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With a New Label and Lineup, It's New Times for Femmes

May 14, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Add it up: 12 years, seven albums now, No. 1 on the list of KROQ listeners' songs.

It equals Violent Femmes, the enduring post-punk trio that has exerted a huge influence on younger bands, even though nobody else really sounds like them (new artists seem to admire their longevity and independence), and that headlines concerts over groups that sell many more records (credit their reputation for putting on great live shows).

Now founding Femmes Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie are learning subtraction and division.

In the band's first personnel change, drummer Victor DeLorenzo left the group last year and was replaced by ex-BoDean Guy Hoffman. The new lineup will appear at the KROQ "Weenie Roast" on June 11 at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, playing to listeners who recently voted the early anthem "Add It Up" their favorite all-time song.

And after six albums with the Warner Bros.-distributed Slash Records, the Femmes have moved to Elektra, which will release their album "New Times" next week.

It wasn't a pretty parting.

"Slash had basically shut us down and weren't allowing us to make any more music," said Gano, the group's singer and primary songwriter, during a recent video-shooting visit to Los Angeles.

"They asked us to make demos," explained bassist Ritchie. "So we did and they said that the songs weren't good enough. They said, 'Back to the drawing board,' and we said, ' Wrong .' "

Said Slash's president and founder Bob Biggs in a separate interview, "They were on a descending ladder (commercially) and we were all trying to figure out what to do. It wasn't that we were passing judgment on whether the songs were good or bad in some sort of universal sense.

"It wasn't just Slash, it was Warners, there was input from producers, and no one wanted to do the songs. It just disintegrated in a descending way that didn't add to good feelings on anyone's part."

While the lawyers negotiated a settlement, Gano, Ritchie and Hoffman put up their own money, went into a Milwaukee studio and came up with the most free-form album in this free-form band's career.

"New Times" offers a familiar taste of the Femmes' jittery, folk-ish rock, but also features long improvisations, songs in a post-modern cabaret style, and even two musical theater-like selections using lyrics from a 1930s piece by German Dadaist Walter Mehring.

Gano and Ritchie attribute the adventurousness to the record's producers--Gano and Ritchie.

"We always found that producers either had a net negative input or neutral input, so we didn't think it really made any sense to use a producer," said Ritchie.

"A so-called producer is really usually a baby-sitter for the record company," added Gano. "The record company's not interested in having the group make strange music, they're interested in the pop side of the group.

"So not having a producer probably encouraged us to let out our greater eccentricities--the streak that runs real deep through the band of being what negatively would be called self-indulgent. That's just a part of who we are and how we play."

The recent disruptions weren't the first the Femmes have experienced. In the mid-1980s, "business and personal" issues led to a two-year parting.

"I think most bands would not have ever gotten back together," said Gano. "Why we're here, I think, is that at a certain point we put a priority on the music that we were making together and the special sound that the band had.

"The word, which I'm hesitating to use because it sounds sappy, is forgiveness. To be able to forgive some of the hates and problems that come out in a certain situation and be able to focus on the music and move forward with it."

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