Brian Ritchie / The Violent Femmes

Kenneth Beaumont
talks with Brian Ritchie
In 1980 three rapidly growing musicians known as Brian Ritchie, Victor De Lorenzo and Gordon Gano came together to create a sound that is still as instantly recognisable today as what it was twenty-five years ago. The Violent Femmes bass player Brian Ritchie admits that “twenty-five years in the music industry will pretty much make you an eccentric person, I think that’s happened to us, but we were predisposed to that anyway.”

It’s been five years since the Violent Femmes released their last album Freak Magnet, still they persist to tour sell out shows all around the world to three generations worth of fans. In 2001 they took the leap into the ethereal world of the Internet to release Something’s Wrong, an album full of “out takes, b-side type things and alternate versions” exclusively through emusic.

“They invited us to do that, they requested, they offered us a deal basically. We thought about it, we didn’t really know how that would work. We didn’t like the idea of not having a physical media for people that would then be in stores. It wasn’t really like we sat down and said ‘O.k. let’s make an album for the internet.’ What we did was take things that we had laying around and we gave it to them, it was a very successful thing. It was their biggest seller at that time and we learned that there are other ways to reach the fans and I guess that any way in which you can reach the fans is good.”

It’s interesting seeing the Violent Femmes, a band stripped raw with acoustic guitars and a minimalist drum kit in this technological light; although it must be remembered that this wasn’t the first cross over of format for the Femmes.

“Every time you go through a new medium there are disadvantages, for example, when we went from L.P.’s to CD’s you loose a lot of the wonderful packaging. But then on the other hand CD’s are less likely to melt or warp. So there’s always a plus or a minus. Personally I think that it would be great if there was just a huge international database for music so any body anywhere with a computer can download anything that they’re looking for so you don’t have to find expensive distribution networks to get the music out.”

While difficulties with record companies and distribution networks have plagued the Violent Femmes throughout their entire career, their fan base has never dwindled nor has it ever grown less responsive. Their last tour to Australia in 2003 started out simple enough with nine shows, once they were on the road it quickly snowballed into a twenty-seven show excursion around Oz. “They kept on offering us more shows and we just thought ‘Why go home?’ you know, we want to stay here.”

“It’s one of our favourite places to tour for a lot of different reasons. I mean people are nice, there’s a lot of interesting nature that we can check out on our days off. It’s one of the first countries that we really succeeded in, so we have a long history with the Australian music scene.” Brian grants, “We have a lot of friends actually from the first tour, we still see a lot of the same faces from that tour, mainly Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, some people follow us around which is really fun. As far as the cities, Australia has grown up quite a bit culturally over the last twenty years; there are so many restaurants there now which is developing this whole new cuisine which wasn’t really happening twenty years ago. I just like to go around and eat, drink and be merry. Things that an ordinary tourist would do.”

It’s hard not to reference all the ties that the Femmes have with Australia, like the fact that their eighth studio album ROCK!!!!! was initially only released in this country. They also used Australian made Maton Guitars on their third album the Blind Leading the Naked, “Yeah we played those on that album, we’re still using them in the studio sometimes, but for example, my bass, I played it so much that I actually wore a hole through the bass, like where the pick was hitting the bass so I had to retire that because it was getting a little bit wobbly. I actually visited their factory last time I was in town, they’ve got a new factory and they’ve got a big wall of all their top artists, and our picture was right there in the middle of them, it was really nice to see that. In fact Tommy Emmanuel, one of their main artists is playing here in Milwaukee tonight.” Brian shares, “I think I’ll go over there and check it out.”

The Violent Femmes have been together for twenty-five years now; do you think you have another twenty-five years left in you?

“No! Fifty years of this! What’s that going to mean if we’re seventy-five years old and we’re singing ‘Come on Dad, gimme the car?’ It would be like ‘Come on Dad, gimme the car… Because you’re dead!”