Thalia Zedek might be beginning her fourth decade as an artist, but that doesn’t mean she’s just resting on her laurels these days. Far from it: Continuing to push limits like she did during the ’80s and ’90s in bands like Uzi, Live Skull, and Come, Zedek has come up with something that’s as vital and powerful as anything she’s done in her career with her latest album, Via. While the new effort certainly shows off the indie blues stylings that she trailblazed with her band Come, there’s an another level of complexity to Via that comes with the rich orchestral elements of strings and piano — it has been said that Zedek’s solo work imagines what the Dirty Three would sound like with a singer, and Via certainly makes good more so than ever on that claim. With the upcoming release of Via on the horizon, PopMatters checked in with Zedek to find out more about the album, the imminent reissue on Come’s 1992 debut Eleven: Eleven, and the difference between playing under your name and in a band. PopMatters is proud to premiere Via, which will be released on 19 March via Thrill Jockey.
Photo by Lana Caplan
PopMatters: It’s amazing to think that you are entering the fourth decade of your career, as the press release for Via notes. For instance, it’s kind of hard to believe that Come’s early albums are twenty or so years old. Does your career feel like it goes as far back as it does to you?
Thalia Zedek: No way, it’s pretty hard to believe! When I first read that fourth decade line, I was sure that they were wrong. Then I started counting on my fingers! I started pretty young, though, I was playing in clubs by the time I was 18, before I was legally allowed to patronize them!
PopMatters: In addition to being a solo artist, you’re obviously known for your work in acclaimed and pioneering acts like Uzi, Live Skull, and Come. Is there something intrinsically different about making music under a band format versus making music under your own name?
Thalia Zedek: Well, all the bands you mentioned were democracies, whereas the Thalia Zedek Band is more like a benevolent dictatorship. Also, there are times when I’ve wondered, can I quit my own band? I don’t think you can really! But I love the guys that I’m playing with and the chemistry that we have together is really important to me.
PopMatters: I’ve read that the songs for Via were written in two separate sessions over four years. That was a little surprising to learn, because the album feels so cohesive. Can you describe the process of making the album, from writing the songs to recording them?
Thalia Zedek: About half of the songs were written in the year or so after Liars and Prayers (2008) was released, when my longtime bandmate Daniel Coughlin was still playing drums with us. After Daniel left the band, we started playing with Dave Bryson of Son Volt. Dave’s style was quite different from Daniel’s and inspired a new batch of songs. But that whole time we continued playing the songs that we’d started with Daniel, so when it came time to record they all blended together pretty well. We recorded all the music except for the vocals and some acoustic guitar overdubs in three days in June at New Alliance Studios, with Andrew Schneider at the helm. We were in a big hurry as Dave Bryson was packing up his family and moving to Buenos Aries on short notice! I finished the overdubs and mixing in September at Andrew’s Translator Audio in Brooklyn, shortly before it got completely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy!
PopMatters: Via strikes a good balance between feeling immediate and exploring a full, rich sound, especially with all the string and piano parts. How are you able to at once focus on your own individual voice, while making room to incorporate a lot of interesting elements?
Thalia Zedek: We spent a fair amount of time working on the arrangements, but I have to give a lot of the credit to Andrew Schneider, who produced the record. He is just a super-talented mixer and that has a lot to do with how the blend and balance of instruments and voice came out. I feel really, really lucky to have worked with him on this record, as well as the last one.
PopMatters: It just so happens that Come’s debut Eleven: Eleven is being reissued in May. How did you decide to re-release it now? And can you compare what your approach as a musician is now to what it was like when Eleven: Eleven came out 21 years ago?
Thalia Zedek: The Eleven: Eleven reissue had been in the works for some time actually, and the timing of it with Via was coincidence. Glitterhouse, who will release the reissue in Europe, had approached us several years ago about doing it, but we got held up by Beggars Banquet, who originally released it in Europe and who were still claiming ownership of the masters. We finally got that issue straightened out last summer and were able to start the process of pulling all the parts together.
As far as my approach as a musician, I think that I still operate on a pretty instinctual basis. I try to be as open-minded as possible and just see what happens, or as the saying goes, I “try to get out of my own way” as much as possible!
PopMatters: With Via released and the Eleven: Eleven reissue on tap, what else do you have planned for 2013?
Thalia Zedek: Lots of touring I hope. The Thalia Zedek Band will be doing some touring in late March, April, and early May, including a week on the west coast with Low in April. Then Come will be playing some shows and festivals in Europe in mid-May and some shows in June in the U.S.