Thursday, April 4, 2013

violent femmes

It had nothing to do with luck when the Violent Femmes funneled the angst-ridden acoustic punk coming-of-age confessions of this audacious kiss off into an enduring cult classic.  The band was formed in  Milwaukee, Wisconsin when Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo met Gordon Gano.  Ritchie recalls:    "This was in the punk era when sullenness and negativity were the norm. Victor's extroverted and slightly goofy persona were refreshing. So we hit it off and started playing in a number of different bands like The Rhomboids, Hitler's Missing Teste and Trance and Dance. In the meantime I had come up with this name Violent Femmes...Jerry Fortier asked me what my brother was like. At the time my brother was working for an insurance company, totally straight. So of course I lied and said, 'He's exactly like me, he's a punk and he has his own band!' Jerry asked me what the name of the band was, which put me on the spot. I had to come up with something, so I blurted out, 'Uh....Violent Femmes.'  I then walked over to Victor's house and told him about this episode. We had a good laugh and decided to start using the name...Anyway when Victor and I were playing with third parties in impromptu situations or if we were playing as a two piece we called ourselves "Violent Femmes".  Around the same time I met Victor I was approached by the owner of the Metropole Theater in Milwaukee, Robert Soffian. He told me, 'There's a guy you should check out, Gordon Gano, he's a pint sized Lou Reed imitator. I think you'll like him.'  I asked Robert if this Gordon character did Lou Reed songs. 'No, he does his own songs, but he imitates Lou Reed.' Being a huge Lou Reed fan I was mildly curious about this, so I went to Gordon's gig at a local coffehouse, Beneath it All. I was impressed by his songs and ability to handle a crowd. Those days he was much more extroverted on stage than he is now. He talked a lot to the audience and some of that was funny. I introduced myself to him. He had heard of me, and was happy that I had come because I was the only one from the adult world there. The rest of the people were kids from his high school.  We made plans to get together. I went over to his parents house and we played some songs. That was the first time I heard 'Country Death Song' which blew me away. He had dozens of songs. They have turned up on most of our albums. I didn't know what to do with Gordon, but I gave him a gig opening for the Rhomboids and we kept in touch.  Next stage in our story is when the Oil Tasters played at the Starship in Milwaukee. The Oil Tasters were the hippest band in Milwaukee and included as members Guy Hoffman and Caleb Alexander. I bumped into Gordon and he invited me to join him the next morning for a performance he was to give at school for the National Honor Society. Gordon was being inducted and they wanted him to perform a song.  The next morning Gordon and his dad picked me up and we went to school, someplace I thought I'd never be again. The contrast between us was ridiculous. Gordon, 5'2" wearing a suit, me 6'1" in torn jeans and and an old paisley smoking jacket. We were supposed to be playing 'Good Friend', but in imitation of Elvis Costello, who had recently performed a similar stunt on 'Saturday Night Live' we broke into 'Gimme the Car' after a few bars. There are some implied obscenities in that song, which were enough in that pre-rap era to cause the audience to explode. The principal was on the side of the stage waving his arms and mouthing the word 'Stop!' to no avail. Gordon was expelled from the society.  A few weeks later Gordon was doing another gig at the coffehouse and he invited me to play. I brought Victor along. Curtis Weathers was playing bass, so I played electric banjo. Curtis wanted nothing to do with the name Violent Femmes so we were called "Gordon Gano and the Violent Femmes plus Curtis". Curtis knew the songs already and Victor and I just played along. That's when Victor made up the drum riff for 'Blister in the Sun'."

The group was discovered by Pretenders guitarist  James Honeyman-Scott when they were playing in front of Milwaukee's  Oriental Theatre, where the Pretenders were going to perform that night.  Chrissie Hynde invited them to play an acoustic set after their opening act.  The band secured a deal with Slash Records and their debut album 'Violent Femmes' was produced by Mark Van Hecke at Castle Studios in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with singer, guitarist, and songwriter Gordon Gano; bassist Brian Ritchie; and drummer Victor DeLorenzo.  

Gano considers:    "People think I’m cynical, but I’m not. I think of myself as ironic and deeply sarcastic, but not bitter. It just goes to show you, people can listen to every song I’ve ever done and still not know me at all...There have been many times where I’ve written songs where I’ve had to get something out.  There’s a therapeutic aspect to it. I feel a great compulsion to write songs. It’s not that I have to do it, or that I don’t have anything better to do. I’m sure I’d be writing songs even if I was like Emily Dickinson and they ended up in my desk drawer...One thing I enjoy about song writing is that it always takes turns that I didn’t expect it to take.  I’ve never mapped out a song. I’m taking a Zen-like approach to it. And I’m surprised almost every time by what I end up with. And that helps keep it fresh too. It allows me to have a certain freedom in what I’m thinking about it when I’m singing it every night."

'Violent Femmes' didn't chart at first; but became an underground sensation, eventually going gold eight years later and finally making it onto the US album chart at one hundred and seventy-one.  It has since been certified platinum.

'Violent Femmes' 

full album:

"Blister in the Sun" --0:00 
"Kiss Off" -- 2:25 
"Please Do Not Go" -- 5:22 
"Add It Up" -- 9:38 
"Confessions" -- 14:20 
"Prove My Love" -- 19:50 
"Promise" -- 21:58 
"To the Kill" -- 25:15 
"Gone Daddy Gone" (Gano, Willie Dixon) -- 29:22 
"Good Feeling" -- 32:16 
"Ugly" -- 36:07 
"Gimme the Car" -- 38:27

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