Chemistry is an interesting thing, but in music, you’ll know it when you hear it. What is the secret of such chemistry, though? That’s a trickier question and one that isn’t readily apparent, at least not to Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin of Freakwater.
“We just want to be liked,” laughs Irwin. “Even by each other.”
“That’s pretty much it,” agrees Bean.
The two proceed to laugh, and it’s here where the secret is revealed. It’s not something you can definitively put a finger on, but when you hear them interact, it’s clear why Freakwater has stood the test of time, even if they didn’t release an album, Scheherazade, over ten years after their last one, 2005’s Thinking of You.
So what was the holdup and why was this the right time to return to the recorded world?
“I don’t know, it just happened,” Irwin said. “We’ve played a lot of shows together in the last ten years, so it’s not like we didn’t see each other. I guess I have a very, very bad sense of the passage of time, which is something I think is common to people from Louisville. (Laughs) It’s what Janet calls the ‘Louisville Fog.’”
“Catherine and I have been working together this whole time, and it’s not like all of a sudden deciding to revisit something,” Bean adds. “It’s something that’s always there. But we are remarkably good at not doing the things we’re supposed to do. Catherine made a solo record, and I was making records with my friend Jim Elkington and The Horse’s Ha, so we were doing other things, and really, time is a lot faster than I thought it was going to be.”
And what a lot of folks don’t realize is that even in this day and age, with technology within the reach of everyone and computers and even smartphones able to record music, the logistics of putting together an album can often be the difference between going into the studio and even wanting to. In the case of Irwin, she jokes that all she needed was a ride.
“There’s a lot of organization involved in making a record,” she said. “There’s really a lot of stuff involved in it that’s really not that much fun. A lot of telephone calls, people’s schedules, and Janet’s a lot better at that than I am, but I am worthless with that kind of thing. If anybody had ever just come to my house with a car and just told me to get in it and drove me to the studio, we could have made ten records by now.”
That would have been nice, but it wouldn’t have been Freakwater’s style.
“This was the right time to do it,” Bean said. “I can’t say if we had done it four years earlier it would have been as good as the record we made now; I don’t know. And I don’t know why it’s necessary to put out records constantly. It’s something you can do forever, and it’s remarkably satisfying and it doesn’t just disappoint you all the time if you do it when you’re ready to do it.”
So once everything was set and the combo of Irwin / Bean got down to the business of putting together the tracks that make up Scheherazade, was it just like riding a bike?
“Like into a wall,” laughs Bean, who explains that putting together a Freakwater album doesn’t consist of the two of them sitting in a room together and hashing out tunes.
“I just don’t know how people write like that,” said Irwin.
“Catherine can’t share,” Bean responds.
“It’s just a horrible process,” Irwin said. “I don’t think I’d want someone watching me writing a song. We really made an effort to go into the studio with a lot of material, and not just with the amount of songs it takes to make a record. We both wrote from the time we decided to do this until the time we went into the studio, and it worked. We had something like 19 songs that we recorded.”
The 12 tracks that made Scheherazade are as good as anything the band has done, and while the two were separate while writing, when it was time to lay the tracks down, it sounds as organic as it possibly could. And if you’re wondering, it was worth the wait.
“I’m not defending the approach that we’re taking,” said Irwin. “We could have just made two records, but it’s just the way it goes.”
Freakwater plays The Bell House in Brooklyn on Tuesday, February 16. For tickets, click here