Rick Rizzo and Janet Beveridge Bean have been making music for nearly 40 years as founding members of Chicago's treasured Eleventh Dream Day, as well as in other projects such as Freakwater and Rick's work with Tara Key. I had the pleasure of talking with them on a sunny afternoon a few months ago about their stellar new release Since Grazed, recording during a pandemic, touring while pregnant and much, much more. They're way better at telling their story than I could ever be, so I'm going to hand it over to them.
Thank you both, I've been looking forward to talking with you. My first question would be how did Eleventh Dream Day get started? There's a bit of Louisville history before Chicago?
Rick: Yeah, I met Janet in Louisville in 1983. She was rehearsing with another band in what was known as the punk rock house there at a place called 1069. I was hanging out with some friends that I knew and she walked out of her rehearsal and I met her. Next thing I knew, she was moving to Chicago and we were starting a band.
I know there have been a few different lineups, but I think Doug McCombs has been a part of it since the beginning? How did you start playing with Doug?
Rick: Well, we actually started as a 3 piece. Janet worked at The Heartland and there was this other woman Shu who played bass. We did that for about a year and even made some demos. I wanted to add another guitar player. I think it all got a little noisy for Shu back then so she decided to quit and we got Baird Figi to play guitar because he knew Doug. He worked at Round Records. Everybody back then was in Rogers Park and those 2 joined the band at the same time around 1985.
Wow, so you guys have existed as a band for almost 40 years. Any bands before Eleventh Dream Day?
Rick: I went to college in Lexington, KY and after I graduated, I was in a punk rock band called The Pods. Nobody would really know who they were. It was another 3 piece and I taught myself how to play bass but we never recorded or anything.
Janet: When I met Rick, I was living in Louisville and playing in a band called The Zoo Directors and that was the first band I played drums in.
So you made your way to Chicago and met up with Doug and Baird. How soon after were you releasing records?
Rick: About a year and a half, we had some songs that ended up being our first EP that came out in 1987. We started playing shows pretty quickly, got that first EP out and immediately started working on Prairie School Freakout. That came out in ‘88.
So you guys were pre-Nirvana major label "college rock"?
Rick: Yeah, way pre-Nirvana. New Rose put out Prairie School Freakout and we were building up a pretty good indie following, sleeping on people’s floors and driving the ratty van police always wanted to pull over. Livin’ the indie dream. Bettina from Thrill Jockey was in A&R at Atlantic, came to see us play, and signed us in 1989.
Janet: Yeah, I think Hüsker Dü had been signed, and The Replacements.
Rick: Any band that got signed pre-Nirvana didn’t last too long on the major labels. The majors really weren’t set up for bands like us. In retrospect, we probably would have been better off staying on an indie. We definitely got our name out there on Atlantic but when we were touring around Europe, we weren’t able to sell our records or have a merch table. The people that were coming to our shows were definitely indie music fans and being on a major label was kind of to our detriment. We had really grown an audience on Amoeba Records, which is not connected to the record store, but was a small label that put the records out.
You just mentioned touring in Europe during those times. Do any fond live or recording experiences from that time stick out to you?
Janet: I remember the unfun things more, probably. [laughs] We were in Italy and I was pregnant with Matt, my son with Rick, and I was sort of in that state where things were hard. I wasn’t in the best mental mood and I was playing this song called ‘Rose of Jericho’ which is a pretty demanding song physically, and I was in the middle of it and I just stopped. I was just like “I can’t do it”. I was like 3 or 4 months pregnant or something and I think I just left the stage. And then everyone was like “What’s going on?” Finally, I come back out and Rick was like “She’s just not feeling very well” and I was like “I’m fucking pregnant." Then, someone from the audience was like “Divorce him, marry me!” I was thinking “Okay, maybe, if that’s what it takes to get off this stage” because I’d had enough.
