Interview With The Violent Femmes
by Tammy Adin

I've been a long time fan of the Violent Femmes, since I saw them perform at the I-Beam in San Francisco several decades ago. I caught up with Brian Ritchie, who was kind enough to answer my questions for Punk Globe.

I saw the great show you performed at the Blue Note in Columbia, MO, to an extremely receptive crowd. I heard a rumor that you played at one of the very first shows at the Blue Note, 25 years ago. Is this true?

No, we played there in 1983 and many times after that. One of the most notable events was when we played there for Halloween and demanded the Blue Note provide us with a bail of hay, which we opened at the end of the show. That was a big mistake.

I also saw you perform at the I-Beam in San Francisco about that many years ago. How have the audiences changed from back then, and how have your performances changed?

The constitution of the audience has remained pretty much the same over the decades, which is almost unique in the rock world. We are the "Picture of Dorian Grey" of rock. The performances likewise are almost the same, although we are probably better now than at the inception.

I asked some audience members at your show what they would ask you, if they could, so some of my questions are inspired by them. I was blown away by the energy levels that the three of you produce on stage, especially Victor. Where do you draw all that energy from?

You do what you have to do. We need a lot of energy to put that music across. Offstage in some cases it's quite a different story. Let's just say I'll be buying my colleagues Viagra and Geritol for X-mas. Me, I'm a superman.

How did you meet?

We were all at a gay bathhouse and we noticed that we had the three smallest peepees. So we started to hang out together.

How did you come up with the name for the band?

One of my friends asked if my brother also had a band. He didn't but I bullshitted him and said yes. When he asked me the name, I came up with Violent Femmes on the spot. Then I went over to Victor's house and told him the name. We decided to form a band then and there. The name existed before the band.

Have you toured the entire time with your three original members, or did any of you take breaks from the band at any time?

I am the only member to have performed at every Femmes concert. That is the will of God. Victor took a little time out for nine years and was more than ably replaced by the great Guy Hoffmann (who in turn needed to take a time out, fucking drummers). Gordon has also gone astray from time to time, which is more troubling than finding someone who bangs on things.

Can you share one of your wilder tour stories from the past, and from the present?

I'll share one. We were playing at the Newport Folk Festival. Two of the other artists were Joan Armatrading and Odetta. They are both black folksingers from different generations, Armatrading was in her 40's and Odetta in her 70's. Gordon wanted to tell Odetta how much he liked her music, but much to her chagrin, he expressed this to Armatrading. I don't think she was flattered to be confused with a 70 year old.

Favorite tour food?

We used to have a roadie who's motto was, "You're not on tour until you are eating crap!" Gordon is vegetarian and his strong favorite is anything that is soft and mushy, such as mashed potatoes, grits, applesauce, pureed carrots, i.e. baby food. Victor claims not to eat. I love to go to Japanese restaurants and fine steakhouses.

I'm a fledgling bass player, starting very late at 47. At what age did you start playing music, and what were the first instruments you learned?

I started on guitar at 13, picked up bass at 15 and since then I've been picking up instruments like a snowball rolling down a mountain.

Any words of advice for new musicians/bands?

Take care of the music and the music will take care of you.

I admit to having a slight crush on one of you (not telling who!). What is the marital status of the VF?

We're married. One of the bandmembers has a motto: "I'm married, but my dick's not." If your crush is on that member maybe you're in luck.

Do you have children, and are any of them following in your musical footsteps?

Victor has three children, the boy is a prominent drummer/producer in NYC. The eldest daughter is an actress there, and the younger daughter is a fine violinist. My son is a self-styled protest singer.

I love the simplistic standup drum kit that Victor plays. Do you ever use a full drum kit?

Victor plays in several jazz and rock bands in Milwaukee and uses a full kit. He has also used it on a few of our old recordings. Gordon and I prefer when he plays just the snare, so that's why he does that on stage with the Femmes. We are adding a second drummer, John Sparrow, on cajon to beef up the percussion sound.

I also really like the various bass instruments that Brian plays. How many different instruments do you usually play in any given show? Which one do you enjoy the most?

I have been using 5 or 6 different basses during the show. Acoustic, electric, upright, electric washtub, fretless, and 1 string fretless monobass. Plus xylophone, shakuhachi, conch, etc. My favorite instruments are acoustic bass guitar and shakuhachi.

My favorite VF song is "Add It Up". What songs are your favorites to perform?

My favorites are "Never Tell", "Color Me Once", "Black Girls" and "Add It Up".

What do you do for fun when you are not performing?

I cook international food, ride fixed gear bikes, golf and play Japanese music.

Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions, and for the great show! Any last words for Punk Globe readers?

Thanks for your support and listening to our music.

Brian Ritchie


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