The Boston band Come makes soul music for the slacker generation

By Ted Drozdowski

Rolling Stone magazine, Issue No. 654, April 15, 1993

rsThalia Zedek is the new high priestess of noise rock — and an unlikely-looking one at that. Onstage, she’s a small, sweaty, swaying androgyne wrapped in flannel with raccoon-ringed eyes squeezed tight, her head cocked up toward the microphone as she smashes spiky chords from her chipped Telecaster. But with the arrival of her band Come and its debut album, Eleven: Eleven, the underground has christened Thalia Zedek the reigning doyenne of the dark.

While gloom ’n’ doom is nothing new to the alternative-music scene, Come’s jagged, lived-in clamor is all its own. The group combines the fierce vocals and grinding fret play of Zedek’s previous projects Live Skull and Uzi with a distinct blues dynamic. And unlike sister rebels such as L7, Juliana Hatfield and Belly’s Tanya Donelly, Zedek doesn’t need bratty metalism, savantlike innocence or pop cleverness to make her songs sting. She goes for something else.

“Dour,” she says over coffee and cigarettes, describing the songwriting style that has piloted her career as a respected cult artist since the early Eighties, when she co-led Boston’s Dangerous Birds. Late in 1990 she emerged intact from a brief submission to heroin addiction, yet there’s a glint of humor in the thirty-one-year-old Bostonian’s eyes that says she’s no member of Wrist Slashers Anonymous.

“Drugs have never affected my songwriting one way or another,” Zedek says. “Have you ever seen Slacker — that whole opening monologue: ‘This could be a dream’? I like fucking with reality. I like that feeling when you walk out of a really intense movie and you’re in Harvard Square and it looks like a city you’ve never been in before because your mind’s been messed up.”

Zedek’s songs spin endless variations on this theme of disconnection — from friends, family, lovers, life. From everything. But it’s the mesh of music and message that separates Come from the brute-rock brat pack. “In a lot of bands that are really hard, there’s a kind of sound-over-song situation,” says Zedek. “I had a good time singing with Live Skull, but every song had the same sound. It’s based on a skeleton that the band always has to work with.”

“I think we were both interested in doing something that was more traditionally oriented,” says Chris Brokaw, Zedek’s six-string sparring partner. After Zedek left Live Skull and her heroin habit behind, she began collaborating with Brokaw, who divided his time between drumming with the Sub Pop band Codeine and writing songs with Zedek.

“Right from the beginning, it was real heavy,” Zedek recalls. Four days after Come’s first show the band was asked to cut a 45, “Car,” for Sub Pop’s Single of the Month Club. Months later, Come — which also includes ex-Kilkenny Cats bassist Sean O’Brien and former Bar-B-Q Killers drummer Arthur Johnson — was in the studio making an EP and Eleven: Eleven for Matador.

“A lot of the feel of the band comes down to the way we play, which is pretty sloppy,” Brokaw admits. “The sound never gets overly slick or settled into a precise groove, because we’re klutzes. But we work very hard on dynamics.”

Still, the group has been stumped only once: when it came time to name the band. As Come’s debut show loomed, the pressure mounted. “Finally, at one practice we decided we needed a name by eleven o’clock — tonight,” Brokaw says.

“Nobody could agree,” says Zedek. “We were going to call ourselves the Marshall Fucker Band. Then I said, ‘Why don’t we just call it Come.’ It was meant in a sexual sense, but more as a verb than a noun.”

“Not like jism,” Brokaw says, curling his lip. “We always get these disgusting double-entendres in the press, especially in England, like ‘Sperm Wails’ or ‘Come: It’s a Hard Act to Swallow.’ “

“We didn’t know it would be like this,” says Zedek with a shrug.

“I was talking to my dad about it,” Brokaw recalls, “and he said, ‘Well, at least you’re not called the Dead Kennedys.’ “