Rick: It was an incredibly fun tour. We were co-headlining with Yo La Tengo where depending on the city, we would headline or open. The opening band got to take the car instead of the van, which meant we got to drive really fast on the autobahn while the headliner had to go and do the sound check, which in Europe is always extra long and grueling for some reason. It was just really fun to be on tour with those guys because we were both experiencing the biggest crowds we’d ever had. They were really amazing, big shows. It was our second time in Europe and probably the peak of our band. The first record we did on Atlantic, we went on tour with The Meat Puppets and we were the opener so it was just fun to blast through a 45 minute set. It was just a lot of energy and exuberance. That was the first time we were playing to big crowds because we had The Meat Puppets’ audience. It was all up and down the East Coast and a great way to get inaugurated into the whole thing. They were a fun bunch of guys too.
Janet: The whole tour with Yo La Tengo was the best ever but until you have been on tour and pregnant, you don't get it. It’s just an altered state. I think I can be excused for my bad memories. I was in a funny way. Poor Rick, I was like “I have to eat something other than cheese and ham! I have to eat vegetables!”
So, you all have made many, many records. Let's talk about your latest, Since Grazed. Am I wrong to think this was recorded during the pandemic?
Janet: Mostly before, but bits and pieces were during.
Rick: We were just about ready to mix when the shutdown happened. Doug still had a couple of things to lay down and Janet had a couple of things but it was just finishing touches. During the Covid year, a lot happened, especially on Mark’s end. He spent a lot of time with attention to detail on vocals. We put a lot more time into the mixes than usual.
Janet: I think we thought we were ready to mix, but really the record wasn’t done. That extra year between the time we thought we were finished and the time we put it out was really transformative for the record. We’re really lucky that we got to work at The Loft and we had to be there around times when no one else was using it. We couldn’t block out a week and do it, we did it in bits and bobs. The separation allowed us to be a little more experimental. I could be like “Hey, what if we try this funny instrument here or try singing it like this.” I felt more freedom because everyone else wasn’t around and I felt like I wasn’t taking up time someone else might better use. No one else was there but me, so it was alright. Having the space and time to step back and live with different versions of the songs, which is how most bands do it, but we were always sort of under the gun to try to just bang it out.
Rick: I’m very impatient too. In my mind, I’m always racing. We usually record as a band and we’ve got the songs down and we go in the studio and blast them out together. This time I went in with just my acoustic and sang and tracked all 12 songs in one session. It’s an unusual way to go about it for us. We weren’t really knowing it was going to be an Eleventh Dream Day record at that point. Speaking to the impatient part, I’d had a bunch of songs for a long time building up and I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t think they were really band songs. They just weren’t fitting so I just decided I wanted to get these songs down and started recording but it turned out they were Eleventh Dream Day songs. It’s different for us but change is good.
Janet: Rick would come over and we’d play the songs and I was having a hard time imagining how these songs would translate to what we do. He wanted to go record them and asked if I’d lend my ear and if I have any ideas and so I went into the studio and he’s in the recording booth playing. I’m with Mark and he’s moving his head like he likes it and says “this is an Eleventh Dream Day song.” I was sort of pushing Rick to do a solo record because I knew he really wanted to play shows and it was very hard for all of us to make that happen as a band. So I asked him if he wanted to do a solo record and play solo shows and he said “Well I’ve wanted to make an Eleventh Dream Day record” and so we decided that’s what we’ll do. So we started layering it on from there. I can’t say enough about how Mark added to the record. He doubles on drums with me on some songs, he would hear things when we weren’t there and add them in and wouldn’t say he’d done it and we’d be like “Mark did you do something on this?” and he’d be like “yeah” [laughter].
Rick: Yeah, that’s true about Mark, and Jim has a home studio, he was just in his house during Covid and he put on these beautiful string arrangements using synths, as well as his great acoustic playing and piano. Stuff we probably wouldn’t have done if we didn’t do it this way. Doug hadn’t really heard the songs before and he had fresh ears, so he put on some really unique and amazing bass lines. He even played acoustic bass on some stuff because the songs were different and he adapted to that. Everyone in this band is so good and it turns out that making it an Eleventh Dream Day record was really the best move.
