Singer Thalia Zedek talks about the melancholy songs that have fueled her career for more than 20 years
By Steve Gdula
The Advocate, October 23, 2001
In the course of Thalia Zedek’s 20-year music career, there has never been a shortage of praise for her or her music. The press has called her songs “a revelation,” “impossibly original,” and “enthralling,” and she has received equally high marks from her peers: Indie-rock demigod Bob Mould is one of her admirers, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was a fan, and Indigo Girl Amy Ray has likened Zedek’s voice to an “old Marlene Dietrich film.” “Her songs have made a mark on every underground musician I know, from folk to punk,” Ray says.
After spending the ’90s at the epicenter of the stormy blues-garage band Come, openly lesbian Zedek recently decided to deliver her new songs in the much quieter musical climate of piano and viola. The result is her current CD, Been Here and Gone (Matador), a collection of her own soul-rending love songs, plus covers of the likes of Leonard Cohen.
“The bands I’d been playing in had been loud, guitar-oriented bands. The vocals almost became a backdrop,” Zedek says of her stylistic switch. “It’s much easier to be expressive when you can actually hear yourself!” A longtime fan of the emotional edge and melodic structure of torch songs, Zedek got the idea to do her own cabaret in 1999 after touring with Come.
“Doing covers and standards was really good for me [because of their emphasis on melody],” she says of how the torch material informed her own songwriting process. She pauses and lights another cigarette in her two-pack-a-day habit. Twenty-five years of smoking has taken a toll on her physically—“I can feel the negative effects,” she sighs—but it has also weathered her voice, helping to make it the dynamic instrument that it is today. Zedek’s voice is as much her signature as her evocative lyrics are, and just as cigarettes have affected her vocal quality, so has another aspect of her life contributed to the tone of her songs.
“I feel like all my records are breakup records,” she says. She divulges that she’s in a relationship now, before adding with a laugh, “I put out a record every few years. At some point during that time, a relationship ends!”