The VIOLENT FEMMES – American Music Email List 5/12/2004
Tour Dates: (new dates in red)
5/22/04 Washington, DC RFK Stadium
6/3/04 Boston, MA WFNX Lansdowne Street Block Party
6/4/04 New York, NY Irving Plaza
6/11/04 San Francisco, CA Shoreline Amphitheater
6/12/04 Portland, OR Portland Rose Festival
6/13/04 Vancouver, BC Commodore Ballroom
6/17/04 Anchorage, AK Chilkoot Charlie’s
6/18/04 Fairbanks, AK Blue Loon
6/19/04 Juneau, AK Marlintini’s Lounge
6/26/04 Denver, CO Westword Music Festival
7/05/04 Minneapolis, MN Taste of Minnesota
7/09/04 Quebec City, QUE Quebec City International Summer Festival
8/21/04 Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee AlaCarte at the Zoo
8/22/04 Chicago, IL The Chill on Kingsbury Street w/ Los Lobos
9/01/04 Ventura, CA Ventura Theater
9/03/04 San Diego, CA Del Mar Race Track
9/04/04 Anaheim, CA House of Blues
In This Issue:
Note from the Moderator
The 11 Most Important Things from Dublin, Ireland
Brian Ritchie Shakuhachi Club in Iceland!
Wilkenson Quattro Commercial
Violent Femmes Article on Themelesswonder E Zine
Subscribers, thanks so much for your emails and patience! I am very sorry to say that we have to go back to the old, text only format of AM. I also apologize for the weird problems many of you experienced with the March/April issues. Many of our Yahoo and Hotmail subscribers let me know that the issues were just too large, being blocked or clogging up your inboxes. Also – a very special thank you :oP to AOL for individually returning all 153 of our AOL subscribers copy of the 3/29 issue to me marked ” This email is rejected for containing one or more URLs which do not follow RFC guidelines.” Many of you emailed me and I appreciate that. It is at least reassuring that you enjoyed the new format – even it didn’t work out very well. A lot of you thought we should just go to online issues BUT right now only about 30 people on average click on the Geocities archive. We hover between 450-500 subscribers so I think we’d better stick with what’s working. If you think we should go online only (NO personal emails) then vote by clicking the link to each new issue (new first line of the email). If enough people start visiting the web to read the list, I’ll consider switching to sending a one-line, personal email that says “A new issue of American Music is available online at…” and we’ll see how that goes. OK? Sorry, but I just don’t have the time to keep up with (or create) a text only and an enhanced copy of the list each time. Also, summer is approaching so please remember to let me know if your email address changes!!! And finally, welcome to our 32 new subscribers from April/May. If you recently saw the Femmes in Iceland, Croatia, Greece, London, Serbia, Turkey or Belgium please tell us about the show!
The 11 Most Important Things from Dublin, Ireland
Hi Violent Femmes,
1. I love your music.
2. I went to your concert in the Olympia in Dublin, Ireland.
3. I had the best time in my life at your concert.
4. Me and my friend waited for you after the concert.
5. One of your very kind crew members gave us a really cool t-shirt.
6. You came out.
7. We acted like complete groupies.
8. You gave us your autographs.
9. I nearly peed myself with excitment.
10. I am now a professional Violent Femme fan.
11. Gave my boyfriend two very cool presents ( see number 5 and 8)
Thanks for making such great music,
Brian Ritchie Shakuhachi Club in Iceland
I went to see Brian Ritchie (the bassplayer from Violent Femmes) play (on some japanese flutes and rocks) at Grand Rokk last night. There he performed with bassist Skúli Sverrisson, saxist Óskar Guðjónsson and drummer Matthías M.D. Hemstock. Brian started by himself, and after two songs (or so) the rest of the band joined. The music was dreamlike, mantras and ethnic (or something..!). Then they performed two songs from the Skúli and Óskar cd “eftir þögn” (“After Silence”). Man beautiful stuff. And Skúli was great as always. And of course the rest of the band was great to..! But I don’t think they rehearsed “too much” for this concert though.
A great concert to cut a long story short. The encore was a John Coltrane number, Living Space.
Now I want to see a full concert with Skúli and Óskar playing the suff from “eftir þögn”.
This post was in english for my friends in Århus! 😉
Before the VF dates there, Brian presented the first-ever Shakuhachi concert in Iceland:
Brian Ritchie Shakuhachi Club
Tuesday March 20
Brian Ritchie-Shakuhachi and Iwabue
Matthias MD Hemstock-Drums
Skuli Sverrisson-Upright Bass
Brian played Honkyoku and Gaikyoku solo for Shakuhachi and then
performed jazz and improvisation with the trio.
