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.