Q&A: Come's Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw On Van Halen, Chavez, and Reunions (Including Codeine!)
The prospect of post-blues dirge shredders Come reforming with all four original members didn't exactly trigger an earth-shaking ruckus akin to what ensued when Guided by Voices and Dinosaur Jr schlepped their "classic" lineups on the road. But the reunion of singer/guitarist/badass Thalia Zedek, fellow axe-grinder Chis Brokaw (also of slowcore purists Codeine), original bassist Sean O'Brien, and drummer Arthur Johnson (of Athens rascals Kilkenny Cats and Bar-B-Q Killers, respectively) has fire; throughout the band's existence, Come trudged on and killed it, deconstructing the blues through a dead-serious, cigarette-induced doom-n-gloom and releasing four LPs--including 1992's monolith downer Eleven: Eleven, still lauded as an indie-rock classic nearly two decades later--before disbanding in 2001.
The band made a triumphant return to the stage to celebrate Matador's 21st anniversary in Las Vegas last year, and they play New York this Saturday at the Bell House. We spoke to Zedek and Brokaw via email.
Recently, Sound of the City interviewed Matt Sweeney of Chavez and he raved about Come, saying you guys were the template for Chavez. Did you hear a Come influence in Chavez? Do you think those guys ripped you off?
Brokaw: I'm flattered, but I never heard it. I never thought they sounded like us at all. We were both trying to do something interesting with the two guitars-bass-drums set-up. It seemed like lots of bands at the time were.
Did Come ever "officially" break up, or have you been on one of those Fugazi-like "indefinite hiatuses" with the faint chance of reforming?
Brokaw: The official breakup was 2001. We did our "last show" in April 2001. Thalia and I both felt like we'd sort of run our course with the band. We both wanted to work on new things and we felt proud of all we'd done--that we'd had a good run.
Was there any emotional and negative breakup drama?
Zedek: No bad breakup drama. I think I just felt that maybe we'd taken the band as far as it could go, both in a creative sense and in a band sense. We took a year off to think about it while both me and Chris did other projects, and when we reconvened we decided to "officially" put it to rest.
Reunions are rampant, especially with bands from your era of indie rock. Were you skeptical at first about doing Come again?
Zedek: I agree that it's definitely become a phenomenon. It seems like it's been a very exciting one too, especially for a lot of younger fans who never got a chance to see those bands perform live. I've taken the opportunity to see some of those bands that I missed the first time around (Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. with Lou Barlow).
Brokaw: I think I've been sporadically leery of many of the recent reunions and probably spent more time than is useful speculating about various bands' motives. I've avoided seeing many reunions of bands I really enjoyed seeing 'back in the day' because i just thought: I've seen this, I saw this, I don't need to re-live this. For example, I saw both My Bloody Valentine and Van Halen arguably at their peaks (the Loveless tour and the 1984 tour, respectively) and felt i didn't need to see them again. I've seen some reunions that were great and enjoyable--bands I never saw before, and others I was happy to see again. And I've seen some that were really unsettling time warps. I'm pretty mixed, it feels very band-by-band.
That's arguably the first time My Bloody Valentine and Van Halen were mentioned in the same sentence. Where did you see VH on the 1984 tour?
Brokaw: Madison Square Garden. I was sort of dragged kicking and screaming to see them and I totally loved it. Two of my favorite shows ever were that week: VH at MSG and Minor Threat at Great Gildersleeves (a club on the Bowery).
Speaking of reunions, Come has played the occasional gig over the last several years including the Matador at 21 Las Vegas celebration. Why the random show here and there not a full-blown reunion--new record, big tour?
Brokaw: For myself, I'm busy with music I'm working on right now; that's where my focus is. Playing with Come was amazing and I'm very proud of what we did, but it feels like it's from a specific time, another time. We felt honored that Matador invited us to play in Vegas; we were glad that, as a retrospective, they thought to include us as a part of the story. The band is not an ongoing concern and I don't really envision it becoming one again. But playing with them again has been really fun and I wouldn't rule out an occasional show here and there. Somehow that feels right. It feels more interesting to maybe do the occasional show.
What made you decide on playing just the Brooklyn gig?
Zedek: We had all agreed back in the Fall that we really wanted to play a show in New York. Then Bettina Richards from Thrill Jockey (my current label) begged us to play at the Bell House with Eleventh Dream Day, since she wasn't able to go to the Matador show in October.
Have you written new songs together for Come or your set mainly consists of material from the old catalog?
