Beat Drun Juel is one of Chicago’s best bands— you just wouldn’t know it because of the current garage-rock boom eclipsing the city’s scene. Just beneath that catchy, jangling power-chord surface though, are many scenes and bands who don’t know where they fit and don’t really care to. There you’ll find Beat Drun Juel, showing up without any preconceived notions, ready to melt your face.
I met with the trio at Logan Square spot, The Rocking Horse to discuss their sound, where they see themselves in Chicago’s hotbed music scene, and what’s to come after the release of their latest EP, “Suppressor.”
Comprised of vocalist/guitarist/chief song writer Donna Polydoros, bassist Jesse Giallombardo, and drummer Mat Haywood, the trio’s irreverence for defining their music and “fitting” into a subgroup of Chicago’s vast music scene leaves the door open to many more possibilities and a realm of sound that’s far from ever becoming stagnant. But that outlook is far from where this band began, with Polydoros writing and performing as a solo artist, writing “poppier” songs with a definite ‘90s feel before taking to Craigslist to find bandmates.
“I posted an ad on Craigslist and I said I was looking for somebody who geeks out on tone and he [Jesse] was like, ‘That’s me!’” Donna says.
After playing in The Paver, Jesse was happy to step out of the creative role coming into Beat Drun Juel, a band based purely on Donna’s ideas. “I was the catalyst for the heaviness,” Jesse says, “But I tried to bring a lot of counter-melody to it.”
After playing with their previous drummer for a year before parting ways, Mat (previously of the band, Velocicopter) auditioned, was quickly offered the spot, and it was then that they realized they could be doing so much more.
Matt adds, “This band has opened up a lot of windows for me, just playing with them. I’ve never played in a band that sounds anything like this; I’ve always played punk or metal. It’s definitely broadened my horizons on where the beats are at or the fill-ins, things like that. And staying more in the back instead of taking over.”
“The earliest version of the band felt like it was a proof of concept. You [Donna] were testing yourself as a songwriter and a performer and when Mat joined the band, as we kind of…we had gotten better, gotten more confident.” Jesse explains. “Mat was the catalyst for us to say, ‘Ok we can be really good. This isn’t just an outlet for somebody’s diary entries, this is a rip-roaring band.’”
Those “diary entries” proved to be the backbone of the band’s new direction with Mat behind them on the drums. In the beginning, Donna found herself writing the deep, emotional cuts like “This is How I Get Over You” or “Let It Out” Beat Drun Juel has become known for half of the time. It was the encouragement from her bandmates while practicing that led her to realize those were the songs they should be playing all the time.
“There’s no point in wasting time doing stuff that’s meaningless,” she says. And while the ferocity with which Beat Drun Juel delivers these songs hits first, the intimacy they also carry is undeniable and comes off very natural and controlled amidst the chaos of the squealing guitar and pummeling of the bass and drums. The versatility to songs like “Off Your Face,” “+(Plus Sign),” and “Satisfy” is a testament to Donna’s songwriting.
“What I’ve discovered through playing with these guys is if I try to play something that doesn’t mean anything to me, there’s nothing to my voice. When I’m really feeling it, it holds everything together.”
Polydoros’ voice (both her literal and lyrical) is one that stays with you, even after the record stops playing or the live show ends. It’s unapologetically brash and guttural, with a grit to it that flies off the handle and isn’t afraid to sound ugly (much like her guitar playing). Often likening it to that of “exorcising demons,” it adds a vigor and an edge to Beat Drun Juel’s sound that’s as refreshing as it is a familiar nod to other female-fronted, hard rock acts (sorely lacking here in Chicago) that aren’t afraid to unleash the beast.
That too came with the progression of the band; as Donna explains that she feels it’s necessary to be frank about being a woman in a band.
“As a songwriter, my gender is very connected to my perspective on the world and what I write about it,” she says. “I never really sang [like this] before either. I had to learn out of necessity.”
Citing the most recent Fuck Fest! at the Double Door, Donna says many women came up to her and told her the band’s music made them feel good about being women.
“I like being upfront about being a female-fronted band, but I did have a fear in the beginning of us getting up on stage and someone shouting ‘Show us your tits!’” she confesses. Such an event actually happened at a DIY show the band was part of. “That aspect [of being a woman fronting a band] resonates with a lot of people.”
Jesse and Mat agree that the female perspective is grossly underrepresented in music, aside from the pop atmosphere breeding female artists who also have to look like women you’d want to sleep with. They try not to think of “female-fronted” as a genre, but as a necessary presence.
“Being a strong band on the back of a female that’s in your face and just ‘did it,’ it’s like now you have to go deal with it.” Jesse comments. “It’s not that I want to be in a band with a girl, but I want to support that perspective.”
While “female-fronted” and “hard rock power trio” still don’t define Beat Drun Juel, there is one thing that does –the band’s superiorly intense live show. They unanimously agreed that they’re a live band over being a studio band without hesitation. The studio presents a challenge since the band doesn’t like to play isolated. They wish to record live, feedback and all. The rawness to their sound strictly comes from three people playing their three instruments as hard as they can. No frills, no special overdubs, no plug-ins or fancy effects.
“We just plug in and fuckin’ rip,” according to Jesse.
When you go to a Beat Drun Juel show, just know that you’re going to see a band that really loves what they do, loves what the three of them create together, and knows they aren’t really what’s “in style” musically right now.
Jesse explains, “There’s a lot of bands in Chicago and there’s a ton of bands that have done what we’ve done to a certain degree, but they’re not doing it right now the way we are. We’re playing loud and we’re playing ‘without apologies.’”
“I don’t think that door [to Chicago’s more mainstream, rock scene] was ever open [to us].” Matt adds. “We do DIY shows, we do hang out or travel in a part of ‘the scene,’ we have friends in it, but we’re not—I think because we don’t really know what style of music we play. I mean, that’s part of it.”
“We just fit in with bands like The Cell Phones, who we’ve played with. You’d be hard-pressed to define what kind of music they play. They’re just themselves. I feel like we fit in with bands like that,” concludes Donna.
This fearlessness to their sound and freedom from definition has Donna, Jesse, and Mat looking forward to what’s next. “The new stuff will be much more collaborative and dynamic,” Donna says excitedly, adding that she no longer brings finished tracks to practice but waits for Jesse and Mat’s input. Tearing stuff apart and putting it back together as a group is a new frontier for the group to explore, especially since they agree there are no weak links.
As our conversation wraps, I ask what they want fans or perspective fans to take away from their live show. Jesse takes the last word, replying “Merch,” and only half joking.