How’s the tour going? Good. We started the U.S. tour about a week ago, [and] we did a European tour prior to this tour and that started in October. I don’t know how to categorize it. It feels different because I feel like we haven’t really toured in the U.S. in so long. But it feels good. The beginning was a bit rough; it’s always a little rough when you start playing shows. You have to get used to the rhythms, you know, and setting up and figuring out the equipment and all that out, now I think we’re getting the hang of it. And also, your body has to almost adjust to playing and it’s almost like, [it’s] very physical, both for your voice and your body somehow, so you have to get used to that.
You just released your ninth studio album, Barragán. Is the set mostly songs from that? Yeah, we’re playing mostly Barragán, but we’re also playing older songs as well. I think we might be playing, like, five or six Barragán songs, and the rest are older.
I read that on tour you have to relearn the music, or at least learn how to play songs differently than when they were recorded in the studio. Are you finding anything new on Barragán now that you’re playing it live? When we make an album there’s a lot that goes into it, and you listen to it so much and you just go really deep into it. You only play it once, basically. You record it, and that’s it, and then you start listening to it and recording the different layers of it. When you start playing it live is when you really start figuring out yourself in it. One part of yourself is in it, obviously, but then you start really finding out other ways of doing things and other ways of playing and having a different attitude towards it, because it’s live—maybe changing it at times, because sometimes, live, things feel a lot different.
In a studio, you’re protected in a way. Maybe you do things that feel vulnerable, but they sound good because you’re able to be open to that. Live, you have to make sure that things work every night. And in order for things to work every night, you have to protect yourself a bit in a way, but you also want to feel free and open and be experimental. At first, especially when it comes to singing the song, it’s a lot of relearning how to sing them live. Because in the studio you have a mic, and sometimes you do a whole take, but also you can do things over. Live is different. It’s just right there and then. So for me it’s a lot of research, [so] I can make things good every night and reliable every night.
Your new album is a bit softer than your others. What kind of instrumentation did you use on Barragán, and how does it differ from previous albums? We used a lot of old instruments. We used a Chamberlin, which is a very old keyboard; it’s almost like a Mellotron. They have tapes inside that sounds are recorded on. They’re not digital, they’re very analog and very old and very unreliable in a way, and they have a life of their own. So we used a lot of those keyboards, which are very beautiful and have a very full sound to them.
But we also kept things very sparse. We didn’t do too many overdubs; we just kept things to one take or two takes. We didn’t really use much more on top of it, which in a way is great because now we can play all the songs, just the three of us. At the time, it just felt like there [were] so many more ideas I could squeeze into these songs. You end up hearing harmony and melody and chord changes and bass lines and all sorts of things that you experiment with, and we have in the past. But this time, the producer [Drew Brown] was really trying to get us not to do that and trying to get us to keep things to a minimum and just try and do something different.
Have you always recorded to tape? When we started making music it was only tape; it wasn’t digital yet. The digital was starting to happen, but it was just tape. So we’ve done that a bit, up until maybe our fourth or fifth album. This album is not recorded to tape, but it’s just recorded to a really nice board. If you have a really, really good mixing desk, you’re bound to have good sound that comes out of it, because you have nice EQs and you have nice, big sound. Of course, tape has something magical to it, but it’s also very hard, because you can [only] do so many takes because you can only fit three songs on a tape, three takes. And tapes are so heavy. So we didn’t record on tape, but we put everything on tape after we recorded it. We laid it on tape.
There’s a song off Penny Sparkle called “My Plants Are Dead,” where [singer] Kazu [Makino] uses a text conversation as the chorus. I’m wondering if collaborating and writing songs is easier now because of certain technology that wasn’t available to you when you started. There are ways of messing with technology now and computers—we have a lot of sounds on the album, which Drew made, and he developed the program that makes those sounds. It’s very technological, but it’s also very wild and you can make things very unexpected. Some instruments have a mind of their own; you can control them up to a certain point. So that’s a way for us to use technology on this record. And also, working with someone that’s further away, working with someone that would like to do something on the album with us, it’s amazing. You can just send the file and [they] play on it and return it.
As far as texting, I was writing the lyrics and [Kazu] was home and I was recording and I was trying to figure out my lyrics and she was at home and I texted her and she sent me the chorus part by text and I sent it to Drew who was having dinner with his mom (laughs) and he said “Okay, I’m coming back to the studio now. Those lyrics work, I’m gonna come back and we’re gonna record it.” So because she texted me the lyrics, I texted him the lyrics and we both agreed that the lyrics were good; we went ahead and [did] it.
Things happen a lot faster now. Yeah, but when you make an album there’s also so much unexpected. So many things happen unexpectedly that you don’t want to even start thinking about: “What if I would have recorded in a different studio with someone else?” or “What if I wouldn’t have gone to [the] practice space at that time?” You know, it’s all about timing and besides it happening faster, it’s also coincidence, how things happen. You just have to be open for that—to be able to document things as they happen, even if it’s the way you weren’t thinking about it.
English is your—and the other two band members’—second language. From a linguistic perspective, has that allowed the band to be more creative lyricists? In a way, but also I really admire people who can take a lyric, an English phrase—I was watching this Motown documentary about the Funk Brothers yesterday on the plane, and they played on Aretha Franklin and they played on Stevie Wonder and basically everyone. Marvin Gaye was one of them and they were showing footage of “What’s Going On” and I was just like, “Wow.” It’s so amazing that you can write such an incredible lyric with just “What’s going on?” It’s such a simple word that you say all the time and for me, that’s more interesting than being creative with language. It’s more about using the simplest ideas and the simplest things that surround you in life and making them beautiful and so specific and creative. I’d rather see that than see someone that’s really very creative with words in a way that’s more wild and poetic. It’s more interesting to me to see how you can take the simplest words and make them into something so romantic and beautiful.
You played Vegas seven years ago for Vegoose, is that the only time you’ve been here? I think that’s the only time we’ve been there.
Did you like playing here? What was your experience like? I remember driving through, and because my dad had been there a few times and he always told me about Las Vegas and how crazy it was and fascinating, I had a bit of a preset idea in my mind of what I was going to expect. But it’s never really like that. For us, when you play shows, you could be in the most amazing place, but we spend so much time just being with music and preparing for the show and setting up and doing sound check and being exhausted, finding a place to eat. We never get to spend more than one day, or maximum, two days, in a place. The only thing I remember was driving through the city after the show going back to the hotel and just seeing how crazy [it was]. It took me many times coming back to LA to try to figure out why people want to live in a place like that and why people love LA. Las Vegas may be the same.
Blonde Redhead with Dot Hacker. November 14, 9 p.m., $15-$20.