Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes are an American folk punk band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. The band consists of singer, guitarist and songwriter Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie, saxophonist and keyboardist Blaise Garza, and current drummer John Sparrow.[2]

Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes, 2006
Background information
OriginMilwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Years active1980–1987, 1988–2009, 2013–present
Past members

Violent Femmes have released ten studio albums and 15 singles during the course of their career.[3] The band found immediate success with the release of their self-titled debut album in early 1983. Featuring many of their well-known songs, including "Blister in the Sun", "Kiss Off", "Add It Up" and "Gone Daddy Gone", Violent Femmes became the band's biggest-selling album and was eventually certified platinum by the RIAA.[4] Violent Femmes went on to become one of the most successful alternative rock bands of the 1980s, selling more than 9 million albums by 2005.[5] After the release of their third album The Blind Leading the Naked (1986), the band's future was uncertain and they split up in 1987, when Gano and Ritchie went solo. However, they regrouped a year later, releasing the album 3 (1989). Since then, Violent Femmes' maintained steady popularity, especially in the United States, where the songs "Nightmares" and "American Music" cracked the top five on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.[6]


Early years and first album (1981–1983)

Violent Femmes were founded by bassist Brian Ritchie and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo following the demise of the initial wave of American punk rock, and became a full-fledged band upon the arrival of lead vocalist and guitarist Gordon Gano. According to Ritchie, he came up with the name of the group as a fake band name when one of his bandmates questioned his assertion that his brother was also in a band—he and DeLorenzo liked the name, so they used it for the rhythm duo they played in prior to Gano joining the group.[7] In its early days, the band frequently played coffee houses and street corners. They were discovered by James Honeyman-Scott (of The Pretenders) on August 23, 1981, when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre, the Milwaukee venue that The Pretenders would be playing later that night. Chrissie Hynde invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.[8]

Later years and brief split (1984–1992)

After their debut album Violent Femmes, they released Hallowed Ground, which moved the group towards a country music sound and introduced Christian themes. Mark Van Hecke produced the band's first two efforts,[9] but their third album, The Blind Leading the Naked, saw a change in the studio. This time, another fellow Milwaukee native Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads did the producing. It was more mainstream and pop-oriented, resulting in a minor hit with "Children of the Revolution", originally by T.Rex.[10] In 1985, Van Hecke ended his collaboration with the group and became a composer and producer in the rapidly growing video game industry. He would return later, however, to produce two more albums for the group.[9] The Femmes briefly disbanded, with Gano releasing an album in 1987, the result of a gospel side project Mercy Seat. Ritchie also released several solo LPs. The group came back together in late 1988, releasing 3, a return to the band's earlier, stripped-down sound.[10] Why Do Birds Sing? was released in 1991 after the band signed to Reprise[10] and featured another minor hit, "American Music," which became a concert staple.

Post-DeLorenzo years (1993–1998)

In 1993, DeLorenzo departed the group to act and make solo records. Guy Hoffman, formerly of the Oil Tasters and BoDeans, was brought in to tour what was to become one of their biggest-selling records, the Add It Up (1981–1993) collection. Over the next nine years, Violent Femmes, with Hoffman, recorded five full-length CDs and a handful of one-offs for motion picture soundtracks, such as "I Swear It (I Can Change)" from the South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut soundtrack, "Color Me Once" for the soundtrack to The Crow and other compilation projects. The first full studio album with Hoffman on drums, New Times (Elektra Records), was released in 1994, and the band scored another minor hit with the song "Breakin' Up" Rock!!!!! (Mushroom Records) was released in 1995 in Australia only, though it has since become available in the United States.

Later years and reunion with DeLorenzo (1999–2006)

Viva Wisconsin, a live album, was released in the United States in 1999 on the independent label Beyond and was followed by Freak Magnet in 2000. Something's Wrong (2001), an album of unreleased studio tracks, covers, demos, and acoustic live performances was released as an MP3-only album through eMusic. In 2002, Rhino Records repackaged their debut 1983 album along with demos and live tracks to coincide with a 20th anniversary reissue. DeLorenzo asked to rejoin for what was to be a farewell tour, thus reinstating the original lineup.

On the 2002 SpongeBob SquarePants First Complete Season DVD, the Violent Femmes recorded a 34-second cover of the SpongeBob theme. They also recorded a 30-second commercial for Nickelodeon.

2005 saw the release of two collections of past work—a CD called Permanent Record: The Very Best of Violent Femmes on Slash/Rhino and a DVD, Permanent Record – Live & Otherwise from Rhino, which showcases a concert performance from 1991, along with many of the group's videos. The CD is the first record that recognizes all four musicians and their contributions on the same disc.

