Violent Femmes
Violent Femmes in 2006
Violent Femmes in 2006
Background information
OriginMilwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
GenresFolk punk,[1] alternative rock
Years active1981–2009, 2013–present
Past members

Violent Femmes are an American folk punk band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The band consists of founding members Gordon Gano (guitar, lead vocals) and Brian Ritchie (bass, backing vocals), joined by multi-instrumentalist Blaise Garza (joined 2004), and drummer John Sparrow (joined 2005).[2] Former members of the band include drummers Victor DeLorenzo (1980–1993, 2002–2013), Guy Hoffman (1993–2002), and Brian Viglione (2013–2016). Violent Femmes are considered to be an integral part of the then-underground folk punk and alternative rock scenes of the 1980s,[3][4][5][6] and remain influential or inspirational to the subsequent movements, particularly on folk rock, indie rock, grunge, pop punk, emo, and the late 1980s and 1990s alternative rock scene.[3][7][8][9][10][11]

Violent Femmes have released 10 studio albums and 19 singles during the course of their career. The band found critical acclaim with the release of their self-titled debut album in early 1983. Featuring many of their best-known songs, including "Blister in the Sun", "Kiss Off", "Add It Up" and "Gone Daddy Gone", Violent Femmes became the band's biggest-selling album and was eventually certified platinum by the RIAA.[12] After releasing two more albums, Hallowed Ground (1984) and The Blind Leading the Naked (1986), the band's future was uncertain and they split up in 1987 when Gano and Ritchie went solo. However, they regrouped a year later, releasing their fourth album 3 (1989). The follow-up album, Why Do Birds Sing? (1991), contains the fan favorite and concert staple "American Music".

In 1993, founding member Victor DeLorenzo (percussion, snare drum) left Violent Femmes and was replaced by Guy Hoffman, who debuted on the band's sixth album New Times (1994). Two more albums – Rock!!!!! (1995) and Freak Magnet (2000) – were released with this lineup before DeLorenzo rejoined the band in 2002 for what was to be a farewell tour. Following the commercial failure of Freak Magnet, Violent Femmes did not release any more studio albums for almost two decades, although a number of compilation albums were released in the early 2000s, along with a few one-off songs. Some controversy over the licensing of the band's songs for commercial use led to an official break-up in 2009, though they re-formed in 2013 (shortly before DeLorenzo left Violent Femmes again), and have since released two more studio albums of new material: We Can Do Anything (2016) and Hotel Last Resort (2019).


Early years and first album (1981–1983)

Violent Femmes were founded by bassist Brian Ritchie and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo in 1981, joined shortly thereafter by lead vocalist and guitarist Gordon Gano. According to Ritchie, he came up with the name of the group as a fake band name when one of his bandmates questioned his assertion that his brother was also in a band. He and DeLorenzo liked the name, so they used it for the rhythm duo in which they played prior to Gano joining the group.[13] In its early days, the band frequently played coffee houses and street corners. They were discovered by James Honeyman-Scott (of the Pretenders) on August 23, 1981, when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre, the Milwaukee venue that The Pretenders would be playing later that night. Chrissie Hynde invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.[14]

The band released their self-titled debut album in 1983.

Later years and brief split (1984–1992)

1990 at Sydney Opera House

After their debut album Violent Femmes, the band released Hallowed Ground, which moved the group toward a country music sound and introduced Christian themes. Mark Van Hecke produced the band's first two efforts,[15] but their third album, The Blind Leading the Naked, saw a change in the studio. This time, another fellow Milwaukee native, Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads, did the producing. It was more mainstream and pop-oriented, resulting in a minor hit with "Children of the Revolution", originally by T. Rex.[16] In 1985, Van Hecke ended his collaboration with the group and became a composer and producer in the rapidly growing video game industry. He would return later to produce two more albums for the group.[15] The Femmes briefly disbanded, with Gano releasing an album in 1987, the result of a gospel side project Mercy Seat. Ritchie also released several solo LPs. The group came back together in late 1988, releasing 3, a return to the band's earlier, stripped-down sound.[16] Why Do Birds Sing? was released in 1991 after the band signed to Reprise[16] and featured another minor hit, "American Music," which became a concert staple.

