Thalia Zedek started her career as a musician in the group Dangerous Birds, whose 1982 single “Alpha Romeo” is a rare find these days. She really made her mark shortly thereafter with Uzi, whose 1986 Homestead release Sleep Asylum was a landmark not only for the Boston region but for the underground in general. It rightfully put Thalia in the company of other challenging female pioneers such as Kim Gordon, and was reissued by Matador in the mid-1990’s to much acclaim. In 1998, a mere two years after Uzi, Thalia broke new ground again with the NYC band Live Skull. The three records that she released with them more than stand the test of time and laid the groundwork for artists who followed such as PJ Harvey. They laid the ground work for artists to follow such as PJ Harvey. It was with Come that Thalia rose with the swell of popularity of so called Indie Rock. Fueled by the guitar interplay between herself and bandmate Chris Brokaw, Come released four full length records as well as various EP’s and singles and toured extensively throughout the 90s.
After Come ended in 1999, Thalia began writing and recording under her own name, but throughout her career Thalia’s voice has remained a singular calling card. Her songwriting has great depth and a pervading melancholic tone much like the work of Nick Cave. She has chosen unusual instrumentation to compliment her guitar, such as the viola and trumpet contributions of David Curry. Her songs are rich in texture and reveal with each listen their delicately crafted layers. Her debut album for Thrill Jockey, 2004’s Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch of Madness, garnered great critical acclaim, and the Adelaide performance on her Australian tour for that album even earned a spot on The Wire magazine’s top 60 Greatest Shows Ever.
For the new album, Liars and Prayers, Thalia has expanded upon her touring band of the last few years of Daniel Coughlin (drums) and David Curry (viola, trumpet) to fill out the sound with the bass and piano of Winston Braman (Consonant, Sherperdess, Fuzzy) and Mel Lederman (Victory at Sea). Liars and Prayers is the masterwork of her thus far impressive career. Her voice and songs have never been stronger and the full band and the recording by Andrew Schneider (Unsane, Cave In) allow her to combine the delicacy of the arrangements of her trio with the force that was her band Come. The very moving “Body Memory” is a poignant example of this perfect synthesis.
What follows is a bit about Liars and Prayers in Thalia’s own words.
One really cool thing about the new record “Liars and Prayers” is that it marks the return in my life of two musicians, Winston Braman and Mel Lederman, both of whom I’ve been really close to throughout the years, both musically and personally. It happened at the perfect time, when I was struggling a bit with wanting to move in new directions. After releasing Trust Not… on Thrill Jockey in 2004, me, Dave and Daniel toured extensively in Europe, Australia and the US as a 3 piece, as we had been doing since 2001. But when that was all done, I found myself feeling a bit constricted in terms of the instrumentation of the band. Just kind of like we had taken the viola-drums-guitar thing as far as we could over the course of three records. I found that the new songs that I was writing were a lot heavier and for the first time since Come, I felt like maybe I wanted to play with a bass player for this new material. Shortly thereafter, we played a show with Winston’s band Sheperdess, and I told him that I’d been writing stuff that I thought would sound good with a bass. He came to a rehearsel the following weekend. At the end he just propped his bass in the corner of the room and said “So, practice next Sunday?” I was like, uh sure, and just like that we had a bass player.
Coincidentally, Dinosaur Jr. contacted me later that week and asked if we wanted to open up five East Coast shows for them. It seemed like a perfect time to try playing as a four-piece so we quickly got some of the new material together and taught Winston some of the older songs and went on the road! A couple of weeks after we got back from the tour I got a call from Mel Lederman. He had played piano on all 3 of my previous solo records but rarely did live shows with us as he was very busy with his band Victory at Sea. He told me that Victory at Sea was (sadly) breaking up and that he really wanted to start doing shows and playing with me again. I didn’t know how it would work suddenly going from a three-piece to a four-piece and now to a five-piece, but I knew that Mel was such a great piano player that there was no way I was going to let this opportunity get away. It was great because Mel already knew most of my material from the previous records and sounded great on all of the new stuff. So now I had my wish, a whole new range of a musical “pallette” to work with and new material really started flowing quickly.
I was eager to start recording with the new band and Andrew Schneider was a name that had always come up whenever it came time to do a new record. I had done recording sessions with him before, but it was always as a guest on other people’s records , never for my own stuff. The result is Liars and Prayers which I’m very happy with and proud of.
Most of the songs on the record are pretty political in nature and the title refers to that. Liars and prayers, meaning those who lie and those who pray, mainly refers to the current US administration who are big liars and big prayers and more globally to all the scary shit that’s going on in the world in the name of religion, most of which is based on lies. “Next Exit” and “Begin to Exhume” particularly address these issues – paranoia promoted by lies to create a climate of fear, which the administration can use to justify torture, violations of habeus corpus, wiretapping and gulag prisons and internment camps and other horrific crimes against humanity. Other songs are more personal (“Body Memory”, “Stars”) about how it feels to live in these times, and also about dear friends who passed away due to battles with drug addiction, depression, and lack of access to health care when they really needed it. And others are musings on past regrets and hopes for the future (“circa the end”, “Green and Blue”, “Come Undone”).