- Title: I am Violent Femmes’ Bassist Brian Ritchie AMA
- Author: N/A
- Publication: Reddit
- Date: Jan 30th, 2018
Brian Ritchie Logged onto Reddit on Jan 30th 2018 inviting users to ask him questions in regards to himself the femmes or anything else. What follows are the questions in no particular order and his personalized response to the users.
Hello Brian. I noticed in the picture you posted that you are using an acoustic/electric bass for a live show. Just out of curiosity, why did you pick that over a standard electric bass?
I am wondering because this sub seems to democratically be against that as a preference, but of course we recognize that ‘to each their own.’ I want to know your take on it.
A: This is BR. Thanks for your question. I wanted to play an acoustic instrument, in advance of the probability of some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopia and also just to have fun. But not having a car precluded the double bass. So I made my own acoustic bass guitar out of a beat up acoustic guitar. Finding that inadequate, I discovered the Ernie Ball Earthwood acoustic bass guitar which kicks ass, and that’s what I’ve been using for about 37 years.
Who is your all time favorite musician- the one that really made you want to play music?
A:That is a very difficult question. I started listening to music in about 1973 and got into historic musicians such as Syd Barrett and Lou Reed. The first musician and band I considered part of my generation and wanted to emulate was Tom Verlaine and Television. They are still my favorite rock band. Because they’re not much of a rock band. Ha.
Brian, are there any songs you remember noticing the bass on which led to you wanting to learn the instrument?
A: Absolutely. The first LP I bought was Fragile by Yes. Chris Squire’s bass lines are crystal clear all over that and the other Yes stuff. It was a huge influence on the way I heard bass. As an instrument that could lead the band.
Which Violent Femmes album is your favorite?
A: Generally speaking Hallowed Ground has been the long-time favorite within the band. However my new personal favorite is 2 Mics and the Truth, our new primitive live album. I think it encompasses our ouevre best of any of them.
This may sound odd, but your work on ‘Why Do Birds Sing?’ changed the way I think about bass. To me, it’s next level. Anyhow, what is your worst gear related on-stage disaster?
A: We were playing a gig in New Jersey wherein the promoter’s gf was on LSD and did a counter-intuitive light show. For example strobe lighting during Good Feeling and dim/no lighting on Gimme The Car. This was accompanied by one of the fans waving a gun around, my bass amp catching on fire, the PA stack falling over and crushing Horns of Dilemma’s Peter Balestieri’s sax. It was a memorable night.
Hey Brian – thanks for taking the time to do this. Cliché question, but what advice would you have for new players starting out?
A: You must obsess. Postpone other things like family and education until later. It sounds harsh and Spartan but that’s the only way to get anywhere. You can diversify later.
Does TOCHI Ramen in West Bend serve the best ramen in the State of Wisconsin?
A: I am wearing a TOCHI Ramen shirt at the moment. Yes it’s the best in Wisconsin and the rest of the known universe.
Why can’t I get Just one screw
A: Question for your priest or psychiatrist mate.
Do you have a favorite album cover art? Of any genre.
A: All time fave has to be the 3-D cover of Rolling Stones Their Satanic Majesties Request. I also like the musical contents. But now there are all kinds of great packages coming out of China and India. There’s a band I work with Hanggai from Mongolia that have amazing packaging.
Hi Brian, You are my favorite all time bassist. I take my inspiration from your playing. The first VF album was the reason I took up playing bass and acoustic bass specifically. Thank you for all the memories your music inspires.
I notice a very different style of song writing and “feel” from your first album to Hallowed Ground. Is there any particular reason? And have you attempted to capture that original raw feel again? Again, Thank you for your music and inspiration.
A: We had all the material for both albums in the beginning. So we could theoretically have done Hallowed Ground first. Or made a double LP with both sets of songs. We intentionally decided to focus on pop songs for the first one, and confuse people on Hallowed Ground. This of course is the opposite of a shrewd commercial trajectory but maybe that’s why we have achieved longevity.
Do you still take all your gear on the bus?
A: No. Our crew takes it on the bus.
Hey Brian, I’m a huge fan. Many people credit your band with creating the Folk Punk sub-genre. Would you agree with this and do you embrace this term? Also, what modern bands do you enjoy or have respect for?
A: Folk punk genre has always existed in American music. Starting with Carter Family, Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash. Our immediate predecessors were The Modern Lovers. But our job was to make it rock the most within that framework and we accomplished that and defined it within mainstream pop culture more than anyone else. So I guess we can take some credit. But nothing is truly original. Music is a river.
What did you think of The 88 covering Good Feeling for How I Met Your Mother?
A: We love it when anybody covers any of our songs any way they want to. That’s how music proliferates.
I think most folks have heard the infamous “Brown M&Ms” story from Van Halen, do you guys have something like this in your rider? If so what is it? Also what was the dogie-ist show safety-wise you’ve been a part of? Ever have to refuse to play because of safety issues?