Post-DeLorenzo years (1993–1998)

In 1993, DeLorenzo departed the group to act and make solo records. Guy Hoffman, formerly of the Oil Tasters and BoDeans, was brought in to tour what was to become one of the Violent Femmes' biggest-selling records, the Add It Up (1981–1993) collection. Over the next nine years, the band, with Hoffman, recorded five full-length CDs and a handful of one-offs for motion picture soundtracks, such as "I Swear It (I Can Change)" from the South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut soundtrack, "Color Me Once" for the soundtrack to The Crow and other compilation projects. The first full studio album with Hoffman on drums, New Times (Elektra Records), was released in 1994, and the band scored another minor hit with the song "Breakin' Up". Rock!!!!! (Mushroom Records) was released in 1995 in Australia only, though it has since become available in the United States.

Later years and reunion with DeLorenzo (1999–2006)

Viva Wisconsin, a live album, was released in the United States in 1999 through Beyond Music and was followed by Freak Magnet in 2000. Something's Wrong (2001), an album of unreleased studio tracks, covers, demos, and acoustic live performances, was released as an MP3-only album through eMusic. In 2002, Rhino Records repackaged the band's 1983 debut album, along with demos and live tracks, to coincide with a 20th-anniversary reissue. DeLorenzo asked to rejoin for what was to be a farewell tour, thus reinstating the original lineup.

In 2001, they recorded a cover of the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song for Nickelodeon as a promotion for the show moving to prime time. In 2003, it was featured in the Complete 1st Season DVD as a special feature.

2005 saw the release of two collections of past work—a CD called Permanent Record: The Very Best of Violent Femmes on Slash/Rhino and a DVD, Permanent Record – Live & Otherwise from Rhino, which showcases a concert performance from 1991, along with many of the group's videos. The CD is the first release that recognizes all four musicians and their contributions on the same disc.

After touring in promotion of Freak Magnet, primary songwriter Gano decided that the band would no longer make new music, but would continue to play shows when booked. On New Year's Eve of 2005, and for one show in January 2006, all four Violent Femmes members played together.

Lawsuit and disbanding (2007–2009)

In 2007, Gano angered Ritchie by selling advertising rights for the classic "Blister in the Sun" to Wendy's.

Although nearly all of the band's songs, including "Blister in the Sun," credit Gano as the sole songwriter, Ritchie responded to the use of the song in the commercial by saying:

"For the fans who rightfully are complaining about the Wendy's burger advertisement featuring "Blister in the Sun," Gordon Gano is the publisher of the song and Warners is the record company. When they agree to use it there's nothing the rest of the band can do about it, because we don't own the song or the recording. That's showbiz. Therefore when you see dubious or in this case disgusting uses of our music you can thank the greed, insensitivity, and poor taste of Gordon Gano, it is his karma that he lost his songwriting ability many years ago, probably due to his own lack of self-respect as his willingness to prostitute our songs demonstrates. Neither Gordon (vegetarian) nor me (gourmet) eat garbage like Wendy's burgers. I can't endorse them because I disagree with corporate food on culinary, political, health, economic, and environmental grounds. However, I see my life's work trivialized at the hands of my business partner over and over again, although I have raised my objections numerous times. As disgusted as you are I am more so."[17]

Ritchie filed a lawsuit against Gano in August 2007, seeking half ownership of Violent Femmes' music and access to royalty accounting.[18] Many speculated this would lead to the band's breakup. However, on June 17, 2008, the band released a cover of "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, who had previously covered "Gone Daddy Gone".

The band disbanded in 2009 as a result of Ritchie's lawsuit against Gano.[19]

Reunion (since 2013)

Violent Femmes reunited to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April 2013. They performed there, the Bottlerock Napa Valley in May, and Milwaukee's Summerfest in June.[19][20][21] The band was also on the bill for Riot Fest, which took place in Chicago in September 2013.[22]

Drummer Victor DeLorenzo said in March 2013 that he would be open to recording new material with the Violent Femmes,[23] but on July 15, 2013, it was announced that Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione would replace DeLorenzo as the band's drummer.[24][25] In a statement, DeLorenzo said "It's always hard to write a eulogy for a lost loved one. In this case, I sadly lament the loss of a dream and an ideal that was once Violent Femmes."[26]

The Violent Femmes played three shows in Australia as part of the 2013/2014 Falls Festival, performing at Marion Bay on December 30, Lorne on December 31, and Byron Bay on January 2.[27] On May 11, 2014, they performed at the Shaky Knees music festival in Atlanta, Georgia.[28]

