really clicks, more than any other time,” she exclaims. “The songs are getting spookier, darker.” It’s not the result of an outward design or decision, she says, “It’s mostly subconscious. It may be more profound, and I’m embracing it.”
On the song “Everything Is Wrong,” the atmosphere is ethereal, and the persona in the song is immobilized in her indecision. “Everything is wrong, so let’s all have a drink,” she concludes, and the moment is crystalline, like the coolest musical snow globe you could ever imagine.
Blonde Redhead’s collaboration with producers Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid—a Swedish team who have worked with Massive Attack and Bat For Lashes—had a huge impact on the sound of the album.
“They are phenomenally different from us in their experience and musical history,” Makino notes. “With their electronic background, they didn’t care if the sound was ‘organic’ or not. They just went for the most powerful, darkest sounds.”
For years, the band believed that analog recording technology had a warmer sound, but Makino says working with the duo changed the way the band thinks about sound.
The change has allowed Makino to let go of her own limitations and explore new musical ideas. “I’m indulging myself, going after what I’m hearing in my head,” she explains. “But trying to make what’s in your head audible is an ongoing process.”
The album is named after Makino’s favorite horse that she cares for in her spare time, undeterred from horse riding after a 2002 accident threw her from her music career for a while. It’s this persistence that has helped Blonde Redhead make the impact they’ve had on the indie music scene.
In some ways, the new work has given Makino a new appreciation of the work the band has done in the past. In concert, an interesting contrast emerges.
“We’ve had to add another person to play the songs live, but it hasn’t been so difficult; the songs are not that complicated,” Makino says. “Playing the songs live is a good barometer. Not that audiences are shouting their heads off in the audience, but I feel like people are a dry sponge, every note going through them. You can feel their enthusiasm and I think it’s a very good sign.”
Blonde Redhead has released albums under Touch & Go, 4AD and Smells Like Records, a label run by Sonic Youth—three very different imprints. Penny Sparkle is their third for 4AD, the British label known for its artiness, and that’s become the persona of the band over time: an indie art-rock group.
Go back and listen to their early work with its rough edges, distorted guitars dominating the mix, to see the distance the band has progressed. Some of their early stuff sounds like Sonic Youth when Kim Gordon takes the vocals, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But they’ve created their own musical identity in the interim, fused from more subtle sonic elements.
“With our last album for Touch & Go (Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons), we had the distinct feeling they were trying to understand what we were doing, but it wasn’t immediate. We knew it was coming to an end with them. Now, 4AD seems quite meticulous,” she notes.
The relationship of the band to its label doesn‘t sound much different from any other relationship: “When it’s fitting right, neither party has to explain themselves.”