Founded in 1980 Violent Femmes featured the founding members of bassist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Ritchie and drummer Victor De Lorenzo. Believe it or not the name has nothing to do with mean women but was actually a contradiction in terms using local Milwaukee area slang of Violent being as we all understand it but also including the slang term Femmes for wimp. The name means Violent Wimps, a name chosen after Nude Family Portrait, Hitler's Missing Taste, and The Rhomboids were rejected.
The rhythm section was completed in 1981 by high school singer/songwriter Gordon Gano. Gano and Ritchie had previously performed together at Gano's National Honor Society induction ceremony, where they caused a near riot resulting in Gano expelled from the Society and suspended from high school.
Their dislike of rehearsal meant that they would take the music directly the streets in an attempt to perfect it while earning some coin. It was during one of these shows that they were spotted by the Pretenders' James Honeyman-Scott. Chrissie Hynde and her buddies were so amused by the Violent Femmes antics that they invited the band to open the show for them. That show resulted in the Femmes receiving a chorus of boo with only 50% of the audience coming around by the end of the evening. Many years later Brian Ritchie and Hynde ran into each other whereby she commented, Oh, you're still around.
The Femmes borrowed $10,000 from Victor De Lorenzo's (drums) dad to record their legendary first album in 1982. Slash Records' in Los Angeles was the only label to offer them a deal, and with an advance of $0. The band accepted the deal and the rest is typical music industry history. Discounting the numerous attempts at adding members their discography grew to include their self-titled melodic folk-punk debut in 1982, an album that went platinum 10 years later; the only album in history to go platinum without being listed in the Billboard top 200. They followed it up with Hallowed Ground (1984; an album that demonstrated Gano's lyrics beginning to reflect his devout Baptist upbringing, while the Femmes' music showed a more traditional folk and country structures) and The Bleed Leading The Naked (1986; produced by Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison and featuring a hit cover of T-Rex' Children of the Revolution).
The band then split briefly while Gano recorded a self-titled 1987 album with his gospel side project the Mercy Seat, while Ritchie issued a series of solo LPs including 1987's The Blend and 1989's Sonic Temple & Court of Babylon for infamous Grunge label SST'.
When the act returned, 3 (1988) was on the menu as was Why Do Birds Sing (1991; featuring their cover of Culture Club's Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?). The Add It Up 1981-1993 best of compilation (1993) would be the last for De Lorenzo for he chose instead to pursue his solo career he began two years before with the release of Peter Corey Sent Me; his sophomore effort that was followed up with Pancake Day in 1996. Guy Hoffman (ex-Oil Tasters/ex-BoDeans; drums) was chosen as De Lorenzo's replacement in time to record New Times (1994) for Elektra'; their only for that label. Rock!!!!! followed it in 1995 on Mushroom Records' but only in Australia (it was re-released globally in 2000). Viva Wisconsin (1999), Freak Magnet (2000), the MP3-only album Something's Wrong through the website EMusic.com' featuring a collection of rarities, covers, acoustic live tracks, alternate versions and demos, all followed. Violent Femmes (Deluxe Edition) (2002) came next. Victor De Lorenzo would also return. Each of the albums were different but linked featuring their loose acoustic almost improvisational sound that is almost gothic in its darkness and nihilism at one moment and pounding rock the next, interspersed with soft ballads and humor.
As for the members: Gordon Gano has been called the elder statesman of teen angst in the New York Times for his lyrical rants, or as was stated by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1984 on his ability to clear out a room faster than a methane explosion. Those who have cited him as influence have been Kurt Cobain (of Nirvana), Billy Corgan, Ben Kweller, the Barenaked Ladies and Lou Reed to mention just a few. Gano released his first solo album in 2002 (without the gospel act Mercy Seat).
It is said that Brian Ritchie (bass) almost single handedly created the craze for acoustic bass guitar with his revolutionary playing. The Femmes are the most bass-dominated band in rock history. Ritchie devours other instruments and has added several more to his repertoire. Ritchie has 5 solo albums to his name.
Victor De Lorenzo left the act for a time but has since returned. Minimalism is an overused word in rock criticism. De Lorenzo has been cited as one of the only true minimalist drummers in Rock with his stage set-up consisting of only a snare drum, tranceaphone (metal bushel basket on top of a tom) and one lonely cymbal. Despite still managing to rock the house, he has managed to make up for the lack of kit with the philosophy of steal the focus with antics like as simulating sex with the backdrop, doing jumping jacks in the middle of sensitive ballads, or putting drumsticks up his nose. He has four solo albums demonstrating his ability as a singer/songwriter.
Indeed, Violent Femmes believe in giving everyone a chance to hear them ranging from gay bars to Carnegie Hall, the North Pole (where they played the northernmost concert in Rock history), schools for the retarded, the Royal Albert Hall, Woodstock '94 and other's in some 400 cities in 40 countries and all 50 United States. Indeed, the Femmes are the only band in Rock history has stayed active for so long while maintaining the exact same demographic; many of their fans today were there from the very beginning.