Despite the departure of their rhythm sections, Jason Ferguson discovers the best is yet to Come.
Alternative Press No. 100, November 1996
Lesser things have destroyed bands. Squabbles over spouses, differences of opinion regarding album titles. So when the rhythm section of a band who’ve maintained the same lineup for all five of their years decides to leave, it can pretty well rent asunder your average rock group.
Nobody has ever accused Boston’s Come of being average. When bassist Sean O’Brien and drummer Arthur Johnson left last year, the band pondered calling it quits.
“Oh, we thought about it quite a lot,” says guitarist/vocalist Chris Brokaw of the momentary lapse of faith he and co-founder Thalia Zedek experienced. “But we both really liked the songs we were working on, and they weren’t songs that were a great departure from what we’d been doing before. Plus, it wasn’t like Come was something we wanted to put behind us, so we just figured it out as we went along.”
After Johnson and O’Brien left (O’Brien wanted to return to school, while Johnson was recently married), Brokaw and Zedek called up some friends to back them up on the record. The duo used two different rhythm sections, one comprised of Jesus Lizard drummer Mac McNeilly and Tortoise’s Bundy Brown, the other featuring ex-Rodan/current Sonora Pine members Tara Jane O’Neil and Kevin Coultas. Then everyone retreated to Tortoise’s Chicago studio late last year to cut the tracks that became Near Life Experience, Come’s third album.
“We went to Chicago and practiced for a couple nights with Mac and Bundy and then recorded some songs,” says Brokaw. “And then we went down to Louisville, practiced a couple nights with Tara and Kevin, and then we brought them back up to Chicago and recorded some songs with them. And then we brought it all back to Boston and made it a record. And then, after all that,” he adds with a laugh, “we mixed it in New York.
“It was actually really easy. We were fortunate to pick people who not only were good and sympathetic musicians, but who were also friends of ours.”
Rather than sounding like a disjointed all-star jam, Near Life Experience emerges as Come’s strongest, most cohesive moment to date. The album displays a band more comfortable and focused in their songwriting and, as a result, is more direct and forcefully individual.
And to think none of it probably would have come to pass were it not for Steve Wynn. When the ex-Dream Syndicate leader was looking for musicians with whom to record his fifth solo album, Melting In The Dark, he thought that it would be more productive to have one band — rather than various conglomerations of players — back him up. In a way that foreshadowed Zedek and Brokaw’s modus operandi for Near Life Experience, Wynn cornered the group (then still a quartet) into a studio and, for two separate nights spaced three months apart, had them record his album. To a bandless Come, it was more than a little encouraging.
Wynn remembered Zedek from her days in Dangerous Birds, who opened some shows for the Dream Syndicate.
“He heard our first record and really liked it,” says Brokaw, “and at some point decided that after doing a couple records with a million different people playing on them, he wanted to have one band playing behind him, preferably a band that had been playing together a lot that played pretty intuitively. So he just asked us, and we were big fans, so it was great.
“I don’t think either of us would have had the nerve to do the Come record the way we did it if we wouldn’t have done Steve’s record that way. Doing his record was an inspiration for this Come record, because he did his record in the same way that we did ours, except with him, we were the backing band.”