The Violent Femmes will perform at Southbound, happening Friday-Saturday, January 3-4, at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton. BOB GORDON reports.
Violent Femmes bassist, Brian Ritchie, in his office. But it’s not just any office. It’s inside the remarkable MONA Gallery in Hobart, possibly the most creative and inspired working environment in the country.
“I love it,” he says. “I leave my office and walk through this amazing gallery full of crazy stuff and meet with the people. It’s a really great environment to work in and be in.”
Richie and his family moved to Tasmania a few years ago and have embraced the Apple Isle. And vice versa, with Ritchie’s appointment at MONA (Museum Of Old And New Art) as a festival curator. The seachange in his life certainly kicked off a new era of creative avenues.
“It’s been very creative,” he notes. “I haven’t really slowed down playing music. In fact I probably play as much as I ever did, but it’s a much wider diversity.
“For example, this year I started out with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, then The Break, then Rodriguez, then the Femmes. I’m shortly off to China to play with a band called Typhoon – an unfortunate name right now. It’s myself and Michael Kieran Harvey the Australian classical pianist and two Chinese musicians. So there’s an incredible amount of musical activity, plus working here at MONA and having a festival – a couple of them, really – and all the music we do on site.
“It seems kind of weird to move from New York to a place like Tasmania and say that everything expanded, but it really has expanded for me.”
And it’s done so in unexpected ways, as Ritchie explains.
“I didn’t know what to expect when we moved to Australia. We kind of did it as a leap of faith and certainly what has happened is not what I expected. I didn’t know what to expect! It’s nothing that could have been anticipated.
“I have been around museums before because my wife is a scientist; she was at the American Museum Of Natural History and The Smithsonian. I didn’t even know there was going to be an art museum here in Tasmania, so that was all news.
“Then I started to play in The Break with the guys from Midnight Oil and Hunters & Collectors, some of the top musicians in the world, I didn’t plan that either! I was planning not to be in a rock band and then I ended up in a rock band. These things happen (laughs).”
After a few years apart due to some internal litigation, the Violent Femmes got back together in early 2013. It was a surprise for many, but not for Ritchie.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he says. “I thought it would be inevitable because the music is good. To be able to make that music and do it together is important. Not everybody gets into a musical situation that’s that unique. When Gordon (Gano, vocals/guitar) and I get together and play it’s the Femmes sound; it’s nothing like what we play as individuals or anybody else.
“I was expecting it. I know Gordon thought it was over, but I never said it was over and I never said I wouldn’t do it again. I expected to do it again.”
Original drummer, Victor DeLorenzo, however, has not returned. But life goes on…
“Victor came into the situation with some tension and it wasn’t resolved,” Ritchie says. “We just had to get Brian (Viglione) to play drums and that’s working out really well.
“He’s a fantastic drummer; he’s an acolyte of the band and was in the Dresden Dolls when they supported us on tour. It was a pretty natural thing to get him because we knew he could do it and it’s working out very well. It would have been nice to keep the original line-up but it wasn’t possible under the circumstances.”
In the last year the Femmes have played at Coachella, Milwaukee Summer Fest and Bottle Rock festivals, as well as headlining dates in New York City and Chicago.
“All the shows have been really good,” Ritchie says. “We pretty much spanned the coast of the US without hardly trying. We haven’t played in Australia since the Big Day Out in 2007. It’s gonna be a nice return, the audiences are always great for us here.”
There’s no plans as yet for another Violent Femmes album, but on tour the band finds itself playing its songs to the generation they were written for and to other generations that the iconic tunes have also been passed down to.
“Sometimes we’ll have three generations,” Ritchie says. “Like we’ll have the grandmother, the mother and the daughter. In fact at the last gig we did in New York someone came up and said, ‘I was born to your music’. That means that their parents liked our music enough to play it in the delivery room, which I think is crazy (laughs) but that’s what this girl told me.
“I thought it was kind of a heavy responsibility to be the first sound in someone’s ear. But there she was at the concert and she enjoyed it. So it must not have been too bad.”
The Violent Femmes play Southbound, happening Friday-Saturday, January 3-4, at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton.
Get your tickets here.