Violent Femmes Back In the Sun
Published Mar 23, 2016Violent Femmes' new album, their first since 2000's Freak Magnet, hearkens back to their classic early '80s recordings. We Can Do Anything captures some of the raw excitement and glee characteristic of the band's recent live reunion appearances, and apparently the band — Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie are the sole remaining originals — are getting along "probably better than ever."
"Our bass player [Ritchie] decided he didn't want to record any more songs that I wrote," singer, guitarist and banjo player Gano says, summarizing years of notorious conflict. Tension reached its peak in 2007 when Ritchie sued Gano for half ownership of the songs, after Gano licensed the band's most famous one, "Blister in the Sun," to a Wendy's commercial. At the time, Ritchie was quoted as saying of Gano, "It is his karma that he lost his songwriting ability many years ago."
"There's something on the internet where something is suggested that maybe I wasn't writing, but that isn't true," says Gano. "I actually did some writing and work on other projects that, because it's not called Violent Femmes, probably nobody knows about. That's just the way it is."
What brought the Femmes back from extinction was an offer too good to refuse, to play Coachella in 2013. "It was an enormous offer for us," Gano says. "It was all-time, beyond anything, ever. That made it so we started communicating again."
The Femmes returned last year with a four-song Record Store Day EP called Happy New Year, recorded on New Year's Eve 2014 in Tasmania (where Ritchie lives), with then-drummer Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls). Viglione stayed on with the Femmes long enough to record We Can Do Anything before announcing his resignation in January.
This time, the band have solved their perennial drummer issue (four drummers have swapped out five different times) by "promoting from within," moving cajon player John Sparrow, who's been a part of the Femmes's auxiliary band the Horns of Dilemma for over a decade, onto drums.
The classic sound of the new album isn't an accident. "It was driven very strongly by Brian Ritchie's perspective of wanting to record mostly live and acoustic," says Gano, "which we'd done a lot of through the years, but more on our earlier albums than on later ones."
Another reason We Can Do Anything sounds like vintage Femmes is that, in a way, it is — "Memory" is 20 years old, and there are a couple of other songs on the album that were written about 25 years ago; still more were written in the last couple of years. "It spans this incredible range of time," says Gano. "There's an example: there have been songs that have been around for a long time that we just didn't do. We didn't record them. And there's many more."