Happy To Be Hitting The Ground
time ago I was excited to hear that I was to be granted an interview
with the frontman of one of my all time favourite bands Violent
Femmes, by email admittedly, but this was just as exciting to me as
any other way. Then I discovered that Gordon Gano has Internetophobia
or whatever fear of the internet is called. As a result, it was a wait
of several weeks before my questions were answered, and, taking PR to
a new level, Joolz at Cooking Vinyl typed up his handwritten replies
for me. Thanks Joolz, it was worth the wait, as here is the complete
interview for our readers delectation.
AD: Violent Femmes (the album) will be 20 in 2003,
and you personally will be celebrating your 40th birthday. What festivities
are you planning to mark the occasion?
GG: No celebrations for VF. It is a self hating organisation.
I will do something small and quiet for my birthday. Sometimes
I take a bath.
AD: On your excellent Hitting The Ground album, you have
worked with a glut of outstanding performers that would make other artists
green with envy. If you had to pick one standout track, which would
it be and why? Also, did you give each artist a guideline for how you
wanted the tracks to come out, or is it totally their own interpretation?
GG: Thank you for enjoying Hitting The Ground. There
isnt one track thats most special to me. I could make
an argument for each one. For example Run. When
I heard Frank Black sing this I thought, and still do, that this is
one of my favourite lead vocals of all time. With some artists we discussed
how to approach the song and with others nothing was discussed except
heres the song and do you want to do it. Anyone that likes
any of these artists I believe will really like what they do on this
record. In sports lingo: they are all on top of their game
or in the zone.
AD: What was it that drew you into wanting to be involved with the
film in the first place?
GG: I was asked and I had never worked with a director on a film
before. I thought it would be a good, new and learning experience
and it was. I also liked the script when I read it.
AD: Your eponymous debut album with the Femmes is nearing triple
platinum status, bizarrely having never really dented theUSBillboard
Chart. Even more strangely, you have never had a hit single in theUK,
yet practically everybody I have ever met seems to know who you are.
How do you explain the phenomenon of Violent Femmes?
GG: The phenomenon of the Violent Femmes
how can a band
be so popular and so unpopular at the same time? Popular: a lot
of people have felt a connection with some of the songs and we
are a good live band. Unpopular: the industry, the music
business never put any real support (money) behind the group. Conspiracy
theories are possible as well as other strange ideas. We sold out
the Royal Albert Hall years ago and the record company
couldnt believe it. We sound out the Carnegie Hall
years ago and I dont remember the label being there.
AD: There is a largely religious stance on several Violent
Femmes albums, and you had a brief sojourn in a gospel band called
The Mercy Seat. Given that your debut album was so successful, did you
have any misgivings about releasing a second one that was so heavily
laden with celestial themes? I always thought the difference between
the two albums was refreshingly immense both musically and lyrically,
although I have often wondered whether the big hands you
referred to in Blister In The Sun was actually metaphorically
pointing to God. Was it?
GG: The big hands in Blister In The Sun
referring to God
thats great. I never heard or thought
of that before. But now I might sometimes when I am singing it. Thanks. Also
I like refreshingly immense. Our first record was successful
but not a hit record or so successful as its become
over the years, but our second record, Hallowed Ground was
still met with a lot of resistance by our label. Some years later
it was admitted to us that they deliberately made the record fail commercially
in order to teach us a lesson (for making the kind of music we did and
then refusing to change it when they asked us to) go figure! As
another point, we were playing all the songs that became our second
record in our live show at the time of recording our
first record. We decided to keep the first record stream lined
in material and approach and then we expanded with the second. I/we
never had any regrets about the way we did this.
AD: On the same subject, from what I can gather Brian Ritchie
is a devout atheist. Has this ever had an adverse effect on your relationship
within the band?
GG: Ive never enjoyed hearing Brian Ritchies
views on religion but he seems to enjoy expressing them. Its
never affected the music and thats what the band is about. Only
one comment of possible interest: when we first started playing
together, he refused to play my gospel songs and I was fine with that
because I thought that I had so many songs anyway and the ones not played
now would be played some other time and place. But soon after that
he said Lets do your gospel songs, theyre some of
your best songs, and that by playing them in a punk rock club
context we would do more punk than if we only played more
or less punk material.
AD: You must have achieved most of your ambitions by now. Have you
got any more aspirations as a solo artist?
GG: As a starting point for ambitions as a solo artist, I think
it would be interesting to do a record in which I sing all the songs
has that been done before? (This of course is in contrast
to my first solo record Hitting The Ground.)
AD: Occasionally with Violent Femmes, I get the impression that
while youre recording, you suddenly decide to go off on a totally
different tangent and end up having a full on jam! How much of that
stuff WAS actually improvised, and (if I am indeed correct in presuming
that some was), what do you think it brings to the music in general?
GG: I dont listen to our past recordings. I dont
think any of us do. But I recall sometimes having jams
develop in the studio, but mostly or perhaps always they
were planned, as in: well improvise for some length of time between
this and that part of the song. Or: at the end well play
something until we feel like its done or the tape runs
out as it did one cut I remember (Fool In The Full Moon). What
does it bring to the music? It is the music. What does
it bring to the song? Ahh
an aliveness, fun.
AD: A lot of your wonderfully poetic lyrics on each one of your
albums (both with the band and on your solo) are littered
with what could be interpreted as rather controversial content.
Which ones have caused you the most grief where the media are concerned?
Country Death Song must have pushed the boundaries a little,
GG: The media has never given me any grief about anything because
mostly Im ignored. Maybe that works out ok for both
of us. As far as I know I/weve never had a sticker on a record/tape/disc
saying Warning: adult content, blah, blah, blah. Why
not? Everyone else gets a sticker. Why cant we? One
of my sisters wouldnt allow Country Death Song to
be played in her house (she had children) and my mother felt that Out
Of The Window went too far, too many young people kill themselves,
and was not convinced by my argument that the song is not suggesting
that. The only lyric content grief that I can recall from the media
was in the form of praise. When the Hallowed Ground
record came out it was commended by more than one journalist in theUKfor
its tongue in cheek gospel songs, down to the detail of an out of tune
fiddle. (I wrote, sang and played the best I could however.) One
more thought, not about the lyrics but the voice. In the Rolling
Stone review of Hallowed Ground (years ago they quit reviewing
our/my records) Im quite proud of this Country
Death Song begins that record, thats why I thought of this. It
begins: Gordon Ganos voice will clear out a room faster
than a methane explosion. Or at least thats what I
remember it saying. A great opening line.
AD: Still on the lyric theme, Im fascinated with the lyrics
to Machine on New Times. What are you
trying to say with that song exactly?
GG: Machine is a fun song. It makes me
laugh, or did. Theres something playful about it. And
something about it now because I never think about it
it makes me smile. What exactly are you trying to ask when you
ask what are you trying to say with that song exactly? (The song
says exactly what it says.)
AD: Is there anything else you would like to talk about (forthcoming
releases, tours, musicals etc)?
GG: No Thank god but thanks for asking. Final note:
Id much rather have a coffee with you than do this whoever
Well, normally Id add something at the end of an interview,
but that last quote from Gordon was so great I think Ill just
let him have the final say!
Interview and transcript by Tone E