A: We stopped playing once because the stage collapsed. Also another time on NYE because someone tossed a champagne bottle at Gordon. Not just any bottle, a MAGNUM!
What are some of the best stories from busking on tour back in the day? Best countries to busk in etc?
A: The best story is the time we were busking outside a Pretenders concert and they asked us to open the show. That was a pivotal moment in our history.
Where so you see the violent femmes going in the coming years?
A: We just debuted a symphonic show with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. That’s something we can repeat anywhere, so hopefully that will be one direction for us. It was amazing.
What do you like most about playing an acoustic base vs an electric bass?
A: My philosophy is that any good musician should be able to do both. You can see footage (rare) of Hendrix playing acoustic 12 string and he was no slouch even if he’s known for defining the apex of electric playing. For me the physicality of playing my acoustic bass forces technical precision that can easily be avoided on electric simply by turning a few knobs. Therefore it makes me a better player on both instruments.
What artists inspired your music?
A: Our main influences were Velvet Underground, Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps and Albert Ayler.
Thanks for doing this, seen you live twice! Not many bands can go from touring with Barenaked Ladies one year to Echo & the Bunnymen the next. In your opinion, what’s the strangest pairing you guys have ever been booked with, who was your favorite band to tour with from the past, and who would you like to play shows with in the future?
A: We used to enjoy touring with Fishbone a lot. Actually we have a philosophy of enjoying anybody we’re playing with and any gig, venue or audience. This makes it much easier to go on
What bands/artists are your currently into?
A: This is the best time for music in history despite the horrible formulaic crap you hear on the radio. The best artist I’ve seen recently and I consider the artist of this generation is Kate Tempest.
Hi Brian, this is Dallas Ray…. Blaise’s uncle. I’m sitting here with him in Alice TX. My question is: Do you have a home recording studio setup? If so, what are the major components?
A: I don’t have one any more.
Which bass string is your favourite? I like the A string, but personally I find it doesn’t go as low as the E string sometimes.
A: E is the people’s key so it has to be E.
What is the best moment you’ve experienced on the road?
A: I met my wife Varuni out there and we have never looked back. That was 24 years ago.
I saw you guys back in like 2004 or something, “Live on Pennsylvania Ave”; I believe it was free, or two dollars. You remember that show?
A: We played Old Mother Reagan.
Hi. Thanks for your time!
Is it true that you were laying on a beach with Jimmy Page and you told him you like Zeppelin, but he didn’t know who your band was? How did you guys come up with your name?
Are you a theory guy or play by ear? What is your favorite electric. bass?
Been listening to the Femmes for over 20 years man. Thank you for that.
A: It was Robert Plant and I didn’t talk to him, thinking he wouldn’t be interested. Later I read an interview with him where he said we were one of his favorite bands. Missed opportunity. As to your second question all rock musicians play by ear, but I also use music theory to figure out my parts and solos. So, combination of both.
Would you rather play a burning man set or a set in somalia that in no way guarantees your safety?
I saw you recently play a show in Boston. It seems like you were having a lot of fun. Fantastic show! But I saw you in the late 90’s at a small club at a ski resort in Vermont and…while an amazing show and I had a blast…it didn’t seem like you were having as much fun. What keeps playing and performing fun/fresh for you?
A: We have a lot of fun over the decades because we are constantly improvising. We are almost like a jazz band, never playing things the same way. Maybe we’re having more fun now than ever because we do less gigs and the lineup is the best one we’ve had.
Do you ever feel like you get stuck in a musical/practice rut, and if you do, what do you do to get out of it and get inspired again? Thanks for stopping by to answer our questions!!
A: This is a good question. Music is like any other relationship. You have to keep it fresh. This means playing with new people all the time. Sometimes I learn a new instrument. Play different styles of music. There’s an infinity of things to learn, so no real excuse to get bored. If it happens, find something to investigate.
What was the general recording process for your debut album, or possibly earlier recordings? How did you guys get started into recording and finding a consistent workflow.
Were there any tension among band members considering one of violent femmes …. “genres” or maybe influences, I would consider to be “chaotic emotion”.
This I feel could significantly affect band dynamics. And I would love to get your interpretation of the interplay between band members, especially in the early days before you guys were a known name.
A: In the beginning, with the original lineup of Gordon, Victor and myself there was an equal balance and everybody had input into the sound. There has always been tension due to extreme personality types (bordering on or actually pathological) but you’ll find that in most bands. We recorded the first album live in studio with minimal overdubs. That’s still the way we record best.
You’re a great bass player, one of my favorites. Why did you start with the super busy style, especially with solos? Who are your influences on bass?
A: In the early Femmes, Gordon’s guitar was minimal and Victor used only a snare with brushes. This left a lot of room for the bass and I took it. Sometimes today when I have to duplicate those ornate lines I wonder what the hell I was thinking!
