- Title: A conversation with Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes
- Author: Rob Levy
- Publication: St. Louis Magazine
- Date: July, 17 2017
Despite several splits, multiple hiatuses and legal issues, the Violent Femmes have never left us. Carved from the legend of being discovered in 1981 by The Pretenders while busking outside the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, the band burst from America’s heartland with a sound that meshed folk, punk, pop and indie rock to create self-titled debut recording whose seminal status remains unchallenged today.
Bolstered by the rebellious fourtet of tracks “Kiss Off,” “Blister In The Sun,” “Gone Daddy Gone” and “Add it Up,” songs which have each been transformed into party anthems for subsequent generations, the Violent Femmes debut was a forceful case of breaking and entering whereby the band stormed onto the alternative music scene and took no prisoners.
Fronted by the distinctive voice of singer Gordon Gano, the band’s blue-collar ethos, endurance, tenacity and achingly desperate vocals helped them create some of the catchiest and most exuberant songs of the last four decades. Despite logging so many miles and cutting nine studio albums, The Violent Femmes have never relinquished their knack for making music that deeply connects them with the heart and soul of their fans.
Currently co-headlining a tour with Echo and the Bunnymen, Violent Femmes are performing on Saturday July 22 at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater (Riverport)
In this interview, their singer Gano discusses their music influences, longevity and the release of their intimate new album, “2 Mics & the Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged In America,” which was recorded at various radio stations during their last tour.
Are you surprised by the ongoing popularity of the Violent Femmes?
I’m not surprised, because it’s been so steady. I’ve been surprised at different times because during our many decades as a band, we have had a couple of years where we didn’t play together. The first time we got back together and played again, we were wondering if it would be like it had always been or would we feel a lack of staying power? But it has always been the same or even more. It’s really quite amazing. I think it’s pretty well at hand that we now have two or three generations of fans who have been with us.
Tell us about the album 2 Mics & the Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged In America.
I did feel surprised listening to these recordings that we have put together for this live release. I was surprised at how much I thought it really captured what we do very well. I don’t think there are very many people that do it. There is certain rawness, particularly in the context that these recordings were done with radio stations with small audiences or with none at all. We were just thinking of songs to do, and often just coming up with a song just a moment before we played it. It was about looseness and intensity, which I think is a significant thing of what we do well. It’s like punk in that we are doing these songs right now, and this is what is happening. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know what we are doing. We think we do but we will find out.
Was it hard making a different kind of live album?
This was our bass player Brian Ritchie’s vision. He was always pushing for us to do a different song and do ones we had not done live before. The trying was actually the doing. From the start he had idea for this collection of recordings that we could put together as a live album and release it. I preferred to not think of it that way at all. For me, there was a mixed sense of going for it and having it not really matter. For me, I was just trying to forget that everything was being well-documented and recorded so that I didn’t feel any pressure. We always tried to find different songs to record that had not played live. I think this was different than any live records that I know about it.
Can you talk about the musical influences that organically permeate through the band?
It’s organically in the music, because it is organically in us. It just comes out us naturally when we play together, because we all play different styles of music. We draw on all this other stuff we are playing and learning and I think the commitment to music in the band is absolute, and it comes together when we play together as Violent Femmes. Brian and I listen to a lot of old various folk and roots recordings. That is something we relate to and connect with. Speaking for myself, I grew up with old country music. It was some of the first things I ever heard. So the rootsiness of American music runs all through the band, and a lot of what we do with out aesthetic and our thinking leans to a lot of jazz as well. We don’t think of ourselves as a jazz group, but we probably have more aspects of improvisation continually in what we do than most people who aren’t in the jazz world.
What can people expect form your sets on this tour?
One thing we do that I think is the right thing to do is that we play the songs that most people want to hear. We enjoy doing that, even though we have played a number of them thousands of times. But in the moment, in front of an audience, we have a great energy live. We also never use a setlist, which is a really unique thing. It keeps an edge to things in that we don’t just bang out the same show every night.
Violent Femmes perform with Echo & The Bunnymen on Saturday, July 22 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $14–$104. The Hollywood Casino Amphitheater is located at 14141 Riverport; for more info, go to thehollywoodcasinoamphitheatre.com or call 314-298-7389.