Yeah, what you’re talking about, like having the time and room to let it breathe and give space to everyone, I was thinking there’s a lot of texture to the record. I’ve really been enjoying it.
Rick: A couple songs have different mixes to them and it was mostly Mark taking stuff out and getting space built in. The moves he was making to remove things opened the songs up more.
Most of our records are loud with a lot of guitars and not a lot of space. They’re pretty dense. The drums and guitars are different on this record, which opens things up.
Janet: We’ve been doing this thing for close to 40 years, which is mind boggling. If you haven’t decided you can really do something really different than how you’ve been doing it, we’ve earned the right to do whatever we want. It’s not like we’re going to sell a lot less records or a lot more. It’s really not about sales. From record to record we sell almost the exact same number of copies. A few of our fans have died since we put out the last one. [laughter] We really have that opportunity to do whatever the hell we want. A lot of these songs are peculiar. A few of them have this poppy side to them but there’s also some strange kind of discord in them that makes them interesting to me. That’s what I like about the record. They’re all solid songs that are kind of twisted. I was so happy with the way things were coming along with the layering the overall tenor that the record has. This is the first time we decided to let one of our records have a mood to it.
So, you didn't wait to put it out?
Janet: No. We put it out as soon as we could. We were still working on it. We were still adding parts up until the end of January. Right up to mastering. We really wanted to put it out ASAP because Rick had had these songs for so long and I think he really just needed to release them from his mind. The record just had the vibe of what’s happening right now and I wanted it to come out as fast as possible. That’s why we did it on Comedy Minus One because it wasn’t able to fit in the schedule at Thrill Jockey. We had the idea of putting out ourselves on Bandcamp but Jon was very amenable to putting out a digital release and putting out the vinyl on schedule for how long it takes, which is very long right now. So that’s why we did it the way we did.
Rick: It’s not like we’re a big touring band either. We don’t tour so…
Do you have any plans for live shows in the future or related to the release?
Janet: No. I don’t think anybody does, do they? *
Rick: When the vinyl comes out, I’d really like to play some shows, whether outdoors or indoors. Whatever the world is set up for. I think that by that time, the band will be back and the concert goers will be back and there'll be some way we can do some shows. I really relish the thought of playing some of these live. I think it would really complete it for me.
I think the last time I saw you guys, you were opening for Dream Syndicate at The Hideout. It was the day Roky Erickson died.
Janet: I’m all for everyone doing these home recordings, especially in the time capsule sense. 50 or 100 years from now they’ll be like “What was going on?” There’ll be a real catalog of people playing in their house. Perhaps that’ll be all everyone will be able to do ever again. But as far as a live experience, it doesn’t translate to a show for me. It’s a very different experience and I rarely get to the end of the performance when I’m just sitting in my house. I get distracted very easily.
I hear you. I’ve watched a few trying to support people and at times find it maybe a little distracting, like "Hey that's ___________ in their kitchen.” [laughter]
Janet: I think it’s beautiful in the sense that people care that much about music existing that they were willing to do whatever it took, as far as the musicians themselves but it was a gorgeous thing to see audiences donating money just to watch it on their phone. It’s a real testament to the community that is music.
Rick: I really feel for the younger bands at the prime of their careers. Hopefully it will just be a short interruption. Not every band is like us where you just keep going. This kind of thing can really put a damper on somebody’s musical dreams.
Janet: Yeah I wonder, a year and a half is a long time when you’re 19 years old. How many bands did not make it through that might have been really groundbreaking? That’s a long time in the life of a 19 year old. In the life of a mid 50’s year old, it’s nothing. It’s like a season or something. I think about the loss of art in all this.
