Chicago's Eleventh Dream Day returns with Zeroes and Ones
The great thing about Eleventh Dream Day is that you don’t get the ghoulish impression that, 25 years on, its members are too old to rock. Seeing and hearing guitarist Rick Rizzo, drummer Janet Beveridge Bean and bassist Doug McCombs back in action is more akin to witnessing a veteran jazz musician still at it: not following trends, not even setting them—just doing what they were put here to do.
You can get a concise example on EDD’s latest, Zeroes & Ones (Thrill Jockey), where the threesome (plus keyboardist Mark Greenberg) is heard refining its own odd space. Rizzo sounds a little more contented with himself these days, but the fuzztone skronk emanating from his guitar tells us otherwise. EDD always had a hellafied six-string sound, and time has not readjusted the energy level. “It’s good that we never quit so we didn’t have to reform and fuel, but when I play with the band, it’s pretty timeless,” Rizzo says. “I’m 48 now—I don’t see 48 as being old! I still feel like the little punk rocker I was in my early twenties. To play a show here and there, or to get together for an album, it’s always fresh. I guess it keeps you young.”
In the intervening years, Rizzo, Bean and McCombs have continued on separate musical journeys: McCombs has been in the light with Tortoise, Bean has remained visible with alt-country band Freakwater, and Rizzo has continued to occasionally play music and tour with the likes of fellow experimentalists Red Red Meat and Tara Key, indie-folk acts Will Oldham and Edith Frost, and singer/sonwriter Smog. But even with other priorities, EDD’s classic sound—an orgy of distorted guitars with vaguely disturbing lyrics, and Rizzo’s nagging vocals alternating with Bean’s softer tones—still remains. “I think that’s just a by-product of playing together all these years,” Rizzo says. “You maintain a musical personality. I think every songwriter does that. You might pick up a few things along the way, but there’s always going to be some commonalities.
“When we were in our twenties,” he continues, “it was a combination of trying to sound like your record collection and not being able to play so well. As the years go by, you don’t have to think so much about what you’re playing. The chemistry changes a little bit.”
“It’s organic,” Bean adds. “What we have—and have always had—is unique between the three of us.”
The nucleus of EDD started in 1981 when Bean and Rizzo met at the University of Kentucky and started dating. Some years later, the couple moved to Chicago, where they found McCombs and guitarist Baird Figi. A self-titled EP was soon followed by the group’s debut, 1988’s Prairie School Freakout (Amoeba). And then comes the part of the story where the band gets signed by a major label (Atlantic), but defies expectations with a record (1989’s Beet) that was every bit as raw as its debut. Bean recalls those days with some amusement: “There wasn’t a huge precedent for the kind of band that we were. I don’t think, even if they did market us properly, that we will ever be a band that sells thousands of records. We were too idiosyncratic to have such a broad appeal.”
“We were tucked away in a little corner of Atlantic with Bettina [Richards, then working A&R for the label and now owner of Thrill Jockey], who was as big a believer as anybody, with the suits following suit,” Rizzo adds with a chuckle. “By the time we put [1993’s] El Moodio out, we were an old band. It’s hard for a band to get momentum on its third [major] record, and that was it. That was history.”
The story wasn’t quite over. While EDD lay dormant soon after, it still recorded periodically on Richards’s own Thrill Jockey label. Zeroes & Ones reveals that there are no mothballs on EDD’s sound. “The music doesn’t date itself,” Bean says. “It’s just the way we all worked together.”
“I think we fall into place pretty well,” Rizzo adds. “I don’t think Doug brings the Tortoise sound to EDD, I don’t think Janet brings the Freakwater sound to EDD. When the three of us are together, it’s always going to be our sound.”
Zeroes & Ones hits shelves Tuesday 25. EDD plays a record-release show at Empty Bottle May 18.