Name of Article: Prime Cuts: Violent Femmes Gordon Gano and
Brian Ritchie's Happy Melodies and Heartbreaking Lyrics
Author: Robert Burns
Magazine: Guitar School
Date: September 1993
Page(s): 12, 134
Contributor: Joe Rintala
GORDON GANO and BRIAN RITCHIE's
happy melodies and heartbreaking lyrics
by Robert Burns
NOBODY, it seems, understands the Violent Femmes. Not their
record company, their
producers, not even their own drummer. "We've always been branded as
weirdos," says Gordon
Gano, guitarist, vocalist and principle songwriter.
Eleven years after releasing Violent Femmes, an angst-ridden
masterpiece debut, the band
has parted ways with Slash Records. Bassist Brian Ritchie thought
Slash was wasting the talents
of a great band, so the Femmes are now in the studio recording their
first album for Electra - but
are producing the record themselves.
"A producer is a good way to flush a lot of money down the
toilet," says Gano.
"Producers are a bad subject with us. We get along with Jerry
[Harrison, producer of The Blind
Leading The Naked], but I can't say that about all of our producers.
We've been accused of not
being professional enough to work with in the studio."
The Femmes also recently said good-bye to Victor DeLorenzo,
their long-time drummer.
"We just went our separate, or different, ways," says Gano. Former
BoDeans drummer Guy
Hoffman is now brushing the snare for the band.
It seems that the only people who try to understand the Femmes
are the masses of fan who
sing along to Gano's every tortured syllable. Whether or not they
can truly see to the bottom of
his heart is questionable. Gano's a complex man, who talents are as
numerous and as varied as his
opinions. We recently spoke with Gano and Ritchie to shed some light
on their enigmatic careers.
"Blister In The Sun"
Gano: This song was done in one take. I came up with the opening
riff that goes along with the
melody, but Brian has an early demo of this song without the riff.
For the rhythm part, sometimes
I'm playing just two notes, and other times I'm playing open chords.
With this song, and our career in general, part of me is pleased
and thrilled about the attention
we got from certain radio stations, but I'm also surprised and bitter
we haven't been more popular.
Gano: I really wasn't picked on as a kid as much as the songs make it
seem. I was threatened
more than anything else. What the counting part in the song means is
best left up to the listener,
though it implies something of a pharmaceutical nature to me.
Ritchie: That's one of my favorite songs to play live because we get
to stretch it out. Many songs
from the first album are great live, because they're ripe for
"Please Do Not Go"
Gano: "Please Do Not Go" is one of the few Femmes songs not written
someone. It's me doing "Tin Pan Alley style," although it is tied to
certain emotions and feelings.
What's interesting about the overall sound of our band is that the
lyrics can be very sad, angry or
negative, yet the music can be very uplifting - happy melodies with
"Add It Up"
Gano: I wrote the music, the vocals and chord changes. Brian does
this great bass part in the
middle of the song, which shifts around the drum beat and my guitar
rhythm. It's amazing the
song is only two chords but goes through all these changes. "Add It
Up" is great to play live
because it gives us an incredible freedom to improvise and not
duplicate what's on the album.
"Country Death Song"
Gano: My father was a country music lover, so I grew up listening to
old country records, playing
guitar and singing. Many of those country artists, like the Carter
Family, Hank Williams and
Johnny Cash, were inspirational to me. People always say, "You've
got to be kidding," but that
song has warm family feelings for me. [laughs]
"Jesus Walking On The Water"
Gano: I play violin on this, in addition to the guitar parts. I'm a
member of New York Chamber
Music Associates, and every Wednesday I play violin with them - it's
wonderful. The violin on
this song is obviously different from chamber music, though!
The Blind Leading The Naked
Gano: I really balk at the word "religion." What do people mean when
they say that term? Is it
ritual, physical things that can be seen and photographed? It sets
up the idea that religion can
somehow be separate from life. To me, there's life, and then you can
agree to have religion or
Actually, the inspiration for the line "I got my faith" came
from something I overheard
somebody say. [laughs] There is, however, something that I really
respond to when I sing that
Gano: I'm playing the acoustic rhythm guitar on this track, but the
guitar solo is Brian's. I think
he tried to teach it to me and I said, "Why don't you play it?"
Ritchie: The solo is based around the melody, but with a goofy twist.
When I recorded it I
thought about the weird rockabilly dudes that played those mind-
bending solos - that Link Wray,
Duane Eddy style.
"I Held Her In My Arms"
Gano: We did a demo of this song before we made this record and it
sounded so much more
natural and better than the album version. We're hoping to compile
an album that will include the
demo of this song, some alternate takes, rare stuff like "Dance
Motherfucker Dance," and stuff I
wrote for a movie which never came out.
Gano: I haven't listened to that song in so long, but, oh, it's
definitely about one person in
particular! A producer talked us into doing the intro separate from
the rest of the song and then
splice it together. It didn't come out right to me. There's this
weird lag after the part when I say,
"I would've been your good friend," where I'm setting up this rhythm
and the music comes down.
That part is a nightmare for me!
Gano: Leo Kottke plays slide guitar on this. His daughter is a fan
of our music. He was in town
doing a show, so we called him up and he did the track. He opened up
for us once at Carnegie
Why Do Birds Sing?
Gano: The guitar solo just sounds like old fashioned rock 'n' roll to
me. I use a Fender Telecaster
Thinline Guitar for most of my stuff, but I used a Heritage Eagle for
this song. I use a Fender
Twin amplifier, but lately Brian's been making it his business to
pick up every strange old amp he
can find - things they had to hand-paint the settings on.
"Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?"
Gano: The idea to cover this song came from outside sources. Record
companies think that
covers are ace-in-the-holes because everybody's already familiar with
them. Of course, we
thought it was the worst idea we'd ever heard, and we couldn't get it
to work. Then, all of the
sudden, we heard that people were all excited about it. Boy George
even offered to do a cameo
in the video! So we felt challenged as musicians to find a way to
enjoy the song; we ended up
really liking it! Brian played bazouki. I didn't understand Boy
George's lyrics, so I got permission
to change the words so they meant something to me.
After all that, nobody got behind the song, and we couldn't find
anyone who said it was a good
idea in the first place