Violent Femmes 10th studio album, Hotel Last Resort (2019), resides among the groundbreaking band’s finest work, simultaneously refining and redefining their one-of-a-kind take on American music, mingling front porch folk, post punk, spiritual jazz, country blues, avant garde minimalism and golden age rock ‘n’ roll into something still altogether their own. Founded and fronted of course by singer/guitarist Gordon Gano and acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie, the Milwaukee-born combo remains as warm, wise and weird as ever before, with such new favorites as “Another Chorus” and “Everlasting You” continuing to mine the vast range of ideas, melodic complexity and organic sonic craftsmanship that has characterized the band’s body of work since their landmark self-titled 1983 debut.
“I think it’s probably the best [album] we’ve made since Hallowed Ground,” Ritchie says. “We didn’t really know that we had something to say, but it turns out that the songs are really good and we were able to sink our teeth into them and come up with something which is just as good as anything we’ve ever done. I’m even a little bit surprised myself.”
Violent Femmes are undeniably one of the most inventive and original bands of this or any other era, constantly pushing forward with their singular blend of folk and punk, sarcasm and spirituality. Founded in 1981, the originally Milwaukee-based band’s remarkable three-decade-plus career has produced a series of truly iconic singles – among them such classics as “American Music,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Nightmares,” “Add It Up” and of course, “Blister In The Sun” – along with cumulative worldwide album sales in excess of 10 million, with 1983’s Violent Femmes awarded RIAA platinum eight years after its initial release.
The turn of the millennium saw Gano and Ritchie – who are based in the United States and Tasmania respectively take a much-needed hiatus from Violent Femmes, returning to live action in 2013 with a wide-ranging tour that included both headline dates and ecstatically-received festival sets around the world.
Femmes have been recording prolifically of late. 2015’s Happy New Year EP was followed by the band’s acclaimed ninth studio album and first full-length collection in nearly two decades, 2016’s We Can Do Anything. Next was 2 Mics & The Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged in America, a 2-LP collection of the Femmes reinventing their catalog with all-new live interpretations recorded in-studio at radio stations around the country.
Nearly non-stop touring coincided with these releases, augmented by percussionist John Sparrow and multi-instrumentalist Blaise Garza, both longtime members of The Horns of Dilemma, the band’s ever-evolving cabal of multi-instrumentalist backing musicians. Having spent much of 2018 on the road, Violent Femmes decided to hit the studio in November before returning to their respective homes for the holidays. “We just kind of felt like [making a record],” Ritchie says. “That’s the main reason to do it nowadays. The record industry as we knew it has kind of collapsed, so the main reason to [record] is for fun.”
“There’ve always been songs,” Gano says. “More often, making a record is just about schedules. We live on opposite sides of the planet. Sides? It’s round! I don’t know, but we live far away from each other.” Five November days were booked at Denver, CO’s Mighty Fine Productions with GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Old Crow Medicine Show) and GRAMMY® Award-winning engineer Ryan Mall behind the board. Working with such a skilled production team allowed Violent Femmes to be their idiosyncratic selves while still taking full advantage of the studio’s potential. “Ted is a musician himself,” Ritchie says, “and he understands the Femmes’ sound. He had no interest in trying to recreate us into something else. He wanted to bring out the best of what the band is already good at.”
With Hotel Last Resort Violent Femmes have crafted something particularly true to the progressive heritage of American folk music, linking past and present while synthesizing elements of myriad traditions into something that speaks clearly to our own contemporary time. “That’s the thing,” Gano says. “American music is international. It comes from all over the world. That’s what created it and that’s what still continues to keep influencing it. And influencing us.”
“To me, America is kind of losing its soul because it’s losing its musical soul,” Ritchie says. "We stand for traditional American music... just done in a very quirky and strange way.”