Violent Femmes

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Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes, 2006
Background information
OriginMilwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
GenresAlternative rock, post-punk, folk punk
Years active1980–1987, 1988–2009
LabelsSlash/Reprise, Elektra, Mushroom, Beyond, Def Jam
Websitevfemmes.com
Past members
 
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Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes, 2006
Background information
OriginMilwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
GenresAlternative rock, post-punk, folk punk
Years active1980–1987, 1988–2009
LabelsSlash/Reprise, Elektra, Mushroom, Beyond, Def Jam
Websitevfemmes.com
Past members

Violent Femmes were an American alternative rock band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, initially active between 1980 and 1987 and again from 1988 to 2009. The band performed as a trio, including: singer, guitarist and songwriter Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie, and two drummers, Victor DeLorenzo (1980–1993 and 2002–2009) and Guy Hoffman (1993–2002).

The Violent Femmes released eight studio albums and fifteen singles during the course of their career.[1] The band found immediate success with the release of their self-titled debut album in early 1983. Featuring many of their well-known songs, including "Blister in the Sun", "Kiss Off", "Add It Up" and "Gone Daddy Gone", Violent Femmes became the band's biggest-selling album and was eventually certified platinum by the RIAA.[2] Violent Femmes went on to become one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1980s and 1990s, selling over 9 million albums by 2005.[3] After the release of their third album The Blind Leading the Naked (1986), the band's future was uncertain and they split up in 1987, when Gano and Ritchie went solo. However, they regrouped a year later, releasing the album 3 (1989). Since then, Violent Femmes' popularity continued to grow, especially in the United States where the songs "Nightmares" and "American Music" cracked the top five on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.[4]

Contents

History

Early years and first album (1981–1983)

Violent Femmes were founded by bassist Brian Ritchie and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo following the demise of the initial wave of American punk rock, and became a full-fledged band upon the arrival of lead vocalist and guitarist Gordon Gano. In its early days, the band frequently played coffee houses and street corners. They were discovered by James Honeyman-Scott (of The Pretenders) on August 23, 1981, when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre, the Milwaukee venue that The Pretenders would be playing later that night. Chrissie Hynde invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.[5]

They put together a demo tape that was produced by Mark Van Hecke, a noted composer who had worked with legendary theater groups like The Milwaukee Rep and the groundbreaking Theater X. The tape resulted in the band being signed to the then-independent Los Angeles punk label Slash Records. In April 1983, they released their debut, Violent Femmes, which had been completed nine months earlier. The record, like the demo tape, was produced by Van Hecke. The music was an innovative combination of American folk music, gospel music, blues, and punk rock, which would much later come to be known as "folk punk". The lyrics were the common themes of yearning for love, sex and affection. The group quickly gained a following that never veered into mainstream commercialism. A few songs that gained recognition include "Add It Up", "Blister in the Sun", "Gone Daddy Gone", "Kiss Off", and "Please Do Not Go". The debut album went platinum 8 years after its release.

Later years and brief split (1984–1992)

1990 at Sydney Opera House

After their debut album Violent Femmes, they released Hallowed Ground, which moved the group towards a country music sound and introduced spiritual themes. Again, Van Hecke returned to the studio as producer. Their third album, The Blind Leading the Naked, saw a change in the studio. This time, another fellow Milwaukee native Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads did the producing. It was more mainstream and pop-oriented, resulting in a minor hit with "Children of the Revolution", originally by T.Rex. In 1985, Van Hecke ended his collaboration with the group and became a much sought after composer and producer in the rapidly growing video game industry. The Femmes briefly disbanded, with Gano releasing an album in 1987, the result of a gospel side project Mercy Seat. Ritchie also released several solo LPs. The group came back together in late 1988, releasing 3, a return to the band's earlier, stripped-down sound. Why Do Birds Sing? was released in 1991 after the band signed to Reprise and featured another minor hit, "American Music," which became a concert staple.

Post-DeLorenzo years (1993–1998)

In 1993, DeLorenzo departed the group to act and make solo records. Guy Hoffman, formerly of the Oil Tasters and BoDeans, was brought in to tour what was to become one of their biggest-selling records, the Add It Up (1981–1993) collection. Over the next nine years, Violent Femmes, with Hoffman, recorded five full-length CDs and a handful of one-offs for motion picture soundtracks, such as "I Swear It (I Can Change)" from the South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut soundtrack, "Color Me Once" for the soundtrack to The Crow and other compilation projects. The first full studio album with Hoffman on drums, New Times (Elektra Records), was released in 1994, and the band scored another minor hit with the song "Breaking Up." Rock!!!!! (Mushroom Records) was released in 1995 in Australia only, though it has since become available in the United States of America.

