Violent Femmes come to Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica on Sept. 11.
Given that Violent Femmes continue to regularly tour and record some 40 years into their career, singer Gordon Gano says the folk-rock band took some time to catch its breath during the recent music industry shutdown.
Gano says the pairing with Flogging Molly, who’ll headline the show, makes for a good one-two punch.
“I think it’ll make for a good show,” says Gano. “I would expect that if we were the right hand, I have a lot of confidence in our right hand, and I’m sure they have a lot of confidence in their left hand, so we’re going to be good.”
For Violent Femmes, the tour will mark the 30th anniversary of the band’s fifth album, Why Do Birds Sing? The deluxe two-CD and digital formats of the album will feature newly remastered audio, previously unreleased material (including alternative takes and outtakes) and a complete concert from 1991 (captured at the Boathouse in Norfolk, VA). The CD edition also offers new liner notes from songwriter and journalist, Jeff Slate, who spoke in-depth with founding members Gano and Brian Ritchie about the making of the album. An alternate mix of "American Music" finds Gano warbling effectively through the ramshackle tune that's neither folk nor punk.
“Most of the songs we continued to play throughout the years, though there might be a couple that fell away,” Gano says when asked about revisiting the album, which also includes a unique take on the Boy George tune “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” “It was interesting and enjoyable to hear it again. For me, it seems about these anniversaries, it already implies a kind of nostalgia, but because we continued to play these songs through all these years, I don’t have that same kind of relationship. It’s not like a time capsule and it’s taking me back there. Most of these songs are ones we’ve already played a thousand times or whatever, so I have an on-going relationship with those songs.”
While Violent Femmes had established themselves as a force to reckoned with by the time Birds came out, the band initially had trouble busting out of its Milwaukee hometown.
“I was the youngest one in the group,” says Gano when asked about the band’s early days. “[Bassist] Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo, our original drummer, were older than me. They had played in a lot of other bands. I had done none of that. Our group couldn’t play anywhere for the longest time. We weren’t really connected even though they knew the people. We just got rejected all the time for the first months. The first place we started playing wasn’t at a punk rock club or a rock place but a place for jazz called the Jazz Gallery. It was the stop on the tour for all the jazz artists either right before or right after Chicago. All the greats of jazz would play in this club.”
Gano admits the band’s unconventional approach made it hard to categorize. But with the success of the group’s self-titled debut, which came out in 1983 and yield the folk-punk anthem "Blister in the Sun," Violent Femmes became a cult sensation.
“Early on before releasing any music, we played all the songs on the debut and our second album, which goes into more country folk and jazz,” says Gano. “The reason why there was a difficulty getting into us was that we shifted the playing with acoustic instruments and unusual instrumentation. That already threw people off. This was before anything was called 'unplugged' and before incorporating a lot of traditional instruments into more rock and pop music. For the most part, this wasn’t being done. It would strike people as something that wasn’t right. And the thing I almost always forget is that I was underage.”
Forty years on, Violent Femmes continue to be motivated to record and tour in part because Gano now thinks of it as a special honor.
“Well, the music as a whole wouldn’t need any other motivation for me,” says Gano about his perseverance. “Music is that amazing and great. What would make it that I wouldn’t just do it for myself in my room — and so many people do that and it’s fine — but what makes me go out is that when I was younger there was a drive, and I really wanted people to hear it. It was a believing that it was going to be something for someone. Now, it’s an incredible honor and amazing thing to have that joy of response coming from other people. That’s it. It’s just an honor to be part of that.”
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]