Wednesday, September 4, 2013

INTERVIEW: Thalia Zedek

Since the early '90s Thalia Zedek has forged her own path in indie rock circles, first with powerhouse combo Come and more reecntly solo and with the eponymously-named Thalia Zedek Band.  Zedek was kind enough to take time out of her vacation to talk a bit about her new album, revisiting Come's watershed "Eleven:Eleven" for its 21st anniversary, and the power of the music that inspires her. 

The new album, Via, is more richly, sonically detailed than some of your previous solo albums, while also being simultaneously more muscular – was that a deliberate choice?  You also used some new collaborators and players on this album – did that impact the way you approached the songs? 

I think playing with a new drummer, Dave Bryson, really had an impact on the sound of Via. His style left much more space in the music for other instruments to weave in and out of, he really had an almost Charlie Watts type of approach and he also had some really good ideas about song arrangements. Unfortunately for me, he moved to Buenos Aires right after we recorded Via. But it was a pleasure to work with him while I had the chance. Our new drummer, Jonathan Ulman, is awesome too, so I’ve been lucky in that regard, to get to play with all these great drummers. Also, Andrew Schneider, the engineer and producer for both “Liars and Prayers” and “Via” made a huge contribution to the sound of “Via”. I think he just might be a genius in addition to being an incredibly nice guy to work with!

Come celebrated the “21st birthday” this year of the seminal “Eleven:Eleven” with a reissue and tour – what was the experience like revisiting that part of your career? 

It was really incredible to be able to do that; we were so lucky! I think the thing that really took me by surprise was how incredibly comfortable and confidant I felt playing with Sean, Arthur and Chris. I NEVER worried about having a bad show, it just felt like I was surfing or something, they were the wave and all I had to do was not fall off my board. It felt really, really great!

Your live shows are incendiary and I am constantly amazed by the amount of passion that you muster, especially when you put so much physically into your performance.  What do you enjoy about the live experience?

The live experience is really what it’s all about for me. Music is a “performing art” and it’s a tribal and communal activity in every culture the world over. I feel things when I’m performing that I never feel when I’m recording or rehearsing.

What are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to?  Who inspires you musically?

It’s funny that you should ask this, since I just had a pretty big revelation about this this past weekend. I was performing solo in Provincetown, MA at a friend’s art gallery and I stayed for a couple extra days to try and squeeze in a last bit of summer fun. Billy Hough, who also performed at AMP Gallery the same night I did was playing piano at a bar called the Crown and Anchor the following night and asked if I would sing “Pale Blue Eyes” and something by Bob Dylan with him. It was so cool to sing songs that I know like the back of my hand. Definitely the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan are huge touchstones for me musically; also pretty seminal are Nick Cave, Patti Smith and the Rolling Stones.

Something that often gets overlooked when people discuss your music is your guitar playing (I suppose being in a band with Chris Brokaw will do that!)…how have you grown as a guitarist? 

Yes, Chris Brokaw IS an incredible guitarist and playing with him has definitely improved my own playing. I find that playing with new people has really helped me grow as a guitarist, and I’ve made a big effort to do more of that lately. I actually am working on a brand new project with a couple of really cool musicians in Boston, Alec Tisdale (drums) and Jason Sanford (guitar, effects). We don’t have a name or many songs yet but playing with those guys has really helped me grow musically.

As a female performer and songwriter in a fairly male-dominated field, what challenges have you encountered?   How does gender inform your songwriting

Most of the challenges that I’ve encountered in terms of being a female in a rock band have been on the road. Since my bandmates are all male sometimes I find myself being the only woman in a group of men for weeks at a time! And as much as I like guys, I do wish that the rock scene was more balanced in terms of gender. In terms of songwriting, that’s a hard question for me to answer, obviously I’ve never written a song as a male, but I really don’t think in those terms when I’m writing songs.

What is on tap for you next as an artist?

I’m working on a new (as yet unnamed) band with some friends in Boston. It’s a total collaboration and we are all writing together, so it’s quite different from the Thalia Zedek Band. And I’m working on new songs for the next TZ Band record and looking forward to touring the “Via” record in Europe this November!

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