Violent Women Celebrate the Anniversary of Norwalk’s Wall Street Theater Flagship Album

Founded in Milwaukee in the early 80s, the Violent Femmes were the pioneers of “folk punk”. The band led by Gordon Gano on guitar and vocals began playing in cafes and on street corners in their hometown until Chrissy Hynde of The Pretenders invited them on stage to play a short set as part of their show at the Oriental Theater. After their legendary self-titled debut album in 1983, they evolved with consistency, cohesion and new members with multi-instrumentalist Blaise Garza and drummer John Sparrow joining Gano and original bassist Brian Ritchie.

On tour to promote the 30th anniversary deluxe reissue of their fifth album, “Why Do Birds Sing?” the Violent Femmes will perform at the Wall Street Theater in Norwalk on October 18. Brooklyn retro-pop group Alsarah & The Nubatones will kick off the show at 8 p.m.

Gano and I had the opportunity to talk before the show about the making of Why Do Birds Sing?, what the deluxe re-release has that the original doesn’t, his thoughts on the internet’s relationship with the artist and his ability to make plans.

RD: Looking back, how would you describe the experience of making Why Do Birds Sing? with co-producer Michael Beinhorn?

GG: Hell, I don’t usually get asked about it. The experience with Michael Beinhorn was full of things, there were things that we really connected on and it was really positive. There were also some things that we didn’t exactly connect on, so it was a bit of a mix, but overall, I do think of Michael. I haven’t seen him since so I don’t really know anything about him afterwards, I know there’s a recording he made of a song that was in a movie and I think that’s him produced it so it was nice that he did that with one of our tracks. Every time we’re in the studio and every time we work with different people there’s always new things you learn and new things you experience, usually it’s a bit of a mix of things.

RD: The album features the hit single “American Music” which has since become a staple of the band’s gigs as well as being a fan favorite. What do you think of the song’s growth in popularity and when you were writing it, did you feel like it was going to be a hit or did its success kind of slip away from you?

GG: It’s like our whole career in that it’s always been a gradual thing, there’s nothing that hits very hard in an instant but things grow and spread as people find out. Brian once said “We don’t have hits, we have classics”, we have popular songs but none of them have ever reached #1 on the charts. They’ve grown over time, they’ve become so popular, and “American Music” is definitely one of those songs. When we recorded it, I think every time we had an album for much of our career, we always thought it was going to become a hit quickly rather than take years, but that didn’t never worked that way. Over time, it has been very rewarding and has allowed us to have a lot more careers.

People will also discover a song and step into the song they didn’t know when it came out, in many cases people weren’t alive and they weren’t born yet, but now they’re really into it. It’s been a really good thing for us to see that happen with our music.

RD: It must be very rewarding.

GG: Yeah, absolutely.

RD: Is the deluxe reissue of Why Do Birds Sing? Are there any special aspects or rarities or is it just the original songs from the album with some bonus tracks? As a product, what does the reissue have that the original didn’t?

GG: We’ve had different reissues of different stuff released in the past and this one has an assortment of stuff including unreleased material, remastered songs, outtakes, alternate takes and new liner notes by our friend Jeff Slate who is also a songwriter and journalist in his own right. There’s also a full concert recording we made in 1991 with the original album remastered and reissued on vinyl, which we’re excited about. There’s a wide variety of stuff with tracks that have been missing for all these years and we’re glad to have the opportunity to release it.

RD: I can completely understand why. When the Violent Femmes were created, original drummer Victor DeLorenzo, Brian and you were far removed from popular music while playing rhythmic, fast acoustic songs and beginning with busking in an era when heavy metal , arena rock, hip hop and punk rock were all the rage. Since then, the band has maintained this individualistic approach going against the grain, so in today’s internet age, where someone can literally record a song in their bedroom and stream it to a wireless platform. With the help of a record label, do you think there’s more opportunity for new artistic outliers in music or does it create more imitators?

GG: I think it creates more opportunity, but I know there’s such a huge amount of information that it still doesn’t mean a listener will find the thing from that person’s room in another part of the world than he would like the most. How does that connection come about and I guess people work out how to do that in different ways, but I think there’s definitely more opportunities now for people to share their creative works and what they do especially with music.

RD: It’s been a few years since Violent Femmes released their last album Hotel Last Resort in 2019, so can we expect any new music in the near future? Do you plan to release a new album or do you plan to do what a lot of other bands do and only release singles for the time being?

GG: We are terrible at making plans, I don’t know if anyone can be worse than us, but somehow we survived. There are no plans at the moment to make any new recordings, but that doesn’t mean next week there might not be something coming to fruition. At the moment there isn’t that plan but you mentioned releasing singles and there was a time when we hadn’t recorded for a number of years it was a while ago and we had many internal differences within the group. We were able to get together for a few days and we did an EP called Happy New Year which we all really like, there’s a lot of spontaneity, especially because everything was falling into place at that time of the recording. It wasn’t defined in how to do exactly such and such a song, I don’t know if anyone in the band had even heard them, I had just written them and it got us going again.

Then later we did a full studio album, so you mentioned singles, which is interesting because maybe the time and place for creative work could work out even faster than a full album. Just having that creative flow of doing a track one day in a studio rather than several days to do a full album might be something worth exploring. Our manager even suggested it to us at one point, so it’s something we could consider, but planning is difficult. We each live in different parts of the world, I’m in the US and Brian lives in Tasmania Australia, so it’s not like we can just decide to get into the studio because we both feel like it.

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