The band played several shows in Australia around the start of 2015, including the Woodford Folk Festival, the Sydney Opera House, and MONA FOMA festival. In the midst of these performances, they recorded their first new material in 15 years on New Year's Eve 2014 in Hobart, Tasmania. These four songs were released on an exclusive four-song EP on clear 180-gram vinyl on April 18, 2015, for Record Store Day.[29] The band then joined Barenaked Ladies and Colin Hay on a two-month tour in the summer of 2015.[30]

In January 2016, Viglione announced via his Facebook page that he had "handed in his resignation" to the band, adding that he was "grateful to have had the experience."[31]

Later that month, the band announced that its first full album in 16 years, We Can Do Anything, would be released on March 22, 2016.[32] Viglione is credited as the drummer on the album.[32]

Drummer John Sparrow, who began playing cajón in the Femmes' backing band, the Horns of Dilemma, in August 2005, joined the band as its new drummer after Viglione's exit. On February 23, 2016, he appeared with the band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote We Can Do Anything.[33] On April 30, 2019, the band announced a new studio album, Hotel Last Resort, released on July 26, 2019.[34]

In July 2019, the band returned to the East Side neighborhood of Milwaukee, in and around the street art destination Black Cat Alley, to film the music video for the single "I'm Nothing".[35]

The Violent Femmes are featured on the song "Gotta Get to Peekskill" by Dropkick Murphys that appears on the band's 2023 album Okemah Rising.[36]

Band members


Horns of Dilemma

In their shows, the Femmes employ a horn section called the Horns of Dilemma. For many years, it consisted of Peter Balestrieri, Steve MacKay on saxophones and Sigmund Snopek III[38] on keyboards and other instruments.[39] It was augmented by various musicians who the band invited to play with them. The band now uses local acquaintances, famous or otherwise, friends, relatives or associates of the band, particularly their road crew. Instrumentation varies widely and includes saxophones, trumpets, trombones, sousaphone, flute, clarinet, antique hunting horn, kazoo, and percussion. The group doesn't back up the band in the way that a traditional horn section would; instead, they provide a free-form noise jam. When the band plays "Black Girls" or "Confessions", the only direction given to the players is to play freely and as wildly as possible during certain sections. Currently, the leader of the Horns of Dilemma is Blaise Garza, who plays saxophone. Famous members have included John Zorn, Dick Parry, and the Dresden Dolls. Longtime band associates and employees who have played with the Horns include soundman Caleb Alexander and manager Darren Brown.[40] Before becoming the band's drummer, John Sparrow played cajón, starting in 2005.[41] Various bassists stand in for Ritchie during "Gone Daddy Gone," when he plays xylophone. These musicians are all considered members of the Horns of Dilemma.[40]


