Thalia Zedek Interview

ElectricGhost Blog, November 28, 2008

Bristol UK | Monday October 6th 2008

Interviewed by: Lee Edwards

I am sitting in the garden of The Folkhouse Bristol with Thalia Zedek and band member David Curry. Up the road a fire in a shop has put out the electrics in the street. The Cooler, their venue tonight, is working hard to get the place ready for the gig tonight. We settle down on a picnic bench with tea and talk.

So what would you say were your main musical influences?
Thalia:
At what period?

Lets say when you were with Come
Thalia:
I think I was listening to a lot of Rolling Stones back then, and a lot of old British bands. Me and Chris [Brokaw] bonded on that one. I was really into Nikki Sudden and stuff like that. When I first met Chris I was playing with Live Skull so I was exposed to a lot of that New York stuff, but I wasn’t really in all the bands that were happening in New York at the time. I was into this band called Opal from California and the psychedelic California stuff that was going on. Plus British stuff that was like ‘80s stuff and ‘90s stuff, post punk stuff. When I was Come it was more rock ’n roll and now with this band its more moody stuff like The Dirty Three, and I listen to a lot of Leonard Cohen. Also Bonny Prince Billy that sort of songwriter type stuff. We started out pretty quiet with this current group and now I gone full circle because it’s a five-piece band, and it’s pretty loud. But I don’t think that was an influence of something I was listening to recently; I think it was just wanting to do more stuff with sound you know.

I discovered on a Come album called Eleven : Eleven and I picked it because I loved the cover it was dark and mysterious. Submerge the first track just blew me away. I was at the time reading a lot of nourish novels and I used the term Blues Noir to describe what I was hearing. We recently put a video of Submerge into ElectricGhost. So when Come stopped in 1999 you went solo. What was happening for you at that time?
Thalia:
I think at the time I thought I was too old and I’d done or rather being doing it too long to start a new band. I don’t feel that way as much now but in that past I felt I had written a lot of song for bands but they were so associated with those bands that I could really play or maybe I didn’t just play them. Even now we don’t really do any Come songs. We used to do maybe one or two early on but I just don’t like repeating stuff. I felt I‘ve been doing this for so long and I don’t really have anything to show for it. Bands break up and it’s disappointing. If I do solo I can play with different people and if they want to leave I won’t feel like the whole band is going to fall apart. I wanted to be in a band but I didn’t want to be as dependent on people, but it’s a little bit of my nature because I started doing that and I’ve been playing with pretty much the same guys for a long time. I mean me and Dave [David Curry, viola and trumpet] he ‘s got pretty much a unique feel, it’s pretty noticeable as his signature style. But this tour we have a different drummer. My regular drummer Daniel whose been playing… well he actually played on the last Come record and has been playing with me ever since couldn’t come on the tour. So I’m playing with Danny Lee who I played with in this bans Uzi. So we haven’t played together since ’82. Last night was our first show together it was really great but it was a really fucked up show but there was this one certain thing that we still have. It was a certain psychic thing that was really nice to be playing with. So I think I’m definitely a creature of habit but doing the solo thing was an attempt to get out of that and be able to move around more, but I do find myself getting attached to certain musicians you know. But at least this way I can go on tour and unlike Come its not like loosing the rhythm section, on the second record, and getting a lot of grief from it. Not so much in the States but in Germany it was like “How can you call yourselves Come without Arthur and Sean” [laughter]. You know I just didn’t want to be in that position where if somebody didn’t want to play music anymore that I couldn’t play my songs anymore. Or just start over.

I’m very aware of the Come sound where the guitar interplay between you and Chris Brokaw was central, or the signature sound. Then I discovered you when you were playing with a three-piece with the interplay between you and the viola. It seems to have become a very signature sound for you. How did you meet up with Dave?
Thalia:
He like foisted himself on me basically [laughter]. He’d show up at shows with his viola and I was just playing with a piano player and he was like “You need some viola!”
Dave: Don’t you need some viola?
Thalia: See what I mean [laughter]. So that was part of it. The other part is we already knew each other, he was roommates with Chris [Brokaw]. We also met before separate from that in clubs but I didn’t really start to get to know him until they lived together for awhile and I would go over there and…
Dave: It’s still a running joke between me and Chris where every band he’s in I’m saying do you need some viola [laughter]. And he rolls his eyes.
Thalia: Yeah he’s a very gregarious type of guy. So we met because he was Chris’s roommate and he was around. It was a fairly small scene at that time in Boston  so we were at all the same show and stuff. I didn’t really like playing completely by myself so I had a friend and she was playing piano, Beth [Heinberg]. She played on a couple of songs on the first record [Been Here And Gone] and then dropped out, and Dave started joining in. She did some shows with us and then left. It was kind of a natural evolution, it was not so much that I was looking for a viola player…
Dave: I was still learning at that time I didn’t really play all that much with you. I would just turn and sit in here and there. Like a couple of songs, that was all I was able to do.
Thalia: Yeah well Dave was playing guitar when I first met him.

It seems  to me though that your voice and the viola go together particularly well. Also you played recently with Willard Grant on their new album. Also Dave you have a side project, which Thalia also contributes to. How’s that working out?
Dave:
The Empty House Cooperative that’s my eternal side project. It comes and goes but it’s always there. I don’t tour with it but…
Thalia: We played Australia
Dave: We did play Australia thanks to you. Yeah I set up a lot of ‘toys’ around me and invite people and friends whose judgement I trust to sit in. It grows or shrinks according to the day and it’s spacey and moody.

