Brian Ritchie’s scene is an artist’s dream. The Violent Femmes’ guitarist modestly brushes over Violent Femmes, including them in an already impressive list of bands and achievements. Obviously thriving in a fulfilling creative atmosphere, Ritchie explains:“I’m a curator at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania. Thus I spend a lot of time in the art world. Otherwise, besides the Femmes, The Break and Australian Chamber Orchestra, I play a lot of Japanese classical music and jazz on shakuhachi, which is a bamboo flute.”
[pullquote]”The further we stay away from rock convention, the better it sounds. Most of our songs are very simple 2,3 or 4 chord songs. The magic comes in the interpretation and the improvisational way we approach the arrangements. Lyrics are all over the map ranging from total fantasy to embarrassingly honest autobiography.”[/pullquote]Modesty aside, the band has been extremely busy of late. Their latest offering, We Can Do Anything, was recorded when Violent Femmes travelled North America for seven weeks, as part of the Last Summer On Earth 2015 Tour with Barenaked Ladies. They celebrate the new album’s release on 4th March with a full-scale tour of Australasia.
Till then, Ritchie is not resting on his laurels. Currently he’s on tour with The Reef, an artistic immersive visual audio experience where the Australian Chamber Orchestra perform the soundtrack in synthesis with the film. Ritchie’s admiration for the Orchestra is evident and he tries to play with them every chance he has as “they’re the best band in Australia”.
Ritchie’s eclectic taste in music began when he was in his early teens. He explains: “I didn’t care or think about music until I was 13 when I stumbled upon a few Beatles 45’s at a garage sale. Then I got into Yes and went to see them play live, which blew my mind and inspired me to get into playing guitar.” He was in a few bands before Violent Femmes was formed when the buzz of performing combined with the thrill of controversy turned into a fairy tale. Ritchie states: “I had seen Gordon (Gano) play solo a few times and really liked his style. We bumped into each other at a punk club the day before he was scheduled to be inducted into the National Honor Society. He invited me to join him on stage for the talent part of that ceremony. We were scheduled to play Good Friend, which is a relatively innocuous tune, but we played Gimme the Car instead. In 1981, that was a provocative song, and nearly caused a riot in the high school auditorium. We thought we were onto something and I roped Victor DeLorenzo into the project. We had played in a few bands together and I knew he was the right man for the job. We lived happily ever after. The End.”
Though an alternative rock music, the Violent Femmes have also been embraced by pop culture, many times being written in to scripts, from guest appearances on Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, to their music being highlighted in films and tv series, the most recent being The 100.
The 100 – car scene https://youtu.be/BzBN_puEKkg
The 100 – Shawn Mendes https://youtu.be/0qSEOj2o2E8
Ritchie discusses being on screen with and also on the cutting room floor
[pullquote]Violent Femmes in food form is “Home-cooking from a bunch of weird hermits who live in a shack in the bush.” [/pullquote] Being written into a script feels a lot better than being written out of the script. That happened to us with Time Traveler’s Wife. They flew us to Toronto to portray ourselves in the flick. We were a pivotal section in the book. And injustice of injustice, we were left on the cutting room floor. Maybe we can hope to be in the director’s cut someday. Sabrina was great. We were chosen by Melissa (Joan Hart) because we were the first concert she attended. That show at the Beacon Theater was also Sean Lennon’s first show.”
The fairytale continues to this day, no end in sight, though Ritchie prefers listening to something smoother. Ritchie states: “It may be strange but I don’t listen to it [Violent Femmes]. [pullquote] “The band started out as a raw and spontaneous punky folk busking weirdos and the more we stick to that winning formula the happier we are. So even when we try to evolve there’s usually an equal or stronger pull back to our origins. [/pullquote] I listen to John Coltrane. But our best rocker is Add It Up. And of our new songs I really like I Could Be Anything because it is so bizarre and sounds like it could be from a 1930’s cartoon soundtrack.” It’s not all teen angst and cartoons with songwriting, or smooth jazz with song favourites. Ritchie delves deeper. “I wish I wrote Bach Violin Sonata #3 in C Major because then I would be Bach, the greatest musical mind of all time. This is a loaded question because to want to have written something does that mean you’d be that person? They wouldn’t have written the stuff if they didn’t have their lives and inspiration. So I wouldn’t want to have written Smells Like Teen Spirit because Kurt died unhappy and young. If you mean, what’s your favourite song, that changes day to day.” As for inspiration, Ritchie finds that within himself, through discipline, determination, and beauty in art and nature.
