The Violent Femmes
, formed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
, in 1980, are an American alternative rock
band, noted for laying the groundwork for folk punk
. The band has had four members: singer, guitarist and songwriter Gordon Gano
, bassist Brian Ritchie
, and two drummers, Victor DeLorenzo
and Guy Hoffman
The Violent Femmes were founded by bassist Brian Ritchie
and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo
. They became a full-fledged band upon the arrival of Gordon Gano
, lead vocalist and guitarist. 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.
[ Milw. Journal August 24, 1981]
The band signed to Slash Records
and released a self-titled album
that they had recorded in July 1982. The music was an innovative combination of American folk music
and Punk rock
, and commonly referred to as "folk-punk
". The lyrics were the common themes of yearning for love, sex and affection. The group quickly gained 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 10 years after its release.
After their debut album Violent Femmes, they released Hallowed Ground, which moved the group towards a country music sound and introduced spiritual themes. Their third album, The Blind Leading the Naked, produced by fellow Milwaukee native Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, was more mainstream and pop-oriented, resulting in a minor hit with "Children of the Revolution," originally by T. Rex. The group 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.
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, the 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, and other compilation projects. The first full studio album with Hoffman on drums, New Times (Elektra Records), was released in 1994. The record featured some of Gano's best songwriting, 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.
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 the Femmes' 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.
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.
In 2007, Gano surprised many long-time fans by selling advertising rights for the classic "Blister in the Sun" to Wendy's Hamburgers.
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.
Ritchie filed a lawsuit against Gano in August 2007, seeking half ownership of the Femmes' music and access to royalty accounting. Since the band finished playing all the shows that had been booked prior to the dustup between Gano and Ritchie in late 2007, there have been no new dates announced, and no updates to the band's official site, leading many to speculate that the band has broken up for good. However, there has been no formal announcement of any break-up.
Violent Femmes have recently announced the release of a new single, a cover of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley who had previously covered "Gone Daddy Gone".
Horns of Dilemma
In their shows, the Femmes employ 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 employs local acquaintances, famous or otherwise, friends, relatives, or associates of the band. Instrumentation varies widely and includes saxophones, trumpets, trombones, sousaphone, flute, clarinet, antique hunting horn, kazoo, and percussion. When the band plays "Black Girls
" or "Confessions," the only instructions given to the players are to play as freely and wildly as possible. The group doesn't back up the band in the way that a traditional horn section would; rather, they provide a free-form noise jam. Famous members have included John Zorn
, Dick Parry
, Blaise Garza
and The Dresden Dolls
. Longtime band associates and employees who have played with the Horns include soundman and Oil Tasters' saxophonist Caleb Alexander and manager Darren Brown. Additional Horns of Dilemma include John Sparrow, who plays cajón
box, multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamilton on guitar, bass, mandolin, bass trumpet and harmonica, and saxophonist/biologist Robb Brumfield. Various bassists stand in for Ritchie during "Gone Daddy Gone," when he plays xylophone.
- In an episode of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Sabrina defends the band to her aunts by explaining that they are neither violent nor femmes.
- They have been featured as themselves in one episode of the TV Show Sabrina, the Teenage Witch: Libby was infatuated with Gordon Gano, and concocted a scheme, a sort of love spell, to win his affections.
- In 1991, author Audrey Niffenegger attended a Violent Femmes concert at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. She later incorporated this concert into an episode in her novel, The Time Traveler's Wife. It was at this concert that the ballroom floor collapsed during the Femmes' performance.
- In Juliana Hatfield's 1993 hit song "My Sister", the lyrics included a line sung by the song's protagonist that his/her sister was "the one who would have taken me to my first all-ages show/It was the Violent Femmes and the The Del Fuegos..." Shows of this nature were not uncommon in Boston clubs in the mid-1980s, so it is possible that Hatfield (who would have been in her mid-to-late teens at that time, and who lived in the Boston suburbs) in fact attended such a show.
- In the 1994 TV show My So-Called Life Blister In The Sun was used for Angela's freedom dance in the 17th episode Betrayal.
- In 1996 the band made a guest appearance on the Elliott Murphy album Selling The Gold. Murphy wrote the liner notes for Add It Up (1981-1993).
- The song "Good Feeling" is referred to on the TV show How I Met Your Mother as the "song" of Marshall and Lily. In the episode "Best Prom Ever", the group travels to a high school prom to watch The 88 perform "Good Feeling" after hiring them as the wedding band.
- The songs "Blister in the Sun" and "Blister 2000" were featured in the 1997 John Cusack movie Grosse Pointe Blank as well as Volume 1 of the soundtrack. "Blister 2000" was recorded specifically for the soundtrack.
- The song "Add It Up" was covered by Ethan Hawke in the 1994 film Reality Bites.
- On May 2, 2005, "Blister in the Sun" became the first English-language song ever played on the Irish-language RnaG radio station.
- In the 2007 film Rocket Science, several Violent Femmes songs were played by a couple, on piano and cello.
- A cover version of the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song was made. A music video was also shot.
- In the video game "Tony Hawk Underground 2" the song "Add It Up" is on the track list.
- In a 2007 Independent film "Glue" the main character Lucas, and his friend "Nacho" are both fans of the band, listening to their music throughout the film. In Lucas' bedroom there is a life sized poster of the Violent Femmes.
- In 2007 and 2008 an edited version (with altered lyrics) of the song "Blister in the Sun" was used on an advertisement for Fosters beer.
See main article Violent Femmes discography
|| Chart positions
| US Modern Rock |
|| "Gimme The Car"
|| #147 [UK Chart]
|| (Unknown) released by Rough Trade Records |
|| "Blister In The Sun"
|| #26 [Mainstream Rock]
|| '' |
|| 3 |
|| "American Music"
|| Why Do Birds Sing? |
|| "Breakin' Up"
|| New Times |
Notable Cover Versions