Brokaw: No new stuff. We're just playing songs from the original line-up of the band (i.e. the first two albums (Eleven:Eleven and Don't Ask, Don't Tell), singles and B-sides.
Is it hard to muster up the emotion and energy of Come's songs now as opposed to back in the early '90s?
Brokaw; No, it's been really natural to fall back into.
Those songs are pretty heavy. Is it "fun" to revisit them now?
Brokaw: It's really fun, as well as incredibly intense, to re-visit now. Listening to the records has been "heavier" somehow, for me, than actually playing the music with the band.
Zedek: It was pretty intense for me to revisit some of those songs and lyrics. It's been a good fifteen years since I wrote them and I'm definitely in a different place now emotionally. So it was somewhat painful at first to go back there.
Chris, you play a lot of acoustic-based music on your own these days. Have you welcomed plugging in and getting loud again?
Brokaw: It's been amazing--so much fun. I don't necessarily "miss" rocking out with a loud band but it's been great to do with Come. I had forgotten how incredibly confident I feel playing with Thalia, Arthur and Sean.
How did you originally arrive at the heaviness/emotional toll of Come's sound? Come didn't really sound like anyone.
Brokaw: I don't know... it's just what came out! There was very little design to what sort of mood we might create. When the band started, Thalia and I had in mind doing something in a very rock and roll sort of way--we were really interested in bands like The Only Ones, The Gun Club, The Rolling Stones, The Bad Seeds, The Jacobites... stuff like that. Sort of romantic rock and roll, in a sense. Those were things we sort of bandied about even before we started playing with Sean and Arthur. It was very intuitive; there was no "concept" to speak of.
Eleven:Eleven has been called Come's definitive moment and one of the best records of the 90's. Is that your favorite?
Brokaw: I really like our last record Gently Down the Stream a lot. That was the first Come record where I, personally, really wanted to make a varied and entertaining record... but the original lineup was the best, I think, and as i have some more distance from it i can hear that Eleven:Eleven was essentially a live recording of a unique group, possibly at our peak, really bristling; kind of innocent, too. All the musical moves we were making felt very natural and intuitive; the sequence of the songs felt very obvious to us, how sides one and two would go. We worked for a long time on the songs and each song felt unique.
Zedek: It's probably my favorite overall record. But if you asked me for a list of my favorite Come songs from our entire catalogue they definitely would not all be from Eleven:Eleven; maybe three or 4fourwould be.
Eleven:Eleven and Don't Ask, Don't Tell are not even in print. Are there plans for Matador or possibly another label to reissue them?
Brokaw: Matador has told us they do not want to reissue the records. Right now, the only physical product available on Matador is Gently Down the Stream on CD. That and Near Life Experience are still available on CD and vinyl on Domino UK.
With Come having been on a NYC-based label and Thalia being in NYC's Live Skull back in the day, did you see yourselves more as a New York band rather than part of the Boston/Mass. scene?
Zedek: I've been living in Boston since 1979, except for when I was in Live Skull in the mid-to-late '80s, so for me Come always felt like a Boston band. I guess because I never really felt like a "New Yorker" and also because we formed the band and all lived in Boston for the band's duration.
Brokaw: Lots of people thought we were a NY band... looking back I almost feel like we were both. Or neither. We had friends in both cities and probably played equally in Boston and NY. I don't know... I guess we were a Boston band. We could do something more off the wall at the drop of a hat like play at Jacques' or a loft party or something in Boston.
Some gay artists are pretty vocal and active in the indie rock community. Is being a sort of role model something you think about... or you don't care to inject yourself in that realm?
Zedek: I've felt that it was important for me to be "out" as a lesbian in my dealings with the "indie rock community" and the world in general, but I've never thought of myself as a role model.
Chris, with the spate of reunions, do you foresee a reunion of Codeine, the slowcore band you played drums for?
Brokaw: Codeine is working right now on a box set of all our recordings. We hope it will come out early next year; there may be a handful of shows to spotlight its release.
What are the plans for Come and your own projects after these upcoming gigs?
Zedek: Pretty much the same as I've been doing the last ten years! I'm playing shows and working on material for a new record with my band, which we hope to release on Thrill Jockey sometime in the near future.
Brokaw: I have a few records coming out this year: a couple of film scores and a couple of actual rock records, too. No idea what happens next with Come. I would not rule anything out! My biggest hope is that we can get all four records back in print--that would be great.
Come play The Bell House with Eleventh Dream Day on Saturday, April 16
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