To the best of drummer Victor DeLorenzo's recollection, when the Violent Femmes unleashed their own peculiar strain of punk-inspired folk on the Milwaukee club scene of the early '80s, people generally thought they were "demented."
"They didn't understand how anyone would think that other people would want to see some guy hitting a garbage can and some other guy playing a mariachi bass and a guy with a whiney voice singing really dark material," he says with a laugh.
Even now, when DeLorenzo hears a track from their classic 1983 self-titled debut on the radio, it doesn't sit right. "It's like, 'Oh my God, how can this even be played on the same station as that other music?!' It wasn't that we were trying to make a record that was so unique. It's more like that's the way we played and that's the way we wanted to produce those first recordings."
The Violent Femmes
Marquee Theatre in Tempe
Scheduled to perform on Friday, December 29
Fueled by Gordon Gano's unhinged vocals, tracks like "Blister in the Sun," "Gone Daddy Gone" and "Add It Up" became part of the cultural fabric long before there was a commercial-alternative radio to retroactively embrace them, driving sales of that first album past the million mark.
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A second album, 1984's Hallowed Ground, found them moving in more of a country direction, much to the dismay of Slash, the label banking on the Femmes to make it. "They were saying, 'What the hell? This is nothing like the first album.' We said, 'This is what we do. It's evolving.'"
And it kept evolving through such underrated gems as the Jerry Harrison-produced The Blind Leading the Naked (1986), the back-to-basics 3 (1988) and Why Do Birds Sing? (1991).
DeLorenzo left the group in 1993, returning nine years later after working on a two-CD reissue of that first release for Rhino. "It just made sense to bring me back," DeLorenzo says. "This band is really dependent on the individuals, more so than a lot of other bands, where you could plug in all kinds of different people and it would still sound pretty much the same."
Now that they've got the original lineup (rounded out by mariachi bassist Brian Ritchie) back together, there's been a resurgence of interest. As DeLorenzo says, "I think it may help that we never really crested in the first place. We always remained at an underground level."