Few bands have had as slow a path to success as Violent Femmes. When the folk-punk group first came together in Milwaukee in the early 1980s, the band couldn’t get booked at any local clubs, so they wound up playing in the street, where they were discovered by James Honeyman-Scott of the Pretenders. They released their debut album in 1983, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that songs like “Blister in the Sun” and “Add It Up” became classics that just about any high school or college student could recite by heart.
After breakups, lawsuits and member changes, the band reunited at 2013’s Coachella festival and last year released their first album since 2000, “We Can Do Anything.” Last week, they followed it up with a live album, “2 Mics & the Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged in America,” which was recorded during stops at public radio stations and other media outlets.
amNewYork spoke with lead singer and guitarist Gordon Gano via email.
Why did you decide to release a live album recorded at public radio stations instead of more traditional concert venues?
It’s more intimate and raw than a traditional live concert setting. One can hear the instruments and what is actually being played with greater clarity. It’s something we love to do (live spontaneity with an audience and all acoustic) that most bands don’t, won’t or can’t.
On the album, you use a grill as a percussion instrument. Where did you get the idea for that and what did it add to the songs?
We were performing on a morning TV show in Montreal and the show was going to have a cooking segment. We saw the grill, already set for that segment, and said: “Let’s play that!” It has a good and interesting sound that blends in especially well with other acoustic instruments and doesn’t overpower the balance as drums are apt to do. … Hint: if trying this at home, play the grill with brushes.
One of the things that seems to grab people about your songs is that they sound simple, even when they aren’t. Is that something you aim for?
I don’t aim for that, but when the inspiration for something like this happens, it delights me.
Your first album means so much to a lot of people. What is it like to play songs you wrote as a teen all these years later?
I don’t know what it’s like not to.
What do those songs mean to you today?
They mean as much as ever. In some ways, more; some ways less. So I’ll call it “just as much,” which is a lot.
Why do you think the music of the Violent Femmes has endured after all this time?
They speak to people, especially young people. I think there’s a kind of truth that is intuitively recognized and embraced. Also, they are so much fun!