So you mentioned The Meat Puppets earlier and I can definitely hear some of that sort of stuff in Eleventh Dream Day. What were other influential bands for you guys from when you started versus now and how has that changed over time?
Rick: I was a fan of bands like The Minutemen and Mission of Burma, that great era of indie rock. I was into post-punk, as is Doug, but as time went on, I wasn’t listening to stuff as much but just concentrating on making music. Early on you’re the culmination of all those records you bought when you were younger. It all adds up to your first couple of records and then something else takes over. I’ve gotten more influence from books I was reading than other music.
Janet: I think when we started Patti Smith was a big influence. I was young when Rick and I started playing music. I was just 18 so I had not had this long relationship with super cool music. I was mostly into classic rock and then I fell in with this crew in Louisville and it was a very quick schooling on things. I was given a tape and one side was Gang of Four and the other side was The Velvet Underground but they labeled it wrong so forever I thought Gang of Four was The Velvet Underground and vice versa until I said something to somebody and they looked at me like I was a complete idiot [laughter]. Bands like The Raincoats were a big deal for me for a short period of time but then I met Rick and this whole world of music opened up. We had a mutual friend whose name was Raul who was a deep, deep music enthusiast of all music. And it was like my school because we spent every night in this man’s dank apartment with a rabbit and about 10,000 records that looked out onto the train tracks going through Rogers Park listening to records for hours and hours. Whether it was Fairport or something more current, it was a real schooling.
Rick: A lot of old country music like Buck Owens. Back in the early 80’s there were some really dive bar country places like on Lawrence Avenue, they called it the Cowboy and Indian bar. All these great dive bars with country music on the jukebox, but it was all mixed up with punk rock and indie rock.
Janet: As far as influences for the band, it was more an offshoot of this education and we weren’t really trying to sound like anything. It was just trying to play the instrument really. It wasn’t like trying to make this song sound like Echo & The Bunnymen.
So let's talk about other projects you’re involved in.
Janet: Well I’ve got Freakwater, which happens more inconsistently than Eleventh Dream Day but we’ve had a project that’s been done for a while that’s a mash-up of Freakwater and The Mekons called the Freakons. It’s a record of coal mining songs, a couple traditionals, and a couple we wrote that connect Wales, where John is from and Kentucky, where me and Catherine are from. We are putting that out pretty soon. The artwork for this is really good. It’s this Belgian artist that John found and it’s incredible and a gatefold sleeve. And I’m doing this other thing that got pushed back because of Covid that’s this really remarkable guy named Robert Lloyd who has this band called The Nightingales, which is this classic famous punk rock band out of England. He’s this incredible character. There’s a documentary on him right now called King Rocker that you should look for. I don’t know if you know the comedian Stuart Lee, but he’s the narrator/interviewer. But we’re working on something over the phone right now. We’re supposed to record that in Spain as soon as that is allowed again.
Rick, you've made a couple records with Tara Key and also I was just thinking about Chestnut Station, which is always a fun time.
Rick: [laughs] Yeah, Chestnut Station was so much fun to play in. There was a Drag City party that needed a band. Hey, we opened for Tenacious D. Twice! I think the last thing Chestnut Station ever did was backing David Berman for a few songs at The Empty Bottle. It was Harmony Korine, David Berman, and I think Will (Oldham)? I forgot what the event actually was, but we backed him for a few Silver Jews songs and I think that was the last thing Chestnut Station did.
Here’s a good story: We’d signed to Atlantic and I quit my day job and Janet and I got married. We went on this really long honeymoon trip and I came back and started working at this record distributor, Kaleidoscope Records for $5/hour. It was the brokest I’d ever been because we’d spent all our money on our honeymoon. And there I was in the mail room where I met Dan Koretzky who was the head of the mail room at the time. Then Janet came to work there and David Yow had just moved up to Chicago. So Dave Sims worked in accounting, Yow worked in the mail room with me, and some other of Dan’s friends like Dave Marr. So that’s when I met Rian and Brendan (Murphy) and I was older than all those guys by a lot of years but I had the best time. Dan started Drag City right in that period of time and he lived in a third floor walk up in West Town and he’d get those shipments of records coming off the truck and it was just me and him carrying them up those stairs. I was his first mail order guy. I did mail order for probably 7 or 8 years at Drag City. I didn’t quit Drag City until like 2000 or something, but Dan was pissed when I left. [laughter] But it was really fun to watch Drag City grow and doing those Shellac records, putting them together by hand, stuffing the Drag City fliers in everything. It was an amazing time.