After touring in promotion of Freak Magnet, primary songwriter Gano decided that they would no longer make new music, but the band would continue to play shows when booked. On New Year's Eve of 2005, and for one show in January 2006, all four Violent Femmes members played together.

Lawsuit and disbanding (2007–2009)

In 2007, Gano angered Ritchie by selling advertising rights for the classic "Blister in the Sun" to Wendy's.

Although nearly all of the band's songs, including "Blister in the Sun," credit Gano as the sole songwriter, Ritchie responded to the use of the song in the commercial by saying:

"For the fans who rightfully are complaining about the Wendy's burger advertisement featuring "Blister in the Sun," Gordon Gano is the publisher of the song and Warners is the record company. When they agree to use it there's nothing the rest of the band can do about it, because we don't own the song or the recording. That's showbiz. Therefore when you see dubious or in this case disgusting uses of our music you can thank the greed, insensitivity and poor taste of Gordon Gano, it is his karma that he lost his songwriting ability many years ago, probably due to his own lack of self-respect as his willingness to prostitute our songs demonstrates. Neither Gordon (vegetarian) nor me (gourmet) eat garbage like Wendy's burgers. I can't endorse them because I disagree with corporate food on culinary, political, health, economic and environmental grounds. However, I see my life's work trivialized at the hands of my business partner over and over again, although I have raised my objections numerous times. As disgusted as you are I am more so."[11]

Ritchie filed a lawsuit against Gano in August 2007, seeking half ownership of Violent Femmes' music and access to royalty accounting.[12] Many speculated this would lead to the band's breakup. However, on June 17, 2008 the band released a cover of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley who had previously covered "Gone Daddy Gone".

The band disbanded in 2009 as a result of Ritchie's lawsuit against Gano.[13]

Reunion (2013–present)

In January 2013, it was announced that the Violent Femmes would be reuniting and performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April. They performed there, the Bottlerock Napa Valley in May and Milwaukee's Summerfest in June.[13][14][15] The band was also on the bill for Riot Fest, which took place in Chicago in September 2013.[16]

Drummer Victor DeLorenzo said in March 2013 that he would be open to recording new material with the Violent Femmes,[17] but on July 15, 2013, it was announced that Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione would be replacing DeLorenzo as the band's drummer.[18][19] In a statement, DeLorenzo said "It's always hard to write a eulogy for a lost loved one. In this case, I sadly lament the loss of a dream and an ideal that was once Violent Femmes."[20]

The Violent Femmes played three shows in Australia as part of the 2013/2014 Falls Festival, performing at Marion Bay on December 30, Lorne on December 31 and Byron Bay on January 2.[21] On May 11, 2014, they performed at the Shaky Knees music festival in Atlanta, GA.[22]

The band played several shows in Australia around New Year of 2015, including the Woodford Folk Festival, the Sydney Opera House and MONA FOMA festival. In the midst of them, they recorded their first new material in 15 years on New Year's Eve 2014 in Hobart, Tasmania. These four songs were released on an exclusive four-song EP on clear 180-gram vinyl on April 18, 2015 for Record Store Day.[23] The band then joined Barenaked Ladies and Colin Hay on a two-month tour in the summer of 2015.[24]

In January 2016, Viglione announced via his Facebook page that he had "handed in his resignation" to the band; adding that he was "grateful to have had the experience."[25]

Later that month, the band announced that its first full album in 16 years, We Can Do Anything would be released on March 22, 2016.[26] Viglione is credited as the drummer on the album.[26]

Drummer John Sparrow, who began playing cajón in the Femmes' backing band, the Horns of Dilemma, in August 2005, joined the band as its new drummer after Viglione's exit. On February 23, 2016, he appeared with the band on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" to promote We Can Do Anything.[27] On April 30, 2019, the band announced a new studio album Hotel Last Resort, released on July 26, 2019.[28]

In July of 2019, the band returned to the East Side neighborhood of Milwaukee, in and around the street art destination Black Cat Alley, to film the music video for the single “I’m Nothing” '[29]

