Freakwater at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Saturday (October 22). $12.50. 416-777-1777.
There was a time when getting dissed from the stage by Steve Earle seemed like a special honour. I thought that way until I discovered I wasn't the only one singled out by the tough-talking twanger for a little verbal abuse to kick off a show. In much the same way as he did in Toronto in reference to myself, Earle opened a gig in Chicago some time ago by announcing that the members of Freakwater could kiss his Texas ass. Apparently, Earle was pissed that the rootsy country-folk crew declined his offer to sign with his E-Squared label. How dare they. It's an incident that still draws loud laughter from Freakwater's co-principal singer/songwriter, Catherine Irwin.
"The funny thing is," says Irwin catching her breath, "if he really wanted you and the members of Freakwater to kiss his ass, there's plenty of liproom for us all back there."
In fact, Irwin could invite all the members of Califone - who played on the new Freakwater album, Thinking Of You (Thrill Jockey) - to join in without danger of anyone bumping into each other.
While the idea of having Califone mainman Tim Rutili produce the sessions might seem like an odd choice for Freakwater, considering that they've never really used an outside producer before and Rutili is better known for fronting alt-rockers Red Red Meat than for anything involving a musical saw, he was the only man for the job, according to Irwin.
"I've known Tim Rutili forever, and he's an incredibly nice guy. I actually used to goof around with his old band Friends of Betty - he'd let me come over to their place and play guitar with them. But actually, it was Janet (Beveridge Bean)'s idea to have him produce our record. I just kinda went along with it because we've never had a producer and I thought it would be good to have someone else to blame if things didn't work out.
"When Tim first heard our demos with just Janet and I singing together, he wanted to release that - as is. We were the ones pushing to have more stuff on the record."
It appears that getting Rutili and Califone involved in the sessions was the right decision, and anyone hoping Freakwater would move forward rather than retrace their creaky steps will likely agree.
There's still a charmingly loose quality to the proceedings that creates the impression of an informal living-room getdown. But having a drummer keeping time for a change adds a welcome bit of structure to Freakwater's songs. That could be why some critics are already calling Thinking Of You their most accessible album ever.
"I've noticed people have been saying this one sounds more accessible. It could be that the more musicians we have playing different instruments, the more our 'distinctive' singing gets drowned out. The most challenging aspect of what we do is the vocals - I don't mean for us singing, heh heh, I mean for people listening to us."`