Violent Femmes

VIOLENT FEMMES – Photo by Holly Andres

VIOLENT FEMMES have reunited, but not only to play in the United States of America, the band also travelled around Europe in order to play 4 gigs. The last one took place at Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria, Basque Country. Not having played there for 10 years, the band from Milwaukee wanted to play again in this festival which lately celebrated its 13th edition. They did so by starting with three songs from their first namesake LP Violent Femmes (1982): Blister in the sun, Kiss off and Please Do Not Go, not to forget such central songs like Add It Up or the closing legendary song American Music from 1992s Why Does The Bird Sing?. Needless to say, Gordon Cano’s violin in Good Feeling was not to be missed as well. Besides all that they also left some time to show the art of Brian Viglione, the new drummer and former member of THE DRESDEN DOLLS. On the occasion of this triumphant return we sat down with bass-player Brian Ritchie who explained to us the meaning of their music and their memories of the Azkena Rock Festival.

This show at Azkena Rock Festival means your last gig in Europe and also your first return to Spain since November 2006. What memories do you have of that tour?
Brian: We always enjoyed playing in Spain. It is very comfortable for us. We played at Azkena about 10 years ago and some of the other artists I recall were MC5 and ROGER MCGUINN. It was fantastic. One of our sidemen, Jarrod Oldman loved it so much he married a Vittorian girl and started a family. He still lives there. I don’t remember much because I was drinking too much absinthe. Great town and great food.

Your confirmation in the line-up was a great surprise for your fans in Spain. Though the most generations, that will attend the festival, have been born at the beginning of the 80s and your first LP was released in 1982. They are waiting to hear songs from different periods of the band, whether from Violent Femmes or Why does bird sing. Why do you think have these generations been influenced by your punk and folk fusion independently from your actual musical period?
Our music was designed to stand outside of time. When we made the first album we intentionally avoided any production tools that would have made the album dated. We wanted it to sound like it could have been recorded in the 1950’s, 60’s, 80’s or in the future. Now we are in the future and people still like it, so our strategy must have worked. We are part of the continuum of American music leading from folk, blues, early jazz, through rockabilly, punk and improv. We are confident to perform for any people anywhere of any age group and think we can entertain them. Because our music is simple and direct.

Brian Ritchie

Brian Ritchie – Photo by Mar Herrando

Still on the theme of your return, which has started in London, and will be finished this Saturday at Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria, this last concert will be the only one of the four in Europe that will take place in a festival. How do you feel in an international event with a pure Rock and Roll line-up?
We don’t care. We play jazz festivals, folk festivals, blues festivals, even metal festivals. We don’t believe in musical boundaries. I run a festival in Tasmania called MONA FOMA which has zero musical boundaries and that’s our philosophy.

Out the window, Good Feeling or Used to be talk about a lost happiness that will never come back. But, on the other side, between the lines we can catch a piece of hope and faith in some songs as Rejoice and be happy or This Island Life. Could you tell us if you think that this balance compensation is the eternal paradigm of human behavior and also could be one of the reasons of your continued success?
If you look at a lot of music that people enjoy there is something introverted and depressed about the lyrics, while the music itself is uplifting. Blues for example is a litany of complaints, but people like to dance to it and it takes their minds off their worries. Our music is an expression of real humanity, not trying to be cool or contrived. People can see themselves in it, that’s why they relate to it.

What is the best and the worst Kiss off-version that you have ever heard?
If you look on youtube there’s a version of Kiss Off from THE DRESDEN DOLLS which rocks, and that’s when I thought of getting Brian Viglione in the band when we needed a new drummer. I’ve also heard some other bands doing nice covers of it but I can’t remember their names. I haven’t heard a bad version, because the song itself is good.

To conclude, I’m wondering if you have ever discovered some band that plays punk and folk with the subtlety and the brilliance you do. And if you can recommend us some of your favorite artists.
Thanks for the compliment. I suppose you could say BOB DYLAN and JONATHAN RICHMAN have been doing that for 50 years or so. There are lots of young musicians influenced by us like THE LUMINEERS and BEN KWELLER. Of course I think the FEMMES are the best at folk-punk but I’m heavily biased! As long as there are young people with bad attitudes and good ideas we’ll see that style of music coming up here and there.