Wilkenson Quattro Commercial
Last week a commercial starting airing here in the Netherlands for the razor Quattro by Wilkenson.I swear it’s “Blister in the Sun” used as the soundtrack. Has anyone else heard it? Do my ears deceive me?I caught the Femmes a few years ago in Koln, in an old power plant that’s been converted to a night club. It was awesome. I really wanted to catch them on this European tour because I haven’t seen Victor with the band in years! (they always seem to skip Holland, last year it was Belgium, the year before Germany..) When I lived in Washington DC, we were blessed with a show or two every year! Please.. doesn’t anything about Amsterdam appeal to the Femmes on this tour???????
Violent Femmes Totally Freaking Rock by Greg Wood
I work in an office during the day. I assume many of you do, too. It’s something to do while I go to school, before I am dropped into the free market economy and slowly forced to live on the couches of more successful friends, because my chief interests are writing and music, and my professors kindly inform me that I’ll be wallowing in poverty most of my life; albeit in a cardboard box decorated with pretty poetry. I like my coworkers, and I enjoy working there – still, almost every day devolves into me playing internet chess and date-stamping my own middle finger. Why the date-stamping, you ask? It’s because later that evening, I’m going to flip at least one person off. And when I give them the finger, it says “RECEIVED” across it in bold letters, and has the date, for their own personal records.
This is my job, and how it fits into my life. When I am finished with it at the end of the day, I get in my car, and I drive away. And as I’m disappearing over the horizon towards the fading sun for the night’s adventures (or lack thereof), it’s typically the Violent Femmes that are playing in the background. If my life had a soundtrack, most of the tracks would be from Violent Femmes albums. (The remaining tracks would be “Renegade” by Styx, and a few random Menudo tracks. I was into them before they were cool.) That’s why I have a hard time writing this article, to be honest. Usually, I can write about the bands in my typical overly-cynical manner and people might be amused or interested. In this case, though, I’m really reduced to the status of annoying fan with only good things to say. I adore the Femmes.
Here’s the rundown: In Tennessee, the things we were brought up to fear were change, El Chubacabre, and democrats. In Wisconsin it’s the three-headed monster known as the Violent Femmes. They are Gordon Gano, Brian Ritchie, and Victor De Lorenzo (sometimes replaced in the past by Guy Hoffman.) Their primarily acoustic-driven style defies traditional acoustic style in every sense of the word, boldly shaking a fist at obsessive Dave Mathews Band fans, who cry into their light beer and drive away in their Jeep Cherokees. In fact, there’s alot about the music industry that the Femmes unashamedly defy. They don’t take themselves overly seriously, which is refreshing in a musical landscape that encourages cookie-cutter media images and hard, angsty stares into MTV’s TRL cameras. Their style is eclectic and changes to fit the song without compromising the band’s underlying sound; driving, clever, bass-heavy. Gano’s vocals are energetic to say the least, and the lyrics are priceless:
Broken down kitchen at the top of the stairs
Can I mix in with your affairs?
Share a smoke, make a joke
Grasp and reach for a leg of hope
Words to memorize, words hypnotize
Words make my mouth exercise.
Words all fail the magic prize
Nothing I can say when I’m in your thighs
Oh my my my my my mo my mother
I would love to love you lover
It’s ready to pounce
Here in your bed from ounce to ounce
The songs range from bitingly funny and clever to pure and simple – “Please Do Not Go” features a chorus completely made up of the same phrase, which comes across as honest and frank rather than repetitive. “Kiss Off” and the above “Add it Up” stand out as two anthems for love-related angst, before it was trendy to be broken in half by failed relationships. Their general attitude radiates coolness like Joe Camel used to (before he was assassinated) and they don’t even encourage kids to smoke cigarettes, at least in their music. I don’t know how they spend their off time. “Children of the Revolution” feels like the song every 80’s pop band was trying to write. “Prove My Love” will implant itself into your brain and repeat endlessly, and you’ll never get tired of it. “Country Death Song,” a ballad about a man pushing his daughter into a bottomless pit, is a perfect song to play for your children before bed.