Coming back to the current album Liars and Prayers, which I’ve really enjoyed an awful lot, and you justifiable getting some great reaction too. I was very struck by the feeling that this is very much and album of right now. Very much an album where America is right now. Two things struck me, the religious thing and the politics. So was this your response to all that?
Thalia:
Yeah definitely. I think you picked up on that. I think it’s pretty blatant with some stuff. I think it been really weird bad times we’ve been living in recently. I think before that the Government was just something you could just kind of ignore. I’m not really that politically active, or been my thing but just on a daily level I’m pretty disgusted by a lot of stuff. It kinda affects me so it came out. I didn’t plan it to be that way when I was writing the songs. I mean there are some more personal, or like, impressionistic type songs as well. Songs about experiences and stuff. But I do think about the other stuff a lot. I mean touring with Danny [Lee, the tour drummer] he’s got such strong opinions. I mean a lot of people, a lot of Americans, are really disillusioned right now with their country and everything.

Dave: TV culture has a lot to do with that. The news is always on with all this bad news right across the news network. The spin they’re putting on it. They’re trying to keep people scared.

But it seemed to that the album wasn’t political with a capital ‘P’. It was more about social justice.
Thalia:
Yeah that’s something I deal with on a daily basis like. You see it every day people who can’t afford to go to a doctor and then it turns out that they have advanced cancer because they didn’t get the help. Things have got to that point with this administration. I mean ugh. Yes I have strong feeling about that.

Well things are looking good for Obama but that Palin woman scares the crap out of me!
Thalia:
Yeah me too! But you know McCain just can’t win. There’s no way he can win since he got Palin on board. He just signed his own death warrant. How could he do this. To me it’s inconceivable that the majority of Americans could vote for McCain and Palin over Obama.

Well they did vote for George Bush
Thalia:
I know but after this they must know… I was reading about all the economic stuff before we left. I mean unbelievable. All the banks are failing because they’ve been de-regulated by Bush. It’s insane the amount of debt we’re in. He’s basically raped the country
Dave: Where we live it’s easy to see this and we have friends who see this too. But there’s a lot of the Bible belt…
Thalia: Yeah you got the religious fanatics. They really don’t care about anything other that their religious beliefs. They don’t care how many wars we go to or how much we are in debt if people have healthcare. All they care about criminalising abortion and stuff. Those people don’t have the priorities most us have. They want their beliefs to be the law of the whole country and for people who don’t follow it to be punished.

So along with the concerns you very rightly have it seemed to me that with this album, apart from the expanded band, that it was about a new direction for you
Thalia:
Yeah I felt that we’d really quiet stuff and we’d really noisy stuff. I really felt the need for a bass player. I’m kind of limited in my guitar playing ability. I felt I couldn’t really play a melody line on the guitar, there wasn’t anything else to back it. I can’t play rhythm and lead at the same time. Also I was writing songs that need to be a little heavier. So I asked Winston [Braman, bass] to come and try out some of the new songs and then he ended up sticking around. And then Mel [Lederman, keys] had played piano on all the recordings already so he knew the songs. But he was in a band Victory At Sea that did quite a bit of touring. Then when the band split he called me up. I had always loved piano but I had given up on it as a live thing because I only really like certain kinds of piano players. It’s not just piano players it’s got to be the right kind. It started with Beth, a then when Beth couldn’t do it on the first album it was Mel who stepped in. Last night my guitar fucked up and I could focus on my singing if I want to. Or I’m not going to play my guitar in the song but come in really loud in the chorus.

So it’s like having an expanded musical palette.
Thalia:
Yeah exactly, you could have three colours, or you could have seven colours y’know.

Because the other thing that struck me was, as I went back and listened to a lot of the Come stuff that I have, and then came back and listened to this album had more than any other had that feeling to it. It’s kind of like layers within layers within layers. And Body Memory, for example, really sounds like a Come song to me. So the tour started last night?
Thalia:
Yes last night was the first show.

So how is it going so far [laughs] I know it’s only one show.
Thalia: Well I slept for the first time, last night, in three days so that feels good [laughs]. Last night was about the end of three days of travelling, pretty much non-stop with a little bit of rest. We flew from Boston to Amsterdam picking up a bunch of gear in the van there. Slept for a few hours got up drove and played the show last night. I was a little ragged after the terrible weather, the ferry you know. Work permits weren’t waiting at the borders, then we missed the ferry and were really late. So we got that out of the way. So yeah looking forward to tonight.

Often though first gigs on a tour are an interesting indicator of what’s happening and stuff.
Thalia:
Well it was actually quite a good show. I was just a little badly behaved, that’s all. There was also a lot of technical issues. The first gig for me is usually rough. Then after two or three shows you get the kinks worked out.

Finally could you say briefly where you might be going next after this album.
Thalia:
Umm I don’t know. I am happy with the band. I’m happy with the five-piece, I’m happy with the instruments. I don’t feel the need to strip down again. Everyone is sensitive enough musician, no one overplays. I’m not really looking much past this tour. Doing something in October then were going to play a festival in Spain. Come is going to get together for just one night to play that festival. All four of us are going to be I the same place at the same time. Winston who plays bass with me now also played in Come so we are going to do one set which I’m looking forward to. So I’m… Dave: After that it’s anyone’s guess.
Thalia: Yeah.

He said in a rather pleading way there’s no chance of another Come thing in the UK
Thalia:
I don’t think…No.

Well I had to ask.
Dave:
I asked for one in Boston. She said no. [laughter]