Band members


Horns of Dilemma

In their shows, the Femmes employ a horn section called the Horns of Dilemma. For many years, it consisted of Peter Balestrieri, and Steve MacKay on saxophones and Sigmund Snopek III[31] on keyboards and other instruments.[32] It was augmented by whatever musicians the band invited to play with them on a particular night. The band now uses local acquaintances, famous or otherwise, friends, relatives, or associates of the band, particularly their road crew. Instrumentation varies widely and includes saxophones, trumpets, trombones, sousaphone, flute, clarinet, antique hunting horn, kazoo, and percussion. The group doesn't back up the band in the way that a traditional horn section would; they provide a free-form noise jam. When the band plays "Black Girls" or "Confessions" the only direction given to the players are to play freely and as wildly as possible during certain sections. Currently, the leader of the Horns of Dilemma is Blaise Garza, who plays saxophones for the band. Famous members have included John Zorn, Dick Parry and The Dresden Dolls. Longtime band associates and employees who have played with the Horns include soundman Caleb Alexander, and manager Darren Brown.[33]

In addition to the horn section itself, members include any additional musicians playing with the band. Before becoming the band's drummer, John Sparrow played cajón, starting in 2005.[34] Various bassists stand in for Ritchie during "Gone Daddy Gone," when he plays xylophone. These musicians are all considered members of the Horns of Dilemma.[33]


Studio albums


  1. 2 Mics & The Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged In America (Media notes). 2017.
  2. "Violent Femmes: Hotel Last Resort". July 25, 2019. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  3. For albums and singles information, see the Violent Femmes discography page.
  4. "RIAA Gold & Platinum Database". February 1, 1991. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  5. "SA is set to be rocked". Music Industry Online. Archived from the original on December 13, 2013.
  6. "Violent Femmes Album & Song Chart History". Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  7. Barker, Rayanna. "A Conversation With Brian Ritchie". Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  8. Milwaukee Journal August 24, 1981
  9. Mark VanHecke. "Mark VanHecke | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  10. Colin Larkin, ed. (2003). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 484. ISBN 1-85227-969-9.
  11. "Femmes' Ritchie reacts to Wendy's chili commerical [sic] controversy". March 6, 2007. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  12. "Violent Femmes Embroiled In Inter-Band Lawsuit". Billboard. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  13. "Grinderman reform for Coachella". January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  14. "Blisters healed? Violent Femmes announce Coachella reunion". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  15. "Violent Femmes kick off Summerfest 2013". OnMilwaukee. March 26, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  16. "Riot Fest 2013 Lineup: Fall Out Boy, Public Enemy, Violent Femmes, Blondie And More To Headline". The Huffington Post. May 15, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  17. Levy, Piet (March 26, 2013). "Reunited Violent Femmes to kick off Summerfest with homecoming show". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  18. Levy, Piet (July 15, 2013). "Recently reunited Violent Femmes replaces founding drummer". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved July 15, 2013. Less than three weeks after the recently reunited alternative folk-rock band co-headlined the Marcus Amphitheater on Summerfest's opening night comes news that the band's lone Milwaukee resident, Victor DeLorenzo, is out of the group. He's been replaced by new drummer Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls, the cabaret rock act that features Amanda Palmer.
  19. "VVN Music: Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls Joins the Violent Femmes". July 15, 2013. Retrieved July 16, 2013. Former Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione is the new drummer for The Violent Femmes replacing Victor DeLorenzo who announced his departure today.
  20. Rytlewski, Evan (July 16, 2013). "Victor DeLorenzo Has Been Kicked Out of the Violent Femmes (Again)". Shepherd Express. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  21. "Artists | Marion Bay". July 16, 2013. Archived from the original on January 2, 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
  22. "Home – Shaky Knees 2014". Shaky Knees Festival 2014. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  23. "Hear Violent Femmes' First New Song in 15 Years". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  24. "Barenaked Ladies 2015 "Last Summer On Earth" Tour Includes Violent Femmes and Colin Hay". TiqIQ Blog. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  25. Brian Viglione (January 1, 2016). "Brian Viglione – Evolution and change are always exciting, and..." Retrieved January 1, 2016.
  26. Hilton, Robin (January 13, 2016). "Hear A Song From Violent Femmes' First Album In 15 Years". All Songs Considered. NPR. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  27. Levy, Piet. "Violent Femmes jam with Stephen Colbert, introduce new local drummer". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  28. new album
  29. Levy, Piet. "Violent Femmes return to their busking roots in new filmed-in-Milwaukee music video". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  30. "The Music Man: Peter Balestrieri's Journey from Punk Rock Band to Special Collections".
  31. " – Welcome to the Official Web Site of Sigmund Snopek III". Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  32. Cohn, Yale. "Talking With: Peter Balestrieri of the Violent Femmes". Archived from the original on March 19, 2016.
  33. "Horns of Dilemma". Violent Femmes. Archived from the original on May 23, 2014. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  34. Levy, Piet. "Setting aside strife, Milwaukee's Violent Femmes reborn". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
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