The Violent Femmes were a folk punk band with a sound that is an eclectic combination of gospel, punk rock, folk music, and the blues. The three-person band originally included Gordon Gano on lead vocals and guitar, and as primary songwriter; Brian Ritchie on bass; and Victor DeLorenzo as percussionist. One of the ways the Violent Femmes created their signature sound was from DeLorenzo's drum kit, which often consisted of no more than a set of steel brushes, a tranceaphone, and a snare drum.
Ritchie and DeLorenzo first met in a Milwaukee bar called Harps. Ritchie thought DeLorenzo's goofy yet punk style was a fresh take on the sullen grunge punk on the scene. The two started playing gigs, and were later introduced to Gano by the owner of the Metropole Theater, Robert Soffian; Soffian called Gano "a pint sized Lou Reed imitator." Guy Hoffman, who was a founding member of the Oil Tasters, replaced DeLorenzo in 1993, when DeLorenzo decided to go solo and record music. However, in 2003, DeLorenzo returned to the group to reinstate the original lineup and perform live as the band released a 20th anniversary album of their self-titled debut album.
The band's name was an impromptu idea. Ritchie came up with the title when a friend asked him to describe his straight-laced insurance salesman brother. Ritchie lied and said, "He's exactly like me, he's a punk and he has his own band!" When asked what the band's name was, Ritchie uttered "Uh….Violent Femmes." After sharing the story with fellow bandmate, DeLorenzo, they elected to use the name for themselves.
While the Violent Femmes cult fan base is far from mainstream, their music has achieved considerable success. Their debut album, Violent Femmes
, financed with $10,000 borrowed from DeLorenzo's father, was their best-selling album; it was certified platinum eight years after its release. The album features some of the most played Violent Femmes songs: "Blister In The Sun
," "Gone Daddy Gone
," "Add It Up," and "Kiss Off." Other albums released by the Violent Femmes are Hallowed Ground
, The Blind Leading the Naked
, Why Do Birds Sing?
, New Times
, and their final album Freak Magnet
, which was released in 2000.
One of the most interesting people to play with the Violent Femmes was the NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman. During a benefit concert orchestrated by Rodman, he joined in on vocals, drums, and bass. Rodman ended up getting raucous, pushing audience members on stage in a wheelchair and nearly exposing himself. Before he was removed from the stage, he poured beer over Gano's head.
In 2006 the duo Gnarls Barkley covered "Gone Daddy Gone," and released it on their debut album St. Elsewhere
. Then in 2008, the Violent Femmes recorded a cover of the hit Gnarls Barkley song, "Crazy
." The following year, the Violent Femmes disbanded due to a lawsuit against Gordon Gano. Gano had sold the advertising rights to the song "Blister in the Sun" to the fast food chain Wendy's in 2007. While Gano had the creative rights to the song as the primary songwriter, the band was disgusted at Gano for selling out and capitalizing on the band's music.
Ritchie and his wife, scientist Varuni Kulasekera, are in the tea business; their company is called Chado the Way of Tea. Ritchie is also a professional Japanese bamboo flute teacher who lives in Hobart, Tasmania. He owns more than 100 different musical instruments including a nose flute, didgeridoo, and xylophone; all of the instruments he owns were used during recordings of the Violent Femmes songs at one time or another. DeLorenzo currently plays with Nineteen Thirteen, a chamber rock group, while Gano is a songwriter and producer for a couple of acts including Gordon Gano & The Ryans.
Part of Audrey Niffenegger's novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, takes place at a Violent Femmes concert: "Gordon Gano stands at the microphone glaring at us all and menacing chords ring out and he leans forward and intones the opening lines of 'Blister in the Sun' and we're off and running..."
Violent Femmes disbanded for four years in 2009 after Gordon Gano authorized the use of "Blister in the Sun" in a Wendy's commercial. Brian Ritchie was angered by what he viewed as, "greed, insensitivity and poor taste," on Gano's part, and sued him.