Thalia Zedek was born in 1961 to immigrant parents — a German mother and a Lithuanian father. She grew up in the Washington D.C. area, a tomboy as a child. She first started playing guitar at 15, collaborating on songs with a friend. Hearing Patti Smith on the radio in 1976 had a huge impact on her; Smith didn’t care either to look or to sound traditionally “pretty.” Zedek began traveling to New York City to see Smith perform.
In 1979 she moved to Boston, where she attended Boston University for one semester before dropping out to pursue music. Her first working band was called White Women. Zedek has described the group as being “a very bizarre band” that did a lot of Lee Hazelwood covers. They broke up after a couple of years.
After that, Zedek put together the Dangerous Birds. Zedek and Lori Green both sang, though Green’s songs tended to be poppier while Zedek’s were moodier. In the early ’80s, the Dangerous Birds played shows around the region and released a 7″ (“Alpha Romeo”/”Smile on Your Face”) and a compilation track (“Emergency”). “Smile on Your Face” is an obscure gem of the era; it is remarkably well-written and is arranged beautifully. Zedek growls, screams, and sings grim lyrics against a hook-laden wall of sound that betrays Spanish and Middle Eastern influences. “Emergency,” Zedek’s other song released by the band, seems influenced by Smith as well as the agitpop of the Au Pairs and Gang of Four. Green’s vocal delivery in “Alpha Romeo” recalls Belinda Carlisle and the song itself is in an ultra-major key; Green and Zedek’s different styles may have led to the band’s breakup. The Birds were “too poppy, not violent enough,” said Zedek. “So I started playing with men.”
These men were Zedek’s bandmates in Uzi, which she formed in the mid-’80s. As a Bird she had played shows with the Birthday Party, and now she was headed toward a more abrasive, experimental sound. Uzi was the perfect vehicle in which to take this journey. Their innovative, ahead-of-its-time experimentation with tape loops complemented the band’s rock sensibilities, yielding an exciting musical hybrid. The music was jarring and mostly in the minor key. Conflicts between Zedek and drummer Danny Lee led to the band’s dissolution in 1986. An EP, Sleep Asylum, was released posthumously.
After Uzi’s untimely demise, Zedek became the new front-woman for New York City’s Live Skull. They were an established band, contemporaries of Sonic Youth and Swans, who wanted a vocalist so the instrumentalists could concentrate on their playing. Their music was experimental and morose, the angular interplay of the guitars assaulting the senses. She sang on their last two albums and an EP, most notably 1989’s Positraction. On this album, the music alternated between a breakneck speed and a relatively slower pace, while Zedek purged her inner-demons with lyrics and a vocal delivery that were intensely passionate, both aggressive and vulnerable. Living on the Lower East Side and caught up in the turmoil of a relationship, Zedek developed a heroin addiction. By 1989, Live Skull had succumbed to intra-band tensions and Zedek had lost her job and apartment while in the throes of her addiction. Having hit rock bottom, Zedek found motivation to put a halt to her heroin use. “I couldn’t do music anymore, I was burned out, I couldn’t think very well,” she said. “I couldn’t get a job or get my shit together. I knew I had to stop [doing drugs] to be able to write or play.”
She then returned to Boston where she had the support of friends as she picked up the pieces of her life. There she formed Come with fellow guitarist Chris Brokaw, drummer Arthur Johnson, and bassist Sean O’Brien. Come’s brand of abrasive blues was defined by distorted, tightly interlocking guitars and minor chords. The songs were longer than the standard three-minute pop songs, but never did they overstay their welcome. Lyrically, Zedek continued her career-long theme of alienation and half-empty cups. “Don’t trust your friends,” she warns amid alternating tempos in a delightful waltz titled “Dead Molly.” The band’s dynamics are tight but not slick; each track is meticulously arranged yet the sound is raw. In 1995 the rhythm section split. Zedek and Brokaw, however, continued with the band, working with many other musicians and utilizing a variety of new instruments. They released two more albums before officially calling it quits in early 2001.
Zedek released a solo album in July of 2001. Since then she has recorded several solo albums in collaboration with a variety of musicians, most recently in 2016 with the release of Eve.