Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
Gordon Gano doesn’t mince his words.
You can tell by the way he sings ‘Why can’t I get just one fuck?’ on ‘Add It Up’ that he knows how it feels to squarely hit the wall.
Anyone who remembers their emotionally and sexually frustrating teen years has tales to tell of messy, awkward encounters, as well as stories of wild fun and the sort of reckless joy unique to adolescence.
Violent Femmes’ self-titled album still magically transports us there by the time that buoyant opening riff and hollow snare blasts of lead track ‘Blister In The Sun’ are through.
But despite his songs’ ability to tap into those defining times of early adulthood, Gano’s views on sentimentality may surprise you.
“I don’t think that we’re nostalgic at all,” he told RN’s The Music Show in 2016. “There’s just the present moment and going forward. [There’s] something about nostalgia that just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Though he did acknowledge that the band’s music evokes great memories for fans. Since their reunion to play Coachella in 2013, songs from this debut album have featured prominently in their shows.
Even though they are songs of teen angst, they still work, despite the fact that Ritchie and Gano are both well into their 50s.
“Gordon is remarkable as a singer,” bassist Brian Ritchie told Double J in 2014. “He hasn’t lost any of his range or ability. You look at him and it’s like you have to suspend disbelief when he sings ‘Come on dad, gimme the car’, but it still really sounds like an anxiety-ridden teenager. As preposterous as it might be if you think about it.”
There certainly is a distinct, snotty adolescent quality that Gano has retained that gives the Violent Femmes sound and songs a youthful energy.
“My voice has won one award, I think that was in 1983 in Milwaukee,” he recalled on RN. “The family were laughing about it, including my parents who were like ‘Him? Him? He can’t sing!’”
Blending American folk, rock, jazz with a hefty dose of punk sensibility, Violent Femmes stood out then and still do now.
“Punk rock [was] the big galvanizing factor in our musical experience,” Ricthie told RN. “But we didn’t want to just do it verbatim or, like, hold up a mirror to the other bands.
“By playing acoustically like this, which was an outgrowth of busking activities that [founding drummer and former Femme] Victor [de Lorenzo] and I did in Milwaukee, it allowed for Gordon’s lyrics to come up front. We found that to be a very effective approach for those songs and for Gordon’s voice.
“We were rebelling at the time against the way music was going – which was just to be louder and louder – and because Gordon’s lyrics are so persuasive to people. When they listen to them, the people think ‘that’s me, he’s singing about me! That’s exactly how I feel’.
“You don’t wanna drown those excellent phrases by obliterating it with loud music, so we brought back the volume level of the music by using acoustic instruments in order to showcase the vocals and the lyrics.”
The enterprising trio certainly saw an opportunity to make a showcase of their act early on in their career. After being turned away by a nightclub owner who wouldn’t allow the band to audition to play his venue with their acoustic instruments, the band spied a gathering of people waiting out front of the Oriental Theatre to see The Pretenders.
The Femmes took themselves across the street and started playing for spare change. Walking by was Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott who then brought the rest of his band out to watch too.
Eventually Chrissie Hynde invited the trio to support her band that very night. But what started off as spontaneous and exciting event turned sour in a short time. Fans there to see The Pretenders were expectant by the time the actual support band had played.
When the Femmes were announced instead of the headliners, there were loud boos and what Ritchie describes as ‘universal rejection.’
He told Conversations in 2013 that, by the end of their set, they’d “won over at least half of the audience that night”. In light of their success and longevity Brian says he still meets a lot of people who say they were at that gig but “nobody admits that they were the ones booing!”
In 2014, as the band were preparing to mark the 30th anniversary of their self-titled debut with an Australian tour, Ritchie shared some insights into his band’s sustained relevance.
“In those days there was no concept that anything as weird as what we were doing could be popular,” he told Double J’s Karen Leng.
“We wanted people to think we were as cool as the Ramones, which was also very uncommercial at the time. We didn’t think we’d get on the radio, we certainly didn’t think we’d be touring 35 years later.
“The reason why the album has survived, it’s like that album could have been recorded today, it could have been recorded 20 years earlier than it was too, because the elements are so simple. It’s just basically American folk music, rock music played very simply and direct.
“We intentionally avoided any production tricks or styling that would place the record in a particular time period and that’s the reason we still get 13, 14, 15-year-old kids getting into the album. We’ll have three generations of the same family in the audience all digging it!”
You can catch the Violent Femmes playing shows around Australia over the next couple of months:
Thursday 16 March – Hamer Hall, Melbourne
Friday 17 March – Costa Hall Deakin University, Geelong (with Mick Thomas)
Saturday 18 March – All Saints Winery, Rutherglen (with Hoodoo Gurus, The Whitlams, Tim Rogers and Models)
Wednesday 22 March – Wests City, Newcastle (with Rayella)
Thursday 23 March – Panthers, Penrith (with Rayella)
Friday 24 March – Waves, Wollongong (with Rayella)
Saturday 25 March – Annie’s Lane, Clare Valley (with Hoodoo Gurus, The Whitlams, Tim Rogers and Models)
Monday 27 March – Darwin Entertainment Centre (with Rayella)
Wednesday 29 March – The Tivoli, Brisbane (with Rayella)
Friday 31 March – Twin Towns, Tweed Heads (with Rayella)
Saturday 1 April – The Shed @ Aussie World, Sunshine Coast