Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin of Freakwater

Ever since the Louisville, Kentucky native Janet Bean (pictured on left) moved to Chicago in the mid-80s, she’s been a linchpin of Chicago’s music scene, playing drums in the long-running band Eleventh Dream Day and collaborating with the local who’s who. On Monday, another of Bean’s projects, Freakwater, performs a rare local concert, their first since 2006. Before tonight’s gig, Bean sat down with C Notes to reminisce about her many musical partnerships over the years.

Eleventh Dream Day [Formed 1983]: I moved up to Chicago because I thought Rick [Rizzo, EDD’s leader and Bean’s now ex-husband] was cute. He had graduated from University of Kentucky and was visiting a friend from Louisville when I met him. I brought my drums and we started playing in his parents’ basement. I love to hit the drums, and playing with Doug [bassist Douglas McCombs] is just a phenomenal experience. He’s got such a muscular way of playing. It feels so great in your gut.

Yo La Tengo [the Hoboken, New Jersey band, whose female drummer/bass/guitarist line-up mirrors Eleventh Dream Day; 1980s]: We did a couple tours together. They’re remarkable. James is one of the most musical people I know. Ira and Georgia [drummer Georgia Hubley] write fantastic songs and do it really gracefully. We had some really fantastic shows and we’ve been long-time friends ever since. 

Freakwater [formed 1987]: [Co-founder Catherine Irwin and I] have known each other since we were about sixteen years old. [Bean now is 48.] We started singing classic country covers together, like Tammy Wynette and Hank Williams, and we played open mikes at this strip club bar during the day and [at a] punk club at night. When I started, I had no notion of harmony so I just sang along in whatever way worked. We always say that Catherine’s voice is like the vice grips on the side of the head and mine is like the drill through your forehead. And [when] the pressure on the brain is relieved, there’s this euphoric feeling.

Kaleidoscope [A record distribution company in the near North suburbs where Bean worked in the late ‘80s]: It was a debauched, bizarre kind of job to have. I worked with David Yow and David Sims of the Jesus Lizard. Can you imagine working a day job with David Yow if you had no restrictions on your behavior? It was a funny place filled with a lot of interesting people, and clearly the business was not meant to last because I ended up one of the bookkeepers—I can barely count to ten.

The Zincs [mid-2000s]: They opened for Freakwater, and Jim [band leader Jim Elkington] asked if I would sing on a [Freakwater] record. Then we got the idea of having a little band that could play covers at wine bars. Then it morphed into [their band the Horse’s Ha].

The Mekons [2000s]: They recently brought over this aboriginal country singer, Roger Knox, from Australia. Jon [Langford] and some of the Waco Brothers were backing him up, and Sally [Timms] and I sang vocals with him. We learned all these fantastic classic country tunes that dealt with the complete obliteration of aboriginals in Australia.

[Now] we’re talking about doing a tour together with Freakwater and the Mekons called the Freakons. It’d be this jumbly band so we can go places drinking beer and eating sausage and maybe spending a little time onstage.

All Together Now [2008]: The Hideout did a big show in DC for Obama’s first inauguration, with Tortoise, the Mekons, Freakwater, and a bunch of different bands. I sang with Sally Timms for Andrew Bird, then I played with Freakwater and Eleventh Dream Day. Then Dream Day backed John and Sally as the Mekons, then John [Tortoise drummer John McEntire] got up and played double drums while I played Mekons songs. It was the highlight of my drumming life.

Freakwater plays tonight at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia) tonight at 8 p.m.

Kevin McKeough is a contributing music critic for Chicago.


Photograph: Courtesy of Thrill Jockey