Freakwater hasn’t avoided the typical moves associated with success in the music industry as some kind of protest, or politicized declaration of independence. It’s just that the band’s co-founders, Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean, can only do things their own way.
So what if they don’t make a lot of records — their last one came out in 2005 — or they take a few years off between tours? They’re busy, neurotic, meticulous, obsessive, stubborn. Textbook Louisville musicians, in other words.
But as the band hits the road for its first extended run of headlining dates since 2006, it has adopted an industry standard: the anniversary tour. Freakwater’s 13-city tour is being billed as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of “Feels Like the Third Time,” one of its finest records.
This is a very un-Freakwater thing to be doing.
“Well, it’s not exactly an anniversary. We’re either a year late or a year early, so there is something wrong with what we’re doing,” Irwin said. She then started laughing, pleased that even Freakwater’s mainstream gambit is inherently flawed (for the record, they’re a year late).
“This is the most grasping for a marketing straw we’ve ever done,” she said, “especially since we don’t even have copies of the album to sell at shows.”
But Freakwater, which plays Thursday at Headliners Music Hall, will perform “Feels Like the Third Time” in its entirety. That should make longtime fans happy, as the album is a huge favorite in the band’s hometown. For many years, it was the only album from a local band on the jukebox at Deddens Highland Fling, a sign of much respect.
“Feels Like the Third Time,” released on Thrill Jockey Records, features masterpieces such as “My Old Drunk Friend,” “Forgettable Song” and “Dream Girl.” Most of the classic Freakwater elements are represented, including painfully conflicted emotions, deep reserves of anger and recrimination, coal-black humor and raw-boned beauty.
When Irwin did this interview, she, Bean and longtime bassist David Wayne Gay were on the road to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the tour’s opening show. They’d just finished a few days of rehearsal, getting reacquainted with the songs.
“I hadn’t really listened to (the album) in about 20 years, and it’s better than I thought,” Irwin said. “It’s been kind of fun playing the songs. In a way, it’s kind of interesting to have made so little progress. I don’t feel like the songs would be any different if we made the record now. I’d just be angry at different people, a different cast of characters.”
The roots of Freakwater go back to 1981, when a barely legal Irwin met Bean, then a teenager. They hung out in the town’s nascent punk-rock community but bonded over country music, specifically Tammy Wynette, and their first public performance was a cover of “Stand by Your Man.”
They started Freakwater in 1988, just in time to be considered part of the first wave of alternative-country bands, but Freakwater has always ridden alone, and no other alt-country band gets the country part so right. Freakwater has made seven albums and is working on an eighth — they’ll play a couple of new songs next week.
Irwin has also made two solo albums, “Cut Yourself a Switch” and last year’s “Little Heater.” Bean, who moved to Chicago in the 1980s and formed Eleventh Dream Day with fellow Louisvillian Rick Rizzo, has also released a solo album in addition to 11 Eleventh Dream Day records and one as part of The Horse’s Ha.
It’s a fascinating career from all angles. Not many bands even get to make seven records, not to mention solo projects, but not many bands have fans as dedicated as Freakwater’s. On this tour, for example, two guys from Austria have flown over to see 11 of the 13 shows, including the one in Louisville, and last year flew over for a single show. They even brought cake.
“They’re really nice, super-intelligent people, and you’d think that they’d have other things they could be doing,” Irwin said. “I don’t want to say that they’re our greatest super-fans, because I don’t want our other great super-fans to feel slighted in any way, but they definitely bring more cake than any of our other super-fans.”
FREAKWATER, JULIE OF THE WOLVES, WOOD AND LAFRATE
When: Jan. 24, 8 p.m.
Where: Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road
Tickets: $12 advance,
$15 day of show; available at the venue, online at www.headlinerslouisville.com and at Wild and Woolly Video.