Inspiration and discipline heightened with touring in 2013, a new EP in 2015, and a new LP in 2016. Ritchie states: “We released an EP in 2015 called Happy New Year. That got us back into the studio after about 15 years of recording inactivity. That EP did so well that we felt like following up with an LP immediately. There is a thread that runs throughout all our work. Most of the differences are superficial, like production methodology. This LP and the previous EP were recorded with a live-in-the-studio mentality in the vein of old jazz, blues or folk records. Most of it was recorded either with a trio or septet, live and unadulterated. The musicians are all stellar. Gordon was on top of the vocals in that live format. It brings out his best. Percussionists Sparrow and Vig thumped their little brains out. Jeff Hamilton and Kevin Hearn added a lot of texture and played stuff that in the past Gordon or I might have overdubbed. Blaise Garza’s contrabass sax adds a seldom heard sound in the bass register. It’s fun having someone else to share the bass load with.”
[pullquote]“The most important thing is to find inspiration inside yourself. Another word for that is discipline. Another is hard work. Exterior things that inspire me are things like biking, surfing, reading poetry, looking at beautiful art. Nature is an endless source of inspiration.”[/pullquote] Ritchie continues: “The sorta title track I Could Be Anything was a real challenge. We recorded it live in the studio with 7 musicians playing a complicated arrangement with many different sections. It’s almost like a rock opera in about 3 minutes. When we got through that intact we wiped our collective brows.” With the song, Traveling Solves Everything, Ritchie states: “Traveling is an inevitable part of the touring musician’s lifestyle but it’s not as much fun as it used to be. So for us traveling is work. But maybe that’s not what the song is about. As Bobby Darin said, you can’t run away from your feet.” Ritchie continues with an on-the-road anecdote: “Maybe I should tell you about the time the drummer of a very prominent Australian band slept in our room and stole some cowboy boots from us? And then had the audacity to show up to another gig later on with the boots on? I can’t name the person because now they are a prominent society figure.”
Ritchie loves Australia. He states: “We’ve been touring Australia for 32 years now. I live in Tasmania and I’m an Australian citizen. So I guess you could say we love Australia! It’s a country on the way up.”
Violent Femmes headlined the first Big Day Out festival in Sydney in 1992. He states: “The first Big Day Out was conceptualised by promoters Vivian Lees and Ken West as a showcase for the Femmes on a larger platform, and it sure became a large platform for us and a lot of other people. There was a lot of energy around that Big Day Out, because people had not seen anything like it before. It was largely informed by a festival in Milwaukee called Summerfest. Ken West was hanging around with us in the States and when he saw that multi-stage event a big lightbulb went on over his head.”
As for this tour, Ritchie says: “We’re traveling with a 5-piece lineup of Gordon, myself and the Horns of Dilemma, in this case John Sparrow on percussion, Jeff Hamilton on guitar and mandolin, and Blaise Garza on saxophone. We’ll have other luminaries as guests on most gigs. Playing a variety of material from the catalog and the new release. We don’t use a set list. I call the songs on stage and we go between them in a very ad hoc way. It’ll be very intimate even if the venues are big.”
Though certain of the tour, of the future Ritchie states: “We don’t plan very far ahead.”
Hopefully the fairytale will continue.
We Can Do Anything, due out March 4 via Universal Music Australia
For more information, go to Scene News.
A WHOLE BUNCH OF SHOWS ARE NOW SOLD OUT !
THE VIOLENT FEMMES – ON TOUR
- March 1 – Auckland – St James – SOLD OUT
- March 2 – Auckland – St James – SOLD OUT
- March 4 – Sydney – Taronga Zoo – SOLD OUT
- March 5 – Hunter – A Day On The Green – SOLD OUT
- March 6 – Sirromet – A Day On The Green – SOLD OUT
- March 7 – Brisbane – The Triffid
- March 9 – Canberra – ANU
- March 11 – Adelaide – Womadelaide
- March 12 – Yarra – A Day On The Green
- March 13 – Meredith – Golden Plains
- March 17 – Melbourne – Corner Hotel – SOLD OUT
- March 18 – Melbourne – Corner Hotel – SOLD OUT
- March 19 – Perth – A Day On The Green – Kings Park
We Can Do Anything – first new album in more than 15 years – out March 4
Pre-order the album HERE
Exclusive bundles available from the Official Violent Femmes Australian Store
THE VIOLENT FEMMES – ON TOUR – for up to the minute news and information see here.