The Official Site for Alt. Country - Your source for TWANG
EDITOR’S NOTE: To mark No Depression’s 25th anniversary this month, we asked David Menconi, a contributing editor during its earliest years (1995-2008), to check back in with artists who appeared in the magazine’s first few issues. Read other stories in this series here.
Freakwater first appeared in No Depression’s Vol. 1, No. 2, Winter 1996, the same issue with Blue Mountain on the cover. Twenty-four years ago, co-leader Catherine Irwin told No Depression co-editor Grant Alden this on the subject of age: “Um, I’m pretty old … I’m 33. I don’t have a lot to say as far as perky young people go. I mean, I don’t hold it against them, but I don’t really want to hang around with them, either.”
“Well, if you expect to be dead by the time you’re 30, you sure don’t expect to ever be twice as old,” Irwin quips upon being reminded of this. “I was not wrong to say that 30 is pretty fucking old, and I stand by that. I feel like I have all the downsides of being geriatric with none of the adoration some cultures give to their elders for their wisdom. None!”
And at that, Irwin and her Freakwater co-leader Janet Beveridge Bean give a good long laugh. If they haven’t had the last laugh, exactly, Freakwater has done right well over the past quarter-century. With Bean in Chicago and Irwin in Louisville, Kentucky, the group has always been something of a catch-as-catch-can proposition to fit in around the principal members’ other doings — most notably Eleventh Dream Day, Bean’s long-running and still-going rock band with Rick Rizzo.
Still, they’ve found the time to release 10 Freakwater albums, centered around the eerie, Carter Family-esque vocal interplay of Bean and Irwin. And they’ve also found themselves playing plenty of strange gigs over the years, including a few that sound like something straight out of Spinal Tap. Chief among those was a show sponsored by Garden & Gun magazine in honor of the founding of the state of Kentucky.
“It was at this really over-monied place, the Breeders Cup Horse Farm,” recalls Bean. “Huge giant stable, we’re doing soundcheck and they’re asking us, ‘Can you play quieter? Just unplug?’ People wanted to eat, not hear us doing our songs about Bolsheviks over their silver-plated mint-julep cups. But they paid us well.”
Freakwater was most recently heard on-record in 2016 with the album Scheherazade. As for if or when another Freakwater album might emerge, Irwin and Bean say it will probably happen. There might also be an album at some point by their collaborative group with members of The Mekons, the Freakons.
“I never envision anything,” Bean says. “Stuff just starts to happen and when it does, it does. Over time, I’ve always said that Freakwater is like tennis. You can play until you’re super old, you just keep getting slower and slower — which we have. We’re one of the few bands that plays slower live than on record. We used to put out records because our moms were so enthusiastic, but both our moms are no longer with us. So there’s no one telling us we should do that. Still, I don’t understand why we’d ever say, ‘Freakwater is done, time to close that chapter.’”
“Is making another record just a dumb idea?” Irwin asks rhetorically. “It would probably happen more quickly if someone told us it was dumb. Luckily we’ve never had the stress of money for motivation. I like almost all parts of making a record — being in the studio, singing with Janet — even if I have no interest in learning how to record.”
“I love singing with Catherine and enjoy the company, so I’d do it for that reason,” Bean says. “Singing together is really the only reason to do it, and why it’s continued for so long. Those moments of real not-miserableness.”
David Menconi is a music journalist in Raleigh, NC, who has written for publications including Billboard, Spin, Rolling Stone, the Raleigh News & Observer, and No Depression — where he was a contributing editor for the magazine’s original 1995-2008 incarnation. His next book, Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, will be published in October by University of North Carolina Press.
Justin Townes Earle, the son of legendary alt-country songwriter Steve Earle who was named after iconic outlaw country songwriter Townes Van Zandt and was a successful artist in his own right, died on Sunday. He was thirty-eight. Justin Earle launched his career for Bloodshot Records with his Yuma EP (2007) followed by eight full-length records – from 2009's Midnight at the Movies and his early high watermark Harlem River Blues the following year through his final album The Saint of Lost Causes for New West Records in 2019 – that earned a loyal following along the way.
Earle's Facebook page announced official news on Sunday night: “It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend Justin,” the post read. “So many of you have relied on his music and lyrics over the years and we hope that his music will continue to guide you on your journeys. You will be missed dearly Justin.” “This life is like the mob,” iconic East Nashville songwriter Todd Snider says. “Justin was a sweet soul. I really loved that young man. He really had it."