Regardless of the atmosphere of the song, Brian Ritchie’s acoustic bass playing is driving and catchy beyond belief. I’ve never come across a band to surpass the Femmes’ bass solos, and their love for improv jamming only brings out the flow of every instrument even further. Victor De Lorenzo’s drum setup consists solely of a snare drum, a tranceaphone, and a cymbal. The minimalist setup allows him to allocate time that may have been used for unnecessary drum solos to instead devote time to more important on-stage pursuits, like pretending to make love to inanimate objects, singing, or anything else that seems amusing or otherwise entertaining at the time. They do all of this refreshingly devoid of any trace of ego. Not that they don’t have a right to it – this is a band whose resume is impressive, to say the least. If you need only one reason to respect them, ponder this: When Nirvana opened for them, Kurt Cobain refused to go onstage until someone brought him drugs. The Femme’s manager at the time, Willie MacInnes, gave him two Tylenol and told him they were powerful narcotics. Cobain commented that he felt much better and went back on stage a few minutes later. Owned.
The Violent Femmes are one of the best bands around. I don’t go around making that claim. Their songs are original and their sound influential. Buying their albums is a sound investment in the quality of your life. One day Martian death fleets are going to show up in the United States and judge the Earth’s societies based on the status of our artistic achievements. Linkin Park fans will be silenced in a fiery inferno of Martian death-laser destruction, but those who listen to the Violent Femmes will be spared, and while they will still be enslaved, they will be allowed to function as servants in the Pleasure Baths of Voltax, which is decidedly better than slowly cooking to death. If you think I’m wrong about all of this, consider this relevant point: I’m not.
As evidence of their accessibility, I called up Darren Brown, their manager, and asked for an interview. Within five minutes, we’d pretty much set things up, and I was set to get in touch with Brian Ritchie, who I had the pleasure of interviewing. In the spirit of true journalistic integrity, I’ll let that do the real talking.
Brian Ritchie with his patented acoustic bass, just before the pyrotechnic blasts, a staple of Violent Femmes shows, go off right behind him.
TW: I know you have no way of telling this, but at the moment, I’m eating Chinese food. And I figure that my love of the culinary delights of the orient is as good a way
as any as breaking the ice with an infamous rock dude such as yourself. It was either that or your views on ninjas. So let’s start off on the right note – what do you order at Chinese restaurants?
BR: Evidently I order the wrong things, because the waiter usually says, “No sir. For Asian only!” I then tell him I AM Asian and go on to eat my raw crab soaked in brandy and fermented duck eggs. He usually says, “OK, but if you don’t like you still pay!”
TW: Alright. Now, on to semi-legitimate questions. How’d the Violent Femmes come into being? We know the general backstory – It’s 1980, In Wisconsin, and yourself and Victor De Lorenzo create the band, adding Gordon Gano a year later. How’d you decide to give it a shot, though?And how did Gordon come into the picture? This is so the kids at home know who we’re dealing with before I launch into the really important questions.
BR: Victor and I had been in a number of bands together and we also freelanced as a rhythm section called “Violent Femmes.” So it would be “Drake Scott and the Violent Femmes” or “Doorway Dave and the Violent Femmes.” Eventually we went to one of Gordon’s coffehouse gigs and sat in with him and his bass player Curtis. I played banjo. So that night we were called “Gordon Gano and the Violent Femmes (with Curtis).” Curtis did not want to be associated with the term ‘Violent Femmes!’ Before that I had performed once with Gordon at his high school. He got expelled for that.
The incident Brian’s referring to is the first time he played with Gordon, at Gordon’s National Honors Society Program. They played “Gimme the Car,” and a riot erupted, resulting in Gordon’s expulsion. Portions of the song have been reproduced below for your own edification, so you might understand the situation:
Come on dad,gimme the car tonight
Come on dad, gimme the car tonight
I got this girl I wanna….[guitar squeal.]
Come on dad gimme the car
Come on dad gimme the car tonight
I tell’ya what I’m gonna do
I’m gonna pick her up
I’m gonna get her drunk
i’m gonna make her cry
I’m gonna get her high
I’m gonna make her laugh
I’m gonna make her…shh
woman, woman, woman..
she gotta, knows she’s it
cause I’m gonna touch her
all over her body
gonna touch her
all over her body
gonna touch her
all over her body
gonna touch her
all over her body
and she can touch me
all over my body
she can touch me
all over my body
she can touch me
all over my body
she can touch me
all over my body
Etc. It’s a good song.
TW: I had a girlfriend that lived in Wisconsin. Her name is Danielle Murry. Do you know her? I got the impression that Wisconsin was one of those places where everyone pretty much knows each other. At least it seemed that way when I was last there.
BR: Yeah Danielle, I know her. She is my pedicurist. In fact, she is going to paint my toes with the face of Jimi Hendrix later on today.
