This week in New York and Chicago, Violent Femmes will perform their 1983 debut album without drummer Victor DeLorenzo, who quit two months after the trio reformed in April to play the Coachella Festival. In June, following a show in Milwaukee, the band's birthplace, DeLorenzo on his website blamed his departure on "a great deal of disrespect, dishonesty and greed" and the lack of "a fair business agreement" within the group.
"It really wasn't a surprise," frontman Gordon Gano told Rolling Stone on the phone from his Colorado home. "Because from the very start, even to get us all to agree to play together again was difficult. It wasn't easy. And then every gig thereafter was difficult," he said of three California shows, "and quite difficult."
Coachella rehearsals in Los Angeles marked the Femmes' first meeting since their 2007 tour. That summer, bassist Brian Ritchie sued Gano over royalty payments, claiming joint authorship and ownership of the band's compositions and recordings. He also disputed Gano's licensing of "Blister in the Sun" to Wendy's and Hewlett-Packard and "Gone Daddy Gone" to Gnarls Barkley without the band's consent. A three-year legal battle ended when Ritchie dropped his copyright claims and was ordered to pay Gano more than a quarter-million dollars in attorney fees.
Tensions date to 1986, when the band first broke up while touring behind the album The Blind Leading the Naked. "I really admired the sense that they were going to find a way to reach their fans no matter what, comfort be damned," recalls Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison, who produced the album. "So it was really disappointing for me that they were unable to complete supporting that record." The last album to feature the original lineup was released in 1991.
Today, Gano says he and Ritchie have put aside their acrimony. "I don't think we've ever been getting along better. Ever," he said. "So there's no ill feelings, I don't think, on either side."
In July, Ritchie's friend Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls replaced DeLorenzo. He will back the Femmes Thursday at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield and Saturday at Riot Fest in Chicago. Their only other scheduled show this year is December 30th in Tasmania, where Ritchie has lived and recorded music since 2008.
While Gano says he "wouldn't rule out" another Violent Femmes album, he often sits in with the Dirty Femmes, a Denver-based cover band. Most recently they played a benefit for those affected by the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. "I found out about them through a friend and then made contact and asked if I could join the band when I'm around," Gano said with a laugh. "It's been so much fun. In a way I'm the least authentic thing musically, because I'm playing an instrument and playing things that aren't in any of the original recordings. But I still feel like I can do that."