- Brian T. Atkinson
Joshua Ray Walker's Glad You Made It delivers vivid vidnettes (“D.B. Cooper”) and Technicolor narratives (“Boat Show Girl”) with a classic country heartbeat (“One Trick Pony”). The Dallas native acknowledges terrestrial radio's importance in a young singer-songwriter's rise toward the stars.
“I've noticed a significant jump in ticket sales in towns where terrestrial radio was playing my music,” Walker says. “We go to towns I've never played but who were playing me on the radio and would sell two or three times as many tickets. I'm grateful my label sees that terrestrial radio has so much value.”
Describe how the new record took shape.
Joshua Ray Walker: I had been writing songs for about ten years before I put out the last album, so this album has some old songs. I had quite a few in the back catalog. Five or six had been around a while. Three or four songs are pretty new.
Explain the title Glad You Made It.
My idea is to have the first three records all reference each other. The first record Wish You Were Here had lots of sad, downtempo ballads. Glad You Made It is more upbeat and sounds more like a party. The third record will be called See You Next Time. So, this is episode two.
Young songwriters don't usually have a trilogy planned right away.
Well, I've envisioned this as a trilogy since before I put the first record out. I started to lay out which songs I wanted on the record when I was working on the first album and which I would do later. I realized that there were quite a few songs left over when the first record came out.
Explain how 'D.B. Cooper' came together.
I started “D.B. Cooper” with a friend in high school. It needed a chorus, but that riff has always been there. We had some extra time in the studio and the guy said, “What do you have left?” I started playing “D.B.” We cut it in about three takes. The song is out of character for the rest of the record.
You closed the record with it anyway.
I'm also in this band called the Ottoman Turks. We have lots of riff-heavy guitar work, which is what I did all through junior high and high school and early college. I played lead guitar for other people before I started writing my own songs. I thought “D.B. Cooper” was a good way to close the album because it bridges the gap between my songwriting and what I do as a guitar player in other bands.
Describe how the newer songs represent your evolution as a songwriter.
Well, “Cupboard," “True Love” and “Boat Show Girl” are new and the singles off the record. I think that they were all singles shows that I'm growing and improving as a writer. I'm proud of the songs – particularly “Boat Show Girl.” You can see my development as an arranger and writer with that song.
Tell the story behind writing 'Boat Show Girl.'
Well, my mom did PR for outdoor sports companies and NASCAR when I was a kid. We went to lots of boat shows, vintage car shows, motocross rallies, and tractor pulls, all the great redneck weekend sports. There would be models there who were pushing products like next year's riding lawnmower or Bud Light. Girls in bikinis would be there selling stuff and taking pictures with your weird uncle. My mom was in charge of hiring those girls so I would be around them a lot.
Explain how your natural environment shaped your songwriting.
I got a behind the scenes look at what it takes to do that. It really is a talent. It's hard to make someone think you're excited about selling Bud Light Lime. I felt like there was always a wink and a nod there. They'd take the picture and then you'd catch an eye roll. That stuck with me. I saw the correlation between doing that and being an entertainer. That song had been rattling around in my head for a while.
Describe how growing up in Dallas generally influenced you as a songwriter.
I think there's a special combination of city and country growing up in Dallas. People in Texas think of it as a big city, which it is, but you're still in Texas. You're exposed to stuff you're not in other places in the country. One thing that shaped my music taste is how diverse the culture is here. I grew up in a diverse part of East Dallas with conjunto music, “Volver Volver,” bluegrass, polka from the German immigrants. There are huge hip-hop, metal and rockabilly scenes.
And great songwriters are
Yeah, the Death Ray Davies were a big think when I got into the rockabilly scene in high school. I was a huge Toadies fan. They're from Dallas and Ft. Worth. Rhett Miller and Old 97s came out of my area in Dallas. Everybody in the alt-country scene looked up to them growing up.
– Brian T. Atkinson
Artist: Jesse Daniel
Hometown: Santa Cruz, California
Album: Rollin' On
Release Date: March 27, 2020
Record Label: Die True Records
Album's musical focus:
“I'm a nut for the Bakersfield sound. It's really become a part of my songwriting. This record is all about taking a step forward, but it also carries on the tradition of country music made in – and inspired by – California.” –Jesse Daniel
Copyright © 2019 The Official Site for Alt. Country