TW: Over the course of your pretty insane career, you guys have hit over 500 cities and all 50 states, touring with a pretty impressive list of other musicians. Which artist did you enjoy touring with the most, and who was a dick?
BR: One guy I thought might be a dick and wasn’t was Ice T. He was cool. Also, Henry Rollins can be a dick to some people but he’s always cool with me. In fact, we haven’t had any problems with any musicians other than the Fugees. They were opening for us but they thought that was an injustice, so they tried to say they were switching the order of the bill. The promoter told them, “get on stage or I won’t pay you!” That was the end of that. Ramones did the same thing when they opened for us. One of the guys just didn’t show up on time, so we had to play first. That was fine with us because we love the Ramones so much that we were happy to be through with our job and just relax and watch them. A partial list of the people we have really enjoyed touring with might include Fishbone, Moby, Midnight Oil, 10,000 Maniacs, Devo, and on and on. Most musicians are tolerable.
TW: I dreamt a few days ago that I toured with Rush when Alex Lifeson got arrested. Geddy Lee screwed me over when we were playing on Conan O’Brien by filling my spot with a roadie while I was going to the bathroom between “Tom Sawyer” and “Spirit of Radio.” I guess the important question here is why we were playing on Conan in the first place.
BR: Maybe you should see a psychiatrist about that.
TW: Probably. The writing of the songs is credited to Gordon – does he do most of the writing, or is it more of a collective? Do you struggle to face your inner demons through the creation of new music? Do they have names?
BR: Gordon struggled with his inner demons when he wrote them, and he struggles with those demons when he’s not writing them. He writes the lyrics and basic melodies usually and then Victor (or Guy when he was in the band) changes and add as much as is necessary. Sometimes what Gordon writes is pretty finished but most songs and all of the best ones required radical arranging and restructuring to make them into what you fans would call “great songs.” Before that they would have been “ditties.” Basically when you listen to the band, whatever Victor plays he made up most of it, what I play I made up most of it and what Gordon does is his thing which may have been edited by the band as a whole.
TW: You’re popularly considered one of the most influential bassists in rock, at least by the people who matter. How do you deal with that? Between all the champagne-filled guitar-shaped pools and snorting coke off of the chests of dead strippers, where does the real Brian Ritchie find happiness?
BR: Thanks for the compliment on my bass playing. I don’t think I have been very influential in terms of spawning imitators, but I know I have inspired a lot of people to play. It was so embarrassing once at a fancy Hollywood party. This guy came up to me and was introduced as “Duff” and told me that I inspired him to want to play bass and form a band. So I asked him if he was in a band and a lot of people started laughing at me. He looked hurt and said, “Yeah….Guns and Roses.” People thought I was dissing him, but I just didn’t know much about Guns and Roses! So that’s an example of someone who maybe was inspired, but I don’t think he tries to play like me. Where do I find happiness? I enjoy playing bass, but I never touch it if I’m not on stage or in the studio. I guess I find happiness in other pursuits.
TW: Jerry Harrison [of the Talking Heads] used to be your producer, right? I imagine him being difficult to understand and occasionally making comments along the lines of “this is not my beautiful album” when things got frustrating in the studio.
BR: Funny you should mention frustration. That was the most frustrating album we ever made. Gordon had basically quit the group right before entering the studio and barely wanted to participate. Victor was busy producing Sigmund Snopek III’s album. Jerry, Dave Vartanian (engineer) and I spent weeks assembling the tracks and sometimes we wouldn’t even see Gordon or Victor for days. So the album was basically built track by track for many songs, which is not the right way to make a record, but we had to because the band was so fractured we couldn’t make it any other way. The fact that it’s listenable and in fact has a lot of good songs and performances on it is a testament to Jerry’s resourcefulness as a producer. So, no, he’s not difficult to understand. In fact he is one of the most articulate men in rock. He spends a lot more time talking than playing, that’s for sure! He’s great.
That album is “The Blind Leading the Naked,” released in 1986, and it’s good. It contains one of my favorite Femmes songs of all time in the form of “No Killing.” That album feels a little 80’s, because it is. And that makes it neat.
TW: It seems unfair to focus on your bass playing, since the word on the street is that you play a myriad of other instruments. What else have you got under your belt? If the answer is something like, “Well, I also play drums,” screw it, because that’s boring. Make it entertaining or make up some instruments; it doesn’t matter to me. And it certainly doesn’t matter to the derelict readers of this site. They won’t know the difference.