Rick, that actually reminds me, did you play on a tour with Will Oldham in maybe... 1996?
Rick: 1997. It was the Arise Therefore tour. To this day, it was just an incredible experience. It was a 3-piece band. Will was living in Iowa City and I’d go down there to rehearse and he’d sent me a tape of Arise.. and his previous record was not at all like that. Here I was this loud, brash guitar player and it was really different. I was really challenged to be in that band. There was no bass player, the keyboard player Colin programmed bass into his keyboard and Will and I played guitar. There was no drummer so it was a real musical challenge but it clicked really well. We toured the entire country. It was a 5 week tour with just the 3 of us and Howard Greynolds tour managing. Will was behind the wheel the whole time just poppin’ in the tapes. It was magic, just really really fun. If I’d had an iPhone back then...I don’t think I have one picture of that whole tour.
That's funny because when you guys played in St. Louis, I was in the very first band. You guys headlined, Low played in the middle, and I was in the first band which was a kind of bluegrass band made up of 3 really young guys. I remember meeting Howard that night. I’m sure I said hi to you. I was particularly into Will’s music at the time so I was a little bit starstruck. None of us were quite 21 yet, but we got in there and I was talking to Will at the bar and he ordered us both beers, so they kept serving me all night. We got paid in pizza. I remember it being a really fun, great show. Howard’s tambourine contributions were memorable.
Rick: That must have been one of the last shows of the tour. Will’s one of those guys who will throw songs at you last minute, kinda like what Bob Dylan does. You gotta be on your toes. Always a fun challenge.
A friend suggested I ask you about the Wells Street Irregulars...
So, Janet, how did Freakwater come to be and what were those influences?
Janet: I think the connection between punk rock and country music and the sort of rawness of it all, the scene in Louisville that I came out of was heavy into that. Catherine grew up in a household where there was always a lot of Clancy Brothers on the turntable. I would walk around singing that song ‘I’m Not Lisa’. [sings] Catherine asked if we could sing some songs together and we made this little cover band and we played at this bar called the B-Club which was a strip club during the day and a music venue at night. We dressed up, it was sort of campy at that point. I was wearing gowns and a wig and we were singing Tammy Wynette songs and then we just got lazier and stopped wearing the outfits and decided it was easier to just write our own songs than to learn others. It was all born out of laziness. We were just doing our own shit, but it wasn’t disparate from the music scene. We recorded demos in Louisville and went on a west coast tour with Eleventh Dream Day. David Yow invited us to go on tour with the Jesus Lizard, but we turned it down. We were terrified of what might happen to us! [laughter] It was just very organic with everything else that was happening. We weren’t making a concerted effort to be different from anything.
I’m a big Freakwater fan, but I remember at the time I was a sponge for all this new music and Freakwater sent me down a rabbit hole that, to this day, I’m really appreciative of.
Janet: I think in our heads we were writing these amazing George Jones songs or whatever but you funnel it through a couple feeble-minded young girls, and they just turned out to be Freakwater songs.
Rick: So, they started doing that early around 1985-86. Back then, The Mekons had moved to town and you could go down on a Sunday night and see those old guys The Sundowners play downtown. Punk rock and that kind of country were just intertwined.