Main article: Violent Femmes discography

Studio albums


  1. ^ 2 Mics & The Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged In America (Media notes). 2017.
  2. ^ "Violent Femmes: Hotel Last Resort". American Songwriter. July 25, 2019. Archived from the original on November 9, 2019. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Violent Femmes Announce US Tour in Celebration of First Album's 40th Anniversary". Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  4. ^ "Violent Femmes Celebrate Anniversary of Landmark Album Norwalk's Wall Street Theater". October 17, 2022. Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  5. ^ "When Violent Femmes pulled from a classic Muddy Waters track". November 9, 2022. Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  6. ^ "Folk Punk Music Guide: 6 Notable Folk Punk Bands - 2023". Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  7. ^ "How a Wendy's Commercial Split up the Violent Femmes". July 16, 2020. Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  8. ^ "Violent Femmes". Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  9. ^ Tomlin, Edward (March 17, 2023). "10 Best Violent Femmes Songs of All Time". Archived from the original on April 2, 2023. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  10. ^ "Violent Femmes Why do Birds Sing?". June 11, 2023. Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  11. ^ "Violent Femmes | Violent Femmes". March 17, 2019. Archived from the original on July 29, 2023. Retrieved July 29, 2023.
  12. ^ "RIAA Gold & Platinum Database". Recording Industry Association of America. February 1, 1991. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved February 20, 2011.
  13. ^ Barker, Rayanna. "A Conversation With Brian Ritchie". Archived from the original on August 15, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  14. ^ Milwaukee Journal August 24, 1981
  15. ^ a b Mark VanHecke. "Mark Van Hecke | Credits". AllMusic. Archived from the original on September 24, 2016. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  16. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (2003). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 484. ISBN 1-85227-969-9.
  17. ^ "Femmes' Ritchie reacts to Wendy's chili commerical [sic] controversy". March 6, 2007. Archived from the original on July 6, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2019.
  18. ^ "Violent Femmes Embroiled In Inter-Band Lawsuit". Billboard. Archived from the original on September 10, 2016. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  19. ^ a b "Grinderman reform for Coachella". January 25, 2013. Archived from the original on February 19, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  20. ^ "Blisters healed? Violent Femmes announce Coachella reunion". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. January 25, 2013. Archived from the original on January 28, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  21. ^ "Violent Femmes kick off Summerfest 2013". OnMilwaukee. March 26, 2013. Archived from the original on March 29, 2013. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  22. ^ "Riot Fest 2013 Lineup: Fall Out Boy, Public Enemy, Violent Femmes, Blondie And More To Headline". The Huffington Post. May 15, 2013. Archived from the original on June 9, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  23. ^ Levy, Piet (March 26, 2013). "Reunited Violent Femmes to kick off Summerfest with homecoming show". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on June 2, 2013. Retrieved July 13, 2013.
  24. ^ Levy, Piet (July 15, 2013). "Recently reunited Violent Femmes replaces founding drummer". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on December 2, 2013. Retrieved July 15, 2013. Less than three weeks after the recently reunited alternative folk-rock band co-headlined the Marcus Amphitheater on Summerfest's opening night comes news that the band's lone Milwaukee resident, Victor DeLorenzo, is out of the group. He's been replaced by new drummer Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls, the cabaret rock act that features Amanda Palmer.
  25. ^ "VVN Music: Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls Joins the Violent Femmes". July 15, 2013. Archived from the original on July 19, 2013. Retrieved July 16, 2013. Former Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione is the new drummer for The Violent Femmes replacing Victor DeLorenzo who announced his departure today.
  26. ^ Rytlewski, Evan (July 16, 2013). "Victor DeLorenzo Has Been Kicked Out of the Violent Femmes (Again)". Shepherd Express. Archived from the original on June 4, 2016. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  27. ^ "Artists | Marion Bay". July 16, 2013. Archived from the original on January 2, 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
  28. ^ "Home – Shaky Knees 2014". Shaky Knees Festival 2014. Archived from the original on October 19, 2014. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  29. ^ "Hear Violent Femmes' First New Song in 15 Years". Rolling Stone. March 4, 2015. Archived from the original on March 8, 2015. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  30. ^ "Barenaked Ladies 2015 "Last Summer On Earth" Tour Includes Violent Femmes and Colin Hay". TiqIQ Blog. Archived from the original on February 17, 2015. Retrieved March 8, 2015.
  31. ^ Brian Viglione (January 1, 2016). "Brian Viglione – Evolution and change are always exciting, and..." Archived from the original on February 26, 2022. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
  32. ^ a b Hilton, Robin (January 13, 2016). "Hear A Song From Violent Femmes' First Album In 15 Years". All Songs Considered. NPR. Archived from the original on January 21, 2016. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  33. ^ Levy, Piet. "Violent Femmes jam with Stephen Colbert, introduce new local drummer". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on February 27, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  34. ^ Reed, Ryan (April 30, 2019). "Hear Violent Femmes' New Song With Television's Tom Verlaine, 'Hotel Last Resort'". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on April 30, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  35. ^ Levy, Piet. "Violent Femmes return to their busking roots in new filmed-in-Milwaukee music video". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on July 26, 2019. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  36. ^ Kaufman, Spencer. "Dropkick Murphys and Violent Femmes Fight the Ku Klux Klan on "Gotta Get to Peekskill": Stream". Consequence of Sound. Archived from the original on March 31, 2023. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  37. ^ "The Music Man: Peter Balestrieri's Journey from Punk Rock Band to Special Collections". Archived from the original on February 16, 2024. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  38. ^ " – Welcome to the Official Web Site of Sigmund Snopek III". Archived from the original on October 18, 2014. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  39. ^ Cohn, Yale. "Talking With: Peter Balestrieri of the Violent Femmes". Archived from the original on March 19, 2016.
  40. ^ a b "Horns of Dilemma". Violent Femmes. Archived from the original on May 23, 2014. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  41. ^ Levy, Piet. "Setting aside strife, Milwaukee's Violent Femmes reborn". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on May 19, 2017. Retrieved July 22, 2017.