They don't look violent...
If you don’t know of the Violent Femmes, you surely know “Blister in the Sun,” so popular I once heard a frat-boy chug-a-lug singalong with it at my college — which doesn’t have frat boys. They’ll investigate “Blister,” plus their shockingly deep catalog, at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre on July 19, featuring Blaise Garza, a San Diego saxophonist and occasional soap-opera actor, who began gigging with the Femmes at age 15. The new EP is called Happy New Year. Head Femme Gordon Gano phoned the Reader from Cincinnati.
"Gone Daddy Gone"
Violent Femmes' official video
What are the band’s fondest San Diego memories?
Maybe 25 years ago now, a whole group of friends came to see us play and stayed in contact. I’m still in contact with two sisters, who, coming through San Diego or sometimes even other parts of California, will come out. I’ve got to see people’s kids grow up. So it’s a friendship, two sisters and their family. I remember at the show, when we met, they found us after the show, something of that nature — something really positive and really cool.
What were the Femmes’ scariest gigs?
The one that will hopefully always be the number one: We were playing in Sweden, a club, and we were playing “Blister in the Sun.” Our tour manager walked onstage, got in my ear, and said, “There’s been a bomb threat and we’re going to have to evacuate. But we’ve got enough time so you can finish the song.” [Gano laughs uproariously.] I think that’s really funny. There ended up not being a bomb, but that was uncomfortable.
Legend says that you played “Gimme The Car” at a high school assembly and got suspended en masse. Any truth to this?
It’s basically true. [Bassist] Brian Ritchie was out of school and I’d run into him the night before and invited him to play with me. It was a National Honor Society function. I was really sick that day so I just left afterwards and didn’t know all of what had happened. There were no more classes the rest of the day — teachers wanted me arrested! [Laughs.] Took me a little while before I was reinstated. It was the most screaming we’ve ever had!
I once saw the band and a few Gano siblings play “Jesus Walking On The Water” for your parents’ anniversary. Is that one of your favorite gospel songs?
Almost every night we play it. Just recently I’ve had two different people tell me, “There’s a lot of Catholics around here, they don’t like it.” I guess it’s not really approved by a certain contingent of Catholics! All I can think of is that the song says, “What if it was true [that Jesus died on the cross]?” Which acknowledges the possibility of doubt being a part of faith. I guess that isn’t Catholic teaching. [Laughs.]
What are your proudest moments on the new EP?
Well, the proudest moment is that it exists! We hadn’t gotten together and recorded as Violent Femmes in...I think somebody said it was 17 years. It wasn’t my position not to record, but I went along with it. Things changed, we got lots and lots of songs. I think the music sounds better than ever.
What is the set list looking like these days?
I’m glad you asked because for decades going around the world we don’t have a set list. Brian Ritchie calls off songs, so when we walk onstage, we don’t know for sure what songs we’re gonna play. They fall into little patterns, but there’s always a song we haven’t played in awhile.
We had one — Brian had asked someone earlier in the day, a week ago or so — they named a song we hadn’t played in 20 years. Our drummer [Brian Viglione] had never played it. A song called “Girl Trouble.” It keeps the shows always fresh, always in the moment. “Blister in the Sun” would be obviously, overwhelmingly, the song that someone’s heard somewhere, so we’ll make sure to do that one. But Brian was wanting to do something else we hadn’t done in 20 years...I think I remember it...
- Sunday, July 19, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
Open Air Theatre,
5500 Campanile Drive,
What song was that?
He wants to do a song called “No Killing.” Because, unfortunately, it’s topical. The tragedies just keep happening, terrible things. It’s kind of a protest song, one of the only ones we ever recorded. Unfortunately, it’s timely. Which is just disgusting and nauseating and so on.
Does Viglione find himself trying to follow a song he’s never played onstage?
[Laughs.] Yeah, sometimes! We had a little show in Brooklyn, and somebody in the audience called out for “It’s Gonna Rain,” which is basically a gospel song. Our drummer’s just, like...he might have heard it, once [laughs]...but he did great! It’s a simple song.