Final years and reunion with DeLorenzo (1999–2006)

Viva Wisconsin, a live album, was released in the United States in 1999 on the independent label Beyond, and was followed by Freak Magnet in 2000. Something's Wrong (2001), an album of unreleased studio tracks, covers, demos, and acoustic live performances was released as an MP3-only album through eMusic. In 2002, Rhino Records repackaged their debut 1983 album along with demos and live tracks to coincide with a 20th anniversary reissue. DeLorenzo asked to rejoin for what was to be a farewell tour, thus reinstating the original lineup.

On the 2002 SpongeBob SquarePants First Complete Season DVD, the Violent Femmes recorded a :34 second cover of the SpongeBob theme. They also recorded a :30 second commercial for Nickelodeon.

2005 saw the release of two collections of past work—a CD called Permanent Record: The Very Best of Violent Femmes on Slash/Rhino and a DVD, Permanent Record – Live & Otherwise from Rhino, which showcases a concert performance from 1991, along with many of the group's videos. The CD is the first record that recognizes all four musicians and their contributions on the same disc.

After touring in promotion of Freak Magnet, primary songwriter Gano decided that they would no longer make new music, but the band would continue to play shows when booked. On New Year's Eve of 2005, and for one show in January 2006, all four Violent Femmes members played together.

Lawsuit and breakup (2007–2009)

In 2007, Gano angered Ritchie by selling advertising rights for the classic "Blister in the Sun" to Wendy's.

Although nearly all of the band's songs, including "Blister in the Sun," credit Gano as the sole songwriter, Ritchie responded to the use of the song in the commercial by saying:

"For the fans who rightfully are complaining about the Wendy's burger advertisement featuring "Blister in the Sun," Gordon Gano is the publisher of the song and Warners is the record company. When they agree to use it there's nothing the rest of the band can do about it, because we don't own the song or the recording. That's showbiz. Therefore when you see dubious or in this case disgusting uses of our music you can thank the greed, insensitivity and poor taste of Gordon Gano, it is his karma that he lost his songwriting ability many years ago, probably due to his own lack of self-respect as his willingness to prostitute our songs demonstrates. Neither Gordon (vegetarian) nor me (gourmet) eat garbage like Wendy's burgers. I can't endorse them because I disagree with corporate food on culinary, political, health, economic and environmental grounds. However, I see my life's work trivialized at the hands of my business partner over and over again, although I have raised my objections numerous times. As disgusted as you are I am more so."[6]

Ritchie filed a lawsuit against Gano in August 2007, seeking half ownership of Violent Femmes' music and access to royalty accounting. Many speculated this would lead to the band's breakup. However, on June 17, 2008 the band released a cover of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley who had previously covered "Gone Daddy Gone". The final shows the Violent Femmes played live were two shows in The Wolf Den, at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT, on October 12th and 13th, 2007.

In 2009, Gano proclaimed that "Violent Femmes are over",[7] while announcing a new partnership with former Bogmen members Bill and Brendan Ryan.

Horns of Dilemma

In many of their shows, Violent Femmes employed a horn section called the Horns of Dilemma. For many years, it consisted of Peter Balestrieri and Steve Mackay, from The Stooges, on saxophones, with Sigmund Snopek III on keyboards and various instruments. It was augmented by whatever musicians the band invited to play with them on a particular night. The band also employed local acquaintances, famous or otherwise, friends, relatives, or associates of the band. Instrumentation varied widely and included saxophones, trumpets, trombones, sousaphone, flute, clarinet, antique hunting horn, kazoo, and percussion. When the band played "Black Girls" or "Confessions", the only instructions given to the players were to play as freely and wildly as possible. The group did not back up the band in the way that a traditional horn section would; rather, they provided a free-form noise jam. Famous members included John Zorn, Dick Parry, Blaise Garza and The Dresden Dolls. Longtime band associates and employees who played with the Horns included soundman and Oil Tasters' saxophonist Caleb Alexander and manager Darren Brown of Boy Dirt Car and Texar. Additional Horns of Dilemma included John Sparrow, who played cajón box, multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamilton on guitar, bass, mandolin, bass trumpet and harmonica, and saxophonist/biologist Robb Brumfield. Various bassists stood in for Ritchie during "Gone Daddy Gone", when he played xylophone, including audience members.

Discography

Studio albums

References

External links