• Title: The Idiot Savants of Rock!!!!!
  • Author: Simon McKenzie
  • Publication: Time Off (Newspaper in Australia)
  • Date: 03-(22-28)-95 Issue 713

The evergreen Violent Femmes are bound for Australia and back with their seventh album, ROCK!!!!!. It’s a case of 13 years and still going strong. Last year’s NEW TIMES album saw the Femmes venturing deeper into literary lyricism and studio technology then ever before, producing a weird but still wonderful record that plumbed the darkest depths of their muse. ROCK!!!!! still examines the psychoses and mad angst that characterizes the best Violent Femmes music, but, as bassist and founding Femme Brian Ritchie tells it, the making of ROCK!!!!! was fast, furious and fun.
“The story behind this album is that we knew that we were coming to Australia and it had been a while since we released an album there, ” he explains, “so we wanted to give the Australian public a new product. We were going to make an EP, like five songs, so we booked a week of studio time and we had the five songs recorded after the first day. So we’re kind of like “Hmm, I guess we have some studio time here, what shell we do?” So we just decided to make an album instead. We weren’t even intending to make an album.”

It must have been refreshing to work like that.

“Yeah. The more you think about things the more boring they get. To be honest, we were just working and we realized that we had an album before we even thought about it. It’s always exhilarating when you work really fast. That’s fun. A lot of times when you’re in the studio things can bog you down, especially if you’re working with a producer that’s overly meticulous. A lot of times you lose a lot of the energy and excitement of a session because you’re worrying about, you know, whether the guitar has fresh strings on it or if the amp should be set at 7 instead of 6 or 8. Once you dispense with a lot of this fussy, prissy and pedantic stuff, and you’re working really fast, that’s when the creative juices really get to be flowing. So yeah, it was pretty exhilarating.”

ROCK!!!!! is the second Violent Femmes album with the drummer Guy Hoffman behind the kit, but it’s the first on which he’s really been let go. While Ritchie is still justifiably proud of the New Times album, he readily admits that the departure of original drummer Victor De Lorenzo didn’t leave much room for spontaneity on the New Times sessions. The ROCK!!!!! sessions, however, were all about spontaneity.

“Well, Guy’s a great drummer and he’s very easy to get along with,” Ritchie says. “He’s able to follow the kind of ideas that we have. Victor was frequently rebelling against the direction of the band, so we’re actually much happier now, and we think that this album… well, the album is called ROCK!!!!!, and I think it rocks a lot more than usual. Part of that has to go to Guy Hoffman’s drumming. He’s a really solid drummer.”

Has Hoffman likewise added to the live shows?

“Well, you’ll have to be the judge of that. You’ll see when we come down there. We think that we’re better now than ever before, and that’s what a lot of people have been telling us. So we’ll see. He takes his job a lot more seriously than Victor did, I can tell you that, but that doesn’t mean that he’s boring and too serious.”

Also, there’s the fact that the Femmes were left to their own devices on ROCK!!!!!. In the past, they’ve had problems with interference from their record companies and in particular, producers being foisted upon them. That seems to have changed now, and Ritchie sounds pretty relieved about it.

“We always sell records,” he says. “Every label is always happy to release our records. It’s just that it’s natural for them to try to exert some sort of an influence, but I think that after 13 years, maybe the word is starting to get around the industry that we’re totally incorrigible and that we’re total idiot savants and that you have to leave us alone. I hope that that word is getting out there.”

Talk turns to the Femmes’ songwriting, and Ritchie makes it plain that all need not be taken literally. Simply because a song is about them.. which begs the question-‘Tonight’, the first single from ROCK!!!!!, goes something like this: ‘Tonight I wanna get high! high! high!/I don’t care if I live or die/Tonight/I wanna get high”. That’s in the first person, but I take it your lifestyle doesn’t incorporate too much of that these days…

Ritchie roars with laughter. “I’m afraid that that song is entirely… I don’t know if autobiographical is the right word, but it certainly describes all three of us.”

The Violent Femmes play Festival Hall this Saturday (the 25th) with the Muttonbirds.