by P.W. McHugh
Instant Magazine, 1999
Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Come has been making music together since the late 1980’s. Their previous three albums, Eleven: Eleven, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, end Near Life Experience, have been met with both popular success and critical acclaim, including the coveted “four-star review” in Rolling Stone. Citing These Immortal Souls, The Gun Club, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as heavy influences, the sound they create is uncompromising and distinct, characterized by a tapestry of electric guitar and wailing vocals backed by a churning rhythm section.
With the February release of their double-length Gently Down the Stream on Matador Records, the band adds a new dimension of serenity to their repertoire. Founding members and songwriters Chris Brokaw and Thalia Zedek backed by Daniel Coughlin on drums and Winston Bramen of Fuzzy fame on bass, continue to maintain the intensity of earlier records, while allowing for further development of their already impressive sonic spectrum. Few bands can claim to have pioneered a sound as original and musical as Come, who have a history of connecting murky landscape jams with the articulate tone of classical blues and surf guitar. Their music is one of tortured beauty, a juggernaut of sometimes frightening potency, a chemistry of sometimes eye watering poignancy. The fact remains that, until you’ve heard Come, you ain’t heard nothing like Come.
The band emerged from the late-80’s NYC underground when Zedek and Brokaw met through a mutual friend whom the latter had gone to high school with. Zedek had been left bandless by the break-up of Live skull, while Brokaw was experimenting with noise acts like Seven or Eight Worm Hearts, which he describes as “this band with tuba players and violin players”. Initially the two had some difficulty finding a cooperative rhythm section, as Brokaw recalls that “nobody really wanted to play with us for a while”, laughing. After some time, bassist Sean O’Brien and drummer Arthur Johnson (who now plays with the Fritters) had the sense to join in, and things took off. The band moved to Boston and started setting up shows. The only problem was, they still needed a name:
Q: Where did the name come from?
C: Do you want to tell him the name story or shall I?
T: (Groan) Oh, I’ll tell him. Well, we’d been playing together for a few months and [booking manager] Billy Ruane wanted us to play our first show at the Middle East. So, he was really pressuring us for a name, which we couldn’t decide on and he kept calling us saying ‘I need a name to put in the Phoenix, you guys have until 11 o’clock tomorrow to come up with a name!'”
C: So we were bouncing back and forth all these terrible names that no one could agree on, a lot of really new-wavey sounding names and a lot of dirty and scatological names, and probably Thalia said “Why don’t we just call it ‘Come’?. And we all thought, “Huh, okay”, and that was that. It has not been the easiest name to have, but I think it’s a perfectly fine name for a rock band.
Surprisingly, the band chimes that they stumbled across their sound almost unintentionally. Zedek explains, “A lot of the first songs came out of jams we had, and the way we played together sort of dictated what we sounded like, because when we started playing it was pretty different from what I’d imagined doing. It was a very heavy sound, no matter what song we played, it always had this sound to it that you really couldn’t go against ” Brokaw adds, “Whatever we do has happened pretty organically…I think that compared to what each of us had been doing up until then, we talked about doing something that was a little bit more traditionally song-oriented …For whatever reason, both of us tend to gravitate towards minor chords and seventh chords. So, the minor chords are the heavy stuff and the seventh chords are the blues stuff.” Whether intentional or not, the band is stuck sounding like none other.
Of equal distinction with their music is Come’s lyrical work. Their songwriting offers momentary, graphic flashes of imagery that seem to paint iridescent subliminal pictures in the mind of the listener. Veering away from the popular temptation of self-aware banter, Come’s songs ring with the rhetoric of nightmares and life shot to hell. Zedek, the chief lyricist and vocalist, says of her lyrical work, “I think my songs are definitely more dreamlike. It’s more of a story where, instead of having a beginning and an end, you’re in the middle, it’s more of a situation, or if it was a play, one scene in the middle. It doesn’t really explain how it got there or anything like that.” Brokaw, as well, continues to emerge as a vocalist and lyricist on the new album taking the vocal reigns on two of the album’s tracks.
Between recording Near Life Experience and Gently Down the Stream, the two took a detour from the rock circuit to perform mellower versions of their songs, which seems to have influenced the album. The group took to lesser known cabaret-type venues, dropping the usual drums and bass in lieu of piano and percussions, played by Beth Heinberg and Nancy Asch respectively. Brokaw reflects on how this period lead into the new body of work: “The two of us were playing guitars pretty quietly, and we rearranged a lot of our songs and made a lot of them more piano based, which we’re actually hoping to make a record of …Doing that was really cool, but I think we also realized that one of the things that’s good about the bands or is maybe even a little unique, is not just the songwriting but actually the way the two of us play guitar, and that’s something we shouldn’t neglect. Once we started getting back into the rock last spring it was like ‘God this is really good, this is fun, and we do this well.’ And maybe that’s why we did it for such a long time” (laughing). Amen to that.
The new album also finally gives testimony to the pair’s multi-instrumental abilities. The album’s only instrumental, entitled “The Former Model”, features the piano work of Brokaw (who has also been known to play drums on the occasional side project) supporting five tracks of Zedek’s clarinet work, which had previously only been heard on “a few tunes” by Live Skull. When asked which of the new songs stood out to their own ears, the band answers, “There’s a song called ‘Middle of Nowhere’ which sounds awesome. It’s kind of a quiet song and the playing, the singing, and the recording all sound great. I’m really proud of that. ‘Saints Around My Neck’ also, again, the whole thing just came together really well.”