Violent Femmes may just be the ultimate cult band. After 21 years and one slight line-up diversion the band have maintained a cult status with a core audience who never seem to get much older.
20 years ago they appealed to the Uni market and they are still hitting that same audience today.
It’s not even like they have any greatest hits to hang their status on either. In fact, they have never been in the Top 40 chart despite fans being able to mouth every word to songs like ‘Blister In The Sun’ or ‘I Held Her In My Arms’.
Yes folks, Milwaukee’s own Violent Femmes may be the most infamous thing the town has produced since Richie, Potsy, Ralph and The Fonz or even Laverne and Shirley for that matter.
Tim Cashmere talked to Femmes lead singer Gordon Gano.
Tim Cashmere: Hello Gordon! How you doin’?
Gordon Gano: Good mate!
TC: You almost sound like you’ve picked up an Australian accent there…
GG: Well, I’m sure you won’t feel like that as the interview goes on! It’s alright! It might’ve just come out.
TC: Yeah, I already don’t feel like that, my mistake. It must’ve been the “mate”.
GG: I didn’t say “mate”! Who said “mate”?
TC: Oh I don’t know, maybe I said mate, you me, what’s the difference? Anyway, you have just released the 20th anniversary of your self titled debut, how does it feel to look at twenty years of yourself in the business?
GG: Well I don’t. I know it might seem a bit strange to hear me say that, but I don’t reflect on it, I don’t look back on it and so, that answered your question. I just don’t think like that. It’s vaguely unpleasant [laughs]. Anything that smacks of nostalgia I do not like at all, there is an aspect of that with this… but I think it sounds really good!
TC: Are you doing anything different now to what you were doing twenty years ago?
GG: The band is just better, I think we’re all better musicians and singers and all of that, but it’s remarkable how much it’s the same thing. We’ve been doing the show for twenty two years basically.
TC: How do you make up the content of the live show now if the old stuff has become the new?
GG: Well the old stuff for us has always been the new because there has always been new people turning onto the band, finding out about the band. There are people now that are huge fans of the band that will come out and see us and they weren’t even born when the first record came out, so there has always been new people that bring a newness to the songs, so they never really feel old, I just feel like I’m very familiar with them.
TC: Do you still see the same audience members that were there twenty years ago?
GG: Not many, but some, occasionally. It’s been interesting to me. The parts of the world where the fans that were fans stay fans or they’ll come out and see a band play if they’re forty or forty five or fifty years old and they’ll still go out to a club or go to the theatre and see a band, that happens more and that happens more for us every place except for in the United States. In the United States once they get that age, they don’t come out and see our band even if they were big fans but there are so many more younger people that keep doing it, that it doesn’t matter as far as the turnout goes.
TC: How has it been having Victor DeLorenzo back in the band?
GG: It’s great! It’s really been great, and he’s playing and singing better than ever, I guess that’s what all of us think, and he’s fully rejuvenated by having about a ten year vacation from Violent Femmes, so he’s got a lot of energy and he’s part of the formative sound of the band. He has a way of playing which is unlike any other drummer I’ve played with, not even close to any other drummer I’ve played with, so there really is something that he brings with that.
TC: …and what happened to Guy Hoffman?
GG: Well, I don’t know! The reasoning behind this is that Victor had been interested about playing with us again, but we were happy playing with Guy Hoffman, we had been playing for some years with Guy Hoffman so it didn’t make sense. With this re-release of the first album, plus demo tapes and live recordings, this whole double CD package all from that time of twenty years ago, all of that is Victor, so we were going to do some shows and do some tours in a way in support of that record, so the timing of it made sense to play with Victor again.
TC: There is a lot of stuff that has been re-released with that first album, how did you go through and find it all?
GG: Well either Victor had it; Victor is the most archival minded of the people in the group. He’ll pull out a poster from one of our first shows that he saved or something from one of our first tours in Europe and I’m the worst, I don’t save anything that I’m aware of, or he had some idea of who might have had some of the early recordings or how to track them down.
TC: You’ve just released a solo album, how is that going for you?
