“When they first started talking about reissues and the 40th anniversary, my first reaction was ’40-year anniversary of what?’ Then I remembered ‘oh yea, my band.'”
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Thinking back on the four decades of the band is not something singer Gordon Gano typically does, but 40 years still needed some kind of special attention.
Marking the Violent Femmes four decades together, the band has reissued the long out-of-print LP, Add It Up (1981–1993), a 23-track compilation drawing from the band’s first five albums, featuring Femmes’ spitting punk anthems of “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Blister in the Sun,” “Add It Up,” and “Kiss Off,” along with early demos, B-sides, interstitial voice recordings, and imports that were unavailable in the U.S. at the time of the initial release of Add It Up, including “I Hate the TV,” “Gimme The Car,” and “Dance, M.F., Dance!”
Though their self-titled debut came out in 1983, the band was formed two years earlier by singer and guitarist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie and drummer Victor DeLorenzo, famously busking outside the Oriental Theatre in LA and catching the attention of The Pretenders’ James Honeyman, who invited to unknown trio on stage with them later that night.
Violent Femmes were always consistent through the ’90s before a 15-year hiatus in the early ’00s. Still intact with founding members Gano and Ritchie, along with new members John Sparrow and Blaise Garza, the band released their tenth album, Hotel Last Resort in 2019.
For Gano, many of the earlier songs, most written while he was still in high school, still resonate with him. “It’s still this flow, because we’ve played the songs and then I’ve sung the songs that I wrote through all these decades ago, so when I do it, I’m not thinking about when I wrote the song necessarily,” shares Gano. “I’m not tapping into that as a constant reference, because it’s been a part of what I’ve done for all these years.”
In retrospect, there are some songs he would have written differently now, but Gano is content with the outcome. “I completely connect with them, and then sometimes get other insights, or other thoughts that develop for myself related to that,” he says. “There are certain themes that get hit upon, or beat upon and that goes throughout. On the first several albums there was at least one song that I wrote when I was 16. So there’s this connection of when I wrote the song that’s kind of amazing.”
Before the release of Violent Femmes the band was already playing the entire album live, along with all the songs on follow up Hallowed Ground in 1984.
“That second album shows more of our love of country, jazz, blues, and with the first, Brian [Ritchie] suggested staying focused on more of what we would think of as rock or punk tunes,” says Gano. “There’s never been a ‘we’re going to record another album, now I have to write songs, to work them out as a band,’ because it’s always been a mix.”
Constantly writing, learning, and exploring music are elements that find their way into songs for Gano, who is currently working on a musical. “I enjoy putting a poem I love or a text or something else to music or the opposite, where I have the sound and need to put some lyrics and weave in and out with the music that’s already there,” he says. “I enjoy doing those things tremendously, whereas when I was a teenager that was impossible.
“I’m always working on music, which is another difference from the past,” says Gano. “I would have needed some inspiration. Now, when I have the time, there’s never a lack of inspiration. I’m more inspired than ever.”
As Violent Femmes remain on a forced hiatus, following the pandemic, Gano jokes that this break was not intentional. “It’s funny that we’re not playing, but it’s not an internal thing this time,” he says. “It’s more about the world situation. Every 10 years or so we’ve done this—just not playing for years—but we didn’t do it this time. This time it’s not our fault.”