BR: The main music I have been making for the last 7 years has been traditional Japanese music with the shakuhachi (bamboo flute). I also play that instrument in western contexts. That’s my main musical pursuit although most of that occurs outside the public eye. Besides that I play any instrument I want to because I don’t think of instruments as exclusive things. They are just tools. A carpenter wouldn’t say, “I only use the hammer. Find someone else who specializes in screwdriver.” If I hear a sound in my imagination I just find the right instrument whether it’s a marimba, didgeridoo, trumpet, mandolin or whatever, figure out how it works and play it.
Brian’s house is, in fact, filled with a few hundred instruments, and his shakuhachi abilities are somewhat downplayed by his response. He’s extremely talented and has, I believe, five solo albums to his name at the moment.
TW: Did you learn those bonus instruments for the Femmes, or for your solo albums?
BR: I have always been like that. When I was in High School I spent almost the whole day in the practice rooms in the music department just experimenting with different instruments. Unfortunately, I didn’t study music itself very thoroughly.
TW: What are your primary influences, then? I feel like I detect some strong Tears for Fears influence, though it’s conceivable that I’m hearing what I want to hear. Don’t keep it to music, though. What do you watch on television, if anything? What do you read?
BR: Some of my main musical influences are John Coltrane, Syd Barrett, Velvet Underground, Kinks, Sun Ra, Pierre Henry, Son House, Brian Jones, Roxy Music, Albert Ayler, etc. I watch TV mainly for sports and old movies. My favorite series is 24. I read a lot of European and Asian literature, not much American.
TW: Neil Young, yes or no? (There is a right answer.)
BR: Anybody who has a harmonium installed in his bus is OK with me.
TW: While we’re talking about this sort of thing, what bands have come around lately that you think are worthwhile?
BR: My favorite is called Lattekkeinsodusertekkijanna. They are from Iceland. I also like the Mutton Birds from New Zealand, the Flops from Minneapolis, Television from New York and many others too numerous to mention. My favorite living musicians are Steve Lacy and Dave Davies.
TW: Pop quiz, hot shot: You’re in New York. It’s New Year’s Eve. The Ball drops, and you cheer. In fact, everyone cheers. But the screams of the crowd are deafened when the ball doesn’t stop. It plummets into the ground, exploding on impact. And it’s full of READY TO STING BEES. You’ve got a laser and a bass. What do you do?
BR: I turn to my wife and say, “You deal with this.” Because she’s an entomologist.
TW: Since we’re into giving people what they want, and force-feeding them fistfuls of what they don’t want, we took some reader questions. The next several are from people around the nation desperately waiting to hear your answers, constantly reloading our website while downloading anime pornography in a separate window:
Danny, in Notre Dame, Indiana, asks: In the 80’s, you were already making things explode. Meanwhile, I was watching G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And I always secretly hoped that, occasionally, you were too. Are my childhood dreams in vain?
BR: I watched my share of Ninja Turtles because my son Silas was into them big time. Except he called them “Teenat Mutant Linger Turtles.” I asked him what “teenat” means. He said, “tough.”
Steven Hawking writes: Do you fear the day that artificial intelligence will grow advanced enough that it can perpetuate its own learning and become powerful enough to enslave humanity?
BR: I think maybe that has already happened.
Several people, mostly from the Southeast: Favorite beer?
BR: I do not have brand loyalty to beer, but I guess my absolute favorite is Rochefort from Belgium.
Nathan Cox, Chattanooga, TN: I’m not sure about this, but I recently heard that there’s a presidential election in the near future. You guys have been political at times in the past…how about now?
BR: It’s hard to feel like participating in a so called democracy when elections are bought and sold like in 2000. Nevertheless, I follow politics and maybe Gordon and Victor do too, but we don’t have a group policy and it’s something we seldom discuss.
TW: And this, Brian, is for me. I’ve spent most of my life building forts out of pillows and playing Nintendo. I understand Megaman’s history more than I understand the history of my own country. Frankly, I need to know this, for my own personal gratification: What Nintendo games have been important to you over the years, if any?
BR: The only Nintendo game I ever played was Super Mario, which I gave up when I realized I could serve humanity better by using that time to make music (and do interviews).
The interview ended with a thanks from me and a “party on!” from Brian, and I’m left fulfilled. To my credit, I’ve waited about three months since the interview to actually write this article, and I feel like a slacker, but it’s better late than never.
In the final analysis, you owe it to yourself and to your children’s futures to check out the Violent Femmes if you’ve missed them over the years. Do it because you enjoy music, and because if you don’t I will find you, and I will kick your dog. If you don’t have a dog, I will purchase one for you, wait for you to get attached to it, then kick it.
I’m not joking.
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