GG: It’s going great because it took a lot of work to get it released and to have it exist other than playing it for my friends, so that was great to have it out. It’s on some smaller labels and different labels and different countries around the world, so I’m really happy with it. It’s not the kind of record that we can follow on the charts, but I didn’t expect that anyway. It’s just great to have it out there and be hearing a really good response to it from both people I would meet to talk to or sometimes when I do a solo show and I’ll play through that in its entirety and also from reviews and stuff, it’s nice to look at that response that a lot of people really like it. Do you want me to tell you about it or do you know about it?
TC: Well I know about it, but there might be people reading this who don’t.
GG: Oh, okay. It’s a record called “Hitting the Ground” and I wrote all of the songs, and I’m playing on most of the songs and singing on some, but I have other artists singing lead vocals and also contributing music. A lot of my favourite people, starting with Lou Reed and John Cale and let’s see, just to go through the list of Frank Black, They Might Be Giants, Mary Lou Lord, Linda Perry, oh and let’s not forget P.J. Harvey and my sister as well and Martha Wainwright… I think I got everybody… oh yeah, Paul McCartney… and Bob Marley! Bob Marley had recorded one of my songs, I never knew of that… I was really really little when I wrote that song [laughs]. But there’s so many great people on the album that it’s really an honour, so hopefully this will spread the word about it, so people can check it out.
TC: You have been doing a couple of solo shows while you’re in Australia, how has the crowd been reacting to that? I imagine they would be mainly Violent Femmes fans.
GG: Yeah, but the people that have been coming to the shows, even being Violent Femmes fans, they know it’s not a Violent Femmes show, so they have no idea what to expect, so I’ve been told by people, so they come open to hearing whatever it is, so it’s been great. I couldn’t be happier with the response from live shows that I’ve done solo just recently here in Australia and also in the States and in Europe. The response couldn’t be better. Also a difference is that it’s a listening audience, they’re there to listen. I also do other things that I’ve been writing recently, bunches of songs that haven’t been recorded, and sometimes nobody has ever heard them because I’ve never played them for anybody before, which is fun for me and for the audience to do that, where nobody is quite sure how this is going to go. The audience has been great really, whereas a Violent Femmes audience, or at least a majority of them are there to have a good time, they know a lot of the songs already, they’re going to sing along and dance, it’s like a party, so it’s a very different kind of audience. I like both.
TC: Could any of the songs from your solo album have been Violent Femmes songs?
GG: All of them could’ve been. I write songs, perhaps it sounds odd, but I’ve never written a song ever thinking “This will be a Violent Femmes song”. I just write songs and over the years a lot of them have become Violent Femmes songs and a lot haven’t.
TC: Going back to the Violent Femmes, you’re playing at the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival over Easter. How did you get asked into that?
GG: I don’t know [laughs]! I have no idea! Maybe through the promoter that’s doing this whole tour. That would be my guess. I’m sure they’ve done regular work with the people at the festival.
TC: Had you heard of it before?
GG: Um… ahh… I don’t think so, but now I most certainly have and there will be a Violent Femmes show and also a solo show, so I’m going to do a double on it!
TC: Blister in the Sun is currently being used on a Mitsubishi commercial down here, how do you feel about your music being used to advertise a car?
GG: Well, any time that any of my music is being used in any commercials, I’ve given approval on it, so I’d look at each situation and decide. I’ve changed a bit over the years. I would say twenty years ago, and even less than that, say ten years ago I was very reluctant to have any of my music used for commercial uses but over there years I have been changing with that and feeling like nobody cares for the most part and mostly it’s seen as a very positive thing, so the perception of it really creates a positive as opposed to the 60’s or 70’s where that would be, quote, selling out. There are probably a few people around who still have that few, but they’re probably old hippies. There are very few people around who still have that view and it’s starting to feel to me like it’s just silly for me… like if somebody wants to use the music for whatever reason, like a DJ using it to play at a dance club then that’s great, they want to use the song and that’s the same with commercials, although I guess there may be some examples where I guess I would say no, depending on the product, but I ride in cars, I drive cars, that’s something that I’m fine with.
TC: Tell us about www.vfemmes.com. Do you have much involvement with your website?
GG: I have basically none! Brian Ritchie, bass player and founding member of the group, he has total control. It’s really his thing, he has all the ideas and it’s really all from him, so it is from the band, it’s just not from me.
TC: Is it true that you are one of the closest living relatives to Howard Hughes?
GG: Well I’ve been told that. His mother was a Gano, his mother was a relative, so isn’t that good? You got to ask me and I got to tell you!
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