Published Feb 08, 2016Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin have been the backbone of Freakwater since the late '80s. Drawing on their own musical backgrounds — both women are originally from Kentucky, though Bean has lived in Chicago for decades — they make old-time-influenced American roots music with punk rock's tendency to ignore genre rules. Their signature harmonies are arresting, almost dissonant, and their songs aren't so much catchy as infectious.
There's been a 10-year gap between 2005's Thinking of You and Scheherazade, out now on Bloodshot. Speaking from Chicago and Louisville, respectively, Bean and Irwin tell Exclaim! that it was another milestone that triggered the band's resurgence.
"We had a tour to mark the 20th anniversary reissue of Feels Like the Third Time," says Bean. "We went out on tour, and took Jim Elkington, a phenomenal player, and it turned into something fun. Jim made Catherine and Dave [Wayne Gay, Freakwater's longtime bass player] and I sound so good, and the shows went well, and it was a reaffirmation of what we were doing. So we decided we've got to do this again."
Irwin explains that the band didn't intend to take such a long hiatus between records.
"Not having anybody in charge of what we're doing is why we're still able to do it, but at the same time, it has some drawbacks. If there was a boss, we probably would have made a record in the last ten years, but it wouldn't have been as much fun. It's not that we didn't ever think we weren't going to make a record, it's just that no one's in charge, no one's running the machine."
"It's like, 'I am going clean my room someday,'" Bean adds. "It doesn't look it, but I wake up with the intention that I'm going to do it. Our inertia is organic."
"Yeah, we were waiting for our inertia to subside," Irwin laughs.
It wasn't the creative or performing aspects that were on hold. They've been playing together sporadically over the last decade, and both have other projects: Irwin recorded a solo album, and wrote for Louisville's alternative paper; Bean is a member of several other bands, including Eleventh Dream Day and Agatha. It was the mundane logistics of releasing an album that daunted.
Irwin reels off the challenges: "You have to get a record label, you have to make a lot of phone calls, it costs a lot of money, you have to get someone to make the sandwiches… I think we feel very lucky that we get to make a record at all."
"People shouldn't be asking why it took us so long," Bean agrees. "People should be asking 'How are you even allowed to make a record?'"
Freakwater's upcoming tour will take them across the United States, with one date in Toronto on February 12. They hope to return and play more dates in Canada in the future, but right now they're focused on their immediate plans.
"This tour is the longest we've ever gone out, in a long, long, long time," says Bean, "And I don't know many bands, especially at our advanced years, would go out for this long. Friends in bands like the Mekons and others are like, 'Are you insane? You're going out for how long?' Well, we're going to do it in a van, were going to do it just like we did it before, and if I live through it then we might…"
"You can't die halfway through!" Irwin interrupts.
Bean laughs: "It's a rule. 'You can't die halfway through!'"
"The van's in your name!" Irwin explains.
You can see all Freakwater's upcoming tour dates here.