The alternative nation grows up

Thursday night’s Pic.Nic festival in Tel Aviv will provide music fans with the resurgence of rock past – Jane’s Addiction – and its ambient stepchild – Blonde Redhead.

Blonde Redhead_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Blonde Redhead_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It shouldn’t have been too difficult to arrange a talk with Perry Farrell, the colorful frontman for 1990s alternative rock gods Jane’s Addiction. After all, the band is riding high on the comeback trail since reforming in 2008 with their original lineup of Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery (Avery has since departed). Their longawaited fourth album, The Great Escape Artist, is due in October, and the onetime symbols of the “alternative nation” have been headlining festivals throughout the summer, journeying from the Leeds and Reading Festivals in England this week directly to Israel for their appearance on September 1 at the Pic.Nic festival at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds along with quirky indie rockers Blonde Redhead.
Furthermore, Farrell, born Peretz Bernstein in Queens 51 years ago, has long been a vocal supporter of Israel, appearing at a StandWithUs rally in New York in 2008, performing on Chabad telethons, collaborating with Israeli techno heroes Infected Mushroom and visiting the country on occasion. The founder of the venerable Lollapalooza music festival even unsuccessfully attempted to organize a similar event in the Negev in 2000.
However, the articulate and verbose Farrell has evidently put interviews on hold during Jane’s Addiction’s summer world tour, preferring to let the band’s swirling hard rock do the talking.
The PR firm handling the Pic.Nic festival offered, instead, an interview with a member of Blonde Redhead, the enigmatic, minimalist New York trio composed of Japanese vocalist/keyboardist Kazu Makino and Italian twins Amedeo and Simone Pace on guitar and drums, respectively.
The band is also on a long world tour in support of their ethereal eighth album Penny Sparkle, and repeated attempts were made to nail one of them down for a convenient time to talk.
In answer to the question with whom the interview would actually be with, the exasperated PR rep responded with a cryptic comment that makes writers’ hearts skip a beat: “I’m hoping it’s with Amedeo, the communicative one.”
At the next scheduled interview time, a man identified as the road manager answered the phone and cheerfully said, “Sorry, they’re all sleeping – do you mind calling back in an hour? Maybe I can get one of them up. It will probably be with [vocalist and apparently uncommunicative] Kazu.”
And an hour later, after scrambling to change some of the questions originally planned for a talkative Milanese twin, there we were, a recently awoken indie rocker from Japan not known for verbal skills, sitting in a Munich hotel room talking on a less than perfect cellphone line to a Jerusalem journalist THE MATCHUP seemed about as awkward as the odd pairing of the metallic West Coast classic alt rock of Jane’s Addiction and the angular experimentalism of Blonde Redhead.
But music and journalism makes strange bedfellows, and Makino, in a little girl’s chirp speaking somewhat stilted English, gamely gave her feelings on sharing the bill with a dominant act such as Jane’s.
“I don’t really know what to make of it, they’re such a band from a different world. I have no expectation, but I’m looking forward to seeing them live to see what they’re about,” said Makino, who admitted that she had never been a fan of the group in their early ’90s heyday.
The striking Makino met up with the Pace brothers, who had moved from Milan in their childhood to Montreal and then on to Boston to study jazz, in the New York underground music scene where all three converged in the early 1990s. She later married her bandmate, Amedeo Pace, the communicative one, proving that opposites attract.
Named after a song called “Blonde Redhead” by New York ‘no wave’ band DNA, the band formed in 1993 and released their first album two years later. Originally patterned after the Sonic Youth noise squall concept (their debut was produced by Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelly), they’ve gradually transformed into a more ambient dreaminess, typified by Penny Sparkle.
The combination of their quirky music and their unorthodox appearance has made them New York indie mainstays with a growing worldwide indie following. As one reviewer described them, “twin brothers with grey hair, cool Japanese chick in Jane Mayle dress. Sexy, anachronistic look and tunes.”
The band certainly isn’t unknown in Israel, having made an impression on their first visit here in July 2007 for a show at Hangar 11.
“We loved being in Israel, and we had a full experience,” said Makino. “We were there for three days and were able to travel around.”
When asked about the band’s transition from noisy no wavers to more introspective – if edgy – balladeers, Makino tried to express her thoughts, with mixed results.
“We write about the changes happening in our lives,” said Makino.
“Of course, we don’t sit down and analyze our every thought. But I like to think that through our songs, we exorcise our demons in public without the responsibility of turning back or even being aware of what we have done. We’re shedding skin in the process, but I’m not sure how much.”
Being the odd “man” out in a trio with twins, Makino said that she doesn’t find the Pace brothers locking in to any special musical telepathy.
“I don’t know, I see them sometimes drifting apart onstage and messing up, so I don’t think being twins helps that much,” she said.
“Actually, I don’t even think of them as twins, because they’re quite different. I find it amazing to watch other people mixing them up, because I never do.”
Which is reassuring, considering she’s married to one of them.
After a few more questions, we brought the proceedings to a halt – Makino had to get ready for a sound check, and there was only a slight chance she was going to say something else quotable.
It doesn’t really matter, though, because Makino’s charm is in her music. And fans of the group will have two chances to see them in Israel – together with Jane’s Addiction on Thursday night in the festival setting, or on their own the night before in the cozier confines of The Barby Club in Tel Aviv.
Either way, they’ll be communicating in the way they know best.