Music Monday: Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino

The frontwoman reveals why she's not a fan of nostalgia and how leaving New York City saved her life.

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Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino and twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace started making music together in 1993, and quickly became indie icons after the 1995 releases of both their self-titled debut and its follow-up, La Mia Vita Violenta. As most of their contemporaries disbanded, Blonde Redhead continued to mesmerize listeners with moody cuts like "Oslo" and "For the Damaged Coda." Seven albums and nearly three decades later, Kazu and her band released Masculin Féminin, an extensive "four-LP" box set featuring early demos, rare singles, and previously unseen photographs. "They were like private detectives … they wanted as much documentation as possible," says Kazu [about putting together the box set], before adding, "I don't like looking back at the past."

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A few months ago, I spoke with Kazu over a crackling phone line about her aversion to nostalgia and the reason why she decided it was time to leave New York City.

Dianca Potts: Were you always interested in playing guitar?

Kazu Makino: I actually started with classical piano when I was very young. In junior high I sang in a band with my best friend, who was a real virtuoso. She played piano and guitar, but we had very different taste in music. I was always interested in blues and Negro spirituals, and she wasn't, so that always led to a lot of conflict for us. I didn't pick up the twelve-string guitar until I joined Blonde Redhead.

DP: Blonde Redhead has been around since 1993. Has it taught you anything about yourself and the way you collaborate with others?

KM: I noticed that I can do a lot more and that I'm less shy when things aren't about me specifically. I can work really hard when it doesn't have my name on it because it doesn't feel as embarrassing. It's similar to my relationship with English. Even though it's not my [first] language, I feel a lot freer with English than I do with Japanese. Being in a band has allowed me to experiment and create more freely.

DP: What was it like revisiting your past while gathering materials for your box set, Masculin Féminin?

KM: I tend not to reflect on the past, because I never feel satisfied by it, so it was rough for me because our label didn't want to miss out on any details. They wanted to know everything about that period [of time], everything we went through musically and personally, so I kind of just let the twins navigate through the whole process.

That being said, it's funny because even though I don't like looking at the past, I was the one who had all the mementos and photos because I did a lot of the album artwork. I had kept them all in a suitcase, so [the twins] would come over and they'd put them into chronological order. For the music, they needed everyone's approval even though I didn't really want to go through our old songs. Some songs were great to listen to, and others gave me goose bumps, but not in a good way. It's really alarming to hear how bold you can be when you're young and don't know what you're actually doing. It was a difficult process, but now, after seeing the box set, I'm really glad we did it.

DP: You recently moved from New York City to rural Italy. Why did you decide to leave?

KM: I don't know yet, but I guess I'm going to find out. When I told my close friends that I was thinking of leaving New York City, they were like, "If you can be prolific wherever, why not leave?" That's the test, you know? I also have really bad asthma and I just couldn't breathe anymore. I was constantly aware of every breath. I got tired of it. I've visited the countryside here a lot over the years, and every time I come here I forget about the fact that I'm breathing. Now I can actually be healthy and can prove to myself that I can create not only in New York City but anywhere. The anxiety that I felt whenever I was far away from my air purifier or medication is gone. In New York, anything could cause an attack, and I was so anxious and fearful. I hated feeling so scared, and it wasn't going to get any better. My doctors told me for years that I should move away, but no one encouraged me to do it this time. I just decided it was time to leave.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Dianca Potts is a writer and an asthmatic living in Brooklyn. Her inhaler is her best friend.

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