Janet: I remember distinctly I had this neighbor girl in Louisville and her family loved The Statler Brothers and I could not stand any of that. I thought I really hated country music. Louisville was the furthest north in the South I’d lived because I’d lived in Florida and Alabama, so it just seemed like stupid music that should have been on Lawrence Welk or Hee-Haw. When you find Hank Williams and are listening to it with a bunch of people that you really like, you listen with different ears. You’re a lot more accepting than you might have been. I remember the Gang of Four guys were in town doing a book signing for the 33 & 1/3rd series and they swore they thought they originally were just a ska band but everyone thought they were this new thing. I think that’s how it was with Freakwater. I hope bands still do that, where they think they’re sounding exactly like something else but they create something brand new. Those are the bands I’m always drawn to.
I remember seeing Freakwater in Columbia, Missouri at the Blue Note in the late 90’s and after the show I met Catherine very briefly. She was super nice to me and I was wearing a Jesus Lizard t-shirt with the mouse on the bomb. She was like “Awww, David” (or something like that.) At the time that kind of blew my mind.
Janet: We were just all friends. I don’t know if it was like that in New York and LA, but in the 80’s and early 90’s, there was this beautiful cross-hybridization of stuff. It wasn’t very cliquish if I recall.
What do you guys find yourself listening to currently? What’s on heavy rotation at your house?
Janet: I think the last month, Paul Simon. I love AZITA’s new record. I’m looking forward to the new Superwolves record because that other one is one of my favorite records. I got to see them perform at Cropped Out Fest in Louisville. That record just kills me and I’m really excited to hear the new one. My husband mans the turntables more than anyone else and I’m fine with that. I read more and search out new authors more than I search out new music, sadly.
Rick: I’ve been listening to The Nightingales because I wasn’t that familiar with them but Janet turned me on to that documentary King Rocker.
Alrighty, I have a few coffee related questions. I’m assuming you both like coffee? What do each of you look for in a good cup of coffee?
Janet: I look for it to be in my hands the moment my eyes awake. [Laughter]
Rick: I don’t feel right if I don’t have it first thing in the morning. I really like getting good quality coffee but I had some stomach issues for a while and I had to go to decaf, which is depressing. When you’re making one cup it’s hard going through the process of finding something good to grind. But I still try to treat myself a couple times a week to a cup of real coffee, something nice and full-bodied that goes to your whole mouth. Same way I like wine.
Janet: I don’t like Colombian coffee so much. I’ve been drinking some coffee from Chiapas for the last couple months. That's really lovely.
How do you guys make coffee at home? What kind of machine do you use?
Janet: I have two places. I have a Chemex at one place and I have to admit to having an espresso machine at the other place. I love coffee. When I go to bed at night, I actually think about the coffee I’m going to have in about 7 hours. I have many friends who are into the process of all of it, but I’m just too lazy. I’m really a lazy person. [Laughter]
Do you feel that coffee in any way ties into your creative ability or output?
Janet: I don’t think it always does, but I think it has played a major role in particular songs I’ve written and I write a lot in the morning so I have to have coffee. I don’t think it’s something that’s constantly there, but it has been integral at different points.
Rick: It’s always there, like Zelig. [laughs] If I’m going into the studio, I’m bringing coffee with me. It’s not a co-writer, but it’s always there in the room.
The last thing I always ask people is if they’ve heard any good jokes lately...
Rick: You got the wrong members of the band. Doug McCombs is the funny one.
Gotcha... Hey Doug, have you heard any good jokes lately?
Doug: Hmmm… I’m afraid any jokes I know may be too “off color.” Maybe the first joke I ever remember hearing… “What’s red and goes up and down? A tomato in an elevator.” I heard it on a Peoria area children's TV show called Captain Jinks and Salty Sam.
Thanks again to Rick, Janet, and Doug. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Eleventh Dream Day's excellent new record Since Grazed, as well as the rest of their expansive catalog and other projects. Since speaking, fortune has smiled upon us and EDD will be playing 3 shows in September:
9/24 Chicago, IL - Constellation
9/25 Chicago, IL - Constellation