FLASHBACK: Violent Femmes
Some time ago, there were three dudes who had a band. They’d play the streets in their hometown, Milwaukee, in order to create a fanbase. When they did so, they were eventually picked up by The Pretenders, and found themselves opening for the said group. Years, albums and disbandment later, they are now noted as the Grandfathers of folk-punk.
Their name is the VIOLENT FEMMES and are an extremely important group in the world of alternative music.
Brian Ritchie (bassist) and Victor DeLorenzo (percussionist) formed the outfit back in 1980, before finding and recruiting lead vocalist and guitarist Gordan Gano.
After accepting the invitation to play an acoustic in support of The Pretenders gig at the Oriental Theatre, the dudes found themselves recording and releasing a demo tape, produced by Mark Van Hecke (who worked with prestigious theatre groups such as The Milwaukee Rep and Theatre X).
As a result, the Violent Femmes were signed by Los Angeles based, independent label Slash Records.
In 1983, Violent Femmes released their debut self-titled record. It was this very LP that featured tracks that are still played and loved to this day, such as ‘Kiss Off’, ‘Gone Daddy Gone’ and the extremely well known ‘Blister In The Sun’ – probably one of the only songs ever where it isn’t wanky to clap in those guitar breaks.
The self-titled release was so brilliant, it saw itself go platinum eight years after its release. Not bad for a debut!
By 1984, Hallowed Ground was released, which found itself slip more under the country brand than anything else. Following Hallowed Ground came another Violent Femmes record that consisted of tunes that were so distant to the original Violent Femmes sound. This record is known as The Blind Leading The Naked.
With Gano releasing an LP in 1987 under the name Mercy Street, Ritchie also kept busy as he continually released several solo records. Now you can’t just have a band where only one person is 100% committed, so as a result, the Femmes endured their first break-up. Ouch.
But hey, they weren’t gone for long! In fact, basically a year later they’d rekindled, and came back with 3 in 1988. This particular record identified with the original, iconic Violent Femmes sound. Phew.
The 1990s rolling in provided new things for the Femmes. They signed to Reprise Records and [through them] released Why Do Birds Sing in 1991.
In 1993, Violent Femmes were again held up as percussionist Victor DeLorenzo left the outfit to do a solo thing. I guess they all needed a turn of this..
Guy Hoffman of the Oil Tasters stepped into the vacant position and toured with the Femmes for their Add It Up (1981-1983) collection – a record that was soon to become one of the band’s greatest releases.
Hoffman stuck around for the next nine years (as DeLorenzo later returned) and recorded with the other two gents as Violent Femmes for five more records – New Times, Rock!!!!! (an Australian release only, distributed through Mushroom Records), Machine, Tonight and their 1999 live album Viva Winsconsin.
They also created a few one-off tracks for movie soundtracks, such as ‘I Swear It (I Can Change)’ for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and ‘Colour Me Once’ for The Crow.
After Freak Magnet was released in 2000, the digital age kicked in with the Femmes as an mp3 only album titled Something’s Wrong was released a year later.
Rhino Records re-released their debut, along with live tracks and demos as a 20th Anniversary edition of the album.
In 2007, trouble found the trio as Ritchie filed a lawsuit against Gano for selling advertising rights for ‘Blister In The Sun’ to Wendy’s; the corporation used the track in a burger advertisement.
Many thought this would be the end of the Femmes. Apparently not though, as a year later they covered Gnarls Barkley‘s ‘Crazy’ after he had made his own adaptation to Violent Femmes’ ‘Gone Daddy Gone’.
This was only a very dim light of hope though, as the band were officially split in 2009 due to the lawsuit.
The Violent Femmes were an integral part of the alternative music world, clearly, as they’ve been covered by many a band and artist. As just mentioned, Barkley’s adaptation of ‘Gone Daddy Gone’ was one that was well noted during the time of its release.
With a bunch doing ‘Blister In The Sun’, a more recent band to have a go at this is our very own Dune Rats. Although there’s no recording of it, I’m sure you’ll find it’s still on their set list for their rad live show.
Violent Femmes can be found on Coachella‘s huuuuuge lineup for this year. A pretty big thing considering their last show was in October of 2007.
They’re just another band that makes me want to sneak on a plane and get to the festival. Why does it have to be so spectacular?
Words by Hannah Galvin.