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Violent Femmes


Violent Femmes (1980-1987, 1988-2009, 2013-present): a Punk band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.


ounded 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."

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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's 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 CoreySent 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 '' 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 punk 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.

Viva Wisconsin, a live album, was released in the US in 1999 on the independent label 'Beyond'. It 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 the band's 1983 debut 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.

For the 2002 SpongeBob SquarePants First Complete Season DVD, the Violent Femmes recorded a 34-second cover of the SpongeBob theme. This was followed by a 30-second commercial for Nickelodeon.

Two collections of past works, Permanent Record: The Very Best of Violent Femmes and accompanying DVD Permanent Record - Live & Otherwise would both arrive in 2005, showcasing a concert performance from 1991, along with many of the group's videos. The CD is the first release that recognizes all four musicians and their contributions on the same disc.

In 2007, Gano and Ritchie had it out with each other when Gano sold advertising rights for Blister in the Sun to fast food burger chain Wendy's. Although nearly all of the band's songs, including Blister in the Sun, credit Gano as the sole songwriter, Ritchie responded with a lawsuit later that year. As a result of the suit, the band could not continue and ended in 2009.

The break-up lasted until January 2013 when the group performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that April.

July 15, 2013, it was announced that Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione would replace DeLorenzo as the band's drummer.

January 2016 saw Viglione announcing via his Facebook page that he had "handed in his resignation" to the band, adding that he was "grateful to have had the experience", but on the follow-up album, We Can Do Anything (2016) he would be credited as the drummer; John Sparrow would replace him by the time Hotel Last Resort (2019) would arrive.

Footnote: 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 mentally challenged, 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; large numbers of their fans today were there from the very beginning.

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Violent Femmes playing an impromptu day concert near Sydney Opera House 1990.
Photo by: Casliber
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

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