The Come lady goes solo
by Darcey Leonard
Venus Zine, 2001
Thalia Zedek has been releasing records for the past 20 years with her bands Come, Live Skull, and Uzi among others. Her first solo album, Been Here and Gone, was released last summer on Matador Records. It is some of the most intimate and personal music of her career and she is currently touring in Europe in support of the record. We caught up with her just before her departure.
How’s it going?
Pretty good. Just doing some laundry and got some dinner in the oven.
The glamorous life! I always put off packing until the last minute too. So I’ve got some questions for you. Where did you record the album?
I recorded it in upstate New York at this kind of home studio — this guy Bryce (Goggin) that I had worked with before got this home studio in a tiny little town in an old church in the Hudson River Valley. He had called me a few months earlier and was just like, Oh, I’ve got this studio. He was just kind of calling people and letting them know so I ended up giving him a call. I think it was the first record to be done there. It’s called Higher Power because it’s in the church.
That’s a good name. When did you record the album?
We did it in March.
How long has it been since the last album you recorded?
I guess it’d been two and a half years since the last Come record had come out, but it’s been three years since we recorded it and everything, so I hadn’t been in the studio for a while.
What was different about the process of recording this album than a Come record?
I was in charge! No, it was different in that everyone came up with their own parts and everything, but I picked the songs, the arrangements, and mixed it with just me and Bryce. It was different because Come was very much a collaborative and kind of a democracy, and this was kind of like I could just do whatever I wanted, which — not that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted with Come — but sometimes I’d have an idea and someone else wouldn’t like it or have their own idea.
Can you give a specific example where one of the musicians playing on the album changed a song or influenced it?
I don’t think there was an instance where they changed any songs, but I think definitely everyone’s playing influenced the sound of the songs a lot. Great players, like Chris (Brokaw’s) slide guitar adds a lot and Dave (Michael Curry’s) viola.
I was impressed when I first saw you perform the songs from the album with the people you had playing with you. I’ve been a big fan of Dave’s playing and Mel Lederman’s music for a long time, and it was great to see them and Chris Brokaw and Daniel Coughlin all working together on your music. How did you come to have them on this project? I mean, I guess I understand Chris and Daniel because you worked with them on Come, but how did you get Mel and Dave involved?
For the last couple of years I’ve been doing these solo shows, as you know, with Beth (Heinberg) playing piano; sometimes I’d have Dave play too. I knew him because he was roommates with Chris and we were just like friends and he would be like, Oh, do you want me to do viola with you on that tonight? He knew I was nervous about doing stuff just kind of solo, so I played with him a couple times. I actually didn’t do any of the material with Chris and Daniel until later.
I got booked to do a solo show at the Brattle Theater opening for Evan Dando and I was like, Ah! I don’t know … I was just kind of nervous; I felt like I wanted a bigger band than just me and Beth there. Dave was on tour, and I was like, I don’t want to do it. I was intimidated so I asked Chris and Daniel if they wanted to play on it because they’d both come to a lot of the solo shows and been really supportive. So they did and that’s actually when I ran into Bryce again because he was there recording the Evan Dando show. He recorded my set too and then he sent me a CD of it and he really liked it and was like, You should come up to my new place and record sometime. I think I was hesitant about adding the drums — I didn’t know how it would be because I was used to playing the songs with just one or two other players; once we did, they were such good players; I was happy with how it came out. I kind of wanted the record to be a mix between that bigger band sound and also the covers I’d been doing with Beth. So we have a few songs like that, but how I got Mel (Lederman) was that I kind of unexpectedly went out and decided — OK, Bryce has this great studio, I’m ready now to go and do something. All of a sudden Beth got really busy; she just like wasn’t available to do the recording. She did end up coming down the last day and doing two songs with me.
I was like ah! I’ve gotta find a piano player and I kind of knew that Mel played the piano and worked as a piano tuner but I wasn’t sure. I was calling people and asking them if they knew any piano players and I asked Mel and he was like I’ll play piano for you and he’d seen a couple of the solo shows so I was like do you think you can do it? And he said yeah I play a lot like Beth and I’d really love to do it. So he actually only had about four rehearsals before we went into the studio and he just totally pulled through.
Do you think being from Boston influences your music?
Maybe the darkness of the winters here. I’m sure it does in a way, the long winters.
Why did you choose to do a cover of “1926”?
I just had always loved that song, I was a big fan of the band. That was written by this guy named Gary Golgol that was in this Boston band called “V” that I used to see in the early ’80s. They were one of my favorite bands. They put out one ep, it’s been out of print for ages, but like I always loved that song from seeing them do it live and from the record. It was just one of those songs that always stuck in my mind.
When I saw you perform that song in Chicago, I had to remind myself that it’s not one of your songs. I noticed on the love songs on the album there’s a gender neutrality of the person being addressed, you could be singing to a guy or a girl and I wanted to know if that was a conscious choice on your part?
I don’t think it’s a conscious choice. I think it was just kind of like more personal. I mean it wasn’t really like a song about a girl, more a song about a person.
Do you think these songs are romantic?
I think so, yeah, I might have a slightly twisted version of what’s romantic but it’s romantic to me.
What were you listening to when you were writing these songs?
I don’t know I guess different stuff, Chet Baker and Burt Bachrach, newer stuff like Low and Arab Strap, Leonard Cohen, obviously.
Well, I think there’s something — I know you’ve really liked Leonard Cohen for a long time but I think there is something particularly Leonard Cohenesque about these songs, I guess in that they both share a slightly twisted version of romance.