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Nine years ago, Brian Ritchie – bassist for seminal alt-rockers Violent Femmes – left his bandmates behind to move to Tasmania. He says now it was probably the best thing that could have happened to the group.
“I don’t think you need to be a psychiatrist to see that if someone moves to the other side of the world from the people he usually works with that there might be some kind of issues going on,” Brian says.
He made the leap shortly after the band split during a messy legal battle. Since then, Brian has made himself at home down under, taking up a role as curator of Hobart’s Mona Foma festival. His Femmes past has helped him snag big name performers, although certain rock icons have been confused by the geography.
“I had Iggy Pop booked to play the MoFo festival, but he cancelled because he didn’t want to play three countries — New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania. The next time I saw him, he apologised, but then everyone in The Stooges died, so he wasn’t able to make it up to me.”
Brian credits his “incredibly creative” Taswegian lifestyle as inspiring him to get the Femmes back together and record last year’s We Can Do Anything album; their first in 15 years.
“When I came to Tasmania, it showed to me the Femmes were stagnant. If we were going to do it again, we had to reanimate it somehow. Nobody can expect to sell records so the only reason to make them now is for your own satisfaction. It’s depressing that we can’t make money from selling records anymore, but it’s liberating to just make them for the real reason you should be making music – for the hell of it.”
They’re about to embark on a new Australian tour, following on from last year’s sell-out run of gigs, reflecting the strong following the band has had since their first gig here in 1984.
“We started coming here before any of our peers did. We headlined the first Big Day Out, and we’ve been going pretty strong here ever since. If it’s an all ages gig, they range from 10 to 65, and it’s pretty much split 50-50 male and female.”
As good as the new album is, chances are the audience are coming for the old stuff. The Femmes’ self-titled debut turns 35 this year but remains the benchmark for angsty adolescent rock. It’s odd to learn the record was actual a flop on its initial release, before becoming a slow-burn success story and earning platinum status eight years later. The 10 tracks – including indie evergreens Kiss Off, Add It Up and Gone Daddy Gone – still sound oddly timeless, meaning each successive generation has been able to discover them anew.
“We wanted it to sound like it could be a rockabilly album from the 60s or from the future. When something’s from the future, that means it can last. We were so far ahead of the times that the times still haven’t caught up with us.”
Live, the Femmes do their best to stay ahead of the crowd.
“We don’t use a setlist, I just call the songs onstage depending on the mood of the audience. To me, music is about freedom and anarchy. The rock world has become too conservative. Gigs are more like Broadway shows. We’re there as an antidote.”
Violent Femmes 2017 Australian Tour
- From March 16
- All dates & ticket info: vfemmes.com/tour