Legendary American band Violent Femmes recently premiered the first song, “Memory”, from their long-awaited and highly anticipated new record, We Can Do Anything, due out March 4th. John Goodridge asked bass guitarist Brian Ritchie some questions about music’s creation.
The latest single “Memory” draws from the archives of Violent Femmes. What feelings or emotions did you have going through the material?
Only a few of the songs are retro archive digs. Other stuff is new and it’s all new when we play it for the first time. When we recorded the music in the studio, we had not heard or rehearsed it. So it’s very fresh.
Music is strange in that it is both permanent and ethereal. How does it feel when you release a record? When a song takes on a life of its own, does it feel strange? Particularly hearing songs covered by other bands.
It’s always an honour and thrill to hear covers of Femmes songs by other artists. Even if they suck! Still fun that people like the music enough to play it themselves. Sometimes I surf YouTube with the search “Violent Femmes Covers” and unearth all kinds of amazing things like marching bands, little kids, ukulele groups all doing Femmes material. We post that stuff on our Facebook page because we like it so much. Once you release the music, it takes on a life of its own.
With such a stable of classic songs like “Blister in the Sun” and “Add It Up” for example, does it make it easier or harder to write new material? Are fans expecting more of the same or does it give you more creative licence?
We make the music now for our own amusement and assume the audience will feel the same way. If we like it, they’ll like it. The most important thing is to be natural and not try to contrive a reaction from people.
What is it about music that resonates so strongly in people? You must have had moments when people have said your songs have helped them through a moment; is that something you think about?
There was a girl stranded in the Amazon for three days who sang songs from the Hallowed Ground album to keep her going. That was a moving story. We have heard from many fans that the songs have helped them through hard times. Another common comment is that they lost their virginity while listening to it, although we find that a bit weird. A girl also told me she was conceived while her parents listened to us…..that’s what her folks told her.
The Museum of Old and New Art is an amazing repository of contemporary art. Has it had any influence on the new album?
I’ve always thought of the Femmes as an art project as much or more than a conventional rock band. Especially when we do unpredictable things. But I don’t think we’ve been influenced very much by Mona.
The album We Can Do Anything was written across America while you were on tour. How much does the location influence the song writing? Was there an influence from the tour itself? How much harder is writing on the road compared to a studio environment?
The songs were not written on the road, they were just recorded out on the road. It’s difficult to write or focus on anything out there. So there was no influence from the tour other than the energy we brought into the studio.
Which is more enjoyable – touring or recording?
Playing live music is real and recording is only sort of real. The most real thing is playing acoustic music with no amplification. Sharing with an audience in real time is always the biggest buzz.
What part of the upcoming Australian tour are you looking forward to the most?
Australia has always been one of our most anticipated tours. We haven’t been to Melbourne for a long time and it’s a music city. Those shows will definitely go off. Playing the Zoo in Sydney will be a breakthrough for us. We’ll be giving 100% at every gig and changing the set up night to night. Every gig is one we look forward to. You have to play each show as if it’s your last.
What is the most unusual instrument that someone in Violent Femmes has used?
Blaise Garza from the Horns of Dilemma plays a contra-bass saxophone on the new album. Those are very rare and sound quite scary. That might be it. But the acoustic bass guitar, cajon, bouzouki, tranceaphone, jaw harp and many other unusual instruments feature in our recordings or shows. Drummer John Sparrow is going to be banging on a Weber grill on this tour as well.
How has the changing recording industry affected the way you market and release records and tour? Do you feel that bands have more or less control over their marketing now? With the proliferation of new music is it harder to get noticed?
The new paradigm of anyone being able to release something the day it’s recorded on Soundcloud or Bandcamp has certainly been a game changer. It gives a lot of freedom to the artist but it also creates a glut of material on the market. Whether that’s good or bad is irrelevant, it just exists. Basically, I think the music scene is healthier than it has ever been, but many of our contemporaries would disagree.
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 is released March 4th!