- Title: Violent Femmes Bassist Reflects On Band’s Longevity
- Author: Scottie Lee Meyers
- Publication: Wisconsin Public Radio
- Date: Thursday, June 11, 2015, 3:05pm
Brian Ritchie knew the Violent Femme’s debut self-titled album would eventually be recognized as a classic by somebody.
“Little did I know it would be considered a classic by the masses,” said Ritchie, the band’s bassist.
“Violent Femmes” was released by the independent label Slash Records in 1983 and would eventually go gold. Three decades later, the Milwaukee rock band continues to be one of Wisconsin’s most successful musical artists.
Ritchie attributed the band’s longevity and popularity to its conscious decision to stay away from the synthesizers that defined the 1980s and instead rely on the staying power of acoustic instruments.
“We knew that that stuff wasn’t going to last,” said Ritchie, referring to synthpop-driven music. “We decided intentionally to make recordings and to take a musical direction that was part of the continuum of American music — and not even just rock. We also had these strong jazz impulses to improvise, and blues and folk and bluegrass music.”
Thanks to a stripped-down sound heard on hits like “Add It Up” and “Blister in the Sun,” the trio is considered to be one of the most influential alternative rock bands of the 1980s and 90s. It’s an incredible feat, considering the band was almost never discovered at all. Milwaukee clubs continuously rejected the group.
“We were on the sidewalks because the clubs didn’t want anything to do with us. They didn’t even think we were related to rock music. And even the punk scene didn’t take us too seriously because we were playing acoustic instruments and they thought of us as folk. So we had no identity within the culture,” Ritchie said.
After leaving a failed audition, the band decided to busk for people waiting in line for a Pretenders concert. Members of the Pretenders heard them play, said Ritchie, and were so impressed that they invited the Violent Femmes to open the show.
It proved to be the break the band needed. Just a couple years later they put together their freshmen album at a studio in Lake Geneva.
Now, Ritchie and Gordon Gano, original members of the band, have gotten the Violent Femmes back together following a five-year split, albeit without the original drummer Victor DeLorenzo. They’re playing a show Saturday in Milwaukee at the BMO Harris Pavilion.
No longer worried about comparisons to their earlier sound, Ritchie said the group is writing and performing new music, some of which will be played at the concert.
“The entire record industry collapsed so we’re actually kind of right back to where we started, which is to make the music just because we want to and we have something to say,” Ritche said.