Hey there Brian! You got me into playing bass with your amazing work on the live album “Add It Up”, I especially love your jam on “Never Tell”! I had a great time meeting you and the band in Maryland at a brewery last year.
My question is, do you think that modern music technology has helped or hurt bands? Any ideas for a band that wants to explore those technical limitations from the 70’s and 80’s without stifling creativity?
A: Considering that our most recent album is called 2 Mics and The Truth, which is literally recorded live with 2 microphones, I guess you could say I’m going back to the basics and trying to make recordings like the early blues, jazz, folk, rockabilly and bluegrass that made American music great in the first place. Of course I respect studio pioneers like Pierre Henry and Joe Meek but most people are not visionaries like that.
Hey man no question to ask here but just want to say thanks for what you’ve done and that you were one of the most influential inspirations to me when I started playing and I’m glad you are still making music I can enjoy
A: We prefer to inspire than to influence. Inspiration is infinite whereas influence is limited. Thanks!
What bass players have you been influenced by?
A: I learned how to play from a guy in Milwaukee named Melvin Howard. That was the big bang. After that Chris Squire, John Cale, Monk Montgomery, Charlie Haden and a lot of other bassists. But I’m more influenced by horn players.
Hey, what’s been your experience with effects for bass? Any favorites or do you prefer to keep things clean?
A: I use Prunes and Custard distortion/ring modulator which was designed for me by Paul Crowther. And a Cry Baby bass wah. My philosophy about effects is that if you use them they should dramatically change the sound. I don’t like subtle effects.
Hey Brian, lifelong fan here. Was Color Me Once written specially for the Crow soundtrack? It’s one of my favorites of the Femmes, and seeing it live was the highlight of the third show I went to. Thanks!
A: Color Me Once was written and performed before we even made our first album. We kinda had it laying around and gave it to The Crow when they needed something. That was good because we got to a lot of new people as a result.
How do you feel about short scale basses? Was thinking of buying a Jaguar SS, but it seems to be lacking a lot of the brightness, and treble of a normal bass.
PS: I met you at the Wausau show a couple months ago. Thanks for the pick, and the info about your fuzz pedal. You, and Justin Chancellor are the reasons I started playing bass.
A: I like short scale basses. I have used them on some VF recordings, for example I Know it’s True But I’m Sorry To Say from Hallowed Ground which is a Univox short scale with flatwounds.
Where did you find your old Earthwood bass?
A: I ordered it from them when it was still (barely) on the market.
What tuner do you use?
A: The one I use most frequently is the one in my iPhone. Hahaha.
Damn sad I missed this. I love your playing Brian , your unique style and driving influence on the band is a huge inspiration to me , as I play rather melodic and intricately. If you’re still around , I suppose I would ask you how you first started playing shows, and how you worked out any potential issues with anyone being too controlling ? Those are two things I’m dealing with right about now. Either way, big fan, Thanks.
A: We started very spontaneously without any plan whatsoever. Victor and I just rocked up to one of Gordon’s coffeehouse gigs and sat in. We were off to the races after that. About your second question, control issues are rampant in the music world, so better get used to it! HAHA.
I was a little kid mesmerized by your performance at Woodstock 94 (my dad paid like 40 bucks to get it on pay per view). I think you guys were the most well received that weekend! What was that like from the stage? Have you played a gig similar in size/energy before or since?
A: That was 300,000 people and has not been equaled since. We couldn’t see the end of an ocean of people. It was a great feeling. Luckily they recorded and filmed it.
hey, name your current favourite bassist in pop/rock music (not jazz / artsy fartsy music please).
A: I saw Necrobutcher from Mayhem last week and that was a thrill. He’s pretty good!
Hi Brian, my son is 16 and has been learning bass he has become very frustrated that he has made no progress I believe he has he aspires to play extremely heavy metal and it is fast he has taken lessons but his last teacher just did not gel so he has been self teaching himself it is hard to find other people for him to hook up with any advice to boost his confidence cheers
A: Everybody gets frustrated but there’s nothing about one’s playing that can’t be solved by practice. Tell Jr. to go out and find some like minded people and start a band. That’ll sort things out.
Brian, I know you’ve left, but what is your favorite song to play live from the Femmes library? I secretly wish it is “Please Do Not Go”
A: Never Tell
what’s your take on the current climate of politicization of every celebration of american art like the Oscars, emmys, grammys, etc? to an outsider it seems incredibly patronizing and off-putting.
A: The problem is not that politics are entering entertainment. The problem is that politics have become entertainment. People don’t take it seriously as we saw from the results of the most recent USA election. But as long as things are so grim, it’s good for artists to speak out. I don’t have a problem with it even though many of the individual artists are bores and pedantic. The best thing about America is the 1st Amendment, so why not use it?