Blonde Redhead - (Set time: 8:15 PM)
On September 14th, BLONDE REDHEAD will release their third album for 4AD, titled PENNY SPARKLE. It is another sonic twist in their already adventurous canon.
Blonde Redhead has always been a band that innovates with each album. They challenge themselves with each recording situation, and the results have been stunning every time. Their music is always inspired by the same emotions, but their tastes and ways they choose to execute those emotions are constantly evolving. It was the early conversations about how to make this record that led the band to work with the up and coming Swedish duo Van Rivers and The Subliminal Kid (Henrik von Sivers and Peder Mannerfelt) as producers on the record. Drew Brown (Radiohead, Beck) also came on board to record the tracks that would eventually be used in Stockholm.
This really marks the first time that the band has worked in such a collaborative manner with their producers. Kazu says “it was a real test – it shook everything up quite a bit”. In fact, they were very much working outside of their comfort level, forced to move into directions that were completely unexpected, with many different opinions in the mix, which led to many challenges along the way. With friction however – there is also great art. And that’s exactly what we have with Penny Sparkle. It’s a truly gorgeous album, one that the band is VERY happy with. Although it took over a year to get there, the completion of the record lifted a huge weight off the band’s shoulders.
The band initially spent 6 months upstate working on the songs for the album. Despite the beauty of their upstate surroundings, there was no escape. Simone said “I wasn’t crazy about being upstate because there is something really sad about it – just being up there, completely secluded – it’s really beautiful, but I had no escape – no friends, and nowhere else to go.” They couldn’t just take a break and go meet friends like they could at home in New York City, so they ended up feeling quite trapped and isolated.
When it came time to record, they decided to do a trial run with Henrik and Peder. Kazu headed to Sweden to work on one song, “Here Sometimes” – to see how it might go. It was a little awkward for her – working away from Amedeo and Simone with people she barely knew in the middle of the grey winter. She really loved being in Stockholm, but she felt very isolated and looked forward to working on the record again back in New York with the twins and getting their thoughts on the collaboration.
Kazu returned and the band spent time working with Drew Brown at The Magic Shop to record some basic tracks, and also to work on incorporating the electronic elements that Henrik and Peder had worked on. It was over Christmas and New Years, and was one of the coldest winters New York had seen. No one celebrated the holidays with their families – they just worked and worked – although at times felt like they weren’t accomplishing anything. When they had more tracks recorded, Kazu went back to Sweden again, as it was finally decided that the collaboration would work.
Finally, in February – the band realized that they in fact had accomplished quite a bit. Everyone – the band, Drew, Henrick and Peder met together in New York to finally all work in the same room – Sear Sound. This was just a few months before Walter Sear, the studio’s owner passed away. He helped them program the moog for the sessions. This is where the songs finally found their finished form. It took a long time, and it was very difficult, but the journey it took to create Penny Sparkle is well worth it.
The results of everyone’s very hard work are found in the 10 songs that comprise Penny Sparkle. It’s an emotional album full of discreet electronic flourishes, lush and sultry vocals and interesting sounds you have never heard on a Blonde Redhead record before. Sonically, the album sounds amazing on any stereo – which was also a goal of the bands. They really wanted it to sound perfect on any type of listening device.
It’s no wonder that the band has some tensions to release after recording a record like this. In their spare time, Kazu and Amedeo both turn to horse riding, and Simone escapes on his motorcycle. Speaking of spare time, it’s a wonder they have any at all. Between the year that it took to make Penny Sparkle, plus the soundtrack work that Simone and Amedeo have taken on, there really isn’t much time to spare at all.
Simone first got into motorcycles about 10 years ago. Since then, he has educated himself about their inner workings and can fix his own bikes – Moto Guzzi being the preferred brand.
Kazu spends time upstate, where she rides and takes care of horses, including her own. It’s also where she met the album’s namesake horse, “Penny Sparkle”. The stables that Kazu keeps her horse at are the same place that she had her riding accident at in 2002. It’s often surprising to some that she still rides after such a horrible accident, but it really brought her closer to her hobby and made her work even harder at it. Amedeo rides too, but he enjoys more of the training side of it.
Blonde Redhead have ended up with a thing of beauty in Penny Sparkle. Despite the rocky road they went down while making it, Kazu says “I know that we have never made a record this way and if I could go back in time, I would do it exactly the same way again.” And if the band is happy, then we should all be too.
Exitmusic - (Set time: 7:15 PM)
Sometimes, listening to Exitmusic, it’s hard to tell whether the goosebumps you’re getting are from the parts that are chillingly beautiful and melodic or the ones that are aching and guttural or the ones that are creepily sparse and disembodied. The New York City duo – Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church—doesn’t care when the chill runs down your spine, they just hope their music provokes some kind of primal feeling. Church explains, “It’s like what Aleksa sings at the end of ‘The Sea’: ‘And you turn your back to life… Oh, sorrow.’ We want our music to confront people in a gentle but powerful way, to make them feel something.”
“To feel human again,” adds Palladino. “To remind people, and even us, to let yourself be vulnerable.” She says that when she’s writing a song, she knows it’s going well when she feels breathless, overwhelmed by what is stirring inside of her. “The songs themselves are slightly abstract, but where they’re coming from emotionally is always very clear to me.”
Church and Palladino started writing together several years ago, when Church moved to New York following a year teaching English in Taiwan and India. “We had a funny dynamic musically, at first,” says Church, who grew up in Winnipeg. “I was listening to things that had elements sonically of what we’re doing now—Radiohead’s Kid A, that second Sigur Ros album, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Warp Records electronic stuff. But all I had to work with at the time was an acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, Aleksa was recording all these really interesting, odd arrangements on her four-track that would be about a minute long and only have one movement in them, and it sounded more like what I was into than what I was doing.”
Palladino, a New York native, had been writing and recording her own songs since she was in her early teens. She grew up in an artistic family; her grandparents are both painters and her mother is an acclaimed opera singer. Aleksa got her first guitar at age twelve and played it constantly. “When I got the four-track, I got really into layering sounds and playing with what, to me, were shapes. They were music, but they were shapes and angles. I was just committed to sketching, almost. I still wonder if I hadn’t started recording with Devon, if I ever would have finished a song.”
The pair spent pretty much all of their time writing together, but things really began to take shape when they moved to Los Angeles a year later.. “We got a computer and recording software and really started to experiment with it and explore things together,” says Palladino. “That’s when it became a real project.”
They self-released their first collection of songs, The Decline of the West, in 2008. Their sound at the time was described by critics as a union of post-punk and trip hop, with apocalyptic overtones. ‘Dark, brooding and beautiful,’ wrote the UK’s Supersweet Magazine. ‘Radiohead meets Portishead in a living nightmare. Genius then.’’
The couple married that year, exchanging vows at a scenic overlook on Mulholland Drive. They had moved to Los Angeles so that Palladino, who has been acting professionally since fourteen, could be available for work there. But when she was cast in Martin Scorcese’s HBO series Boardwalk Empire as bohemian artist Angela Darmody, Exitmusic were thrilled to be able to move back east. Since returning to New York in 2009, the band – which currently performs as a four piece, with drummer Dru Prentiss and electronic musician Nicholas Shelestak – has both honed and expanded their sound, as well as their recording technique. Striking a unique balance between darkness and light, their music builds on a foundation of rhythmic electronics and synthesizers, to arrive at a sound almost operatic in scope. The tracks on the band’s new EP, From Silence, explore themes of loss, both personal and universal, “the destruction of nature and the destruction of our own nature.” Recorded at home in Brooklyn over the course of the past several months, the EP marks Exitmusic’s Secretly Canadian debut.