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Violent Femmes

2007-08-07 21:03
The Femmes have been around for 27 years - which is a long time in rock music. Ever concerned you’ll turn into The Rolling Stones?
Well, that’s interesting ‘cos I was just going to mention the Stones. They’re much older (than us) and are still going out and doing music that I’m sure not even they thought was possible. So to me the Stones are showing that you can get older and keep doing it. But hang on, you were mentioning them as an example of what you can’t do, right?!

Um, well, not necessarily me personally. But, uh… right you busted me. I guess I was.
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haah! Well, I don’t know. I haven’t seen them….so I don’t really know what I’d think about them now. Shoo, I dunno, it’s an interesting thing ‘cos there are some artists who get older and better. You know, the last time I saw Neil Young I thought he was really good! Last time I saw Bob Dylan he was really good! So…

Okay, but they are both solo artists….
Yeah. It seems to me that it is changing a bit. But hey, I guess it’s still what some people thought and still think - such as yourself! Ha! Ha! Ha! I dunno! When we’re playing shows responses are as good, or better than ever. I know for myself that we’ve never played better. So it seems like it is going fine even though everybody in the group is in their 40s.

It seems it is going well - you guys must play like what 150 gigs a year?
No it’s not that many, but that sounds fine, that’s impressive. I don’t know where we’re at. Over the last few years we’ve cut back a bit. If I was to pick a number I’d say 80.

Indeed. So how do you keep songs like “Blister In the Sun” fresh after playing them year in and year out? Do you reinvent them live?
No we don’t reinvent them deliberately. What we do is play with a sense of improvisation. None of us play with an idea that there’s an ultimate and best way of doing a song. So there’s a feeling of freedom in exactly what we’re playing. We have sections of songs that are complete improvisations where there’s no set anything of what can happen. Sure, they can fall into some similar patterns. Other nights might be completely different. Say in between a chorus and a verse there’s usually not a solo, but if somebody all of a sudden just feels like it, they can take a solo at that point – or no solo at all. You know? I mentioned Dylan – he often does his songs completely differently to what was on the original recording. I think that’s brilliant. But a lot of people probably hate that and want to hear it more like the original. Now when we play the song is recognisable as the song – absolutely. It’s just got these things about it that keeps it fresh for us. Ya know, it’s not a (chuckles) museum piece. It really is just happening in that moment.

Improvisation is normally associated with jazz musicians….clearly you don’t see yourselves as rock pensioners like the Rolling Stones who seem to be playing exactly the same rendition of "Satisfaction" they were 40 years ago?
Hey, if you like Violent Femmes more than Rolling Stones I’m okay with that! You know, even though we don’t think of ourselves as a jazz, rock, pop, punk – whatever label – band we probably have more improvisation and jazz aspects in how we play than I’m guessing…any other group. I could be wrong with that, but certainly more any other group that doesn’t come under that title ‘jam band’. But even then we probably do more because we have sections that completely free. There’s no longer any key, set rhythm, ya know it really becomes exactly how we’re playing and feeling as musicians in the moment.

Right. thanks for clearing that up. Let’s talk odd locations. Your CV says you’ve played at the North Pole with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It must’ve been the strangest location you’ve ever played?
Take a guess? What do you think?

Well, you never know…you haven’t played Oppikoppi yet have you?
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haah! Well, ya know if that’s stranger than the North Pole then hats off to you guys! The North Pole…well, I don’t know what to say about that. Anything stranger and I might not be able to live to tell about it.

What’s your take on the current retro rock revolution? Do you relate to bands like The White Stripes, The Killers etc. making rock 'hip' again?
Basically yes. But I tend not to think in categories. I don’t despise it. But having groupings or categories is, well 'what it is'. I go more band by band, ya know ‘I really like that group’ or ‘I’ve never heard of their music’, that sort of thing. But I like the idea certainly of a raw kind of rock – ya know two guitars – I like that.

Okay, what’s currently on your iPod? Do you have one?
Yes I do. That’s good. I’ll take currently because in between (chuckles) doing these interviews I’ve been listening to a Beethoven piano sonata. So there ya go – there’s just all kinds of stuff on my pod. For myself and everyone in the group – we listen and love so many kinds of music and not at all what you’d call the category of rock.

Is there one song you wish you’d written as a songwriter?
I don’t think like that. It would never even occur to me. Maybe there are songwriters who wish they’d written somebody else’s songs? I don’t know. I can love and enjoy a song, but don’t go that other step of thinking I wish I’d wrote that. For me that’s totally ridiculous. But to try and answer your question, I guess I’d written whatever song is making the most money! (chuckles) Ya know some Beatles song or something by Michael Jackson. Supposedly there’s a copyright and publishing attached to “Happy Birthday”. So there ya go, I wish I’d written “Happy Birthday”! No not really, but…

Speaking of money. Do you give a toss about Rolling Stone Magazine labelling the use of "Blister in the Sun" in a Wendy's Burger advert as one of the worst rock sell outs ever?
Are you kidding, really!? That was in Rolling Stone? Oh if that’s true that’s fantastic! That’d be amazing because Rolling Stone has ignored our group almost entirely – as much as anybody could be ignored. To have them say that is just so bizarre and wonderful. How do you call a band ‘the biggest sell-out ever’ if they’re a band you’ve entirely ignored their whole career? For many years we wanted stuff like that to promote ourselves and have a career, you know? Generally with the major publications – like Rolling Stone – and the biggest TV shows – we were never really let in the door. So at this point I don’t care. Not bitter 'I don’t care'. I really don’t care. Ha! Ha! Ha! This is great, this is a real chuckle. When I hear an old rock ’n roll song that I’ve loved used in a car commercial or whatever it might be I’m glad and hope that the person who wrote the song is making some money from it. Because it could be the first time they’re actually making money from it. So that’s great for them and their families. If anyone feels strongly about that then they should make sure they don’t listen to any radio station that has any commercials on it at all ‘cos that’s a sell-out.

It must be satisfying hearing bands cover your songs. Did Gnarls Barkley do justice to “Gone Daddy Gone”?
Well, when I hear it, I first hear it as a song. People have done covers of our songs and I love them. It’s the same with Gnarls it’s just that with Gnarls it’s at a much more visible level. And yes, it is also good financially. On that side of it if I’m not making any money then I’m not talking to you now. That’s the reality!

OK: you don’t have a job, neither do I . Thanks!
Thank you! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Okay, One last question. When you’re not gigging what do you do to chill out ?
Well, I try to figure out ways to sell out! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Okay. I couldn’t help that. I read. I listen to music all the time. I’m always writing things. I also produce. There’s one group I’ve just finished co-producing that I’ll mention to you because you might hear about them sometime. They’re from Nova Scotia called Tom Fun. I think they’ve got something very exiting going on. They’ve just played a few festivals in the UK without even having a record out.

- Miles Keylock

They’ve outlasted New Wave, Hair Metal, Alt. country, Nu-metal, Emo-punk and Retro-rock. Hell, they’ve survived Grunge, House, Hip-Hop and just about every mainstream musical ‘revolution’ of the past 27 years. They’re the Violent Femmes. We called up irrepressible lead singer Gordon Gano in his LA hotel room to ask him about growing old, selling out and being ignored by Rolling Stone.

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